Nobody much missed the boxy Ford Fairmont and its equally bland twin, the Mercury Zephyr, when they were finally recycled into more useful things like beer cans and zippers. But when their lumpy, buck-toothed replacements—the baleful Tempo and Topaz—appeared, it was clear to poor people everywhere that the future, contrary to the assurances of Elvis, did not look bright ahead.

Not merely ungainly and cheap, these cars were also feeble and embarrassing to be seen in. But wait, there’s more! These cars were sent sputtering out onto America’s highways and byways with numerous annoying and even dangerous defects—including ignition modules that caused the engine to quit at the least opportune times, such as the moment the driver stabbed the gas to cross a busy intersection, and faulty ignition switches that tended to short out and set the car ablaze. But that’s not all! Also included was the defective wiring harness and alternator assembly—another fire-starter—that led to a recall of nearly 300,000 cars between 1988 and 1992.

Consumer Reports wrote that it had “received numerous complaints from consumers on fires, chronic stalling, unintended acceleration, paint peel and tie rod failure . . .” about the Tempo and Topaz. “Due to sub-par reliability,” the editors continued, “Consumer Reports recommends that all 1989–1994 models be avoided,” a rare blanket slam of an entire model, across several years of production. The accolades were not undeserved. “The 1984–1994 Tempo suffers from chronic stalling,” CR stated, noting further that “In 1985, Ford tried to end stalling caused by faulty carburetors by switching to electronic fuel injection. Not only did stalling persist, but incidents of unintended acceleration were reported.”

Ford—which apparently hadn’t been cowed into shame by the still-fresh Pinto fiasco—denied the problems for years before reluctantly recalling an incredible 26 million vehicles, including just about every Topaz and Temp ever built.

The automaker finally abandoned the problem-prone Tempo and Topaz in 1994, when these cars were replaced by the equally ill-fated Contour and Mystique—Ford’s third or fourth attempt at building a so-called “world car.” (The Mystique quickly became known within the car industry as the Mercury Mistake.)

Both cars eventually died on the vine, but only after leaving a bad taste in the mouths of millions of Americans drivers—and making tow truck owners everywhere richer.

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