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1984 - Tempo / Topaz Introduction

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The 1970's were a time of change for the American automotive industry. Due to two oil embargos, the Big Three were taking cues from the imports that were already gaining sales strength against them. Time to go smaller. A sweeping downsizing was occurring. As models got redesigned, the new generations would be smaller and more efficient than the predecessors. With this downsizing, some models were being replaced with more space-efficient front wheel drive platforms. By placing the drive wheels up front with the engine, this allowed automakers to downsize the outside while keeping the inside interior dimensions close (if not larger) than the outgoing rear wheel drive car that was being replaced.

With the switch to front wheel drive (FWD), Ford Motor Company was lagging behind the competition. By the dawn of the new decade, both GM and Chrysler had FWD cars on the market, with several more due to be released in the next couple of years. FoMoCo's first FWD vehicle appeared in the late 1970's, the imported from Europe Ford Fiesta. This car, however, was not designed with the North American market in mind and did not sell as anticipated. The first domestically produced FWD car appeared in 1981, in the form of the Ford Escort / Mercury Lynx. The next FWD vehicle available from FoMoCo would up the ante on all the competition in terms of aerodynamic efficiency. Enter the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz, available in both 2- and 4-door configurations across three different trim levels for each car.

Production Numbers

1984 Tempo
Tempo 2-door107,065
Tempo 4-door295,149

1984 Topaz
Topaz 2-door32,749
Topaz 4-door96,505


Designed with the aid of computer techniques and 3D modeling, as well as being analyzed with "Finite Structural Analysis", the Tempo / Topaz stood out against the aging and boxy look of it's main competitors (as well as most everything on the market). Starting in December of 1978, these cars spent 450 hours in the wind tunnel that resulted in over 950 different vehicle configuration changes to improve aerodynamics. The Tempo / Topaz both featured a 60 degree windshield, matching the windshield angle of the new Aero Thunderbird and Cougar. Also shared in the design with the new Thunderbird / Cougar was the aircraft-inspired door frames. These door frames wrapped up over the edge of the roof. This improved sealing, allowed for hidden drip rails, and cleaned up the A-pillar area of the car. The rear track was 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 cleanly. From the side view, this raised trunk created a wedge look to the car which was especially prominent on 2-door cars. All of these changes created a Coefficient of drag of .36 for the 2-door car (.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.

Styling on the 2-door models were distinguished by different header panels, grilles, and smooth front turn signals that wrapped around into the front fenders. In the rear, the cars featured different styling on the taillights, which also wrapped around the corners of the car into the rear fenders.. 4-doors featured even more styling differentiation. The cars featured the same front ends as their 2-door counterparts. 4-door Tempos featured the same taillights as the 2-door version, and incorporated a rear 1/4 window integrated into the D-pillar. This design element was used to lure in buyers who typically did not look at a traditional styled American car. The 4-door Topaz differed from the Tempo on this very feature. To appeal to the traditional American car buyer, the Topaz replaced this window with sheet metal, giving the car a more formal look. The rear of the car featured a completely different look than the 2-door or either version of the Tempo, vertical (almost Cadillac-esque) taillights. All cars featured a formed steel front and rear bumper, neatly integrated into the side of the body with plastic end caps that varied by trim level. This bumper system was a 5-mph rated bumper system (no damage would occur with impacts less than 5 miles an hour), while the majority of the competition had reduced to 2.5 mph bumpers (the federal standard). Exterior side mirrors on the 2-door models equipped with dual power mirrors were mounted directly to the ?sail-area? of the door (where the A-pillar meets the body), while all other models, including all 4-doors, had mirrors mounted to the doors a few inches back from the sail area.

Exterior badging varied between the two vehicles. The Ford Tempo received a Ford oval in the center of the grille, as well as on the right side of the trunk lid. The Tempo name was found on the left side of the trunk lid followed by the trim designation; L, GL, or GLX. For the Topaz, the stylized ?M? round Mercury logo was found in the center of the grille. The Mercury lettering was found on the right corner of the trunk (in place of the Ford oval on Tempo models) as well as a smaller badge under the left side of the front grille. The Topaz name was found on the left side of the trunk, followed by trim designation; GS or LS. The Topaz rear pillars also featured a small rectangular badge featuring both the stylized ?M? logo and the Topaz name. For both Tempo and Topaz, if the car was equipped with a 5-speed manual transaxle, a small 5-speed badge would be found on the left of the trunk, under the Tempo or Topaz nameplate.

One of the anti-theft features on the new Tempo and Topaz were separate keys for the door and ignition switch. A large rectangle-headed key was used for the ignition, while a smaller oval-headed key was used for the doors, trunk, and optional lockable glove box.


The Tempo / Topaz had two different engines available, with three available transaxles. The engine design was all new, designed specifically for the Tempo / Topaz application. Initial market research determined that a large percentage of Tempo / Topaz owners would opt for the automatic transaxle, so the engine was designed accordingly (which was quite contrary to automotive design at the time). Powertrain engineers selected an overhead valve configuration for ruggedness, long-life characteristics, and to create an engine that was a high-torque engine at lower RPMs. The 2.3L (140 cubic inch) engine was named the HSC, for High Swirl Combustion. The engine featured a cast iron block and head. Several engine components were made out of aluminum due to the lightness and structural properties of the metal. Even the intake manifold was made of aluminum, effectively using the metal?s heat conducting qualities to transfer engine heat to the incoming Air/Fuel mixture and eliminated the need for a heat riser valve between the intake and exhaust manifolds. New combustion chambers were designed using results from the Ford PROCO (Programmed Combustion) Research Project. The HSC was the first production "fast-burn" engine to come from this project. As air entered into the combustion chamber, a wedge caused the air to swirl in the cylinder which optimized the mixing of the air and fuel for a more complete burn. The engine also featured a chain-driven camshaft, selected for reliability, was of a very similar design to the chain in heavy-duty Ford truck engines. The HSC provided ample power for "today's" driving conditions. Controlling the engine was Ford's new EEC-IV computer. This new computer received signals from various sensors on the engine, and could control nearly a million commands per second. This new computer helped to increase fuel economy as well as lower emissions. Power output was at a stout 90 HP @ 4700 rpm, with torque coming in at 125 lb-ft @ 2700 rpm.

The second available engine was the 2.0L Diesel engine supplied by Mazda, available on all Tempo and Topaz trim levels. Unlike most all US-designed diesel engines, this engine was designed to be a diesel engine from the very beginning. This allowed engineers to overcome some of the problems inherent in diesel engines that were converted from gas engines. An advanced glow-plug system reduced wait-to-start time at 0 degrees F to 3 seconds. There was also an advanced fuel conditioning system using a fine filtration water separator and an easily accessibly water drain for do-it-yourselfers. A standard automatic fuel heater prevented cold weather fuel waxing. Power output of the 2.0L Diesel engine was rated at 52 HP @ 4000 rpm, and 82 lb-ft of torque @ 2400 rpm. This power output was significantly less than the HSC, but fuel economy was greatly increased. The Diesel engine was rated at 41 city / 56 highway on the EPA cycle. This compared favorably to the "Fuel Saver" HSC, which was rated at 29 city / 44 highway on the EPA cycle.

Two of the three transaxles available were manual transaxles (MTX). The standard transmission was the "Fuel-Saver" 4-speed MTX, which was optimized for the best fuel economy. The fully-synchronized 4-speed MTX had a final drive ratio of 3.04:1, and an overdrive top gear ratio of 0.81:1. This allowed the engine to run at 20 percent lower speed for greater fuel efficiency, especially at highway speeds. The "Fuel-Saver" 4-speed was not available in California or on any car equipped with A/C. The optional MTX was the 5-speed manual transaxle, known as the MTX-III. This unit was very similar to the 4-speed "Fuel-Saver", with an extra cog in the transaxle. The 5-speed featured a lower first gear ratio of 3.60:1 (compared to 3.04:1), which gave it better initial acceleration. 5th gear was an overdrive gear, with a ratio of 0.77:1 allowing the engine to run at nearly 25 percent lower speed. Final drive ratio for the MTX-III on the HSC was 3.33:1, for the 2.0L Diesel was 3.73:1. The MTX-III 5-speed was the only transaxle available with the 2.0L Diesel engine. All manual transaxle equipped cars featured an "upshift" light on the instrument panel that would indicate the best time to shift to achieve optimum fuel economy. All manual transmissions featured a rod-type shift lever and a self adjusting clutch mechanism.

0-60 times of 1984 Tempo
2.3L, 5-speed MTX 13.0 sec
2.3L, 4-speed MTX (est.) 13.2 sec
2.3L, 3-speed ATX 13.4 sec
figures from Car & Driver, March 1983

Also optional with the HSC engine was a new 3-speed automatic (ATX), known as the FLC. This transmission was designed specifically for the HSC with it's torque characteristics in mind. The automatic incorporates a planetary "splitter" gear set inside the torque converter. In 1st gear, torque is split "normally" completely with fluid. In 2nd gear, torque is split with 62% transmitted through a positive mechanical connection and 38% through fluid. In 3rd, that changes to 93% and 7%, respectively. The benefit of this is a reduction in power-wasting slippage that is present in most older automatics. Final drive ratio on the ATX was 3.23:1. The automatic was designed to be "lubed for life", not needing regularly scheduled fluid and filter changes. The ATX was also designed with the valve body on top of the transaxle, easily accessible without having to remove the transmission to do any sort of repair work on the valve body.

Ride & Handling

Another advantage the Tempo / Topaz had over their competition was the 4-wheel independent suspension. This suspension provided much better ride characteristics over the competitions suspension setups. The front suspension utilized a MacPherson strut set up. The front struts sit in a "Dual-Path" upper strut mount, which directs the bending and turning forces. This allowed engineers to tune each individual path for the best ride and handling. A standard front anti-roll bar helped to resist body-roll motions. The Tempo / Topaz were the first Ford car to use a MacPherson strut independent-rear suspension. The suspension featured a 4-bar design of fore-and-aft tie rods and parallel transverse suspension arms. Rear wheels had a total of 8.15" of travel (comparable to a full-size RWD sedan).

All models came standard with power front disc and rear drum brakes. The front discs measured 9.3" in diameter. These front brakes were designed so that the front brake pads could be serviced without having to remove the wheels and rotors from the car. The rear drum brakes were 7.1" in diameter and were self adjusting. Manual rack & pinion steering was standard on all models, however most were optioned with the power steering option. All cars features rims sized 13" in diameter.

An upgraded TR suspension package was available on all models. The suspension package consisted of special steering and suspension components, Michelin TRX tires sized 185/65R 365 mounted on special TR-type wheels measuring 365 mm in diameter (approx 14.3"). Like other Ford TRX suspension packages, this one was designed around the Michelin TRX tires and Ford's assumption that most all manufactures would soon start the transition to metric sizes for rims and tires.

1984 Ford Tempo
1984 Ford Tempo

1984 Mercury Topaz
1984 Mercury Topaz

Slippery Shape
Slippery Shape

Tapered, Aerodynamic Shape
Tapered, Aerodynamic Shape

Tempo Rear Pillar
Tempo Rear Pillar

Topaz Rear Pillar
Topaz Rear Pillar

Aircraft-Style Doors
Aircraft-style Doors

2.3L HSC
2.3L HSC

High Swirl Combustion Chamber
High Swirl Combustion Chamber

MTX-III 5-speed manual
MTX-III 5-speed Manual

FLC 3-speed Automatic
FLC 3-speed Automatic

Independant Front Suspension
Independant Front Suspension

Independant Rear Suspension
Independant Rear Suspension

Front Disc Brakes
Front Disc Brakes

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