Cold Start: What Couldn’t Have Waited For 1987 On This Thing?

Cs Topaz86half

This may be a car you consider boring – and with good reason – but there are at least two weird things going on on this brochure cover. The first is pretty obvious: 1986 1/2? You don’t see carmakers doing the half-year thing that often, unless there’s some really major change that has to happen right then and there, bit I can’t figure out what that would be on the Topaz here. Sure, they went through a big refresh in 1986, getting those composite headlights and moving to fuel injection from carburetors, but these all happened in ’86, so what happened in, I guess, June of that year?

The other thing is the name: we always called the Ford version of this car the Tempo in America, and the Mercury version was the Topaz. But, in Mexico, everything was different. Chairs sat on people, breakfast was for dinner, and they called the car the Ford Topaz. Mind-scrambling, right?

Oh, and I learned one other Tempo/Topaz thing: there was this early commercial where a Tempo does a full vertical loop:

… according to the March 1984 issue of Popular Mechanics, that Tempo in the ad was secured to the track, and pulled through the loop. It’s a lie! If you bought a Tempo to do loop-do-loops you were had, people! Where’s the class action lawsuit?


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42 Responses

  1. Mrs Ocean had an 87 Topaz, bought new before she became Mrs Ocean. She plumped for the extended (to 50k) warranty. Said Topaz shit its transmission at 49,800 miles. Apart from that, it was a reasonable transportation appliance.

  2. The Beretta was set to debut in 1987. Clearly this was an attempt to take the wind out of its epic debut with a Topaz that is so sporty it will make you shit your own spleen right out of your butt.

      1. I owned one way back and you are 100% correct…they were striking, and one of its best design elements for sure.

        The other, randomly, was the seats…oddly supportive and sporty for an economy coupe (I had the base model even).

        I still fondly remember how well they worked when hustling through autocross courses.

    1. And don’t you love the extraneous, all-around-the-gauge-area indicator markings…for nothing.

      I kinda miss the days of “you’re too cheap to spring for whatever feature so you get a blank but with something to dress it up a little so you don’t feel too bad.”

  3. Jason, if you were responsible for making the Ford Tempo/Mercury Topaz, wouldn’t you be absolutely desperate to get away from the preceding model year as quickly as possible? At all times?

    And the big ‘thing’ about the 1986.5 was the composite headlights, CHMS, lazy hack throttle body injection (CFI,) and optional part-time AWD. Which added over 100lbs on an engine which CFI reduced from 90HP to an overly optimistic 86HP at the crank.

  4. Tempo/Topaz got Central Fuel Injection for 1985. ’84 was the only year for carburetor in the U.S..

    Never heard of a 1986.5, unless it didn’t make it to Mexico until then. My parents bought a new 1985.5 Ford Escort, which did have meaningful changes from the early 1985s.

    1. Ford was very big on ‘198x-1/2’ shit in the 1980’s, trying to pretend it was like the ‘1964-1/2’ Mustang where it was a hugely better car. Usually using the most minor of changes. They weren’t actual model year designations though. Just marketing bullshit for minor back pocket shit.
      I honestly don’t think there was a single model they didn’t launch a ‘198x-1/2’ marketing campaign for during the 80’s.

      1. Ford Taurus was not launched with a .5 model year. But that was a minor footnote car that nobody remembers. Don’t think the 1983 Thunderbird had a .5 either. Again, an unnoticed car if there ever was one.

        The Tempo was actually launched in mid 1983, so why wasn’t it a 1983.5? I guess they were so fucking stupid that they were too fucking stupid to continue being as fucking stupid as they fucking were, right? Right?

  5. My guess is still a later intro in Mexico because they used up the outgoing model parts there.

    I had an ’84 Topaz in the ’90s and was amazed at how quickly it went from “babied, little-driven older car” to “junk heap” in the year or so I owned it. For the most part I didn’t abuse it, at least by 21-year-old guy standards, but hitting a deer (glancing blow) didn’t help.

  6. I love how that commercial references Audi and Mercedes for things that are in no way exclusively or even outstandingly Audi or Mercedes. That’s called “anchoring” and that is as brilliant a use of it as I’ve ever seen.

      1. My aunt showed to to my mothers house in a red mid 80’s Escort, I was there in my red 86 300ZX. She looked at both and proclaimed we were driving practically the same car. I was like, yeah, in that they both have 4 wheels and are red.

  7. Can Vouch for Ford trying the half thing all through the 80s. We bought my wife a 83 1/2 Ford Escort coupe. LX I believe in 2009. It had 46k original miles on the 1.5L carbed engine. And a Auto. Honest to God … That little shit box was great. Dangerous AF, but a hoot to drive max push

  8. My mom had a Tempo, about the most meh car ever. I helped her pick it out, her meh meter bring quite different than mine. She wanted something cheap and reliable, figured it would fit the bill and it did.

    She babied it and maintained it, but man it drove like a POS, number in a very bad way steering and brakes, lackluster engine, made noises, but not happy mechanical car noises, more this part doesn’t mesh quite right with that part noises, clunks and grunches, the car equivalent of old man moans and groans in response to being asked to move and do work. It was beige, because of course it was.

    1. The Ford Tempo is what got my dad to ditch buying American. Within three months the transmission was hinting it was giving up, two struts replaced, amongst other things.

      And that was what he already replaced the LTD with, which was so heavy it literally put ruts in the driveway.

      Replaced with a V6 LE Camry (V20). 35+ years later they’ve never looked back.

  9. I think of these cars when I think of the depths the 80s sank to in American automaking. That interior alone, it’s the entire malaise era summed up in one package of fake plastic wood and cheap mouse fur seats. Nothing about any of it is attractive.

  10. Good friend of mine in high school had a “tortilla brown” Mercury Topaz.
    I remember him owning it. And I remember riding in it. Hell he let me practice driving stick in it, because who cares it’s a Topaz. But when I try to remember what it looked like beyond the color it’s like my memories of it have been erased.

    It was the meh car to end all meh cars.
    One of those boring dreams you forgot about before you woke up.

    He actually made riding in it more memorable by being a slob. That’s what I remember about it.. The passenger footwells were piled high with empty cans and trash.

    Stuff fell out into the parking lot when you opened the doors. That at least made it funny to drive. Otherwise it was “The Nothing”.

    Perhaps that’s why Ford felt the need for the 1/2 year advertisement. To remind us that it still exists.

    Hand to heart I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in the wild though I know they were everywhere around me in the 90’s.

    I already forgot what that brochure picture at the top of this article looked like.

    The Topaz should have been named the Mercury Snipe. Because I’m not sure if it really ever existed or if it’s all been an elaborate practical joke that tells me it did.

  11. Bumpers sometimes can’t wait either, I guess. Early 1974 MGBs had chrome bumpers with large “Sabrina” rubber over-riders, then for the 1974.5 model year cars they got the full rubber bumper treatment.

  12. Those cars were utter garbage. I learned how to drive in one, took my driver’s test in some one else’s, and also got my foot kind of run over by a third one that a friend drove.

    It was surprising how loose the whole car felt after having only about 50k miles on it compared to one just a year newer and with maybe 20k fewer miles on it.

    Disposable is too kind a word for a the Tempo.

  13. Back in the day, I once drove a girlfriend’s Tempo on the interstate for about 12 miles. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. The pedal feel and lack of torque were like a bumper car from the county fair.

    1. The did it for the 2002.5 Protege as well which consisted of different cupholders, different stock wheels and side marker lights on the fenders. And probably other things that I am forgetting. There were also differences between the 2003 and 2003.5 Mazdaspeed Protege. Maybe Mazda does it more frequently?

  14. I’m sure I’m not the only one who enjoys them, but tell me those aren’t the most 1980s wheels ever? (I recall Mercury using them on the LN7, a now-forgotten sport coupe).

    I mean, aside from perhaps the ones that came on this era’s Chevy Cavalier Z24…

  15. I’ll always remember this guy in my hometown had a winter beater Tempo to which he added block letters to spell TempoRARY (well, TempoRAIRE, because French). I thought it was witty and better than the common Chrysler nasty “mod”.
    Total pos in any case!

  16. Weren’t U.S. spec Tempos using a body colored multi-slat grill instead of a chromed one as pictured? Or am I misremembering? More “Euro”, as was the style at the time?

    (Given his previously expressed interest, kinda looking at JohnTaurus here for enlightenment!)

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