Ford Tempo

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Ford Tempo
File:92-94 Ford Tempo.jpg
Manufacturer Ford
Also called
  • Ford Ghia
  • Ford Topaz
  • Mercury Topaz
Production 1984–1994
Assembly United States: Claycomo, Missouri (Claycomo Assembly)
Canada: Oakville, Ontario (Oakville Assembly)
Designer Jack Telnack
Body and chassis
Class Compact
Predecessor Ford Fairmont / Mercury Zephyr
Successor Ford Contour / Mercury Mystique

The Ford Tempo and its twin, the Mercury Topaz, are compact cars that were produced by Ford for model years 1984 to 1994. They were downsized successors to the boxy Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr twins. The Tempo and Topaz were part of a rejuvenation plan by Ford to offer more environmentally friendly, fuel efficient, and more modern styled models to compete with the European and Japanese imports. While the car sold well, its innovation and aerodynamic design paved the way for the even more groundbreaking Ford Taurus.[1] The Tempo and Topaz were replaced in 1995 by the "world car platform" Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique, respectively.


The design and life of the Tempo began in the late 1970s as Ford was gearing to build towards a more ergonomic, more efficient, and more aerodynamic design philosophy. The new design philosophy rested in part due to the aging Ford Pinto and Ford Maverick, and two oil embargoes which led to a rise in more fuel-efficient import vehicle sales. Taking note of this, Ford set out to revolutionize the automotive industry, and would later lay the groundwork for three revolutionary vehicles: The 1983 Thunderbird (and its Mercury counterpart, the Cougar), the 1984 Tempo (and its Mercury counterpart, the Topaz), and the yet-to be released Taurus (and its Mercury counterpart, the Sable). The Tempo and Topaz would be based on a stretched version of the front-wheel-drive Ford CE14 platform used on the Ford Escort, but with a radical new body. Being based on the CE14 platform meant the Tempo and Topaz, unlike its Fairmont and Zephyr predecessors, were front-wheel-drive. By making them front-wheel drive, interior space was much larger than if they had been rear-wheel-drive. The transaxle designs also borrowed heavily from the Ford Escort. However, there were few common components due to the Tempo and Topaz's larger size.

In December 1978, wind tunnel testing began on the Tempo, with more than 450 hours of testing resulting in more than 950 different design changes. As part of these changes, the Tempo and Topaz both featured a 60° windshield, matching that of the new Thunderbird and Cougar. Also new were the aircraft-inspired door frames, which originally appeared on the Thunderbird/Cougar. These door frames wrapped up over the edge of the roof which improved sealing, allowed for hidden drip rails, and cleaned up the A-pillar area of the car significantly. The rear track was also widened, creating more aerodynamic efficiency. The front grille was laid back more and the leading edge of the hood was tuned for aerodynamic cleanliness. Wheels were pushed out to the edges of the body, decreasing areas where air turbulence would be created. The rear of the cars were treated to just as many changes. The rear window was laid down at 60 degrees as well, and the trunk lid was raised higher than the side windows. This allowed the air to flow off the car more smoothly, and allowed for greater fuel efficiency. From the side view, this raised trunk created a wedge look to the car which was especially prominent on the two-door coupe versions.

All of these changes created a coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.36 for the 2-door car (0.37 for the 4-door), which was equal to the Cd of the new "Aero" Ford Thunderbird. The final design of the cars was reached so that the car looked good on every trim level, not just the top-of-the-line as some of the competition had done. When the Tempo was released in 1983 as a 1984 model, it became an instant hit, with more than 107,000 two-door models and more than 295,000 four-door models being sold in the first year alone. Initial advertising featured a Tempo sedan performing a loop on a stunt track. The commercials touted the Tempo as being "America's all new aerodynamic sedan" and listed features such as "the world's most advanced automotive computer" that claimed to have the ability to monitor up to seven vital engine functions, and noted the interior to be roomier in the rear seat than a Mercedes-Benz 300D. Other ads featured the slogan "Pick up the Tempo of your life!"

First generation

First generation
File:1984-1985 Ford Tempo sedan -- 03-09-2011.jpg
  • 1984-1987 (Sedan)
  • 1984–1994 (Coupe)
Body and chassis
Body style
Wheelbase 99.9 in (2,537 mm)
Length 176.7 in (4,488 mm)
Width 68.3 in (1,735 mm)
Height 52.7 in (1,339 mm)

The first generation Tempo and Topaz, were released in 1983[citation needed] as 1984 models, and equaled the length of a Chevrolet Cavalier at the time, to which it was a response. The Ford Fairmont (with its 105.5-inch wheelbase), which was last produced in 1983, was actually more directly replaced by the Ford LTD (with its 105.6-inch wheelbase), which was introduced in 1983.

Even though the Fairmont (at 105.5-inch wheelbase and 193.8-inch length) was sized much larger than General Motors' front-wheel drive Chevrolet Celebrity mid-size car (at 104.8-inch wheelbase and 188.3-inch length) and had similar length to the Fairmont's predecessor, the Maverick (at 109.9-inch wheelbase and 193.9-inch length), the Tempo had been meant as the sedan and coupe versions of the Ford Escort, and both vehicles were in similar classes, similar to how Volkswagen's sedan and coupe answer to the Golf hatchbacks would be the Jetta.

1987 Topaz sedan

The Tempo was Ford's first compact car downsizing, just seven years after GM downsized its cars in 1976 for the 1977 model year (some of them in 1978 or later). Both the front windshield and rear window were set at 60° angles, with the trunk of the car being placed higher than the side windows to allow for greater fuel efficiency and air flow. On the Tempo, a rear quarter window was present while the Topaz received a more formal C-pillar arrangement minus the window. The front of the car featured a set of two sealed-beam halogen headlamps recessed in chrome "buckets" and the grille in between the headlights featured four horizontally thin rails each swept back to allow for greater air flow into the engine compartment and over the hood. The Tempo shared much of its design language with the European Ford Sierra, launched one year prior.

The first generation Tempo came standard with a new 2.3 L HSC inline four-cylinder gasoline engine with a one-barrel carburetor, with an optional Mazda-built four-cylinder diesel engine. Mated to either of these engines were the choice of a standard four-speed IB4 or optional five-speed MTX-III manual transmission (which was the standard, and only option for the diesel engine variant), or the optional 3-speed FLC automatic with a floor-mounted shift lever. In late 1985, the 5-speed manual became standard and the 4-speed was discontinued. In addition, a slight modification was made to the 5 speed transmission, moving the "reverse" position on the gear shift knob from right beside first gear to the opposite bottom corner. This was done to decrease the possibility of mistakenly shifting into reverse rather than 1st gear during takeoff. The instrument panel featured a new, easier to read gauge layout, with all switches and controls placed within easy reach of the driver. In 1985, the Tempo became the first production sedan to feature a driver's side airbag.[2]

File:Ford Tempo 2 -- 10-31-2009.jpg
1986–1987 Ford Tempo sedan

In 1986, the Tempo and the Topaz saw several moderate design changes which coincided with the release of the then-new and revolutionary 1986 Taurus. While generally the same car, the front and rear end styling was where the changes were most evident. The standard rectangular sealed-beam halogen headlamps were replaced with a new, plastic composite design which only required replacement of the bulb itself. These new headlights were flush-mounted to match the redesigned front corner lights and a freshly restyled grille, which also closely matched that of the Taurus (the Topaz received a pseudo-lightbar grille styled after the Sable). For the rear end, the trunk and taillights were slightly restyled, giving the car a sharper look. Replacing the carburetor on the 2.3 L four-cylinder engine was a new Central Fuel Injection (CFI) system (the carbureted version was still available in Canada until 1987). New was an optional "LX" luxury trim, replacing the GLX. Other changes and improvements included the addition of automatically retracting front seatbelt shoulder straps, and the addition of a new all-wheel-drive model. The Tempo AWD included special badging, interior badges. Other available features included power lumbar support, four-way power driver's seat and a cassette player.

From 1986 to 1987, there was also the Sport GL, which included unique interior and exterior styling cues, an HSO (High Specific Output) version of the 2.3L HSC engine (slightly more power), alloy wheels, tachometer, and a quicker gear ratio for the 5-speed manual transaxle (3.73 final drive). It was badged simply as "GL", however a Sport GL is easily recognizable because it lacks the GL's chrome front and rear bumpers. In 1987, the Mercury Topaz received a standard all wheel drive system on the trim levels GS-AWD and LS-AWD. This AWD system (developed exclusively for the Tempo and Topaz) was available for model years 1987 to 1991.

Trim levels for the first generation Tempo are as follows:

  • L (entry level model)
  • GL (mid-level and by far the best-selling model)
  • LX (introduced in 1986 as the luxury model, replacing the GLX)
  • GLX (1984 and 1985 only)
  • AWD (1987 only, only year AWD could be had on a Coupe bodystyle)

Trim levels for the first generation Topaz are as follows:

  • L (stripped down base model available in 1984 model year)
  • GS (Topaz equivalent of the Tempo GL, mid-range model and most common, available between 1984 and 1994 model years)
  • GS-AWD (Topaz GS with All Wheel Drive as standard, available between 1987 and 1991)
  • LS (luxury/high end trim level, discontinued after 1992)
  • LS-AWD (Topaz LS with All Wheel Drive as standard, available between 1987 and 1991)
  • XR5 (Topaz Coupe's sport performance model made from 1987 to 1992, in 1992, XR5 received a standard 3.0L V6. All XR5s are 2-doors)

1988 and 1992 coupe facelifts

For 1988, Ford redesigned the Tempo and Topaz, however leaving the rear body of the 2-door very similar to the original model (with only updated tail lamps and rear bumpers that more closely resembled the sedan). The last facelift occurred in 1992.

Second generation

Second generation
File:Tempo, 10-3-07 (18).JPG
Production 1988-1994
Body and chassis
Body style 4-door sedan
Wheelbase 99.9 in (2,537 mm)
Length 177.0 in (4,496 mm)
Width 68.3 in (1,735 mm)
Height 52.9 in (1,344 mm)
Curb weight 2,723 lb (1,235 kg)

The Tempo and Topaz sedans received a major redesign in 1988, whereas the coupes were facelifted instead. The changes gave the Tempo and Topaz an even more similar look to the Taurus and Sable, respectively. On the front end of the Tempo, a completely restyled grille featured three thin horizontal chrome bands with a Ford oval in the center, with two composite flush-mounted rectangular headlamps with restyled front turn signal housings on either side. On the Tempo GLS, this chrome grille was blacked out, and they received a blacked-out "D" pillar. For the rear, the taillights received a major rework on the and were now completely flush-mounted. A restyled rear quarter window was designed to match and blend evenly with the completely restyled rear door trim. The Topaz was differentiated from the Tempo by a more formal rear window, a waterfall grille, more upscale wheels, and solid red tail-lights.

The interior of both the sedan and coupe models saw a brand new instrument panel design, with a central gauge cluster (now with a standard engine temp gauge), and more ergonomic driver controls. Fan and windshield wiper controls were now mounted on rotary-style switches on either side of the instrument panel, and the HVAC controls received a new push-button control layout. Other changes included reworked interior door panels. Also, starting in 1986 a driver's side airbag was optional, a rarity then for an economy level car. On Tempo LX and AWD, the interior received chrome and wood trim on the dashboard and doors. Topaz models featured the tachometer-equipped gauge cluster and a front center armrest standard.

File:92-94 Mercury Topaz GS.jpg
1992–1994 Mercury Topaz GS sedan

1991 (the last year of the 1988 restyled look) saw the discontinuation of the all-wheel-drive model Tempo and Topaz, as well as the now Canadian market exclusive entry level model Tempo L. 1992 saw a minor redesign. The Tempo gained body color side trim to replace the black and chrome trim, as well as full body colored bumpers. The three bar chrome grille was also replaced by a new, body colored monochromatic grille. And the Topaz's chrome grille was replaced with a new light-bar (nonfunctional).

Also in 1992, a new engine, a 3.0 L Vulcan V6, was introduced as optional on the GL and LX, and standard on the GLS. 1992 would be the last year of the GLS, as it was discontinued (along with its Topaz counterpart) in 1993. This left Tempo with only two trim level options, GL and LX. 1992 also brought about a slightly redesigned gauge cluster, with tachometers now reading up to 7,000 RPM instead of the previous 6,000 RPM. Also, a fuel door indicator was added to the fuel gauge (an arrow pointing to the side of the car where the fuel door was located). 1992 was the only year for US models to have an available 120 MPH speedometer (GLS, XR5 and LTS models only); all other model years read to 85 MPH. 1994 was the last model year for the Ford Tempo (and Mercury Topaz). Production halted in the first quarter of 1994.

Trim levels for the second generation Ford Tempo are as follows:

  • L (entry level model, discontinued in 1991)
  • GL (mid-level model)
  • AWD (advertised by Ford as a separate trim level, AWD was actually built on an LX body, as evidenced by the body code. Discontinued in 1991)
  • LX (luxury model, only available as a four-door sedan)
  • GLS (replaced Sport GL as the performance oriented model, discontinued in 1992)

Trim levels for the second generation Mercury Topaz are as follows:

  • GS (Topaz equivalent of the Tempo GL, mid-range model and most common, available between 1984 and 1994 model years)
  • GS-AWD (Topaz GS with All Wheel Drive as standard, available between 1987 and 1991)
  • LS (luxury/high end trim level, discontinued after 1992)
  • LS-AWD (Topaz LS with All Wheel Drive as standard, available between 1987 and 1991)
  • XR5 (Topaz Coupe's sport performance model made from 1987 to 1992, in 1992, XR5 received a standard 3.0L V6. All XR5s are 2-doors)
  • LTS (four door variation of the XR5, 'LTS' stood for Luxury Touring Sedan, made from 1988 to 1992)

End of production

In the early 1990s, Ford chose to develop a new platform for the aforementioned Contour and Mystique rather than redesign the Tempo and Topaz in the mid 1990s to meet new safety standards (dual airbags, etc.). While highly innovative in its early years, and even though it was a strong seller for nearly its entire lifetime, by the early 1990s the Tempo and the Topaz were seen as an aging platform. The lack of an overdrive automatic was a sore spot when compared to newer designs having 4-speeds. It was also to be the last year for the 2.3 L HSC engine, which was built by Ford specifically for the Tempo and Topaz. Also, it was to be the last year for the 3-speed FLC automatic version of this transaxle; although it was slightly redesigned, given overdrive, and was used on the Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer/Mazda 323/Kia Sephia. With all of these factors, Ford stopped production of the Tempo on March 25, 1994, when the last one rolled off the Claycomo, Missouri assembly line. It was succeeded by the Contour, a derivative of the European Ford Mondeo. It came with a jump in price: the most expensive 1994 Tempo (a loaded LX sedan with a V6) was about US$12,900 ($20,620 in 2014 dollars), while a base model 1995 Contour (GL with four-cylinder engine and manual transmission) was $13,990 ($22,361 in 2014 dollars). The last Ford Tempo and Topaz rolled off the Oakville, Ontario, Canada assembly line on May 20, 1994.

The new-for-1995 Ford Windstar was then built at the Ontario plant that formerly built the Tempo and Topaz, while Kansas City turned over to Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique production (shared with a plant in Hermosillo, Mexico). Today, the Ford Focus occupies the same market niche that the Tempo and Topaz once did.

Production figures

The Ford Tempo was a massive sales success for Ford. It was one of the top ten best selling cars in the US, usually in the top five, during its entire production. In 1984, Ford sold a total of 531,468 examples of the Tempo and Topaz,[3] nearly 100,000 more units than the best-selling Toyota Camry (2006) of today. Below is a list of annual model year production figures for the Tempo.[4]

  • 1984: 402,214
  • 1985: 339,087
  • 1986: 277,671
  • 1987: 282,632
  • 1988: 313,262
  • 1989: 240,904
  • 1990: 218,426
  • 1991: 185,845
  • 1992: 207,340
  • 1993: 154,762
  • 1994: 110,399
    • Total: 2,732,542


  1. the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide (2007-06-11). "Ford Tempo and Taurus". Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  2. "Today in Ford History: Jan. 7". 2007-01-07. Archived from the original on September 17, 2004. Retrieved 2007-03-03. 
  3. "1984 – Tempo-Topaz Introduction". Tempo Topaz Car Club of North America. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  4. "Tempo-Topaz History: Year-by-Year". Tempo Topaz Car Club of North America. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 

External links