S’No Tempo: 1991 Mercury Tozaz LS-AWD

Scotty GilbertsonBy Scotty Gilbertson

Never seen snow! Just kidding, of course, this 1991 Mercury Topaz LS-AWD has made easy work of driving in the snow for the last 26 years. This fancy Tempo is on Craigslist in Tigard, Oregon, just a few miles southwest of Portland. It’s an area of the country that gets snow but does not use salt on the roads. If the CL link goes away, it can be found here. The seller is asking a gut-wrenchingly reasonable $800 for this four-paw scratcher. This would be a heck of a winter car. Yes, it’s newer than what we normally show here and it has, gasp, four doors! It’s basically a Ford Tempo with chrome, not exactly a hot number. But, it’s 26-years old, it’s unusual being AWD, it’s rust-free, and it’s cheap. You either get it or you don’t..

As those of us who live in the upper-Midwest or the Northeast portion of the US know, winter brings with it millions of tons of road salt which has made it safe to drive for decades. But, that road salt has also ruined millions of vehicles due to rust. This Topaz, according to the seller, has “ZERO rust on it.” After 158,596 miles, any vehicle that was driven in the winter in the upper-Midwest of Northeast would be very rusty by now. That’s the biggest selling point of this car for me, that and the fact that it has AWD which means that it would be a good winter car for those of us who don’t drive their “good” vehicle/s in the winter.

It’s hard to argue with a good, rust-free, AWD car for $800 for those of us in snow country. I’m still debating on whether to nab this one, but the shipping would double the price and I already have an old, rusty Outback that I drive in the winter. This is such an unusual car, though, and it hits a few buttons for me: it’s unusual, it has AWD, it has no rust, and it’s dirt cheap! Those are hard features to beat. Plus, the seller is a nice guy. I emailed him for more info on this car and he replied right away. He said that the AC has recently stopped working, but other than having it come in handy for defrosting the windshield in the winter, who needs AC in their winter car? He also mentioned that the passenger front window doesn’t seem to work.

The Mercury Topaz was, of course, based on the Ford Tempo and this second-generation car is in great shape, according to the seller. The “four wheel drive system has been completely rebuilt with a new rear differential and new vacuum actuator. This is a switched four wheel drive system and works amazingly. I used it in the intense snow we had here in the metro area this past winter and it had ZERO problems maneuvering through the snow. Never got stuck once.” There are no engine photos but this one should have Ford’s 2.3L inline-four with 100 hp. According to the seller, this “car is really good to drive, is good on gas and will never leave you stuck when it snows.” They’re selling it for money to pay for college, in case you were wondering.

Yes, the blue seats aren’t original, they were replacements from a Ford Tempo donor car to replace the original, tattered gray seats. The seller has done a lot of work on this car to make it a reliable driver, including, “New Rear differential, New 4WD vacuum actuator, New Headlight housings, New Passenger side wheel bearing, New coolant, New spark plugs, New spark plug wires, New distributor cap and rotor, New stereo with aux input and USB.” It also has new tires and a new battery, according to the seller’s reply to my inquiry. I know that this will seem like nothing more than just a basic used car to most people here; it isn’t a muscle car, an exotic, or an old pickup. But, it’s 26 years old, it’s rust-free, and having AWD makes it unusual in my book. Not to mention the price of entry for a good winter car.

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Comments

  1. Todd Zuercher

    For $800, you can’t go wrong. You’ll own one of the few left in existence! $800 isn’t going to pay for much college these days.

    13+

  2. King Al

    Agree with Todd. $800 is very reasonable. Nice to see a vehicle of this vintage and mileage so reasonably priced.

    7+

  3. Sam

    Buy it, drive it, take care of the basics and see how long it goes.

    Hate to admit…my parents had a first year blue 4dr Tempo. I had an 87 2dr white Topaz, red fabric, polycast plastic wheels and a black le bra on front.

    Continuation of the T-Bird jelly bean design.

    4+

  4. CaptShindig

    One of Ford’s “Better Ideas”! They should make more of these today at a reasonable price point. Henry would approve!

    6+

  5. Matt

    There was an old guy years ago who would drive a Tempo AWD house to house in my neighborhood looking for cans. Only one I ever recall seeing. Neat car, but poor reliability from what I understand.

    1+

  6. redwagon

    Had no idea these even came in AWD. $800 is a great price point, heck, if it is a nice as advertised and they really were selling to afford college I’d give them $1000 cuz it’s worth at least that.

    4+

  7. Larry K

    My buddy gave me his wife’s when I Iived on a farm. We used it for time trials. It held up pretty good. I can’t remember what I did with it after?

    2+

  8. Snunker Member

    We had an ’89 version of this car back in the late ’90s, used it for commuting 90+ miles a day. Was very dependable EXCEPT for the rear universal joints on the half shafts. Ford cheaped out and went with X type instead of constant velocity and they only lasted 20k even when I put in ones with zerks and tried to keep them greased. The MN/WI salt on the winter roads eventually made the car rust away to the point of unsafe to drive.

    3+

    • Grumpy

      I worked as a tech in a Ford dealership when these were new. Most had the rear half shafts permanently removed as soon as warranty was up. The u-joints never lasted long.
      Otherwise a great 4×4 system.
      I always like the Tempo/Toespaz models. They lasted a lot longer than the Contour/Mystake that replaced them. 3yrs then done.

      2+

  9. angliagt

    I’ve heard,from the owners,that Tempos were
    very reliable,if boring cars.
    Again,if it’s not rusty,$800 would get you a great
    winter beater.”Poor Man’s Quattro”?

    4+

  10. DaveT

    I used to hang out with a girl in college that had a Tempo GL. We always wanted to switch the badges to make it the Lempo GT.

    3+

  11. Gay Car Nut

    I remember the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz. I found them more attractive than most of the Fords and Mercurys sold throughout this car’s production. Only the Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable were better looking, at least through 1992. I’ve heard of the Tempo/Topaz AWD. It’s a shame they weren’t on the market for very long with AWD.

    2+

  12. scottymac

    I had new ’85 and ’87 five speed coupes, were a lot of fun for me. Engine was a Falcon 200 minus two cylinders. Very reliable for the time I owned them. Always wondered what they would have been like with the later V-6 option. The aero Bird was a trial run for Ford, but the Tempo/Topaz more so. If they had been rejected by the marketplace, we’d have never gotten the Taurus/Sable that we did.

    1+

  13. geomechs

    I had a ’92 Topaz GS. It was a great car and I ran it for 113K miles. I could almost say: ‘flawlessly,’ but I would be a liar about driving it in the winter; it was about as useless as a case of dysentery on ice or in snow. My wife could NOT drive it in the winter; I gave her the Bronco and drove the Topaz myself. It was treacherous on the corners; you would enter the corner and it would be fine until it broke loose; it would just go straight–into the curb on the opposite side of the intersection. Maybe it was my first encounter with FWD but I could see why race drivers of old called FWD the ‘Hearse of the Speedway.’ The police and highway patrol were the largest proponents of RWD for their cars and that was probably why the Crown Victoria was built for so long. I’ve always felt safer with RWD; when they decide to skid I know where they’re going to go.

    AWD in this model? I must not have been paying attention when I bought my car; I didn’t think it was available….

    3+

  14. Terry

    I bought a all drive Tempo new. Nice ride, but problems with the rear wheel drive system. Because I live in the Northeast, the roads are covered with salt all winter long. During the summer all of the universal would seize up. they would all need to be replaced every year. Ford stood behind it and paid for all repairs to the system. It was just a pain to need to have it done all the time. No loaner car. after 3 years I traded it in at Ford.

    1+

  15. Ralph Robichaud

    Had a ’93 Tempo GS – two door with a 3.0 V-6. Had it 11 years, with close to flawless reliability. Only repairs ever were brakes, tires, and battery. For an econo box, it rode well, seats were firm and comfortable, excellent visibility, and generally felt like a bigger car. In my opinion, much better vehicle than Chevy Cavalier”. Fuel consumption just Ok.
    These cars, just like the late 70s Ford Granada , were badly maligned by most of the automotive expert writers, yet they outlasted most of their competition… Go figure!

    3+

    • geomechs

      Back in the days I worked for a GM dealer I used to hear all that drivel about how great the Japanese cars were and how crappy American cars had become. I remember bantering with a Toyota salesman who gushed about everyone of his customers telling the world how much better Toyotas were than GM. I responded with: “Did they tell YOU that? Or did you tell THEM that? And tell me: Why is it that every time I look inside your service department I see NEW, broken Toyotas?” It doesn’t matter what you drive, they ALL break. For years it seemed like it was politically incorrect to mention an import issuing a recall but wait until the domestic cars had one; the world was going to end.
      Remember the Ford Explorers with their blowouts and colossal wrecks? I know of one that was caused by an import SUV; its steering column locked when the driver made a lane change causing a massive pile up. Since one of the vehicles involved was an Explorer the wreck was conveniently blamed on that.

      0

  16. Wayne

    I was a Ford/Mercury parts and service director at the time these were new. I would never pay $1.00 for one of these. This must have been very gently driven and maintained. As I would have never guessed that one of these would live this long. IT IS ON BORROWED TIME!!!
    Sorry to be so negative !

    1+

  17. Hunontherun

    Oh God the nightmares are coming back LOL. I use to work at a LM dealer when these were new. The first year cars (84) were carburated. They had a problem with the needle sticking in the seat and the carb would run out of gas. You had to carry a small tack hammer with you to bang on the carb to get it started again. Then the TFI ignition modules that a vendor supplied to FORD were quitting left and right. We called these TOWPAZ because we would average 3 being towed in every day for awhile with no spark. These were basic transportation. Nothing fancy at all. In California I never even saw a 4wd version. But I did have the misfortune to get a couple of the diesel versions that were just calibrated oil leaks.

    0

  18. kc9bjo

    I had a friend in the National Guard that had one of these with a diesel. He loved it. Same color as this one. It was weird to have one with a diesel, but it proved to be a very reliable car. He put Bridgestone Blizzaks on it, and the car was virtually unstoppable, unless you high centered it.

    0

  19. Fran

    Actually, in that area there are many rust free jems. In my area, (Binghamton, NY) where the salt ratio is, for every inch of show, they salt 2 inches, I see 3 year old vehicles that are much worse! I would gladly pay 1200.00 shipping to save 10,000.00 worth of body and paint work! Just kidding, we all know for expert work it is way more that 10K!

    2+

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      I agree with you 100%, Fran! I just looked at a 1984 Chevy El Camino Conquista yesterday here in MN and it sure looked great in the photos. I’m sure that if I wouldn’t have been just 40 minutes away I would have bought it based on the photos. I’m SO glad that I looked at it. The frame literally had holes big enough to stuff a potato in, and not just in one place, all over! The bodywork in some areas was thicker than Chicago traffic and it looked like they painted over oatmeal in spots. Wow, that was close! I’ll gladly pay more, plus shipping, for rust-free vehicles any day of the week.

      1+

  20. PRA4SNW

    I had an ’84 Tempo 2 door, carb and manual (3 speed stick IIRC). By the time I got it, it was a $500 car, but never left me stuck and was surprisingly rust free.
    Nice, cheap commuter mobile that was roomy enough to carry around all the computer crap I needed for my PC Tech job.

    1+

  21. David Miraglia

    owned a Fairmont and a Tempo. I always thought that the Fairmont was better and I sure as hell hated the bathtub look on the Tempo. The Taurus by comparison was superior in every way to the Tempo/Topaz.

    0

  22. Ben Spentko

    I had an AWD Tempo of the same color. I loved that car. It would go ANYWHERE in snow without even trying hard. I pulled a buddy’s truck out of a ditch with it one winter.

    0

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