(first posted 3/25/2015) So familiar, so forgettable.
For most of the motoring public, that’s the general consensus on the Ford Tempo & Mercury Topaz twins. They were there, in abundance, for a whole bunch of years. They were cheap and they were plentiful and if you happened to be lucky enough (or wise enough) to get one of the ’90s builds, you probably had an alright ride to get you from A-to-B, perhaps an occasional tie-rod or other often-replaced part needing repair. You probably remember little (or remember everything) about the performance of the standard issue 2.3L HSC four pot and three speed ‘Find-O-Matic’… highlighting its characteristic abrupt gear shifts. It did the job… not briskly… but economically. You still see enough of the final examples around that you pay little attention to ones you come across, no matter how battered or beaten it might be, or every so often, one exceptionally well preserved, like this one.
Now, there are some enthusiasts out there that know a few things about the Tempo/Topaz compacts (and they’re probably already howling after the first two paragraphs of ‘mood setting’ here). I happen to be one of those people, having once owned a Vulcan 3.0L V6 equipped ’92 red GLS coupe that left a far greater impression of what a great car a Tempo ‘could’ be. It was good-looking, carried the right amount of comfort goodies, moved along well and presented no challenges on the reliability side.
In fact, I even have a soft spot for the early models… remember those? Swoopy styling, recessed sealed beam headlights, ‘bathtub’ cockpits inside, erratic idling carbureted 2.3s and an overall look that was revolutionary at its time of introduction?
Probably so… and now you’ve probably noticed you don’t see any around any longer. Heck, you probably can’t recall the last time you did, maybe wandering by one in a pick ‘n pull yard, or maybe who knows?
A day trip over to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia yielded today’s feature, and I’ll tell you the truth: as soon as I caught a glimpse of those rear tail lights, then the side profile and finally, in the rear view mirror, a look at the chrome-laden front grille, I turned right around and went back for a closer look.
Upon rolling up and coming to a stop, my catalog of ‘useless information’ flipped open and right away I was taking note of the details: standard issue Ford Tempo chrome wheel covers that adorned many the early models in base ‘L’ trim, recessed sealed beams and separate, single bulb brake/signal/tail light lenses signaled a 1984-85 model, and my instinct said it was a first year ’84 for sure… confirmed moments later by for the ‘For Sale’ in the window.
I have always preferred the aerodynamic lines of the Tempo/Topaz coupes far more the sedans, especially the gobs of restyled-for-1988 late-model sedans that lived in driveways everywhere in North America, though the final 1992-94 offerings with the 7-spoke 14″ alloys and two tone paint jobs weren’t so bad, I suppose, especially equipped with the V6.
While the sedans underwent major cosmetic changes for 1988, those changes were few on the coupe. New grilles up front, new lights on the back and the new interior inside… other than that, they looked pretty much the same right from the day they hit the dealership lots in 1983. These cars, of course, were absolutely 100% different from their Fairmont & Zephyr rear-drive compact predecessors, with their bold, aerodynamic styling and front wheel drive. They were an instant hit, and Ford sold plenty of them, first year models and beyond.
I guarantee this one spent almost its entire life wearing less grime than it does in the picture, as I learned from the owner that it was previously (and not surprisingly) owned by a little old lady for almost all of its 31 years on the road. Isn’t that wild? A 31-year-old Ford Tempo. Who ever thought?
The advertised 89,000 km, tallied up ever so slowly on the roads of Salt Spring Island is definitely original as there are likely very few 1984s left with a mint condition interior… and a LEATHER interior at that! It wasn’t immediately clear to me upon first peering through the side windows, but this car is adorned with the rare leather seats option, in all their whorehouse red glory.
Oh, I should note that this is a GLX model… the top trim level offered in 1984… which makes the find even more interesting, especially to those enthusiasts who are now glued to this post and hanging on the little details. I know you’re out there!
A factory sunroof adorns the top, something else you didn’t see too often on the early builds. Rounding out the options list of this black GLX coupe are dual red body pinstripes, dual sport side mirrors with remotes, delay wipers, cruise control, digital clock and a little bit of fake wood grain around the gauges, though this one only offers a large fuel gauge and speedometer with the rest of the details coming to you by a number of idiot lights.
The wheel covers are throwing me off a bit though, as I am not certain those have always been there. There is no question that these came on a whole bunch of early Tempos, but one would normally find the styled steel wheels on the GL & GLX trims, with the available TRX fancies reserved for the best of the bunch. Perhaps the difficulty in first locating and then subsequently the cost of replacing the original TRX tires on this car (they could only have been replaced once with 89,000 km on the clock) was just too great, resulting in a downgrade to a much simpler and cheaper set of factory Tempo boots. After all, who would know otherwise? (other than me… and you other guys still keeping pace here)
Of course, there is also the fact the current owner was happy to advise that the original ‘just-looking-for-the-gear’ automatic transaxle had been rebuilt at the 80,000 km mark, part of a $10,000 fully documented and available repair history, which would astound most people, until you remember what that 10 grand was maintaining over the years. Perhaps I am wrong with my theory about how original those wheel covers are on this car.
The need to make the next ferry back over to Vancouver Island meant I couldn’t dawdle too long, so I never did get a chance to seat myself, pump the pedal a couple of times and get that ‘Ford-Falcon-straight-six-with-two-cylinders-lopped-off’, high swirl combustion engine going. These carburetted 2.3L first model year offerings were not the smoothest of idlers and this was confirmed by the new owner, telling me that “it’s not quite right” and fiddling with it would be wise, should you wish to get around stall-free, of course.
The $900 ask clearly points out that while this car easily qualifies for vanity ‘Collector’ license plates here in British Columbia given its age and original condition, the demand and interest in such a scarce specimen isn’t really there. As I have pointed out before when drooling over the other domestic oddities, if I were a bit younger and a little less responsible (and had TONS of parking), I would probably take the plunge, even if just for a while, just to have it and enjoy it, not forever, but for the moment.
It would be nice to see it preserved some more, frankly, being one of the few early examples I have seen in a long time, with its rare & interesting options package, it deserves to stay as pristine as possible for as long as possible. Sadly though, it’s purchase price will likely see it run out its final days as a workhorse it has never been, nor will it have much interest in being, unless adding to the accumulated $10,000 service history isn’t an issue (and we all know that with a $900-or-less purchase price, it will be).
The find was great… the time was enjoyable… and the memories: priceless.