COAL: 1985 Ford Tempo – Certified. Check.

Big cheese-portrait

Ingersoll is a small community of about 12,000 residents nestled in the 401 corridor in Southwestern Ontario. It has a storied history. In 1866, one year before Canada became a nation, a giant block of cheese weighing 7,300 pounds (3,311 kg) was produced at the James Harris Cheese Factory for promotion of the town’s cheese industry. The “Big Cheese” toured England with a stop at the New York State Fair in Saratoga Springs.

This odorous antiquity serves as the backdrop for my Tempo adventure. I’ll now offer up a bit of whine to go along with that cheese.


1983 Pontiac 6000 STE

“Special” Touring Edition. S. T. E.  The driving lights, which made the car look like it had six headlights, definitely made it special.

The work I was doing in 1986 involved a commute through Ingersoll, driving past Shelton Ford, the local Ford dealership. I was in the market for a newer car; as a young 20-something man with limited finances, purchasing brand-new was ruled out.

My short list included the Pontiac 6000 STE. For whatever reason, the car just appealed to me. The STE first came on the scene in 1983. If I could find a used one…

One Thursday afternoon I noticed a fine example on display on the main lot at Shelton Ford. I pulled in to investigate.

It was high mileage for its age, but the salesman assured me the car was locally owned with “highway miles”. The previous owner used it for business. Toronto was about 2 1/2 hours to the east of town, so I understood how the highway miles could accumulate.

My excitement built as I waited for him to fetch the keys to take the car out for a test drive. Usually a salesman would insist on riding shotgun with me, but he – and the dealership – appeared to have homespun, relaxed attitude that appealed to me.

“Don’t be too long,” he said, as he handed me the key ring. “We’re gonna close soon.”

The car – was cool. Powerful. Sporty. Everything a young man would want or need in a car. I nearly wiped out tackling the on-ramp to the 401 too quickly. I recovered after a series of over-corrections. This car was challenging me. Sold!

I was very pleased to find the price of the three year old car was in my budget because of its high mileage and first and second year depreciation. I told the salesman I would like to try to arrange financing through my local bank.

“No problem, kid. When would you like to pick it up?”

The store was open on Saturdays until noon. This arrangement would work perfectly for me since I lived about an hour away and had to arrange a ride to get the car.

We shook hands. He assured me he needed no deposit or bill of sale drawn up on that day. The place was closing; he told me to bring a certified check with me on Saturday and they would handle the rest.

The next day, I approached my bank for the loan, which was approved quickly. I had been in the market for a newer car for a while and I’d been pre-approved to a set limit. I recall there was a bit of push-back from the loan officer regarding the mileage, but ultimately I was successful in securing a certified bank draft made out to Shelton Ford Sales.

I arrived about 15 minutes prior to the store opening that Saturday. My friend, who had driven me to get the car, asked the question that I would soon be asking the salesman myself: “Where’s the car?”

1983 grey on grey two-tone Pontiac 6000 STE. Nowhere to be found.

“It must be in the service bay,” I thought. Hoped.

The salesman came out to meet us. As he approached, the look on his face told me something was terribly wrong.

“We… uh… sold your car last night,” he said, voice trailing.

You what?”

With that, he started into a detailed explanation about how everyone in the dealership knew the STE had been sold except for Chet the part-time guy who only works on weekend nights and I guess he didn’t read the memo because it’s gone now and he’s really sorry and…

He saw the certified bank draft in my hand. “Let me call the owner. We have to make this up to you.”

As he scurried back into the office, I looked over at my friend in amazement. We began to pan the landscape, looking – wondering – what possibly could replace the car I had my heart set on. This was a Ford dealership. I did not consider myself to be a Ford man.

About 15 minutes later, the salesman returneth.

“Look over there.” My eyes followed as he pointed to a dark blue 1985 Ford Tempo 2-door coupe.

A Tempo? No way. It wasn’t my style and besides, it was too pricey.  The list price painted on the window was around $2,000 more than the Paymaster amount imprinted into the check in my hand.

“Less than a year old. Only 18,000 kms. A/C, cruise. Certified. We will sell it to you for the amount of that check you have in your hand. Taxes included. Everything.”

Really? Wow.

Of course, the most important component was missing – the radio was a base AM/FM job. After a sidebar discussion with my friend about potential aftermarket stereo upgrades, I told the salesman I would take it. He informed me that they would rush to prep it, and it would be ready by noon.

Looking back, I wonder if he didn’t take me seriously when we discussed buying that 6000 STE. I’m sure not many guys in my “back in the day” demographic would be able to pony up the cash.

The interior of the car looked like this. Well, not quite; it was grey, not beige. That odd “A” frame steering wheel housed the cruise control buttons, which was a neat leading edge feature; all of my previous cruise experiences were a stalk protruding from the wheel hub. As I started the drive back home in my nearly new car, it occurred to me how awfully similar this Tempo was to my buddy Ed’s.  He purchased a black two door Tempo GL a few months back. He hadn’t reported many problems with his, which may have influenced my decision to take the 11th hour Shelton Ford offer.

This COAL was ignited as a comment by yours truly in a recent CC Outake / COAL. Read between the lines… 

My dark blue ’85 Ford Tempo had hubcaps that matched Ed’s ’84. He bought his Tempo brand new, and only owned it a couple of months when he lost one front wheel hubcap. He said it came off when he was cornering the on-ramp on to the freeway. He never bothered replacing it. I always thought it was odd that a relatively new vehicle was missing something that really detracted its appearance.

When I stopped by to show off my new ride (which, other than colour, was pretty much identical to his), he casually said, “I’m going to steal one of your hubcaps someday.” I laughed off his prediction.

A short time later I was over at his place on a Friday night and had a few too many drinks, so being a responsible citizen I left my car there. I went to retrieve it the next morning and was out and about stopping in here and there around town doing errands. When I came out of one store I noticed my left front hubcap was missing. “&$@^&**#!! Ed!!!”

I proceeded to drive directly back to his place and confront him at the door.

“Ed, give me back my hubcap.”

“What are you talking about?”

I was really irritated that he actually went ahead with his foretelling, and my hangover was quickly changing my mood to anger as I heard him feign ignorance. I reminded him that he clearly told me he was going to do what he just did.

The conversation degraded into a war of words. “Bill, I think you should go and look at my car before you accuse me of this.”

I went out and looked at his car. Three hubcaps. Front left still MIA.

I felt terrible. I went back to his door and apologized. My mind started running through how and where I might have lost my hubcap. Ed and I sorted through some scenarios.

“Did you jump on the 403?”

Why yes.. yes… I did! The freeway cuts a swath right through the city so many locals use it as a quick cross-towner. I must have lost my hubcap the same way he lost his… doing the freeway on-ramp loop…

“Hey, I’m really sorry, man. I’ve got to get back to that on-ramp.”

I searched all around the area of the on-ramp; I even peered out over the interchange bridge to get a longer and wider view. Nada. Nothing.

As the months passed, my annoyance of also only having three hubcaps on my car began to wane. I checked out the cost of a replacement; they were pricey, and Tempos were still relatively new to the market so used ones were hard to come by. Now I understood why Ed didn’t replace his. We were both in our twenties and money was tight. A full set of Ford Tempo hub caps were a “nice to have”, not a “must have”.

One day I was sitting at his kitchen table, nursing a coffee and discussing nothing in particular as the setting afternoon sun filled the room. The stainless steel appliances on the counter began to gleam brightly. Suddenly, something shiny caught my eye between the fridge and the portable dishwasher.

I reached in and pulled out my missing hubcap. Ed began to laugh hysterically. His SO jumped in and proclaimed, “You finally found it!!! Do you know how many times you’ve sat right in that chair, drinking a beer or a coffee, and never noticed that $%%$#* thing sitting there???”

Road grime accumulated on my finger as I ran it across the disc. Ed had laid down the house rules. It was to just sit there, dusty and dirty, leaning against the fridge, in the same condition it was the night I left in a drunken stupor and he pulled it off my car.


The car had been the recipient of some customization by the time I had replaced that missing hubcap. The factory stereo was swapped out for a slick Sony unit that had a remote control fob to adjust the volume! I used like confusing people by adjusting the loudness with it. “What’s wrong with your radio? Why is it doing that?”

The Tempo gave me about two years of reliable service. One day I was cruising at highway-speed when I was greeted with a sudden, painful jolt accompanied by a loud “Bang!”.  I immediately shifted it into “N” and coasted to the road side.

I did an inspection in, out, around, and under the car. “What was that?” No noticeable leaks; the car was idling okay; I was bewildered.

I proceeded to finish my drive. I thought it may have been an issue with the transmissiony but it appeared to be shifting all right. But – it seemed like from that point forward, little niggly problems began to plague it. Window switches; door locks; heater fans… in retrospect, I wonder if that loud din was the vehicle making a formal announcement that it had passed its “best before” date.

After about four years of ownership, I placed a cardboard sign with black permanent marker in the window of my Curbside Drastic: $1,800 OBO. The car had around 87,000 kms on it. I felt sorry for the people that bought it.

That dark blue Tempo is now just a chapter in the book of cars I’ve owned; Ed’s black beauty is a distant memory too. Ed and I have been lucky to have a Friendship of a Lifetime. I attended Ed’s backyard garden wedding a couple of years back. In a fun twist, the guests provided the entertainment.


Ed (left) and yours truly singing “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before”. I did the Willie Nelson bit; Ed sang the Julio Iglesias part like Jean Chrétien.

This post is my first entry as an official contributor to Curbside Classic.  I helped out a bit with the initial launch of this site in early 2011. I did a bit of “under the covers” tech work, including linking posts to Facebook news feeds. It appears that solution is working better than Chrysler’s “Lean Burn” system.

In June 2011, I had a little mishap on my motorcycle that sidelined me. If you would like more details, lobby Paul… he might add a new category called “Concussions of a Lifetime”.

Until then, sit back and enjoy the show.

– Bill Hetherington (BillHaven)