Curbside Classic: 1992(-ish) Ford Tempo – To Quote Billy Idol, “Hey, Little Sister, What Have You Done?”

When I walked down the steps toward the lower parking lot at work, I stopped in my tracks.  There was suddenly a smirk pulling at the sides of my mouth.  The smirk then evolved into a belly laugh.  This being the first Tempo I had seen in a long time, I had to pull out my camera.

This wasn’t due to simply seeing an immaculate red Ford Tempo.  What had me laughing was how my little sister had a twin to this Tempo and the events surrounding the atypical manner in which she sent it to its next owner.

Various circumstances prompted my sister getting a car sooner than planned.  While she had been pining for a red Ford Escort, the proposition of getting a somewhat larger Tempo for the same price prompted my father to encourage her into a Tempo.  At the time none of us knew, nor cared, there was a lot of shared DNA between the Escort and Tempo.

Like a host of other cars my family has purchased, the year old 1992 Tempo was purchased at Guetterman Motors in Cairo, Illinois.  This was back when Cairo was nowhere near as depressing to see as it is now.

My sister has turned out okay, but it’s taken forty-four years for that to happen.  Early on things seemed a little dicey.  She wouldn’t talk until she was about eight with what little she did say being about how she was going to marry her Mr. Potato Head.  My frustration with her behavior was often problematic for me in multiple ways.  The worst was when I was seven and called her a jackass.  Why our mother has such heartburn about that remains a mystery.

Despite any possible perceptions of intellectual deficit, my sister does possess a distinct degree of shrewd.  When in first grade some little boy who had a crush on her tried to kiss her; she shamelessly led him on just so she could bite the hell out of his lip.

The day she picked up this Tempo, it being one of the bazillion “program cars” with around 20,000 miles flooding the market in those days, she somehow managed to lock the keys in the car – while it was running.  How does one do this before getting off the dealer’s lot?  It obviously involved a special sort of talent I did not inherit.

But to my sister’s credit, she is dissertation short of having a Piled higher and Deeper degree (Ph.D. for short) in geology.  I suppose the piled higher part works well as she deals with boxes of rocks – and I suppose she is smarter than said box.

In 1994 I had been a student at the University of Missouri – Rolla for two years.  My sister had started there in 1993.  While Rolla is a relatively small town (about 20,000) my sister and I didn’t live that close in proximity, she being in the dormitories and me in an apartment.  Thus, she had her Tempo there and I had my ’89 Mustang with its mighty fire-breathing 2.3 liter lump of lustful desire.  As spring break approached, we realized our wildly divergent plans for our week off so we agreed to each taking their own car back home.

She left about two hours before I did.

The route we took from Rolla required us to traverse Missouri Route 8 through the Mark Twain National Forest.  This is a highly scenic drive with lots of hills and curves and it is truly a terrific road for those who enjoy a spirited drive.  It also happens to have a 40 mile stretch through one of the more desolate areas of the state.

While tootling along in my Mustang, approaching curves at the point just below where my tires would protest, I rounded a curve to see a rollback truck, a highway patrolman, and a crunched Ford Tempo, all off the side of the road.  Seeing the patrolman first, with him pointing at me to pull over, made me wonder how he’d clocked my speed.

Getting closer, I could see the Illinois plates on the Tempo and realized it was her who had been in a wreck.  She was nowhere to be found and I was quickly getting nervous.  I knew something was really amiss when the patrolman called me by my first name as I exited my Mustang.

Walking his way I could see my sister sitting in his car, crying.  She had ran off the right edge of the road and a series of overcorrections had resulted in her leaving the roadway and rolling her Tempo.  It had landed on the passenger side and her attempt to climb out had caused the door to come down and hit her head.  As good fortune would have it, a local amateur race car driver who had been in similar predicaments had witnessed the spectacle and helped extricate her.  He was gone by the time I arrived.

It was now a matter of the Tempo being loaded onto the rollback.  The Tempo was going to be hauled to the small town of Steelville, about fifteen miles to the west.

Following the rollback to Steelville was the worst part of this ordeal.  The Tempo had been loaded so it was facing the rear of the rollback.  We followed the rollback, discovering the Tempo’s radiator had ruptured, causing coolant to spray all over my Mustang.  Staying further behind the rollback didn’t help.  It was inevitable.  I had to use the windshield washer.


As soon as I started washing the windshield the waterworks in the passenger seat hit full throttle.  This is when I realized two fundamental truths in life; first, there is no discreet way to wash a windshield and, second, engine coolant smears amazingly well on glass.  In an agonizing effort to prevent a second vehicular mishap that day, I was forced to stand on the windshield washers.  The reservoir was nearly empty by the end of the trip back to Steelville.

A lack of Tempo was the primary problem for the day.  A related problem was getting all of the crap out of my sister’s Tempo and into my Mustang.

For some reason college students appear to have a phobia about washing clothes, saving them for trips home.  So every stitch of clothing my sister owned was shoved into the trunk of that Tempo.  The Tempo had a rather generously sized trunk for the time.  She was also packing a computer in the backseat – and we should remember computers in 1994 aren’t the dainty little things of today.

The trunk in my dark gray notchback Mustang had a capacity of about 0.3 cubic feet.  It was truly pathetic in size.  Somehow we shoved two cars worth of accumulated crap in my Mustang with every nook and cranny having something shoved in it.  I even shoved dirty underwear into the computer box because, hey, there was some room in there.

One item I had not buried was some prescription pain pills I had.  At the time I was getting severe migraine headaches that would last up to a week.  So when my sister said her head hurt I gave her one of my pain pills (yeah, I suppose that’s illegal, but whatever; most people would do similar in that situation) and, voila!, her headache was gone.  She felt so good she was almost giggling about this whole affair.

I, on the other hand, wasn’t too thrilled.  I knew this would mean I would be in the taxi business as my parents would expect me to cart my car-mangling sister all over creation.  I also knew it would likely be up to me to help her find a replacement with her insurance check.  I knew all my additional fuel costs would be expected to be covered by my never-ending generosity.  I also knew if the scenario were reversed she would be expected to do absolutely none of that.  Most importantly, I knew I didn’t have time for all this nonsense.

Sure enough, all of these came true.  My sister even drove my Mustang back to Steelville (the county seat of Crawford County) from Rolla to pay the ticket she received from the highway patrol.

And, despite being the good samaritan who rescued their poor hapless sister after she had demolished her car (and a number of trees), I still managed to be admonished by my mother.  It seems my pain medicine contained a narcotic and, as my mother pointed out, my sister could have had a concussion and giving her a narcotic could have killed her.  She also uncharacteristically used the word “dummy” in her admonishment.

Me being my typically charming self, I had to point out:

  1. My sister obviously had no concussion as she was still moping around
  2. She was the nurse, not me
  3. She had established giving pain medicine to someone was worse than wrecking a car.

Few people appreciate when I point out the things they obviously haven’t thought about.  That’s their problem, not mine.

Sure enough, I got to help my sister find a replacement for her decrescendo’d Tempo.  In that never-ending saga of some people having all the luck, my sister’s insurance check for the Tempo was more than what had been paid for the car nearly two years prior.

She bought a 1992 Ford Ranger with a five-speed.  Want to guess who got to teach her how to drive it?  She mastered it but wrecked that Ranger a few years later.

My sister now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been there for quite a few years.  About a month ago she purchased a blue 2019 Volkswagen Jetta.  But a red Tempo is what I will always associate with her.