17K Miles And AWD: 1988 Ford Tempo

This amazingly clean 1988 Ford Tempo sedan is one of the exceedingly rare models equipped with electronically-controlled all-wheel drive. Before the Subaru Legacy burst onto the scene, models like Toyota’s All-Trac lineup and the AMC Eagle were consumers’ go-to for greater traction, but Ford certainly did their best to snag a few sales of their own with these all-wheels driven Tempos. The seller believes the low odometer reading of this Tempo is accurate, and it’s listed here on Autotrader.com for $6,999.

Thanks to Barn Finds reader TCOPPS for the find. Of course, while Ford may have expected to bring more consumers into the showroom, so few of these exist today that I have to believe it wasn’t a big seller. The Tempo and its Mercury Topaz twin did reasonably well, and my personal barometer for sales success is whether I still see a certain model coming into the junkyard. The Tempo does indeed still show up in you-pull-it yards in the south, but certainly not in AWD form (or with the exceedingly rare Mazda diesel engine.)

The seller notes the mileage as being an impressively low 17,921, with the caveat being there’s some clerical discrepancies on that number. Still, the condition of the interior and under the hood should put to rest any doubts that this Tempo has seen relatively few miles in its years on the road, and its caretaker was exceedingly cautious and committed to keeping this top-shelf Tempo in mint condition. The dash shows no cracks, and the steering wheel looks like it’s never had a greasy hand laid on it. Even the shifter trim remains dark and glossy.

The all-wheel-drive Tempos came with 100 b.h.p., certainly not sufficient by today’s standards but perfectly capable of getting out of its own way. This Tempo is located in Colorado, which seems fitting for a vehicle designed to push on down the road when the going gets slow. With functioning AC, a radio, manual doors and windows, and cruise control, this AWD oddity is equipped with everything you need and nothing you don’t. The question is, what do you do with it? Preserve it like the museum piece it is, or use it as a winter car in defiance of our SUV-everything culture?


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  1. Jonathan

    $7K seems rather ambitious since there is probably only 1 person out there that would actually buy this.

    For sure, this is a museum quality vehicle representing its part of automotive history and is likely one of very very few extant examples, but rare does not always equal valuable.

    Like 17
  2. Ken Cwrney

    I agree Jonathan. The seller is trying to get the “new car” price for this one.
    Museum piece or no, its only worth $3k
    to $4k at best. I’d split it with him and
    offer him $3,500 CASH for it. I’ll bet you
    dollars to donuts that he’ll take it. After
    all, these cars were riddled with issues
    that turned them into your typical “throw
    away” car. If you bought one new, you
    could only expect 70K miles of service before
    the repair costs would force you to scrap it. As a 2nd car, yeah, I’d put Mom into one as most of her trips are around town
    and not much further. At the price he’s asking now, its still a bargain here in Florida where a very well used car can
    command upwards of $33,500 for a 20
    year old Chevy Malibu. A lot of folks here
    are priced out of the new car market here
    and the monthly payment for a bare bones Chevy Aveo is now $650 a month
    when sold at our local Chevy dealer. If
    everything works as he says it does, you
    could fly in and drive it home and save the
    $3K shipping fees. Other than that, nice

    Like 2
    • CCFisher

      Yeah, um, pretty sure nobody anywhere is paying $33,500 for a 1999 Malibu, and if people in Florida are paying $650/month for a bare-bones Aveo, I’ll be on my way tomorrow with a truckload of ’em to sell.

      Like 15
    • Pete R

      I did a quick search and found this on a website. “Best State Based on Initial Cost of a Used Car: Florida” also “When looking for a used car, Florida has some of the cheapest options available.”

      Like 5
    • DayDreamBeliever Member

      Um, hyperbole maybe?

      Like 2
      • CCFisher

        Nah. Trumped-up figures.

        Thank you, I’m here all week.

        Like 6
  3. CParm

    $33.5k for a 2000 Malibu? A well-equipped new one doesn’t even reach that price

    Like 5
  4. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

    This car is the ’80s equivalent of the Pinto or Vega; an econo-box for someone who needed cheap transportation and figured on junking it after a few years because of terminal rust. I can see that is has an unusual driveline which will attract some and the condition is outstanding for a non-descript four door but I can’t see paying seven grand for it. Somewhere around $3,000. Maybe. I just can’t imagine someone saying “I just GOT to have that!” and forking over all that money.

    Like 6
    • Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

      That’s a good analogy FordGuy. The difference to me is that the Pinto and Vega at least tried to be a bit sporty, with two door coupe body styles and a decent percentage being four-speed manuals. (It’s always interesting when a Pinto comes up, and someone will note that it was kind of fun to drive given the manual transmission). The difference in these, one decade later, is that most were four-doors with automatics, with no attempt to be anything more than basic transportation.

      Like 4
      • FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

        Very true, Bob_in_TN. The Pintos and Vegas with a manual trans had some appeal back then. A four speed also helped you get as much as possible out of the anemic four bangers they were usually hooked to. The Pintos and Vegas were decent looking as opposed to the generic, shapeless Topaz. Definitely a car for the secretary pool or the pocket protector crowd.

        Like 2
  5. Bob S

    I had a previous generation Topaz, didn’t have the all wheel drive option, bought it with 91,000 miles for $250 with some pretty wicked hail damage. Pretty rough on the eyes, kept it maintained, and for my initial $250 investment, drove it to the junkyard on 3 cylinders with 260,000 miles on the clock. That 2.3 pushrod four pot was all but indestructible. This is a car that I would consider, but I’d drive the wheels off of it, but not for 7k

    Like 11
  6. angryjonny

    My parents had this exact car, m/m/y, only in burgundy. It was great for Minnesota winters, and I used to take it down some sketchy roads without too much fear of getting stuck. That drive train was problematic, though, and they traded it in on a Nissan before it hit 80k.

    Like 2
  7. Stevieg

    Years ago, probably early 1990’s & before I owned my used car lots, I worked at one as manager. I had a guy call me one day & said he had one of these for sale, he was moving & had to unload it. His was a 1987, if I recall correctly.
    I had gone to the auction the night before & pretty much filled the lot (not hard to do, it held 12 cars @ the most). I told this guy the dilemma, but he insisted on bringing it by.
    I bought the car for myself for $350.00. I drove it for a year or so & sold it to a chick I wanted to date for an amount I no longer recall. I am sure I made money, but I am also sure I gave her a deal, because I wanted her in my life & I was undoubtedly thinking with the wrong head lol.
    I know she drove it for a very long time. Last time I saw her she was still driving it, although it was looking pretty ratty by then.

    Like 7
  8. ccrvtt

    Another reason to be glad the ’80’s are over.

  9. mark

    Back in the 90’s, was driving up one of the steepest hills in Duluth MN (4th Ave W) during a bad snowstorm. Finally had to give up trying to make it up in my 4WD pickup as I was just spinning my wheels; just then one of these AWD tempos goes by me up the hill!

    Like 5
  10. Paul S

    I had a 1987 Tempo with the 4 speed stick shift. It was similar to this body style. It was a good car until it was hit while I was stopped at a red light.

    Like 2
  11. Car Nut Tacoma

    Lovely looking car. I remember when the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz were first introduced. That’s when Ford produced the best looking cars. Since I’ve never owned a Ford Tempo, I have non way of knowing how good they were. But I found them more attractive than the Chevy Celebrity, the Dodge Aries, or even Japan’s cars like the Toyota Camry, the Nissan Maxima, or the Honda Accord.

    Like 1
  12. Little_Cars

    In the end, it’s still a 1980s Ford Tempo sedan. Those that still exist and are drivable sell at the tote the note lots where I am in the hundreds to low thousands of dollars. Now, if this was an all wheel drive Ford EXP, it would be another story. If they made the EXP with it, that would be a cool driver.

  13. George Mattar

    Thanks Bob S for informing other uninformed bozos on here who know nothing about Tempos and Topazs. I work for Ford and bought my daughter a used 91 Topaz when she got her drivers license in 10th grade. Yeah we put some money into it. But only wear items needed on $85,000 new POS cars of today. She drove it all through high school and college in Saltworld, AKA western Pennsylvania where PennDO5 throws enough salt to kill us all. She graduated. Bought herself a new Corolla. I took over the Topaz. Put a radiator in it and muffler and tailpipe. Drove it another 3 years. The ONLY reason Ford stopped building this car is because Dealership mechanics had very little to fix. Biggest problem was the heater control switch on dash. Yes it was junk. Other than that, that Mexican built engine was great. I d rather pay this money for this almost new car with far cheaper insurance than a new SUV that costs 10 times as much. Best part. No Car payment with interest.

    Like 7
  14. ICEMAN from Winnipeg and Vancouver

    I bought a new 1989 Mercury Topaz in Sept 1989. Drove it for 16 years, and 350,000 KMs. Other than one new clutch and a broken air conditioner at year 14, it was a reliable car that needed no maintenance other than the usual oil/filter changes and brake pad replacement. With the 5 speed manual, it was fast enough to keep up with traffic and it easily cruised at 130 KM on the Trans Canada Highway in Alberta (before Alberta clamped down on the speed). And no, it had zero rust, a perk when one lives in Vancouver, BC.

    Like 2
  15. Lance

    I agree the asking price is too high despite its mileage and drive train but I did want to comment on my experience with the 1991 Ford Tempo I owned. It was red inside and out, had four doors, front wheel drive and was a year old rental car. The vehicle was very well maintained by the company. Only service I recall was oil changes and brake pad replacement when I owned it. The Tempo did not handle as sharply or respond to throttle imput as quickly as the Chevrolet Cavalier I previously owned.But the Ford held up much better. The Cavalier needed head gasket repairs at 50,000 miles and the power rack and pinion steering failed as it aged. The four door design wasn’t as sporty either but worked much better wth two young children getting into the back seat.

    Like 2
  16. Roseland Pete

    These cars were supposed to be problematic when new and I doubt that they improved with age.

  17. w9bag

    When I was a recruiters aid, we had these as GSA cars. They would cruise @ 100 all day long. I put about 400 miles a week on mine. Very dependable, but the lumbar support was very poor. There was also a guy in my Guard unit that had an AWD version, but his also had the rare Mazda diesel option. Piss poor performance, but he put some really good snows on it all around, and it would plow through the worst Midwest winters. Nice car, but I would rather go for an Eagle.

    Like 1
  18. Little_Cars

    @w9bag, presume you meant cruising @ 100 >>kilometers<< all day long. Can't imagine these cars doing 100 miles an hour for any great length of time. 400 miles a week is a pretty good entry in the log book… what GI cars did you use before or after the Tempo?

  19. w9bag

    Little_Cars, the Tempo’s were the only cars that we had in our GSA fleet. And, no, I was referring to 100 mph. I ran ours up to 100 nearly every day, not all day, tho, just for short jaunts of 10-30 miles, on I-70, from Indy to Terre Haute. They were well serviced and fun to drive, save for the aforementioned front seats. No lumbar support, and my back was killing me at the end of a 10 hour day. And I was only in my 20’s. Never had any issues to deal with, with these cars. Of course, over a career of 23 years, I drove everything from M151A1 Jeeps, to HUMVEES.

    Like 1
  20. Stan Marks

    I know it’s psychological, but why does $6999 sound so much cheaper than $7000? That’s part of the car game… LOL!!!

    Like 1
  21. Steve Bush Member

    Sorry w9bag, to call BS on your 100 mph tale. As the top speed for a Tempo like yours is just over 100 mph it’s seems pretty likely you would’ve had major mechanical issues if you drove it 100 mph on any regular basis. Not to mention with the mediocre suspension, tires and brakes, driving it would be at least a bit unnerving and you’d be lucky not to have a bad crash if anything happened suddenly. Also, while I don’t know the exact road or traffic conditions or police presence you encountered, 100 mph on a fairly heavily traveled road like I-70 for more than a few miles on any regular basis, seems somewhat unlikely and probably downright stupid; especially in a Tempo.

    Like 1
  22. w9bag

    Well, when I was in my 20’s, I chose to live vicariously. But the Tempo was a great running car, and saw triple digits on a regular basis. Maybe the GSA plates kept me out of trouble.

    Like 1
  23. Wayne

    I was a Ford Parts and Service Director when these were new and introduced. The very first AWD we had was a lemon. The rear diff failed on a test drive. The transmission/transaxle failed about 30 miles later. Then the tach started to operate backwards. The dealership owner was real nervous about selling that car to a customer. So it was agreed to put a bunch of miles on the car to be able to sell it as a used car at an auction. My wife was pregnant at the time with our first child and no longer fit behind the steering wheel of our old tried and true Celica. So she was elected to put on the miles. (It made me very nervous for her to drive the car.) But she never had a problem except the tach acted up again in the last week of her use. We sold it at auction 3 states away. About 18 months later I came to work to see it parked in the service drive after being dropped there by a tow truck. (I had the VIN memorized on that vehicle) and panicked big time. It seems that the car now belonged to our dealer principals, brothers girl friend after it had been purchased at a different auction 6 months before 7 states away. I refused to work on it. And the “girl friend” was convinced to trade it in. We sold it to a wrecking yard.
    That being said, other than the first couple of years of production, (mostly wiring and fuel related issues) the Tempo/Topaz cars ended up being almost as reliable as Mustangs and Crown Vics. And yes the seats were terrible. I even took an AWD for a demo during one of the worst winters that we had here in Northern Nevada. It operated flawlessly even after a pretty hard jump over a snow mound and pushing snow with the hood for approx. 70 miles. (I kept watching the temp gauge.)

    Like 1

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