I’ll confess, I’m always a little excited when I get to rent a car. I say this even though I know I’m probably going to wind up with some drab, fleet-grade box with about as much personality as a slice of day-old Wonder bread. But it’s a chance to drive something different, or so goes my thinking. Somewhere in the back of my brain there also lurks a hope that maybe, just maybe, the car will be better than I’m imagining and I’ll be treated to a new and fulfilling driving experience…okay, probably not. Usually, I’m just hoping it doesn’t suck.
Let’s take a trip in the way back machine to the summer of 1995. Ms. D and I were living in Medford and I worked for the Southern Oregon Historical Society. A former SOHS colleague of mine, Steve (actual name), was the director at the Lincoln County Historical Museum, about 240 miles away in Newport. Steve asked me if I could make the trip up and help him set up a working darkroom and copy stand.* Road trip! And, even better, the LCHM was going to pick up the cost, including the rental car.
I definitely needed the rental because you may remember that at this time Ms. D and I had only one car, the ’94 Saturn, and I wasn’t going to leave my wife at home without wheels. I called ahead to Enterprise or some other such place and reserved a 1994 Ford Escort for the trip. I remembered test-driving an Escort a few years back, before we bought the Tercel, and it wasn’t half bad. It was part Mazda, after all.
I was to head up to Newport on a Friday, stay Saturday and help Steve set up the studio, and then return to the Rogue Valley on Sunday. When I arrived at the rental place on that Friday morning to pick up the car–you can probably guess how this goes–they didn’t have an Escort available because of course they didn’t. “We can move you up to a Tempo,” the customer service associate suggested cheerfully, completely missing the irony of the statement. My thoughts flashed back to 1986 when we attended my brother’s graduation from Williams College. Dad had a Topaz as a rental and hated it. But maybe things have improved? So I took the Tempo, because it was either that or stay home.
Okay, so I didn’t get the car I wanted, but I was still excited about the trip. Leaving Medford, I’d head up Interstate 5 northbound to Sutherlin, about 110 miles. Passing through the narrow Rogue River Valley and then over four low mountain passes between Grants Pass and Canyonville, I-5 in southern Oregon is curvier and much more scenic than the Willamette Valley segment. Dense forests of Douglas-fir and Ponderosa pine line the interstate along many stretches. The mountains give way to the rolling, oak-studded hills of the Umpqua Valley by the time you reach Roseburg.
Taking the Sutherlin exit just north of Roseburg, I would drive up Oregon 138 to Elkton and then head west on Oregon 38, which follows the Umpqua River to the Pacific Ocean at Reedsport. The final leg, from Reedsport to Newport, would be especially scenic. North of Florence, US 101 hugs the west-facing slopes of the Coast Range in many spots and makes for some of the most spectacular coastal driving outside of California’s fabled Route 1. Even in a Ford Tempo, this was going to be a great trip…
…or so I thought. “This doesn’t look so bad,” I thought when they showed me the car I’d be renting. It was bright red and even, if such a thing can ever be said about a Ford Tempo, a little bit handsome. Crushing disappointment hit as soon as I started to climb inside, however. The driver’s door groaned wearily when I opened it as if to complain, “Not another driver…” Rather than closing with a confident bank-vault-like thump! as Japanese car doors did, it closed with a hollow, tinny clunk! The interior was soul-sucking monochrome gray. The seats were squishy. Worst of all–and this really isn’t the car’s fault, but it didn’t help matters, either–the cabin was redolent with the smell of a sickly-sweet deodorizer. Did the previous renter die in here?
I turned the ignition key and the 96-hp 2.3-liter HSC 4 wheezed to life. This engine was covered in glorious, gory detail at CC here. Suffice it to say, with the 4’s wet-noodle performance and a three-speed auto, the Tempo supplied me with a lived-experience definition of the phrase “barely adequate.” For example, passing on a hill turned out to be more of a challenge than I’d anticipated. The grades were steep enough that large trucks/trailers were moving pretty slow, but I had to time it right: get into the left lane, pass…(sloooowly…), and quickly get back into the right lane so more capable cars, like Geo Metros, Yugos, and King Midgets, could pass me. Yes, I’m exaggerating with that last bit, but I think you get my point that passing on a hill in this car was an exercise in both frustration and patience. Thankfully, trucks that were just crawling along would usually get over to the shoulder, much to my relief and to the benefit of clean underwear.
To call the Tempo’s handling sloppy would be an understatement on the magnitude of saying that Thanos has anger management issues. The first stretch of 5 leaving the Rogue Valley was pretty straight, but, like a distracted toddler, the Tempo wanted to wander all over the lane, and I had to keep a pretty firm grip on the wheel to keep it pointed forward. Steering was light and response was, ummm…vague. How vague? I got the feeling that the Tempo would turn when it darn well pleased, regardless of when I had actually turned the wheel. This problem became acute when I drove on the twisty sections of road on Oregon 38 and US 101. Though the actual response delay was probably only a fraction of a second, it seemed like an eternity. It got the point that I’d be scouting ahead for curves and then calculating when I’d actually have to turn the wheel so the car responded at the right time. When I did enter a turn, the Tempo tracked lazily and forced me to correct it as it would either be too close to the shoulder or the center line, depending on the turn.
To top things off, the 4’s nasal drone added a level of driving tedium I had never experienced in a car before. The sickly-sweet smell was also taking its toll and I was starting to get a 4-alarm headache. By the time I reached Elkton to stop for dinner, I decided I needed to do something about it. Where was that smell coming from? Had the rental company hidden random urinal cakes throughout the car? I fumbled around the car’s storage bins and glove box but found nothing. Finally, I did a sweep of the floor under the seats and discovered that they had placed several highly-perfumed dryer sheets under the front passenger seat. Are you friggin’ kidding me? And you thought that “bounce” box in the opening graphic probably referred to the car’s bouncy ride, didn’t you?
After I ate dinner, I felt a little better and it was time for the second leg of the trip. Having (mostly) learned the trick of how to drive this turd, and with the smell waning after I unceremoniously disposed of the offending dryer sheets in the nearest rubbish bin, I plowed ahead with a bit more confidence. I tried to enjoy the scenery, but the Tempo would jerk me back into its tiresome reality every time I hit a set of curves.
That’s pretty much how it went the rest of the way to Newport…until… I was rounding a curve near Heceta Head. It was getting late in the evening, probably around 7:45 pm. And then I saw it. I pulled over into one of the viewpoint turnoffs that dot 101 along this particularly scenic stretch. Just a few degrees above the horizon, the sun was setting over the Pacific and bathing Heceta Head Lighthouse and the surrounding cliffs in the most spectacular soft orange-yellow glow. Groves of Sitka spruce trees that marched up the hillsides, normally dark and somber, were lit up. For a moment, I totally forgot about the car that delivered me here. I stood staring out from the highway for several minutes, as slow, regular pulses of light emanating from the lighthouse’s lantern room mesmerized me. “This is the place I want to be right now,” I remember thinking. “Who cares how I got here.” The sun set and I knew I had to get back on the road to Newport which was still almost an hour away. Tempo? What Tempo?
The next day, the darkroom and studio set-up went swimmingly and I got a chance to drive Steve’s 1971 Volvo. (Just because I know someone will ask, I think it may have been a 142, but I don’t remember for sure. Sorry.) Despite having acceleration roughly equivalent to that of an Abrams tank, the little Volvo was a fun drive. The trip home on Sunday was largely uneventful as I had become both numb to the Tempo’s crudeness and resigned to its most loathsome qualities.
Before I sign off, I want to make it clear that despite the tone of this post, I have no particular ax to grind with Ford Tempos en masse (though, if you hadn’t already picked up on it, I do have an ax to grind with this Tempo and the rental company that foisted this fecal pellet of a vehicle upon me). If you owned one and liked it, more power to you. I’m a big believer in driving the car you like and not giving much of a crap about what other people say. I am merely writing about my experience with one particular car. Being fleet-grade, it was no doubt doomed to disappoint. And it being a rental may also explain why the car seemed so weary and worn-out despite the fact it was only two years old at the time. But it did sour my opinion of blue-oval products. A while back, I wrote about the crudeness of our Saturn, but compared to the Tempo, it was a Rolls-Royce. When I got back to Medford, I was never so happy to drive it again.
*Historical Societies usually have photo/image archives. The copy stand is for photographing original photos, printed materials, or artwork. An archival negative is created and copy prints made (hence the darkroom).
Mushy. That’s how I would describe the seats, the transmission and the ride of this car. A friend had one just like this in the early / mid 90s.
And look at that wretched dashboard design. The pair of so-called center vents are crowded over to make room for the HVAC controls. How depressing it would be to have to look at that every day.
I feel like this is what everyone would drive if we lived in a dystopian early-90’s hellscape
Something learned over the years, not so applicable currently due to mandated standard equipment: check tire pressures on rental cars ASAP. Many don’t get checked before rental and some misguided idiots actually let air out to get a Brougham-like ride.
That, for sure. Also this: paper towel soaked with alcohol (or windshield wash fluid if that’s what’s available), pinch-wiped along the the length of each wiper blade. Several re-folds of several towels will be needed before dense fudge stops coming off the blade; when it just leaves grey smudges, then move to the other blade(s), not forgetting the rear one if it be. The only times I’ve ever had a rental car with wipers that don’t just smear water around is if the car is nearly new.
(For the matter of that, go do this on your own car today)
Yeah I’ve gotten some rental cars that were scary sloppy to drive, checked then filled the offending tire and it was much much better.
We rented a Tempo on a fantastic one-week tour of New Mexico in about 1984 or so. This was an early version of the Temp, meaning it was supposedly even mushier than the later ones, although I suppose that’s debatable. It certainly was slower, as it still had the carb. So many great back highways and roads, and such a miserable car. It moaned and groaned and wouldn’t hold a line. But it managed some pretty rough back roads and even some semi-off roading, and it got us back, so at least there’s that.
I can’t decide whether the 1981 Escort we rented for a week in the Colorado Rockies or the Tempo was the worst of the two. A tie, which is close enough.
Sounds like a similar trip- beautiful scenery but terrible car!
This is an interesting subject….. our worst rental car experience. Mine was in Aruba, I was given a Suzuki Samurai, with 100 degrees of rotational slop in the steering, severe oil burning , no roof, and a loose shifter. I’ve rented Samurais before that were fine but this one had a zillion miles on it.
My standards are pretty low (I’m grateful for 4 wheels and a seat) but this was unacceptable I took it back and was given a brand new , delightful Suzuki compact SUV, a model not sold in North America.
For American rental cars…. 1982 Nissan Sentra. Small slow, feeble, with 67 hp, cramped and noisy. Trust me, your Tempo was a Lincoln by comparison.
When developed the 1986 Taurus and Sable, they had a BIC mantra to benchmark the Best In Class and emulate it. With the Tempo and Topaz, they must have had a WIC compulsion, delivering the worst in class engine, transmission, and chassis.
You know how in Twins, the scientists developed the perfect human being (Schwarzenegger) and then a wretched human being (Devito) was born with what was left over? Ford did the same. You were driving the Devito of Fords
25 Years later I still remember witnessing the buyers remorse of a customer at the dealership where I worked. He had foolishly traded in his 92(ish?) Mazda Protégé in on a used 94 Tempo “program car”. I didn’t sell it to him and I don’t remember how I came to be involved but I vividly remember He was incredulous over how poorly it drove and how cramped the interior was. He so wanted his old car back!
Biohazard stickers. Yikes!
For what it’s worth, the Tempo made it into the list of top ten automobile sales in the United States Every. Single. Year. Surely they cannot ALL have been rental fleet sales?
They were cheap, particularly towards the end and undersold the Escort. I vaguely remember seeing ads for these with automatic, air, and possibly a few power options at a time when power options were rare on even midsize cars for $9995. Even at that time, that wasn’t a lot of money. Buyers also knew what a Tempo was, which . . . well, it wasn’t a complete unknown like a Daihatsu Charade or a Hyundai or Pontiac LeMans.
Actually, I knew quite a few people who owned these things. A childhood friend’s mom bought one of the updated 1988 models. It was considerably more shapely than the melted, blobby, hideous original design (if the suppository for giants look worked so well, why did Ford go so far in the other direction with the restyling?) and the dash was much nicer. The restyling made the car look much more substantial and larger than the original. It didn’t have any truly disastrous maladies from what I recall but things like alternators and water pumps and radiators which now last almost the life of the car went out often. It was not a paragon of reliability, but it wasn’t amusingly terrible, just bad.
I’m betting that a two year old rental Tempo was getting very close to the end of its useful life. Rental miles are hard miles and rental cars get banged into unfamiliar curbs and driven over things and over ruts and speed bumps at speeds that you would never undertake in your own car. Not necessarily because of a profound desire to hoon a Tempo, but it’s not your car, so there’s a certain carelessness which comes with that.
A couple of other friends bought Tempos well used which “ran” and “drove” and cost like $100, and then very quickly found out why said Tempo cost $100. Those cars then eventually cost as much as what a good car would have cost to actually get on the road.
These were also made in Mexico and considered quite upscale in Mexico.
A lot of cars get better over a long life and gradual refinements and improvements make it a better car or more reliable or both. Despite the later availability of AWD, and a V6, the Tempaz stubbornly refused to improve in any way whatsoever. Unlike the FWD X, or GM FWD A body, or Chrysler K, it never got more reliable or refined over its too long life.
“I’m betting that a two year old rental Tempo was getting very close to the end of its useful life.”
That’s very possible. That’s why I was careful to comment that I wasn’t trying to paint all Tempos with the same dirty brush. But the one I rented…hoo boy!
In my work for about 25 years I was renting a lot of cars. I was usually alone so reserved the equivalent of an Escort or Focus or the like. Unlike the trip described, most of my driving was urban or metro area – say 50 or 70 miles on city streets and freeways and then back to the airport.
I had Tempo/Topaz cars; they were plain, ordinary, boring, slow but perfectly adequate for my purposes and far from “the worst”.
The worst was by far a Chevette two door from Avis in Little Rock in about 1983 or so. The runner up was a Plymouth Sundance from Avis in Atlanta in about 1990. These cars were, in addition to slow, poorly assembled and in the case of the Chevette notably unsafe. I remember these cars with contempt; the Tempo/Topaz cars though were easily forgettable.
Some favorites were a Toyota Tercel with a manual transmission (fun) from Hertz at Chicago in about 1983 and a Honda Accord coupe from Hertz at LAX in about 1990.
Never had a chance to drive a Chevette, but I can imagine.
The Chevette (Pontiac T1000) is about as crude as a car can be. My sister had a new T1000 in 1986. Even with my very limited driving experience at 17, I could recognize a bad car when I drove one. What I remember most about it was It had the worst shifting 4 spd. gearbox I have ever experienced. it was as if, you were trying to create the gear ratios as you shifted!
As for crap rental cars, My father was once stuck with an ’83 Renault Alliance DL from Alamo. 3 spd. automatic, of course. It was very slow, but probably no slower that a 240D Mercedes which was still on sale at the time.
My sister had a used Chevette Scooter…Possibly the most horrible car I have ever seen. Outside, painted bumpers and the Chevette nameplate a decal. Inside, a peg board head liner, no arm rests, just pulls and an automatic mated to the anemic 1.6 liter engine
I borrowed my dad’s ’76 Chevette in high school for a time in the mid-90s.
1. I always had to park facing downhill, because I never knew if it would start.
2. The wipers didn’t work. Rather than figure out why, the car came with a Peterbilt-size squeegee (probably nipped from the truck stop down the road) that allowed one to conveniently squeegee the windshield in the rain while driving. Never mind that it meant getting completely soaked.
3. Passengers couldn’t get their feet in the car. To GM’s credit, this was because of a few dozen empty beer cans in the passenger-side footwell.
4. The CB radio with a huge whip antenna was a BLAST.
5. Also very fun was turning off the car while going downhill. You could make a massive backfire. Timed properly, you could cause a crowd outside the church to hit the deck on Sunday.
I’d honestly never riden in an American car, growing up in a hippie Nor-Cal area where most had Datsuns, VWs and maybe a few BMWs. In ’88, I got to take Driver’s Ed at high school. Note that our family cars were a 17 year old Datsun 510 wagon and a 20 year old Volvo 122s. The car Driver’s Ed had was an ’87 Chevette. I could not believe that a vehicle that much newer was so terrifying. Cheap, yeah, but fully scary to drive- even at Driver’s Ed speeds. Yikes. Maybe a Tempo was baaad but the Chevette was 🙁
This was everything wrong with Detroit during the 80’s and 90’s. Introduce a crappy car, then leave it in production for eleven years. They made some improvements, but there’s only so much you can do.
My boss at a banquet room where I worked had one of these and handed me the keys one night to pick up something. It may have been the fact that it was a short trip on flat South Florida roads, or the fact that she started with, “I don’t trust anyone to drive my car, but I’m trusting you,” but the experience wasn’t bad. I would probably feel the same as you if it were a long trip in hilly Oregon.
By the way, the official “Lima” engine was the 2.3-liter OHC engine that dated back to the Pinto & Mustang II. The engine in the Tempo/Topaz was the “HSC” 2.3-liter OHV engine that was essentially the old 200 CID inline six with two cylinder lopped off. Both engines were produced at the Lima, OH facility, coincidentally.
You’re right about the :Lima engine…thanks for clearing that up. The mere fact that the Tempo had an OHV engine when so much of its Japanese competition were running around with sweet-revving SOHC and DOHC engines shows how phoned in this car was.
Fixed the “Lima” reference.
The bunch of dryer sheets were most likely put there by the previous renter who had used it for running weed. Second only to a bunch of Vanilaroma stinky trees as a give away that someone has a particular smell they want to cover up.
Was given a Tempo as a “demo” at the car dealership that I worked for. A coworker of mine was obsessed with driving every new and used car on the lot, without using the clutch between gear changes. He taught me the technique in that Tempo when it had only like 200 miles on it. I always wondered how the transmission held up on that car for the future owner.
The truth is more complex, of course. But if you took someone who didn’t know, had them drive any model year Tempo and told them that this car single-handedly cost American automobiles their dominance, they’d absolutely believe it.
King Midgets? Too bad they didn’t have one of those for you to rent. I’ve rented plenty of cars over the years, nearly all of them stunningly mediocre, but none as bad as the tired Tempaz described here. Your photos have me looking for an excuse to take a drive on 101…
My dad purchased a earlier (more used soapy bar look!) one of wheeze…err…these. IMhO this was not a vehicle worth purchasing….no matter the selling price.
He apparently realized his mi$$take given that he did not, BUY his standards, keep the car long. Oop$$$$$! DFO
The Tempo is a great example of how Ford and GM treated the low-profit end of the market. The cars were engineered and designed as cheaply as possible and it’s been suggested it was an intentional ploy to make the driving experience so poor that buyers would quickly move up to something better (and more profitable). Well, they moved up, alright, right into the arms of the Japanese.
Chrysler was the only one who made even a half-hearted effort in this class, and it was first because Ford and GM let them have the market in the sixties, then out of desperation when Iacocca took the helm and eliminated everything but the K-platform.
Something else I always recall about Fords during the Tempo years are the damn motorized mouse-belts and I was kind of surprised they weren’t pointed out in the article. I only mention it because the car in the first pic seems to have them but would guess by 1993 they were gone with airbags fully implemented.
I don’t think the one I rented had those belts. However, our Saturn did and perhaps I was so used to them by that point I didn’t notice.
When we were doing some traveling in 93-94 I got some rental Tempos and discovered that in addition to uninspiring dynamics, the seat had a hard bar in an uncomfortable spot on my back. Subsequently I said anything but a Temp and got 2nd generation Ford Probes which were fine. Then in 95 we got a Ford Contour as a rental, talk about night and day. In exchange for a slightly cramped back seat you got a nicely put together car with excellent dynamics even in the base trim.
Back in 1988, while I was driving an Acura Integra I worked with a lady who bought a Tempo. To my mind she was the exemplar of the ideal Tempo customer. She was middle aged. She was single. She was an accountant. As such she had a good income but was thrifty and not given to display. She only drove short distances. Her interest in automobiles was not quite zero, but close to immeasurable – about as much as I care about hotel room drapes.
We were good friends and I (with the smugness of callow youth) tried to chide her a little for not having chosen a Japanese car. She countered that the car did everything just fine – it started, it ran, it stopped, the heater worked, and it was a pretty color. I hinted that Ford’s reliability wasn’t too great in those days to which she countered that she had bought the dealer’s best extended warranty.
So yeah. Exemplar customer. And to be fair, for the four years we worked together she was perfectly happy with the car and to my knowledge never had any trouble with it.
…and some people are perfectly happy with Brussels Sprouts. They’re nutritious, a pretty green and a have a pleasantly rounded shape. 🙂
I love brussels sprouts!
I can see this. Say someone didn’t care all that much about cars, didn’t do much driving, and previous ownership experiences were stuff like a strippo sixties Falcon or seventies Maverick. To them, an automatic Tempo with an extended warranty would be just fine.
But if they ever got into a Corolla, that would be the end of any thought of another domestic car.
The Tempo was not the worst car I have ever driven. It’s the second worst. The Chevette was truly an abomination.
Yeah, but the RWD Chevette was a fun car to slide around in the winter snow. The Tempo wasn’t much fun in any weather.
I’m with you there. Having driven a Tempo and owned an Acadian, it was just about as bad as a car could be. No go and not much stop. Hated it in the winter. Not much of a heater. All the power and refinement of a diesel, with the economy of a gas engine!
“A while back, I wrote about the crudeness of our Saturn, but compared to the Tempo, it was a Rolls-Royce.”
The power of perspective! 🙂
It seems like we all had some Tempo rental experiences. Mine spanned across the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, all in Colorado. In 1986 I travelled to Boulder a few times for business and remembering getting a white Tempo. Not the most fun car at altitude, not on the weekend excursion I took to even higher elevations in Rocky Mountain National Park, up to the road closure (it was early Spring). But why I remember most about it was the sharp upper corner of the doorframe, which formed a perfect spark gap with my hand as I closed the door … some combination of high altitude dry air, the seat upholstery and the polyester pants I probably wore at the time for work. ZAP … every time.
Fast forward to 1992 and my wife and I took our first vacation with our then one year old son. To Boulder, including a planned visit to Rocky Mountain NP. What greets me at the rental car lot? Another white Tempo! Honestly though, I don’t remember that experience as being so bad. It was summer and not as dry, and I had moved on from polyester slacks so I don’t recall getting zapped. And hiking in the Rockies with our fast toddling son was very special.
I owned a 1983 Mercury Topaz GS that was carbureted with the three speed craptastic automatic. I can describe it’s many faults with one word. NEUROTIC! The only place it consistently drove me to was neurosis due to it’s many reliability isues. That 1993 Tempo with fuel injection likely would’ve blown all four of my doors off. Owning it soured me on domestics to this day. The next car I purchased was a 1989 Toyota Tercel coupe and the last year produced with a carburetor. It had a five speed, was very efficient and bullet proof reliability. The only negative is it started rusting at around five years (Minnesota road salt) and would have crushed like a pop can in even a minor accident.
A long time ago when I used to do a lot of business travels, I recall renting a Ford Tempo. I didn’t think anything of the car; it was a rental and it got me to the destination and back. I remember disliking the motorized shoulder belt and the engine/transmission was noisy and rough compared to Japanese compacts I’ve driven. I wasn’t impressed with the car.
Another time I was at a Ford dealer having my 1988 Ford Taurus serviced and I saw a Tempo up on a lift and the engine being lowered down to the floor. I inquired about it and the service technician told me the water pump and drive belts were being changed. He added that there wasn’t enough clearance in the engine bay to put a wrench on the pulleys. I privately thought that was poor design engineering and could only imagine what the service charge must have cost.
Somewhere here I wrote about my $100 1993 Tempo I had in 2004. It was red and a two door. When I got it, it blew out antifreeze from a bad head gasket. The copper powder stopped it. I gave it a tune up. The exhaust fell off and I rigged it up. I did a tie rod. It drove better than it had a right to. It was quite a bit quicker than my friend’s ’94 Escort or my ’92 Mustang2.3L., which ain’t saying much but still surprising. I think the cat had blown out all its insides because it seemed to rev its nuts off happily. It got great mileage too. It was the best runner of the 3 crappy Tempos I’ve had. Because the check engine light was on and the exhaust rigged, when it came to emissions time I sold it for the same $100 after driving it almost a year. It was probably the best value per mile I ever had..
Oh I forgot the best part.
It came with a broken front bumper. One day I saw some sort of car bumper plastic surround on the side of the road. It probably fell off a truck. It looked roughly the right size, so I put it in the trunk. I painted it red, drilled some self tapping screws into it and had a new bumper. After driving it a short distance, I saw it was running a little warm. Then it occurred to me that the Tempo was primarily a bottom-cooler and I had covered the radiator hole. So I went home, got the jigsaw, drew some lines and cut a pretty decent rectangle in it. Then I used the removed piece and attached it at an angle at the bottom like an air dam. It cooled fine after that, and looked kind of hillbilly-cool. It was fun doing that because the car had no value and there was no pressure to make it look good. The kids and I drove that car over rough terrain, over hills and through the woods where only ATVs should go. It was a lot of fun, and no worries about scratches or dents like in a valuable car. I kind of miss having a disposable toy car like that, but it was the right crapbox at the right time. A great break from being a boring sensible adult. Everyone should have one once.
My rental Ford Tempo experience came in the summer of 1985. My parents rented it to tour a few hundred miles of California following a math conference at Stanford in Palo Alto. I borrowed it while my parents were busy at a few events, and it was just fine compared to other cars, the ones I wasn’t driving much because I was a few months from getting my learner’s permit. It’s all about perspective.
One thing I do remember is that I checked the oil, something my father trained me to do in the days when we had three Mopars in the driveway. Unfortunately for the Tempo, the ’71 Plymouth Scamp and ’85 Dodge Lancer that I checked the fluids of the most frequently had hood-supporting-springs. The poor Tempo had a prop-rod on one side of the hood, and I folded the hood over it like a shirt at the Gap.
Later Tempos I experienced did have all the gripes people mention. The automatics also had really rough downshifts as one came to the stop in later years, a Ford phenomenon first noted by me on a rented 1987 Taurus, and also observed by my mother on a new Merkur XR4ti that she test drove during 1986.
Somehow I completely avoided the Tempo / Topaz anywhere in my life. I was pretty put off by the styling on most of them, and just ignored them the best I could.
I had a handful of rentals in the 1990s for work purposes. Some of it was real dreck, a Daewoo (not that horrible, surprisingly, maybe it was the beautiful distraction of I-70 from Denver to Utah that helped), and a small, base, dark green, hand crank window Saturn sedan on the potholes of Chicago come to mind.
Somehow, the most depressing was one of the reasonably well regarded Chrysler cloud cars. Maybe it was the trip from Omaha to Fargo in late winter that tainted it. A Dodge Stratus in base trim with a 4 popper was a dreary under-powered car indeed.
No trim, plastic wheel covers, no fog lights, 2.4 EFI 4 cyl = no power. Miss, are you sure nothing else is available?
Sounds like a horrible example of what happens when the competition is ignored, and management thinks it’s good enough just to have something, anything in a given market segment.
I am SO glad Ford never sold this in my country.
I worked with a guy, who had THREE Tempos! Two were bought the same day, a red one for him, and a blue one for “Mama”. Their oldest daughter got a silver one as a college graduation present. I rode in the red one once when my car was being worked on and he took me to pick it up. What a turd. Worst car I ever rented was sort of a tie between a Mercury Zephyr, and a Mitsubishi Galant. Both were horrible cars, but the Galant wasn’t nearly as ugly as the Zephyr was, and was quicker. The Zephyr was beige, inside and out, and there is nothing I hate more than a beige interior.
A friend of mine had a Pontiac T1000, the same car as a 4 door Chevette. He was devastated when I told him his car was just a rebadged “POS” Chevette. He was talking bad about Chevettes, and I just couldn’t take his BS anymore and said, “You’re driving a damn Chevette!” It was soon gone, with a Chevy Beretta replacing it, complete with loud exhaust and huge tires and wheels. It was fun to drive on dry pavement, but when it was wet out, really scary.
All you whiners. If you never rented an early Mercury LN7 (or maybe it was just a Ford EXP), count yourself lucky.
Don’t know if anybody has mentioned it, but I really dig the cover photo!
Thanks! Just a little Photoshop collage I threw together.
I moonlighted as a car transporter in Lexington KY for Hertz RAC from the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s. My cohorts & I would dropped in a huge lot of cars be told, “OK, all these cars have to be driven to a certain location… ” And the supervisor of course would take a Town Car and the rest of us would be left to pick from the leftovers. These Tempo’s would be the absolute last cars to be picked. The boss would take off in the TC and we’d have to keep up with her because many times we had to deliver the cars in a city like Detroit, where we were not familiar with the roads. These were pre GPS days and if you didn’t keep up, you were screwed and didn’t enjoy it. The Tempos and Topazes were slow, uncomfortable, had bad sight lines, and Hertz had a million of them.
You know how in Twins, the scientists developed the perfect human being (Schwarzenegger) and then a wretched human being (Devito) was born with what was left over? Ford did the same. You were driving the Devito of Fords while the Taurus was Teh Arnold.
It could just be rentals but usually Ive had good ones there was a whole string of quite serviceable get me home for the weekend cars from Avis in NZ the company paid for except one a Nissan Tiida which was back breakingly uncomfortable, the I went to my late brothers wedding in Nervey Bay QLD, I booked a then new 3,6 Holden Commodore assuming it would be something like the mid 90s VS model I’d had previously, nope totally different and not in a good way, I’d planned to drive straight thru from the airport a night run after all I was driving 12 hour nights for a job so no biggie right? Wrong after 5 seemingly interminal hours I’d had enough, the ride comfort was well below the 93 Toyota Corona I’d left behind at the airport in NZ and the gutless torqueless engine did regular downshifts on every mild uphill on the Bruce highway even my four banger Corona would have ignored, and I had this bloody thing for a week it was going to be a long week and Holdens wetre now off the list of possible replacements for the Corona just the handling alone was sub par, Ive driven some of these Commodores since back to back long distance in NZ and the 3.6 is definitely not an improvement over the torquey old Buick 3.8, I guess a mandate from Detroit was behind the change. I can see why the customer base evaporated, Yes the V8 models go ok Ive had a play in the racecar version too yes very quick but zero ride comfort as you’d expect.
Never had a Tempo as a rental car but have driven them on numerous occasions. When I was in the Army National Guard, back in the eighties, the motor pool had a collection of vehicles that the various units could borrow as needed. After years of complaining to the powers that be about having to drive tactical vehicles back and forth to the state headquarters in Frankfort, our unit was assigned a sedan to use for routine errands. The first of these vehicles was a Tempo of uncertain vintage with about 75k miles on the clock. It had originally been assigned to a recruiter who must have had a huge area to cover. This Tempo wasn’t so much a bad vehicle as it was worn out; we had it for about two months before the transmission had to be replaced. Not long after that someone (it wasn’t me) didn’t pay enough attention to the oil level and fried the engine. We were then assigned a different (and newer) Tempo that we used for a couple of years. Any reasonable highway speed in this car produced a drone that was headache inducing for sure. It also had a tendency to wander back and forth as it tracked down the road; probably a safety feature to insure that the driver was paying attention. It tells you all you need to know about the Tempo that its replacement, a well used AMC Hornet, was looked upon as a positive move upward.
Extreme discomfort is my most lasting impression of a rental car.
In 1987, Exxon flew me, along with a bunch of other repair techs, to Houston for automotive electronics training. One perk was we could share a rental car on our last night after training ended. I remember on the way to the motel, the airport shuttle passed a huge Chrysler billboard, displaying a big, gaudy navy-blue Fifth-Avenue
I thought that would be the perfect set of wheels for our last ‘night on the town’.
What we got was a beige Tempo! As I wound up being stuck in the back seat, I don’t remember much about the dashboard or the handling. Only the collapsing seat cushion and constant bang over every bump from five guys being crammed into this ride in hell!
Fortunately, I wasn’t subjected to strangulation from motorized seat-belts, and we only had to endure the Tempo’s torment for about an hour!
Great post. Had a few rental Tempo/Topaz foisted off on me – agree, they were abysmal.
Though I have to say the mid-90’s Chevy Cavalier was worse – Rubbermaid interior and tractor-like little 4 cylinder.
I remember Pat Bedard of C&D saying inserting the key in the Cavalier’s ignition was like putting in a rat-tailed file. That’s exactly how I remember it…
A friend bought a new Tempo coupe with 5 speed back in ‘89…I remember thinking it really was horrid to drive compared to my Corolla and Nissan truck. She soon ditched it for a Maxima when her son came along.
Worse car rental was a late 90’s Hyundai Sonata, but subsequent Hyundai rentals (which were just fine) leads me to believe that bad experience was due to extensive rental miles and low level upkeep.
Best rental surprises were a ‘91 Sundance (sucker was pretty fast) and very recently a Pacifica Limited. Impressive van although I don’t need that much room for a daily driver.