The Ford Tempo is a coupe/sedan car model that was produced by Ford Motor Company for model years 1984 to 1994. It was a downsized successor to the boxy Ford Fairmont that introduced "jellybean" styling, which would later be shown on the larger 1986 Ford Taurus and was replaced in 1994 by the "world car platform" Ford Contour. The Tempo was part of a rejuvenation by Ford to offer more environmentally friendly, fuel efficient, and more modern styled models to compete with the imports. While the car sold well, its innovation and aerodynamic design paved the way for the even more groundbreaking Ford Taurus. Its twin, the Mercury Topaz, is a slightly upscale variant of the Tempo sold through Ford's Lincoln-Mercury division.

The design and life of the Tempo began in the late 1970s as Ford was gearing to build towards a more ergonomic, more efficient, and more aerodynamic design philosophy. The new design philosophy rested in part due to aging vehicle platforms, and two oil embargoes which led to a rise in more fuel-efficient import vehicle sales. Taking note of this, Ford set out to revolutionize the automotive industry, and would later lay the groundwork for three revolutionary vehicles: The 1983 Thunderbird (and its counterpart the Mercury Cougar), the 1984 Tempo, and a car to be released in 1986, the Taurus. The Tempo would be based on a stretched version of the front-wheel-drive Ford CE14 platform used on the Ford Escort, but with a radical new body.

In December 1978, wind tunnel testing began on the Tempo, with more than 450 hours of testing resulting in more than 950 different design changes. As part of these changes, the Tempo and Topaz both featured a 60° windshield, matching that of the new Thunderbird and Cougar. Also new were the aircraft-inspired door frames, which originally appeared on the Thunderbird/Cougar. These door frames wrapped up over the edge of the roof, improved sealing, allowed for hidden drip rails, and cleaned up the A-pillar area of the car significantly. The rear track was also widened, creating more aerodynamic efficiency. The front grille was laid back more and the leading edge of the hood was tuned for aerodynamic cleanliness. Wheels were pushed out to the edges of the body, decreasing areas where air turbulence would be created. The rear of the cars were treated to just as many changes. The rear window was laid down at 60 degrees as well, and the trunk lid was raised higher than the side windows. This allowed the air to flow off the car more smoothly, and allowed for greater fuel efficiency. From the side view, this raised trunk created a wedge look to the car which was especially prominent on the two-door coupe versions.

All of these changes created a Coefficient of drag of 0.36 for the 2-door car (0.37 for the 4-door), which was equal to the Cd of the new "Aero" Ford Thunderbird. The final design of the cars was reached so that the car looked good on every trim level, not just the top-of-the-line as some of the competition had done. When the Tempo was released in 1983 as a 1984 model, it became an instant hit, with more than 107,000 two-door models and more than 295,000 four-door models being sold in the first year alone. Initial advertising featured a Tempo sedan performing a loop on a stunt track. The commercials touted the Tempo as being "America's all new aerodynamic sedan" and listed features such as "the world's most advanced automotive computer" that claimed to have the ability to monitor up to seven vital engine functions, and noted the interior to be roomier in the rear seat than a Mercedes-Benz 300D. Other ads featured the slogan "Pick up the Tempo of your life!"

First generation

The first generation Tempo, released in 1983 as a 1984 model, was a stark contrast from the Fairmont that it replaced (the car was several inches shorter than the Fairmont) and equaled the length of a Chevrolet Cavalier at the time. That's because the Tempo was not a replacement for the Fairmont, but represented a response to the Chevrolet Cavalier. The Ford Fairmont (with its 105.5-inch wheelbase), which was last produced in 1983, was replaced by the Ford LTD (with its 105.6-inch wheelbase), which was introduced in 1983.

Even though the Fairmont (at 105.5-inch wheelbase and 193.8-inch length) was sized much larger than General Motors' front-wheel drive Chevrolet Celebrity mid-size car (at 104.8-inch wheelbase and 188.3-inch length) and had similar length to the Fairmont's predecessor, the Maverick (at 109.9-inch wheelbase and 193.9-inch length), the Tempo had been meant as the sedan and coupe versions of the Ford Escort, and both vehicles were in similar classes, similar to how Volkswagen's sedan/coupe answer to the Golf hatchbacks would be the Jetta.

The Tempo was Ford's first compact car downsizing, just seven years after GM downsized its cars in 1976 for the 1977 model year (some of them in 1978 or later). Both the front windshield and rear window were set at 60° angles, with the trunk of the car being placed higher than the side windows to allow for greater fuel efficiency and air flow. On the Tempo, a rear quarter window was present while the Topaz received a more formal C-pillar arrangement minus the window. The front of the car featured a set of two sealed-beam halogen headlamps recessed in chrome "buckets" and the grille in between the headlights featured four horizontally thin rails each swept back to allow for greater air flow into the engine compartment and over the hood. The Tempo shared much of its design language with the European Ford Sierra, launched one year prior. Standard on the first generation Tempo was a new 2.3 L HSC inline four-cylinder gasoline engine with a one-barrel carburetor, with an optional Mazda-built four-cylinder diesel engine. Mated to either of these engines were the choice of a standard four-speed IB4 or optional five-speed MTX-III manual transmission (which was the standard, and only option for the diesel engine variant), or the optional 3-speed FLC automatic with a floor-mounted shift lever. The instrument panel featured a new, easier to read gauge layout, with all switches and controls placed within easy reach of the driver. In 1985, the Tempo became the first production sedan to feature a driver's side airbag.

In 1986, the Tempo and the Topaz saw several moderate design changes which coincided with the release of the then-new and revolutionary 1986 Taurus. While generally the same car, the front and rear end styling was where the changes were most evident. The standard rectangular sealed-beam halogen headlamps were replaced with a new, plastic composite design which only required replacement of the bulb itself. These new headlights were flush-mounted to match the redesigned front corner lights and a freshly restyled grille, which also closely matched that of the Taurus (the Topaz received a pseudo-lightbar grille styled after the Sable). For the rear end, the trunk and taillights were slightly restyled, giving the car a sharper look. Replacing the carburetor on the 2.3 L four-cylinder engine was a new Central Fuel Injection (CFI) system (the carbureted version was still available in Canada until 1987). New was an optional "LX" luxury trim, replacing the GLX. Other changes and improvements included the addition of automatically retracting front seatbelt shoulder straps, and the addition of a new all-wheel-drive model. The Tempo AWD included special badging, interior badges. Trim levels for the first generation Tempo are as follows:

  • L (entry level model)
  • GL (mid-level and by far the best-selling model)
  • LX (introduced in 1986 as the luxury model, replacing the GLX)
  • GLX (1984 and 1985 only)
  • AWD (1987 only, only year AWD could be had on a Coupe bodystyle)

From 1986 to 1987, there was also the Sport GL, which included unique interior and exterior styling cues, an HSO (High Specific Output) version of the 2.3L HSC engine (slightly more power), alloy wheels, tachometer, and a quicker gear ratio for the 5-speed manual transaxle (3.73 final drive). It was badged simply as "GL", however a Sport GL is easily recognizable because it lacks the GL's chrome front and rear bumpers.

1988 & 1992 Coupe Facelifts

For 1988, Ford redesigned the Tempo, however leaving the rear body of the 2-door very similar to the original model (with only updated tail lamps and rear bumpers that more closely resembled the sedan). The last facelift occurred in 1992.

Second generation

The second generation Tempo, released in 1988, saw several major design changes which brought out an even more similar look to the Taurus (esp. the door handles – four-door only). On the front end of the car, a completely restyled grille featured three thin horizontal chrome bands with a Ford oval in the center, with two stylish composite flush-mounted rectangular headlamps with restyled front turn signal housings on either side. On the Tempo GLS, this chrome grill was blacked out, and 4-door models received a blacked-out "D" pillar. Starting in 1988 a driver's side airbag was optional, then rare for an economy level car.

For the rear, the taillights received a major rework on the four-door model, and were now completely flush-mounted. A restyled rear quarter window was designed to match and blend evenly with the completely restyled rear door trim. The interior of both cars saw a brand new instrument panel design, with a central gauge cluster (now with a standard engine temp gauge), and more ergonomic driver controls. Fan and windshield wiper controls were now mounted on rotary-style switches on either side of the instrument panel, and the HVAC controls received a new push-button control layout. Other changes included reworked interior door panels. On Tempo LX and AWD, the interior received chrome and wood trim on the dashboard and doors.

1991 (the last year of the 1988 restyled look) saw the discontinuation of the all-wheel-drive model Tempo, as well as the now Canadian market exclusive entry level model Tempo L. 1992 saw a minor redesign. The Tempo gained body color side trim to replace the black and chrome trim, as well as fully body color bumpers. The three bar chrome grill was also replaced by a new, body colored monochromatic grill.

Also in 1992, a new engine, a 3.0L Vulcan V6, was introduced as optional on the GL and LX, and standard on the GLS 1992. 1992 would be the last year of the GLS, as it was discontinued (along with its Mercury Topaz counterparts) in 1993. This left Tempo with only two trim level options, GL and LX. 1992 also brought about a slightly redesigned gauge cluster, with tachometers now reading up to 7,000 RPM instead of the previous 6,000 RPM. Also, a fuel door indicator was added to the fuel gauge (an arrow pointing to the side of the car where the fuel door was located). 1992 was the only year for US models to have an available 120 MPH speedometer (GLS, XR5 and LTS models only), the rest read to 85 MPH. 1994 was the last model year for the Ford Tempo (and Mercury Topaz). Production halted in the first quarter of 1994.

Trim levels for the second generation Ford Tempo are as follows:

  • L (entry level model, discontinued in 1991)
  • GL (mid-level model)
  • AWD (advertised by Ford as a separate trim level, AWD was actually built on an LX body, as evidenced by the body code. Discontinued in 1991)
  • LX (luxury model, only available as a four-door sedan)
  • GLS (replaced Sport GL as the performance oriented model, discontinued in 1992)