Welcome back to another week of poor automotive choices on Shitbox Showdown! Today’s cars are both products of the Ford Motor Company in 1990, but that’s where the similarities end. First, though, let’s get our final tally from Friday’s Florida rides:
The red Benz takes an easy win, as I suspected it might. The Hyundai’s title status scared off a lot of you, and its general abused-by-a-kid vibe didn’t help its case either. Mostly I just wanted to include it so I could make Genesis jokes. That’s all.
I’m always astounded by the variety of cars that a big automaker can produce at the same time. Platform- and powertrain-sharing is common, and has always been, but even within a given platform, the variety of vehicles that can be produced is staggering. And most big manufacturers have a whole bunch of platforms going at once. As an example of this variety, today we have a basic rental-spec four door sedan, and a top-of-the-line personal luxury coupe, both built by Ford. Though one was likely two or three times the price of the other new, now they’re within fifty bucks of each other. Which one is a better deal today? That’s for you to decide.
1990 Ford Tempo – $2,250
Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter overhed valve inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Vancouver, WA
Odometer reading: 116,000 miles
Runs/drives? Legendarily, it seems
I spend a lot of time trying to get the gist of a car from some pretty indecipherable ads. They all seem to be far too terse, or wildly too verbose, but rarely are they entertaining in their own right. But this ad, well, it’s easier if I just show you:
The Sword in the Stone.
A legendary item. Ford castle built. Genius and magnitude contributes to this specimen of the depths of time. From whence the cars came, this hath emerged. Unmatched history intertwined with the fabrics of modern time, unrivaled in its nostalgic effect. Sway without effort on this steed of craftsmanship the ancients could have but only dreamt of. Pasture upon pasture give way to the speed of 40,000 hoofs encased in metal. Forward. Onward. Into the next life you ride, out of danger and into fortitude. The journey is complete, thine quest hath end. Further ye look no more.
A piece of time encased in glass and molten rock, forever yours. No pendant can compare, for speed is time itself, indifferent to the wishes of mere mortals. A Time Machine of untold uses.
Hey, it’s a Tempo. I guess you need to do whatever you can to make it sound impressive.
In case you’ve forgotten (and no one would blame you if you did), the Tempo and its Mercury sister model the Topaz were Ford’s compact sedans from 1984-1994. Nearly all of them were powered by a 2.3 liter pushrod four-cylinder, more often than not coupled to a three-speed automatic. A stickshift was standard, but most Tempo buyers opted to avoid shifting. I owned one of these, a red 1992 two-door equipped with the automatic, and I can tell you that while it was a competent and mostly reliable way to alter your location on the Earth’s surface, its driving experience left a lot to be desired. It handled like a riding mower, and the “tempo” to which Ford was referring was usually adagio. Maybe andante, if you really stood on it.
With that reputation for dullness preceding it, the seller’s florid, Eye Of Argon-esque prose is understandable. But the car is real enough, and the seller says it runs and drives great, but has some “minor issues.” What those issues are isn’t disclosed, but you have to expect a few flaws on something this old. I mean, Excalibur didn’t come with a warranty either.
The paint is shedding clearcoat on the horizontal surfaces, and there is a mysterious hole in the dashboard on the passenger’s side, but otherwise it looks all right. All right for a Ford Tempo, anyway.
1990 Lincoln Mark VII – $2,295
Engine/drivetrain: 5.0 liter overhead valve V8, four-speed automatic, RWD
Location: Palmdale, CA
Odometer reading: 140,000 miles
Runs/drives? “Get in and drive,” it says
It’s no secret that we here at Shitbox Showdown’s central offices are big fans of old Lincolns. Ford’s luxury division has built some awful cars, it’s true, but when they get it right, boy oh boy do they get it right. In 1984, Lincoln took Ford’s Fox platform and gave it a glamourous makeover to create the Continental Mark VII. Smaller than its Panther-based predecessor, and far more stylish, the Mark VII was a departure for Lincoln, and one that worked.
Even better, by 1990 when this car was built, the Mark VII came standard with the same 225 horsepower “5.0 HO” Windsor V8 as the Mustang GT. A four-speed automatic was the only transmission available, and all Mark VIIs rode on air suspension at all four corners. It wasn’t fast by today’s standards, and its handling wasn’t the sharpest, but it was fast enough to belong in the left lane and smooth enough to soak up any potholes along the way.
This hot-rod Lincoln is in decent shape, with nice shiny paint, but it shows some wear and tear inside. The seller says it runs and drives great, just passed a smog test, and needs nothing mechanically. It has received a sound system upgrade, which I presume means there is a big carpeted box full of speakers taking up half the trunk. It also has aftermarket wheels of the sort you might put on a car if you want people to think you’re what the kids call a “baller.” (Am I using that right? I’m so out of touch.) I can’t say they’re an improvement; the stock 1990 Mark VII wheels were BBS-style “basketweave” alloys that looked great. These big chrome things just look gaudy to me.
Still, Lincoln’s flashy Fox is a good-looking car, and this is a decent example for a good price. Even better, it comes with a Ford-branded car phone installed!
So there you have it, two ends of Ford’s product spectrum from thirty-three years ago. One is a good honest if uninspiring small sedan, and the other is a flashy coupe with a V8 and all the toys. Which one will it be?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
The Tempo might win this showdown if it were in showroom-new condition. Or if the entire interior of the Mark VII was missing. Something would have to be $4000 wrong with the Lincoln to make it the worse choice for this money.
The Tempo could never be more than basic transportation.
The Mark VII was a genuinely nice, enjoyable car and could easily be that again. A Fox body V8 Ford without the Fox body Mustang’s ugly form might be among the best you can ask for of this era. (Yes, the Fox body is the ugliest version of Mustang.)
Anyone voting Tempo has to have their heads examined. I was a child when those came out and even when they were brand new everything about them screamed “cheap POS.”
I drove both in the 90s, and so I voted Lincoln. The Tempo / Topaz are devoid of joy. Whether you’re planning to drive as is or upgrade to awesome only the MK will ever put a smile on your face.
I guess I don’t even understand how this is a contest; those cars are at such opposite ends of the consumer spectrum.
On one hand, you have the Temp, a car that is only outstanding in its ability to be band and mediocre in every possible aspect. While not actually terrible it does nothing well and has the solid 5/10 looks to go with completely unremarkable performance and reliability. This is a car you could lose in a sea nearly identical basic transportation if you parked it at a suburban mall. There is zero aftermarket support for this absolute zero of a car.
On the other hand, you have the Lincoln which when new featured styling that bordered on striking and remains if not still good is at the very least ironic. Based on a platform and drivetrain that while mid-pack today was pretty impressive for the time; especially in an American car. Due to the popularity of its fox body cousin the 5.0 there is a robust world of aftermarket parts out there to make it a pretty impressive car by today’s standards.
Gimme that HRL – Hot Rod Lincoln.