Unlikely Survivor: 45k Mile 1985 Ford Tempo GL

For a car to make the cut here at Barn Finds, it needs to be interesting, rare, iconic, or preferably, all of the above. With more than 300,000 examples rolling off the production line in 1985 alone, the Ford Tempo didn’t qualify as rare when it was new. However, it could potentially qualify as both rare and interesting today. If you don’t believe me, think back over the last year or so, and try to remember how many you have seen in your travels that are as clean and tidy as this one. I’d be willing to bet that most of our readers will struggle to get into double figures on that front. This one is located in Longmont, Colorado, and needs a new home. It has been listed for sale here on Craigslist, and the asking price has been set at $7,900. I have to say thank you to Barn Finder Gransedan for referring this little gem to us.

The automotive landscape changed throughout the 1970s, and these changes continued into the 1980s. Prior to the 1970s, people thought little about fuel consumption in the cars that they drove. Oil was plentiful, it was cheap, and who really cared about the environment? However, things changed rapidly, and car manufacturers had little choice but to adapt to the growing requirement for cleaner and more efficient motor-cars. That trend continues today, and it helps to explain why vehicles like the Prius sell in incredible numbers. At the start of the 1980s, computer technology was not even remotely comparable to what we experience today. That means that cars like the Tempo were quite an engineering achievement because they pre-date the sophisticated engine management systems that are part-and-parcel of modern cars. A large part of the car’s success stemmed from the amount of development work undertaken in the wind tunnel. It gave the car impressive aerodynamic efficiency and defined its appearance. This one looks like it is a beauty, and its condition suggests that it has been well cared for during its life. We do know that it has always been garage-kept, which will have helped its cause enormously. There are no signs of any rust problems, and the panels are impressively straight. The White paint is free from scrapes and scratches, while the trim and glass appear to be faultless.

The interior presents just as impressively as the exterior. While there is some stretching of the cloth on the driver’s seat, that is one of the few faults that can be identified. Anyone who has owned a car of 1980s vintage for any length of time will know that the plastic trim can be what I would term “biodegradable.” That means that years of exposure to UV rays can leave it brittle, discolored, and crumbling. That isn’t an issue with this car, because the plastic trim and the dash are in excellent order. The Tempo doesn’t feature many luxury appointments, but remote mirrors and an AM/FM radio are both nice touches.

There are no engine photos, but we know that the Tempo is powered by a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine. This is mounted transversely and sends its 86hp to the front wheels via a 3-speed automatic transmission. Outright performance is not this car’s strong suit. A ¼ mile ET of 19.6 seconds is hardly going to set the world on fire. However, thanks to its aerodynamic efficiency, this car can achieve better than 30mpg with a little bit of care and concentration. Considering that it can also seat a family of five, that is impressive. The owner states that the Tempo has a genuine 45,000 miles on its odometer. It appears that he is able to back this claim with documentary evidence. He describes the Tempo’s overall condition as being like new, and it is hard to argue with that description.

If you had told the average new car buyer in the 1970s that you would be able to provide them with a car that could seat two adults and three children in comfort, could cruise all day at 70mph, and could better 27mpg with little effort, that person probably would have placed a massive question-mark over your sanity. However, that is precisely what Ford managed to achieve with the Tempo. What makes this achievement all the more extraordinary is that the company managed to achieve this goal without the benefit of sophisticated engine management systems or multi-valve technology. It would be easy to dismiss this car, but I believe it would be a shame to do so. The reality is that it is now 35-years-old, and its condition is extremely impressive. Okay, it might not be the most exciting car on the planet, but I have to hark back to what I said initially. Think back and try to remember how many of these you have seen on our roads recently. That relative rarity today makes it a vehicle that is worth more than a passing glance. The asking price is a long way above the NADA guide price, but it also isn’t unprecedented. There have been a couple of tidy examples that have sold for around this figure in recent times. The battle with a car like this is to find the right buyer. I hope that the right buyer is out there somewhere.

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Comments

  1. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    Adam has done a fine job placing this car in its context. As a basic, inexpensive family car, it was fine. Even a bit stylish. It was a product of the time when automotive engineering was starting to turn around, and it was a bumpy process. No, it wasn’t exciting or powerful or anything else that most enthusiasts cherish, but I’m glad that examples of well-kept common cars like this are still around for us to see and comment on.

    Like 23
  2. Rex Kahrs Member

    I recall back in ’84 when the Taurus and Tempo came out, the styling looked like it was from outer space. Of course, this was just following the era when cars were just rectangles with sharp edges and flat panels.

    Like 6
  3. Mitchell Gildea Member

    I like it, but not at $7,900. $4,500 seems a bit more realistic and that still seems high

    Like 17
  4. JammerX19

    I had an ’89 AWD model. I wanted to love that car but I put at least five ignition modules in it over the time I owned it. And the all wheel drive was fantastic but if you used it even a little in the winter, you were guaranteed to need universal joints in the rear end come spring, and if you aren’t Johnny-on-the-spot with that repair, the double wheel bearing (that no one ever had in stock) would go south shortly thereafter.

    Like 6
  5. Dan wright

    This is not the car we wanted but the car we wanted but the car we had…my sister had two. Her boyfriend drove a stick shift version…crunch crunch grind…..I dont think he knew how to use the clutch…they were not great or even good but got us where we needed to go.

    Like 4
  6. Jcs

    Ummmm, no.

    This thing wasn’t even worth half of the ask when it was new.

    Are you kidding me?

    Like 9
  7. UK Paul 🇬🇧

    These always have a special place in our family. It was a white Tempo my wife drove us around in the US before she emigrated to live here with me in the UK. Fond memories!

    Like 3
  8. Sherminator

    Our high school’s drivers ed car was an 84 model. With five adults on board, two who were linebackers, it was a tight fit and a really slow accelerator. Not to mention all the vibrations and rattles as the driver attempted to his cruising speed. Nice memories but I’d buy a classic Pinto or Gremlin over a Tempo at this price.

    Like 5
  9. Argy

    When you remember that Ford’s compact offering in 1983 was the Fairmont, you can understand how revolutionary the Tempo was in 1984. Wind-tunnel testing resulted in actual aerodynamics and front-wheel drive and five speed transmissions were the sort of thing that were getting imports noticed. The car was ubiquitous to rental and student driver fleets, so finding a first-year car with such little use and in this condition is must be considerably more rare than say, a 1984 Mustang or Thunderbird might be. I owned a 1990 Tempo and found it to be a joyless transportation appliance, but the heater worked in the winter and it hardly ever broke down (and when it did parts were cheap and readily available). I’ve owned worse.

    Like 14
    • Scott Miller

      Escort came out in 81

  10. grant

    Ever tried to change a water pump on one of these? 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

    Like 4
    • Dan Wright

      I remember our neighbors doing one and the amount of cursing coming from their driveway.

      Like 2
  11. Miguel

    The cars drove like crap especially with the clunky automatic.

    With a stick it was slightly better.

    For a car to bring a higher price somebody out there is going to have to have fond memories of driving it and I am not sure that person is out there.

    Now saying that, a car like this has to be preserved to show where we came from.

    Like 11
    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      I had an ’84 with a stick. 3 speed, IIRC.

  12. TJ

    I had a 1986 Tempo with the 2.0L Japanese diesel with a 5 speed manual transmission. I used to drive from Chicago to Detroit without stopping for fuel and still having a quarter tank of fuel! Wish I could get that power train package today. Never gave me any trouble, even in the winter.

  13. Rex Kahrs Member

    While this car and the Taurus were a radical departure from the slab-sided design paradigm that lasted from about 1961 to 1980, I would opine that car design hasn’t evolved much since this car’s time. The only interesting car designs in the last 35 years were the retro-styled Mustang and Challenger, and those are old designs!

    Every other car on the road looks exactly like a Honda Accord.

    Like 8
    • chrlsful Member

      yup, I’d say (as the auto writers did at the time) this was an epoch making design change. The “coke bottle” style still predominates all now. Never thought it would stick as it was so odd (to me) yet dad had 1 (company car). And this is the co (ford) that just said “Will make no more sedans/coupes.”

  14. sir_mike

    I have a 1993 2DR 4cyl/auto.Bought used in 1995.Has 90000 miles on her now.Other than a big oil leak from somewhere it is a great daily driver.Put snow tyres on all 4 wheels for winter…goes good.

    Like 2
  15. Skorzeny

    I remember going to a Moog seminar for mechanics, and the guy doing the class says ‘If you ever see a Tempo or a Taurus pulling into the lot, you better be running for the car.’ The Tempo/Topaz, and Taurus/Sable cars had had the worst front ends on them. I did countless tie rods and ball joints… They were disposable cars, but not terrible. To me, the color is terrible and the transmission is terrible, but there might be 2 buyers in the country that might want it.

    Like 2
  16. DrillnFill

    It’s always nice to see a bland throwaway car like this preserved so well. Someone really loved it once. Nice to see.
    I (very) briefly dated a girl in college in the ‘90s who had a beige Tempo. She once told me that it leaked a little tranny fluid- she had to add a quart of ATF *a week*!
    Yes just a slight drip 🤣

    Like 3
  17. art

    Hmmm, I guess everyone has different experiences with the same car.
    I was given a brand new 1988 Tempo, baby blue, as a work vehicle. The car never failed me in 92K miles. It need tires, battery, a belt, and even the brakes went 70+K miles. it did have regular scheduled maintenance and that’s why, in my opinion, it was trouble free.
    Not much in the horsepower department but the A/C worked fabulously handling the California sunshine and the seats were very comfortable and the fabric did not wear. The paint held up, but then I personally washed and waxed that car. For the money at the time, it was a decent transportation car, one that served me well.

    Like 7
    • Ray

      Tha fabric didn’t wear out, but any Ford red cloth seats from this era turned white along the window lines.

  18. gyates

    My folks had a couple of these. They purchased one of the first ’84 Tempos sold in the Nashville area. It was fire engine red and pretty loaded. Honestly, it was not a good car and had several issues. They ended up with an ’85 GLX edition that was actually a dramatically improved car compared to the ’84. The biggest weakness in these cars was the transmission. This one is a nice vehicle, but I think the seller is way aggressive on the asking price.

    Like 2
  19. CCFisher

    There is a word for materials that degrade in sunlight: photodegradable.

    Like 2
  20. MWolf85

    These weren’t quite as bad as many made them out to be. With maintenance, they could go for a long time without much worry. My mom has a ’92 Mercury Topaz (just a Tempo with a Mercury badge) in her garage. She bought it when I was 9 years old. It still shines, and has 89,000 on the clock. She usually drives her SUV these days. The Topaz has never been trouble in the 26 years she’s had it, aside from a coolant leak and battery cables. Not a high performance, but a slow car that runs is faster than a fast car that doesn’t.

  21. Vance

    I sold cars in Tucson for approximately 10 years, I had to deliver a car to a nun who lived in Sells, Arizona . I was on the back half of a very skinny deal, and Sells is an Indian Reservation in the middle of nowhere. I was just going to have her sign the paperwork, deliver her new car , and drive the trade home. It was close to a 2 hour drive, and the car i was driving back was the the most dilapidated, tired looking car I had ever seen. She had bought it new. and it had over 350k on it it. The two lane road back is a notoriously dangerous road, especially at night. I drove 4 hours for 50.00 dollars. It was an 1984 Tempo, and it got my sorry a** home. I was a new salesman who learned a valuable lesson.

    Like 7
    • Phlathead Phil

      Great story!!🥳

      Like 1
  22. Howard A Member

    I had a ’84 , 2 door, got it cheap, had a bad AT leak, got it repaired, and it was a decent daily driver until my ex-wife, who killed all my cars, boiled all the coolant out one night coming home, good-bye Tempo. They were okay cars, kind of Ford’s answer to the K car, no?

    Like 1
  23. MarveH

    I was looking for a good used car in late 1991. I saw an ad in the Pittsburgh paper for a new Mercury Topaz, 2-door, 5-speed, air conditioning, and cassette for $7500. These were the close-outs as Ford was preparing the new Contour.
    I never had one day of trouble in the 5-years and 140,000 miles that I owned it. It would get over 400 miles on a tank of gas, the Mazda gearbox shifted great, and the ride and handling were perfectly fine.
    I kept it immaculate, always waxed, the interior was perfect, and the engine was spotless. When I went to trade it on a Tracer LTS the salesman thought it had 40K on it, not 140.
    It was just an ordinary car but I owed all my paychecks, recreation, and routine errands to that car. I was too poor to afford the luxury of destroying my cars or even resenting them for not being Ferrari’s.

    Like 11
  24. Car Nut Tacoma

    Great story. I remember when the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz were on the market. I was too young to drive a car at the time, but I found them way more attractive than anything on the market at the time. I haven’t seen either of these cars since the 90s.

    Like 2
  25. David Miraglia

    I had a 1987 Tempo, slow and mediocre,my earlier Fairmont Futura was a better car. Replaced it with a Chevy celebrity by the early 1990’s.Not one of my favorite Fords.

    • Phlathead Phil

      David,

      I had both cars. The Fairmont sucked and the Tempo blew the doors off many other contemporary cars. (See my comment way down below)

      Although some creep set fire 🔥 to my Fairmont late one night, I was happy to see the charred ruins go!

      I lost 💸 on that one!!

  26. JCA

    My mom had the 4 dr auto Mercury Topaz version in 84. Wasn’t a bad car. Way better than any all sedan from GM at the time. My friend had a 2 door sprort Tempo with a sunroof and 5 speed. Was a pretty nice car for the day. Then came the Honda products and changed the small car market for many years. As for this Tempo, I don’t see what the joy is in owning it when a newer small sedan is vastly superior to this even at the $7500 price point.

    Like 1
  27. lc

    Too much. . .$ for it. $1500 – 2000 is more like it.

    Like 1
  28. wjtinfwb

    One of the more dull and boring cars in a decade of mostly dull and boring cars. Imagine flying into Atlanta, Chicago, LAX or most any other airport mid-late 80’s and heading to pick up your “mid-size” car. There sits; a Tempo, a Chevy Corsica, a Dodge Shadow or 400 and maybe a Grand Am. A coveted upgrade would net you a Celebrity, 6000, Taurus or Dodge 600/Plymouth Caravelle. Regardless, if you were told 36 years later someone would have preserved one of these appliances and offered it for sale at almost 8 grand, you’d have laughed them out of the airport. An interesting bit of 80s memorabilia at 2-3k. At 8k, no thank you.

    Like 2
  29. Gary

    I moved to Roanoke Va. 5 years ago, after retirement. I see them all over the valley. There are at least a dozen, or so. Still driving around. I have driven them, back in the day. They were very utilitarian vehicles. I could hardly believe. That there are so many still in use here.

  30. ICEMAN from Winnipeg

    I bought a new 1989 Mercury Topaz in September 1989 from Landau Lincoln/Mercury Sales in Winnipeg across from Polo Park. Had that car untili September 2005. Just over 350,000 KMs. One clutch replacement and a few mufflers and brake pads/brake shoes were the only mechanical items that needed attention. I recall cruising at 130 to 140 KMs an hour on the Trans Canada Highway from the BC border to Calgary, back when the RCMP were more lenient when packs of cars were clustered doing those speeds.

  31. R.Scot

    Had an elderly neighbor across the street from where I lived some years ago that owned one of these. She bought it brand new, kept low mileage on it, and was very punctual with scheduled maintenance. Still, the car would literally fall apart while sitting in her driveway. Not one of Ford’s best products.

  32. Glenn Schwass Member

    I rented one for a camping trip to Wakins Glen. One of the most under powered cars I ever drove. Hated every mile in it.

  33. Jim

    Love it when you post utilitarian vehicles like this. They are so rare today. I always get more excited seeing one of these than yet another Mustang or Camaro.

    This one appears to be from before they installed those god-forsaken seat belts in the doors.

    Nice sample.

    Like 1
  34. Phlathead Phil

    Wow, lots of comments on this one.

    Here’s mine. IMHO, this is one of the best and most reliable cars Ford ever built.

    I bought a used one from a friend who had MS.

    I didn’t have the $200.00 at the time, so I asked if I could pay her $50.00 a month for 4 months. She agreed, no interest percentage.

    I drove it every other weekend to go and get my kids for visitation.

    I put 1,200 miles on it every month for two years.

    I never put a dime into it other than gas, oil, insurance and one license tab.

    I eventually traded it in for $1600.00, but the ‘72 F-250 I got in the deal was a piece of crap.

    Guess you could say I traded a 🍑 for a 🍋 !

    Like 1

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