Good morning, and welcome to another Shitbox Showdown! Today, we’re checking out a couple of Dearborn’s efforts from the Nineties that have spent more time parked in the hot sun than they have spent actually going somewhere. But first, let’s see what you made of yesterday’s Love Boats:
Looks like the big Lincoln is sunk, and not just in the mud. I really do think that car is in better shape than it looks under all the gunk, but I also agree that the Olds is a better choice. It’s a real shame about the duct-taped seats, though; in good condition, those GM land-yacht interiors are just magnificent.
Now then, let’s take a look at a couple of sedans from the Ford Motor Company. Both of these cars are one-owner vehicles, and both have few miles and almost no clearcoat left. Here they are.
1994 Mercury Topaz – $1,995
Engine/transmission: 2.3 liter overhead-valve inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Arlington, TX
Odometer reading: 34,000 miles
Runs/drives? Yep, just fine
It will come as a surprise to no one when I say that this car came from the estate sale of an older woman. Some cars are just made for the bridge-club-and-beauty-parlor set, and the Mercury Topaz might just very well be their poster child. This badge-engineered twin of Ford’s Tempo features a tepid four-cylinder (which by the way is not the celebrated 2.3 liter Lima four from the Ranger, but rather the old Falcon-style six with two cylinders chopped off) and a particularly slushy three-speed slushbox which, while smooth, is about as pulse-raising as an episode of The Golden Girls.
Exciting it is not, but the Topaz is a fairly comfortable car for its size, easy to drive, and has simple, logical controls and good strong HVAC. Unfortunately, Ford never saw fit to equip the Tempo/Topaz with airbags after the passive-restraint requirement kicked in, so it also has those hateful motorized shoulder belts, along with a lap belt you have to fasten manually anyway.
This Topaz has covered a scant 34,000 miles in the Dallas/Fort Worth suburbs, and I’m willing to bet rarely saw speeds above 40 miles an hour in that time. It’s barely broken in, and as long as the original owner kept up on the maintenance (“once a year, whether it needs it or not”), it’s probably a good reliable little car. The paint is dull, and there’s something wonky going on with the rear window seal that’s probably sun-related, but that’s fixable.
Inside, it’s practially a time capsule, except for some dirty carpet. I owned a Ford Tempo for a while, and I can tell you that those soft gray mouse-fur bucket seats provide almost no lateral support, but are really quite comfy on long drives.
1993 Ford Taurus – $2,000
Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Prineville, OR
Odometer reading: 104,800 miles
Runs/drives? Great, the ad says
Step up one size from the Tempo/Topaz and you find yourself in the ubiquitous Ford Taurus, here in what was once quite a lovely shade of green. The high-desert sun has cooked all the clearcoat off it, leaving it as dull as a kid’s toy plastic sword. This car was owned by the City of Prineville, Oregon, and apparently was used by city officials in and around the Prineville airport.
Tauruses of this era sold like hotcakes, and it’s not hard to see why. Again, it’s not an exciting car, but it is comfortable, smooth, reasonably reliable, and was a good value back then. For only two grand, and with only 104,000 miles on the odometer, this one feels like a good value still.
Like the vast majority of Tauruses, this one is powered by a three-liter “Vulcan” V6, a simple sixty-degree cast-iron pushrod affair of no particular distinction, but it works. It sends power to the front wheels through an overdrive automatic which is not known as a paragon of durability, but as long as it has been maintained it’s probably okay. This Taurus has a new battery and is said to run and drive just fine.
Obviously, neither of these cars are the stuff gearhead dreams are made of. But they’re both good honest transportation, the sort of car that’s getting hard to find these days. And from the looks of it, if you don’t mind some scorched paint, they both have some life left in them. So what’ll it be – Granny’s Topaz, or the city fleet special Taurus?
(Hat-tip to the Underappreciated Survivors Facebook group for alerting me to the existence of these two.)
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
Two words: “motorized” and “belts”. Taurus all the way.
It was a hard choice. On the surface how does one pass up 34,000 miles and boss tinted windows? But my sister owned a Topaz and I can’t forget her heartbreak. Meanwhile I still see a ton of Taurii running around and parts are more plentiful, I’m sure.
I had a 93 ford Tore-ass with the 3.0L v6, that thing took a beating, would do beautiful burn outs, would drift with ease and kept running like nothing, i got it with 186k on after my father put 150k(we bought it used,) on it thru the hills of eastern NY
Were we driving the same bull? My experience with the Vulcan V6 was very different… slow and liked to blow head gaskets. I also had a 93 SHO…. now that got my pulse up a bit.
I didn’t read the article but having had experience with both vehicles the answer is Taurus. The Topaz deserves to sit abandoned like the bastard it is. I want to feel bad for saying that, but I don’t. I have lived the Tempo and the Taurus life. The tempo/Topaz was a car where you had to pick cruise control or a driver airbag! You can’t have them both you cheap bastard! Honestly, the airbag would just prolong the suffering that would ensue if you were unlucky enough to be in a wreck in that tin can. I am pretty sure the Tempo/Topaz door cards were held on by exposed screws because fuck trying to hide them at that price point. But, I will say the super cheap-looking door cards on the Tempo/Topaz actually feel more substantial and are generally quieter than the super thin door cards of the Taurus. Thanks exposed screws!
A Taurus very similar to this one turned my dad from a diehard Ford guy to vowing to never buy another Ford again. The straw that broke the camels back was unsurprisingly when the transmission exploded.
With that being said, I picked the Topaz. Neither car is particularly interesting or desirable but the Topaz is ever slightly more interesting than the Taurus
My Grandma had a dark blu ’92 Topaz. It was fine. I was still planning to take the Taurus, but not once I read that it was a city fleet car. 104k miles of being ridden hard and put away wet. Might as well be a million.
Hilariously when I turned 16, my grandma apologized for not being able to give me her Tempo. I say it was hilarious, because she had 17 grand children. I didn’t expect anyone to give me a car (which is good, because nobody did), but she would have been the last person on earth I would have expected to gift me an automobile.
Taurus. Even in poverty-spec L trim, with a busted up rear bumper cover and failing headliner, it’s a much, much better car than the HSC/automatic Topaz.
Taurus…but only because it’s my birth sign.
Both of these have weak automatic transmissions, so might as well go with the much-nicer Taurus.
And I’ve driven a Taurus of that generation and they were very good for that time and still not bad by today’s standards. But if you get this, understand that if you want it to last, assume the transmission is made of glass and you have to stay on top of the preventative maintenance and get familiar with info such as in this link:
Taurus. I had two ’93 Tauruses (Taurii?), at the same time! One in the darker green (my dad picked it up at auction and we rebuilt some front end damage). The other a dark grey (that one he bought at an estate sale). He has always had a nose for deals! The wife and I put 250,000 on each of them with no major issues. Both with the 3.0 Vulcan. Had a couple of Escorts with the mouse-belts, never again!
I jave driven a Tempaz. I have driven a Taurus. Taurus all day, every day.
Tempos/Topazeses were crap from the factory.
The seat belts on that Topaz – I just… can’t.
I’d roll the dice with the Taurus.
I choose the Taurus. The last person I knew that had a Temp/Topaz ended up with it catching fire, it was new but had a defect that caused it to activate the Italian Supercar defense.
Isn’t that the generation of Taurus that had the crappy front strut bearings? They would seize up, the spring would fatigue from being twisted when the wheel would turn, the spring would eventually break and take out the front tire. Ford did a recall and installed a sheet metal guard to prevent the spring from piercing the tire if/when it broke (instead of replacing the bad strut bearing and actually fixing the root issue).
It actually happened to my cousin’s Taurus – luckily in a parking lot. We went to the auto parts store and the guy behind the counter said he’d seen hundreds of them fail the same way. My cousin’s car had never had the recall work done. A new strut assembly and tire and he was on his way – I couldn’t convince him to change the other side as a safety measure. He drove it for a few years after that (never got the recall done), but I never rode in that car again.
Anyhoo…I’d still buy the Taurus over any Tempo/Topaz.
Did that happen on the Taurus too? I know our Contour had the same problem and recall solution back in the day.
Hmmm. Pretty sure I’ve driven that exact Taurus, it was the crew courtesy car for Prineville airport. Drove exactly like you would expect a Taurus of that age to drive, I didn’t notice any real faults with it, and it seemed to be in decent condition with working A/C and radio. Since it’s sort of a shared good between pilots, it probably hasn’t been hooned all that hard, and has spent it’s existence running between the airport and hotels/restaurants.
Worth 2k for a working car in this market? Sure, I’ll go for it.
The Topaz had a 5-digit odometer which tells you everything you need to know about a Topaz.
I voted for the Topaz for the easier to work on I4, likely better gas mileage, and Mercury is the premium brand hahaha LOL
the floor shifter and tach make it sporty, right? 😛
Sad that the Topaz has red turn signals, especially when the Tempo got amber ones.
The Topaz has power windows, while the Taurass has manual windows
The answer to any question is never, ever Topaz. Those were shit when new, probably even worse now. My ex had an AWD one as her first car and it was always either broke or breaking. It also was a low mileage “great deal”, as it had 40xxx miles on it. Of course it also was on its second engine.
A Taurus that was used regularly would probably be a better buy.
Topaz. One word: lightbar
Topaz (and Tracer) light bar didn’t light up unfortunately. So it’s just…reflectorbar? Feckblende?
Well that’s lame. Lameobar