This post started out as just another Outtake about this bruised and battered Tempo in my neighborhood that’s still chugging along, on the good days. But then I stumbled upon a Fortune magazine article from 1993 that was linked as a source at the Tempo’s Wikipedia page, which I consulted to remind myself of its last year of production. It’s about Ford’s massive $6 billion dollar investment in its ill-fated CDW27 platform, the Ford Contour (Mondeo in Europe) and Mercury Contour, the second largest automotive program investment ever after GM’s disastrous GM-10 program that swallowed up over $7 billion just a few years earlier. I recommend it.
The article is an eye opener, although I mostly sort of knew the general story. Ford spent over ten years(!) on a global program to replace the very tired Tempo and Topaz, which a Ford exec admitted had lost money the whole decade they had been in production at the time. And of course the real killer is that the CDW27 program would end up as an utter failure in the US market, so who knows how many billions more were lost on top of that initial $6 billion.
Ah, the good old days…when GM and Ford just couldn’t figure out how to compete against a new Accord or Camry that rolled off the lines like clockwork every 4-5 years.
It was the huge profits on Lincoln Town Cars and pickups and Expeditions that kept the lights on in Dearborn, while Ford absorbed massive losses on its smaller cars, which they couldn’t develop and build as cheaply as the Japanese, even when they were made in US plants. The irony is that Ford is essentially in the same situation now again, taking multi-billion dollar losses on its EV programs, because it can’t build them as cheaply as Tesla. Thanks to mammoth profit margins on its trucks (thank you pandemic), Ford (and GM) are at least showing decent overall profits, unlike in 1992, when lost money in its US car business. And Ford just can’t be bothered with cheap small cars anymore.
I bet the Tempo/Topaz program cost a very small fraction of the Contour/Mystique program, as Ford just didn’t have those kind of bucks available. This would have been in the 1981-1983 time frame, when they were just emerging from a near-brush with bankruptcy. And what serious money they could muster was going into the Taurus program, which was a money maker.
The Tempo was of course just a US-Escort, blown up a bit in every direction except up and sheathed in a new aerodynamic dress. And under its hood throbbed two-thirds of the old Falcon six, with a new pushrod cylinder head to help reduce emissions. Now that was a brilliant cost-saving solution, to utilize the Falcon six block transfer machining lines and tools, which were of course now very much available and well amortized.
Stephanie and I rented a Tempo for a highly memorable week of exploring New Mexico in the fall of 1984. It was a highly mediocre automobile, slow, sloppy-handling, noisy, feeble and just deeply un-fun to drive. But it got us to some spectacular and remote spots, including some few very rough and rocky roads. So I can’t hate on it too much.
Little did I know Ford was losing money on every one of them.
1993 Fortune article: Ford’s $6 Billion Baby
Curbside Classic: Ford Tempo – A Car I Love To Hate P. Shoar
Curbside Classic: 1991 Chevrolet Lumina Euro – GM’s Deadly Sin # 18 – Where’s The Light? PN
Have had and loved many full size RWD FMC vehicles. But the smaller vehicles have NO appeal for me. A dear friend traded her 79 Coupe Deville for a first year Taurus. Even 90? And up Crown Vics and GRAND MARQUIS had gone for aero look. Ford miscalculated with EDSEL, but at least it was a big, comfortable car. Can’t imagine anyone wanting one of these Tempos or Topaz. As I recall, Ford had moved its planning dept to California at this time. Love California, BUT these idiots sure missed the boat!
So, if I’m deciphering the Fortune article correctly (the lumped-together formatting of the archive makes it a bit of a goulash), the rock-bottom prices that were the only real appeal of the Tempo and Topaz through most of their lifespan were a matter of Ford’s accepting per-car losses to keep sales volume high enough to offset thirstier high-profit models for CAFE purposes?
Ironically, I’ve always thought that rock-bottom pricing ended up hurting the Contour and Mystique, which were essentially the opposite of the Tempo and Topaz. The latter were at best mediocre cars, but they had a reasonably livable back seat, they were cheap to buy, and as I recall they were pretty cheap to fix. The CDW27 was vastly better dynamically, but it was relatively pricey, the back seat was borderline cramped, and it had a reputation for breaking expensively.
It could be interesting to wonder what if Ford did a 2nd-gen Tempo/Topaz by following what they did for the North American Escort by using the platform of a Mazda model (the Escort used the 323/Protege chassis for the 1991 model year) instead of going with the Contour/Mystique?
That’s my take on it.This was of course rampant at the time; same thing with all the J-Cars at GM: CAFE loss-leaders.
The Contour/Mystique was a colossal mistake all-round. The Tempo/Topaz at least was practical and cheap transportation. And I suspect the losses were modest. But the C/M were all-wrong for the US, except for a slice of the market that appreciated its dynamic qualities. Ford jumped from the frying pan into the fire, and I’m sure the losses beyond the $6 B startup/development costs were much greater than the ones on the Tempo/Topaz.
They should have just not bothered, as the gap between the Taurus and the gen2 (Mazda 323 based) Escort wasn’t all that big anyway.
One of Ford’s biggest mistakes ever.
I’m not even sure the Tempo even needed to fill the gap between the gen 1 Escort and (fox)LTD for that matter other than to keep up appearances of having a full lineup. The LTD was just a light restyle of the Tempo’s predecessor afterall. The post-downsizing 80s made old size based classifications pretty trivial.
Well, the Tempo/Topaz had two salient advantages:
1. They WERE usefully roomier than the Escort. It’s been a long time since I was stuffed into the back seat of either, but my recollection is that the back seat of a Tempo was notably more habitable in terms of space. Both for low-budget private buyers and for rental car fleets, that was worthwhile.
2. When the Taurus arrived, the Tempo/Topaz bridged the substantial price gap between the Escort and Taurus. The Taurus was a better car and also roomy, but it was a LOT more expensive than the typical Escort, and dealers were more likely to want real money for it. The Tempo was much more affordable for buyers who just wanted basic transportation with a new car warranty; I daresay many private buyers who bought them new could not have stretched to even a basic four-cylinder Taurus.
The additional advantage for Ford when the Tempo and Topaz debuted was that they provided an introduction to Ford’s new aerodynamic styling themes in about as low-risk a context as Ford could manage. The Tempo wasn’t nearly as important to Ford in North America as the Escort was or the Taurus would be, and its availability made the subsequent introduction of the Taurus go down easier. In that respect, it was better judged than the Sierra, which took a controversial and controversial tack in an important European market segment.
The latter is the part that flummoxes me about the statement that they had lost money. Given their aforementioned rock-bottom pricing and popularity with fleet buyers, there was never any reason to think that Ford was making a LOT of money on them, but every aspect of the Tempo and Topaz screamed “minimum investment.” Even where they occasionally did something borderline interesting, like the 4WD model, it was clearly a low-investment parts-bin casserole. So, I always assumed that they (and probably the GM A-bodies, Cutlass Ciera et al) had paid off the bigger part of the engineering and tooling investment and were coasting along on that “it’s selling just well enough to keep it in the black as long as we don’t do anything dramatic to it.”
(Granted, they did make a variety of incremental changes, like the smoother facelift and the new dashboard, so it’s not that Ford didn’t put ANY money into it.)
I knew Ford lost money on every Escort they ever made, but I too assumed that they might have squeezed out a buck or two on each Tempo and Topaz.
It was tough times at GM and Ford back then with all their smaller cars. Well, some of the bigger ones at GM too: the GM10 program was a bottomless pit of losses; most like their biggest losses ever on any program, along with Saturn. Some $10-12 billion or more, on each of those two.
which a Ford exec admitted had lost money the whole decade they had been in production at the time.
I hear that line from big three honchos a lot. How meaningful is it, as there are so many ways to measure profit?
-do they cover the variable cost of production?
-do they cover factory fixed costs?
-do they cover R&D costs?
-is the amortization rate of fixed costs reasonable?
-or are they calling the difference between the GP of a small car and the GP of the largest vehicle “lost money”, as if the buyer of the small car would have bought the largest vehicle, if the small car was not available?
Is the loss because the company phoned in the design of the small car, resulting in a sub-par product that has to be heavily discounted to attract any buyers at all?
Of course, the old CAFE standard required automakers to produce smaller vehicles, to offset the poor mileage of larger vehicles. With the 2006 “reform”, that is no longer the case. Automakers are dropping smaller vehicles, while extending payment periods to keep the more expensive models “affordable”.
“Automakers are dropping smaller vehicles, while extending payment periods to keep the more expensive models “affordable”.”
At their own peril, and not all of them. Plenty of manufacturers are able to build smaller cars and make a profit on them. One day buyers may decide they’ve had enough and stop buying those larger vehicles necessitating extended repayment terms for some buyers, the ones caught out may be those manufacturers who’ve lost any talent or ability they may have had to produce something smaller and more reasonably priced.
CAFE never directly forced anyone to build smaller cars, some makers just decided it was easier to built something crappy that got decent efficiency and lose money on it that was then regained from additional profits baked into their larger, sub-efficient offerings. Other manufacturers, some of which didn’t even need to offset anything inefficient, were able to produce small vehicles that were well engineered, reliable, profitable (!) as well as desirable. It doesn’t have to be an either/or yet that’s what it’s often made out to be.
It’s interesting what is happening right now with the MPGe calculations for EVs being rejiggered. Ford was likely happily losing money on their EVs (just like with Tempo/Topaz) as the overly inflated MPGe calculations highly offset all of their larger vehicle offerings. It seems they figured that EVs could offset enough that smaller more efficient ICE cars were no longer necessary by using the byzantine CAFE equivalency formulas to make it work.
Whole reason for Ford/GM going on about EV’s is to sell more $100K trucks, but how many can buy new ones every 3-5 years?
It seems they figured that EVs could offset enough that smaller more efficient ICE cars were no longer necessary by using the byzantine CAFE equivalency formulas to make it work.
The 2006 “reform” changed the way MPG targets are calculated. Now, the target MPG is calculated for each vehicle, based on it’s footprint. There is no “sales weighted fleet average”, such as the original CAFE reg had. I read the 2006 reg when it came out. It openly said the formula used to calculate target MPG was skewed to provide easier targets for large vehicles, and more difficult targets for smaller vehicles, to discourage downsizing. The reg used the excuse that smaller vehicles are inherently “less safe”, to justify skewing the reg to favor larger vehicles.
The “reformed” reg has been tweaked a few times since then, but the basic mechanics remain the same. VW, who did not have competitive SUVs at the time, offered this extremely prescient assessment.
“Volkswagen does not endorse the proposal under discussion. It places an unfairly high burden on passenger cars, while allowing special compliance flexibility for heavier light trucks. Passenger cars would be required to achieve 5% annual improvements, and light trucks 3.5% annual improvements. The largest trucks carry almost no burden for the 2017–2020 timeframe, and are granted numerous ways to mathematically meet targets in the outlying years without significant real-world gains. The proposal encourages manufacturers and customers to shift toward larger, less efficient vehicles, defeating the goal of reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”
Consider Ford’s lineup. After killing all their passenger cars, except the Mustang, they have started nipping at the low end of the SUVs. The Ecosport is gone, even though it is still in production in Europe. In their recent sales report, the next cheapest SUV, the Escape, is down 47%, while the more expensive Bronco Sport is up 2.7%. The even more expensive non-sporty Bronco is up 37% The soon to be dropped Edge is down 23%, probably expedited by increasing it’s price to more than $1000 more than an Explorer, while the Explorer is up 35% and the Expedition is up 99%. At Lincoln, the lowest price model, the Corsair, is down 42%, while the larger, more expensive, Lincoln offerings are all up.
The new Maverick replaces the EcoSport as the entry-level Ford. It has essentially been sold out since introduction (local dealers do not have any in stock), and one of its top “conquest sales” has been the Honda Civic. Dropping the EcoSport for the Maverick made good sense.
In some respects, those sales numbers are distorted by a continuing shortage of key parts. Our local Ford-Lincoln dealers still have very little new vehicle inventory.
When comparing the Escape to the Bronco Sport (which share the same platform), remember that the Bronco Sport typically has higher transaction prices. If production is limited, it makes sense to favor the vehicle with the higher profit potential.
Geeber: When comparing the Escape to the Bronco Sport (which share the same platform), remember that the Bronco Sport typically has higher transaction prices. If production is limited, it makes sense to favor the vehicle with the higher profit potential.
That has been the business strategy of several automakers recently: priority goes to the biggest, highest price, models. My neighbor’s Corsair was recently totaled. He commented that he was told Corsair production had been suspended entirely for some period. That being said, my local dealer has 19 in inventory.
As for the Maverick replacing the Ecosport, any vehicle that exposes my stuff to weather and casual thieves is a non-starter. Even the AMC Pacer sold well it’s first year. 🙂
The Pacer was ultimately the answer to a question nobody had asked. The Maverick is a small, four-door pickup, and the North American public loves its pickups. And “everyday” items can be easily stored in its back seat.
With the Maverick, Ranger (due to be revamped soon) and the F-Series, Ford has the pickup market well-covered.
” Stephanie and I rented a Tempo for a highly memorable week … ”
We also rented these models from Avis’ Manhattan garage and had the same experiences with the ‘meh aspect of driving them. This was doubly felt because I really liked the earlier Fairmont (Fox bodied) models that Avis offered prior to these.
The Fairmonts were tight, attractive, small(ish) cars, with good RWD driving characteristics and visibility. And every once in a while I got a rental Fairmont with a V8 that was really fun.
But I also ponder how Ford never made money on the Tempo/Topaz cars; they were all over the place for many years.
“But I also ponder how Ford never made money on the Tempo/Topaz cars; they were all over the place for many years.”
The production of the Tempo/Topaz (a thoroughly mediocre car, I agree) may have been a matter of “We lose money on every sale, but make it up in volume,” because under CAFE, every one allowed the production of one cash cow F-150, Lincoln Town Car or Grand Marquis.
That 1993 Fortune article was a pleasure to read, Paul–thanks. That’s somehow a pre-internet “thirty years ago”–wow!
The book (“Car”) about the development of the (oval) 1996 Taurus made reference to Contour/Mondeo–and price concerns relative to Taurus. The Tempo/Topaz and Contour cars in my extended family all served well, but Ford’s concerns about marketing & costs are entirely different, I guess.
The $6B was not just for the US Contour/Mystique, was also for Zetec 4, Duratec v6 and transmissions. The Mondeo continued overseas, past 2000, also.
Was a lot of money, but wasn’t just for the US cars.
Going back would have been better to do a ‘new Tempo’ from the Mazda 626, already built at Flat Rock, and then replace with Focus in 2000. Leave the Mondeo overseas, and save.
“… ill-fated CDW27 platform, …”
It was a lot of $$, but was a global project, not JUST the US cars. So many “car experts” think that and love to go on about it. “Ford spent so much on the Contour!”
Some of the $$ went to new Zetec 4 and Duratec V6 motors, used globally, and new FWD transmissions. And, some went to Escape CUV.
Regarding Tempo, big issue was they needed huge rebates to sell, and were fleeted out. Then, tried to sell Contour as a “Euro inspired” car, but only got cult buyers [SVT] and fleets.
Big 3 dug themselves a hole with poor quality compacts that they never got out from. So, cut the models. Now, younger buyers will think of them as “parent’s trucks” and will end up like Oldsmobile.
The losses on the Contour/Mystique undoubtedly were much more than just that $6 B in its development costs. It was a total bust in the US market.
Compared to other companies (say Toyota or Honda) I can assure you that taking over a decade and spending $6 B to develop these cars was grossly excessive at the time, and a reflection of the deep dysfunction at GM and Ford.
During this same time, Chrysler was developing new platforms for a fraction of that, and banking huge profits as a result.
The common/mistakes had recalls on them before they hit the showroom floors on launch. Over time they accumulated so many recalls that when one came in for an oil change, the repair order would wind up with about 5 or 6 safety recalls that had to be done. As techs we loathed these vehicles, especially V6 models with ABS that needed an engine compartment wiring harness (Ford paid about 5 hours for that, good luck trying to even meet never mind beat that time). The insulation on the harness wasn’t up to the task of the warm environment of the engine bay and would simply disintegrate. Never found out if it was a design or vendor issue, but I lost money on every one I worked on. From memory, the various recalls included the fuel tank (on vehicle launch), front seat belt buckles (for potential to fracture where the assembly is attached to the floor, a reinforcement bracket was added for additional strength), rear brake hoses (I seem to recall that they incorporated some type of proportioning valve), front crash sensors, V6 catalytic converters, headlamp switch assembly and harness pigtail, blower motor resistor and harness pigtail, the aforementioned engine harness (hmmmm seems to be a pattern here), and also the water pump on 4 cylinder models. There was also a program to repair dashboards that warped inside of 5 years, I never got stuck with one of those thankfully. Yes they rode and handled well when new, but they fell apart in short order. These cars were the anti-gestalt, so much less than the sum of their parts.
It’s interesting that the cars weren’t even built right after spending so much time and money on development.
And Chrysler was swallowed up by Daimler in 1998.Then, had to be “gifted” to Fiat, a decade or so later. So much for their “all new” cars that were “sure pretty to look at”. LH, Neon, and Cloud cars hit the junkyards almost as quick as Vegas. K-car was better over all, just too dated for the 1990’s.
Venture capital Cerebus was in between Daimler and Fiat.
Sure, the LH, Cloud and Neon were all brittle. But the Contour/Mystique were even worse than that; they had an atrocious reputation.
FWIW, I still see a few of those three Chrysler cars around; haven’t seen a Contour or Mystique in years. That’s strictly anecdotal, but I think it’s pretty representative.
So who got more bank for the buck? Chrysler minting profits from their super-efficient “platform engineering” which spit out these three platforms in less than a third of the time it took Ford, and for a fraction of the upfront cost?
Everyone started imitating Chrysler after that, and they’re still doing it. Ford was a total boondoggle back then.The MN12 program was almost as much of one too. Another disaster that never made any profits.
If it hadn’t been for the $10k they were minting on each Expedition at the time, they would have croaked.
F series and Explorer generated a good chunk of money as well.
My father had Ford Tempo L (base everything but with A/C) followed by a Ford Contour (4cyl + 5spd). The Contour was light years nicer than the Tempo, so much so that they were not really even comparable. I did find that the instrument cluster and controls on the (facelifted) Tempo/Topaz to be quite nice and logically laid out.
I later briefly owned a 1988 Ford Tempo coupe with a 5spd and crazy high mileage. So they could last but most people did not care enough about them to hand on that long.
My stepdad bought a 1984 Tempo GL coupe, brand new. I hated that car with a passion, although admittedly a lot of that was because my stepdad and I didn’t get along, so I tended to associate the Tempo with him. I know it had issues now and then, but never anything major. It made it to around 160,000 miles, and was still running well, when they traded it on a new Nissan Stanza, around a 1991-92 I think. Oddly, the Stanza wasn’t as reliable as the Tempo had been!
I drove that Tempo, once, when I was around 17 or 18. Hated it. It felt more bulky and clumsy than its size would suggest. And good lord was that thing S-L-O-W!! My 1980 Malibu, with its 229 V6, almost felt like a musclecar in comparison!
I have to admit, I do have a sort of fondness for the 1988+ Tempo and Topaz sedans. The styling was pleasant at least, and they didn’t look so porky.
If your Stanza wasn’t as reliable as the Tempo, it’s no wonder why Nissan replaced it with the Altima while the Sentra keep soldering.
That’s just a typical name change for the next generation model, particularly when the old model has a bad reputation.
I have had two rental Tempo’s, both in Colorado, and they also reliably – if slowly and awkwardly – took us to some spectacular places. The cars actually were distinctive enough, in a mediocre-leaning-towards-bad way, to have become a part of the memory of those trips. By contrast, the 1st gen Escape we rental we had in Hawaii was a willing and able partner in our explorations: comfortable, roomy, and fine performance and handling for the Big Island’s mountain roads.
My father bought a non A/C Tempo AT 4; I don’t remember the year. My longest ride in it was from Sheboygan, WI down to Billy Mitchell Field in Milwaukee. It was Summer, very warm and humid, but despite that and no A/C my father demanded all the windows stay UP! The noise from open windows bothered him; this was before he got his hearing aids. That was a very unpleasant trip!
“It was a highly mediocre automobile, slow, sloppy-handling, noisy, feeble and just deeply un-fun to drive.” Based on the limited driving I did with that car, plus the HOT ride……..I could not agree more; pretty much a toaster with 4 wheels. 🙁 DFO
If losing money on standard models wasn’t enough… let’s go make an AWD version.
My coworker has a story of when he started at the company in 1984. He had just bought a brand new Tempo like a day or two before, in an attempt to have reliable transportation. He went to leave to attend the interview and the car wouldn’t start. Ended up being something computer related if I recall. Thankfully the company was forgiving enough and he got the job. He’s set to retire this year.
Knew a girl from high school who had one too. She went into the 7-11 and came out to find it engulfed in flames.
My buddy in school had a Topaz. It was actually a great car. We went all over with it, including South Carolina in June. With no AC. 30 years ago it was at least bearable.
We had a 1988 Tempo 2dr, 4cyl auto. I would probably put it down close to my least favorite car I owned. Its only redeeming quality over my 2 Pinto’s was the fact it had A/C. Rust thru while under warranty, loose inner tie rod under warranty, head gasket leak from day one, took several complaints before it was fixed. HVAC controls literally fell back into the dash one day when I pushed one of the buttons. Engine would quit intermittently at stop lights or stop signs. Never set codes, always restarted with out issues or rough running. Dealer never found the problem. Installed an IAC air bleed kit, no luck. Finally after several years it turns out the throttle position sensor was the problem, never set a code. Cheap hose to EGR pressure sensor split, exhaust flow melts the sensor, sensor shorts out and fuses the copper wiring! This short shuts down the ECM. The original diagnosis is bad ECM, I refused the repair diagnosis. Started pulling all individual circuits until culprit was found. New sensor, new high temp hose for sensor and replaced damaged wiring. I had an instructor from GM to thank for this diagnosis. From warranty diagnosis of “failed” ECM’s the leading causes by far were external shorts, I only ever replaced one ECM that was bad. The vehicle was constantly showing a lean running condition. Despite fuel enrichment confirmed by gas analyzer the ECM still saw lean exhaust mixture. Oxygen sensor replaced, road test, check engine light pops on, same codes, back on the scope and gas analyzer, nothing has changed. Back probed ox sensor wiring at the computer…ah ha! The volt meter readings don’t match what the diagnostics box is getting from the ECM. New ECM and problem solved, happy customer and another headache solved.
A bit on the Contour. We looked at the Contour in 1996 but I didn’t care for the looks. Looks like and over inflated toy about to burst its seams. Its like a downsized version of the 96 Taurus but the body panels balloon too much. The other issue was the fuel economy of the V6 Contour was barely better then the 4 valve V6 Taurus.
What’s baffling is that Ford had a more cost-effective solution right before them. Ford had used the Mazda 323 platform to create the very good second-generation North American Escort. Why not base a new-generation Tempo/Topaz on the Mazda 626 platform? If nothing else, it would have been less expensive to develop and bring to market.
If the North American Contour had been Mazda based, that would leave only EU Mondeo production to amortize development costs over, resulting in higher overhead charges per car and narrower profit margins.
So, it comes down to which company did Dearborn want to use North American sales to subsidize, Mazda, or Ford Europe. Mazda won with the second gen Escort, so someone probably decided it was Ford Europe’s turn to be subsidized.
Well, and the Mondeo was for a very important segment in Europe, one that Ford had come close to stumbling over with the controversial-looking Sierra and really didn’t want to flub the way they flubbed the European Mk5 Escort.
My family rented a Tempo to tour California, and I enjoyed driving it greatly. Unfortunately for Ford, the reason I enjoyed driving it was because I was 14 or 15 years old, and I had a very limited frame of reference as to what could be expected of a car.
I must admit that I’m surprised Ford managed to consistently lose money on a car that seemed to have been developed for pocket money and that remained in production for twice as long as the cars that made it seem unambitious upon its release.
Part of the big spend on the Mondeo was the development of the Zetec-R, the best of the four-cylinder engines ever produced by Ford or GM. Too bad they soon replaced it with the indifferent Duratec variants of the Mazda L family of engines.
I’ve been thinking about something sort of related to this for quite a while…
Up until (sometime in) the 1980s, passenger car and light truck powertrains were largely the same. Randomly selecting the year 1975, Corvette, Nova, Impala, Chevelle, and C-10 all shared pretty much the same motive equipment.
But with the grand move to FWD for passenger cars, engines, transmissions, etc started taking divergent paths. Yes, there was still some sharing – Iron Duke was used in S-10, for example – but it seems like powertrain development costs essentially doubled overnight.
And it seems like that would hurt every manufacturer.
The ’86 Taurus was supposed to go up against the Camry/Accord. Over time, it became more full-size. For ’96, they should have returned to the roughly mid-size dimensions of the original Taurus. Instead, they created a new mid-size model that simply didn’t have the cache of the Taurus. I owned a ’96 Contour and it was a very dynamic driver on twisty roads. But it also stalled alot- while parking or gunning the engine mid-way through an intersection. But in any case, I didn’t cross shop it with Camry/Accord. I cross shopped it with the Mystique, but got a better deal on the Ford.
We rented thousands of the Mercury Topaz cars. They were our go-to daily drivers. I had the chance of being familiar with every year those cars were produced, and over those years, the Topaz kept getting better. I remember 4WD versions, V6 versions, sporty coupe versions and every single one of them, regardless of improvements, duller than white briefs.
Anyone who was the lowest sales for the month, lost their keys to their company car and forced into the “Powder Blue Topaz” for the month. Can you imagine a car as a punishment? That pretty much explains the Topaz during its years on the road.
Dependability – they had that. Room for four – sure. Yet no matter how you dressed it up – it was still one of the most boring cars to drive. Even with the V6 and 4WD.
I had a Tempo GL 3.0 V6 5speed.
15.9 1/4 mile bone stock. That made up for a lot.
I didn’t have it long, it went fast. 🙂
A 626-based model would have been more desirable, and that’s exactly what we got in the Asia-Pacific region. In fact we got three generations of 626-based Ford Telstar, though in Australia we switched to the Mondeo in the mid-1990s (there was also briefly a Nissan Pintara/Bluebird/Stanza-based Ford Corsair, but that’s another story…)
I rented one in Manhattan to go to a meeting in NJ. My boss was in the passenger seat. Had to cut across three lanes of traffic to exit (one of those left entrance/next exit is on the right NJ Turnpike deals). I floored it and spun the wheel to the right. The car made a hell of a lot more noise…but didn’t go any faster. I think I had time for an “oh shit” as I saw the front grills of assorted trucks and cars getting closer, I know my boss’s mouth was hanging open. We made it with an increased understanding of how Detroit lost all its market share.
I had both an ’84 Tempo and a ’95 Contour V6 (both first model year cars…shoulda known better but I was young, lol). ’84 and ’85 Tempos still had carburetors and the car with the 3-speed was utterly gutless, but overall it was a fairly practical car. They got better over time though…had a coworker who had a later 5-speed Tempo (can’t remember if it was a V6) and she seemed to like it.
The Contour…I don’t miss. Bought it used in ’97 or so, always seemed to have little problems with it, and when the water pump gave out on it whilst the wife was driving it I had enough of it. Last Ford I ever owned.
But between the two I had a ’93 Mercury Tracer (my first brand new car)…that was a good reliable basic car thanks to its Mazda underpinnings. I’d drive one now if I could.
85s got CFI, and it was a huge improvement over the carbed 84s.
Ford “Quality is Job 1” right. They did such a good job on the 83 Topaz I bought from my parents who bought it new, drove me to neurosis. In two years it was in the shop five different times with less than 80,000 total miles on it. One ride in my friends 84 Civic made me feel like the biggest sucker for owning and pouring money into it. I got rid of it within one month and haven’t considered Ford vehicles since. Over the years they have proven rather than take responsibility and resolve known issues they much prefer to litigate class action lawsuits.
I know, I just don’t understand the auto industry.
They make a mediocre (at best) car that nobody wants to buy. So the instant response is to cut costs. Not make it better so people want to buy it, think such cars as the Volvo 140/240 series and the original Ford Taurus, both of which I have so minimal seat time in as to make my impressions irrelevant, but both of which people just loved in spite of mediocre (especially the Volvo) specs on paper, but simply to make it cheaper.
Given the choice of cheaper or better, the industry always chooses cheaper. Especially if it’s not selling well in the first place, an attitude of, well, they don’t like it now, so we’ll make it cheaper so we can make money even if they don’t like it or buy it.
Yes I understand, you can’t make a $100K economy car and have it sell, but if you take a car nobody likes and make it worse, it’s still not going to sell. Especially not going to sell.
Was there anything more banal and uninspiring on the market than these in 1994? Even as an 8 year old they seemed like the stale government cheese of cars. Even the Grand Am looked look a Ferrari next to these.
And yet the Escort/Tracer of that time seemed somewhat with it. Somehow the Tempo/Topaz are less interesting even than A-Body.
The “CAFE car” angle is interesting but oddly enough with their decrepit engines I doubt they were that efficient. I bet many a rental car customer in the 90s saw this as the bottom of the barrel.
The Contour/Mystique were way more with it but to me the Contour was a little homely (The Mystique looked better, interestingly the most famous of these cars was probably the one George owned and Kramer crashes seeing the braless woman in Seinfeld). But these cars didn’t justify 6 billion in development costs and were too small and low-grade Euro to be a hit here. And they only lasted 6 years with no followup model. And how much did Ford waste on the awful oval Taurus in 96 that ceded the midsize leadership to Toyota?
Ford may be making the same mistake again. The Escape is an undersized also ran to the RAV4/CRV without a price advantage. No competitor to Trailblazer/HR-V/Corolla Cross (The Bronco Sport may be size wise but more expensive). What is going to be the followup to the Mach-E I like the styling but that can’t carry the whole lineup.
By modern standards, no. According to http://www.fueleconomy.gov, the EPA numbers (on the updated modern combined scale) were 24 mpg for the base engine and five-speed, 21 mpg for the automatic or (alleged) “H.O.” engine, and a mere 19 mpg for the AWD. The ’89 Taurus sedan rated 21 mpg with the four or the Vulcan V-6, 20 mpg with the 3.8, and 19 mpg for the SHO, while the Escort was much thriftier, ranging from 32 mpg for a base four-speed car to 24 mpg for the automatic wagon.
I think these were generally a step up, although not a big one.
Fun fact: Ford UK nearly sold these in the UK from 1988 to 1994 alongside the Escort and Sierra, and they nearly offered them as:
Ford Tempo (2.3 GL, 2.3 LX, 3.0 V6 GLS)
Ford Topaz (3.0 V6 GS, 3.0 V6 LS)
The Topaz would have kept the Mercury logo but not been sold as a Mercury in the UK market.
For some reason this didn’t happen, even though it was planned to.
I don’t think these would have sold as well though.
I’m an American who lived in the UK in the 1990s aged 21 to 29, moved back to New Haven, CT in the 2000s.
I actually drove one of these – not bad, but not awesome either. Although the Vulcan V6 is great in the Probe which I’ve had, I had a great 1991 model year Probe V6 LX.
Sure it was no Mustang – and I had to wait until 2007 to get the Mustang 5.0 V8 LX I’d wanted, but the Probe was great. Still got that now!
Back to the main topic – IIRC, weren’t the Tempo/Topaz sold only in Mexico, Canada and China?
I’m wondering – if you’re going to review more Curbside Outtake Fords, what about the Ford Escort ZX2? I remember some people thinking how fugly it was at the time, and it was one of the few fleet-only Fords of the 2000s IIRC.
My wife and I had an 86 Tempo GL two door as our first new car together. It served us well for six years including a trip from PA to FL and back. Sure it was just “basic car” but as a young married couple that’s all we needed and could afford. Based on this we purchased 91 Tempo GL four door to replace an 87 Escort wagon. What a headache. The transmission would jump out of gear briefly when going over a speed bump but, of course, the dealer could never duplicate it. After dealing with that nonsense for about a year we cut it loose. Plus my wife hated those motorized mouse seat belts.
I had a ’93 Tempo, bought in ’95, drove it for 12 years, no real problems with it, parts for it were dirt cheap, other than the crappy HVAC pushbuttons, bought my wife a ’95 Contour, and that was the worst catr I have ever owned.
Everything broke on that car, even had the right front wheel fall off while driving, fortunately she was on a city street doing 25mph, due to the rivets on the lower control arm breaking, IIRC.