CHEAP WHEELS: All Those Low-Mile Ford Tempos And Mercury Topazes

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Re-watching the evergreen (actually ever-snowy) film Fargo reminded us of the Tempo and Topaz, those inexpensive ’80s and ’90s foot soldiers in Ford lineup. Things didn’t go so well for that Fargo Tempo nor its occupants, but today, finding a decent example can be a fine bridge between project cars.

We all felt bad for the teen couple in Fargo who were murdered after their Tempo skidded off the road in their attempt to escape from the cop killers they unfortunately had driven past. Those just-about-bald front tires appear to have been a factor.

The Tempo and Topaz replaced the boxy Fairmont and Zephyr with the rounded styling Ford was making its trademark. But what was radical in 1984 is no big deal now, and the fact that so many remain with such low miles points to them as being a favorite for senior drivers. In fact, you read a lot about Grandma in the ads.


Another from a senior woman.


The early Tempos are fun as automotive curiosities,but they’re daunting to consider as daily transportation. You’d wonder how stressed the head gasket is on this one after it has been repeatedly overheated.


This first-year Mercury Topaz LS presents well but has some issues, even with the low miles.


The stalling can be a real frustration with these cars, and it’s not an easy fix. My short time with a 1989 Tempo GL had me chasing my tail trying to nail down why it was dying at stop signs. There were many theories – was the airbox secured? Were the motor mounts rocking the engine too abruptly? What about the throttle position sensor? When your bridge car becomes your project car, then it’s time to sell.

The coupes with their downturned lines seemed to suffer from a massive hangover.


The square headlight plugged into the bulbous sheetmetal also seemed like an unfortunate choice.


This upper-trim LS’s interior shows the folly of Ford’s minimal differentiation between trim levels back then. The LS got you ribbed upholstery on the seats and door panel. More detailed yes, but more luxurious? Nah. And thank heavens for those awkward A-spoked steering wheels eventually passing out of style.


We haven’t yet hit bottom with this search, but this $350 FIRM worn-out coupe brings us close. This is one you drive til it dies and then call up the local scrapyard for pickup.


A derby car tells us the floor has been reached.


Believe me, this is what I wanted to do with my Tempo and its constant $%&*! stalling.


Still, one of the many low-mile Tempos or Topazes out there can get you through the winter, or at least until you’ve saved enough for the Miata you’ll be autocrossing in the spring.



Tell us in the comments – would you consider a Tempo or Topaz as bridge transportation?