The Marine View Driver: Cruising with the 1992 Ford Tempo


In which the author takes well-meaning advice from a friend but is not necessarily proud of it.

by Mike Smith

You may recall that I once owned a 1979 LTD—the one that had broken down in the middle of a trip to a Mariners game with my boss. Yes, I was left stranded with a broken-down supersized car, and my boss got himself bailed out of the situation via a friend.

There is more to the story, of course.

Since I was left stranded with my previously running car, I decided I’d had enough, too. After all, one of my employees had been hounding me for some time about getting a new car.

“You deserve it.”

“You’re making big bucks now. You need to look the part and get something you can be proud of.”

He might as well have been the little devil on my shoulder whispering into my ear. A very willing ear, I might add.

Even though I’d wanted the LTD, I realized I really did need something that would be more reliable. It’s just that, even though I was the boss, I was still allergic to car payments. But I sure was getting tired of pushing and towing my car off of streets and into repair shops, and that ill-fated trip to the M’s game was the last straw.

So I had my little devil pick me up and I literally left my LTD at the Goodwill Warehouse parking lot on Fourth Ave.

Capture1The devil took me up to Bill Pierre Ford in Little old Lake City, and I bought a brand new Ford Tempo. Nice and very fuel efficient. It was the first time I’d ever bought a car that was built the same year I bought it.

The overall trip took a while so I got home pretty late. I naturally had to call and tell my wife I’d bought a car this fine day. Somehow she was not expecting such news. Imagine that. That morning I went to work in a 1979 LTD and I came home in a 1992 Ford Tempo. When I told her, she went all quiet. It was hard to get her to say anything else. So I hung up and started my drive home.

She must have said something, though, because when I turned the corner near my house, my youngest daughter was running down the street to see Dad’s new car. It was the only great thing about my day.

She was so excited and she loved the car. My wife didn’t say much. She was actually quite gracious, though. Years later she asked why I would go out and buy a new car without even talking to her. My answer was, “Ummm”; which means that it should have been obvious, as it most certainly was to me.

Let’s just say there was a bit of tension in the air. For months. So I started plying her with the following tactical arguments: What is wrong with you? (Least effective, glad I used it first and got it out of the way.) Can’t you see how much our little girl likes this car? See how economical it is?

I started pointing out really irresponsible cars I could have bought. “I’ve recently been to the car show, you know!” Isn’t she aware that I am the man of the family, and that I know how to make quick, wise decisions? (Note: That last assertion is a complete fantasy. The rest of this is, of course, completely true.)

Capture2We won’t dwell on this anymore. I now owned a new Ford Tempo. This car was probably the least troublesome of any car I’ve ever owned—Boy, was that ever a lucky strike. Can you imagine if this car had issues?

Oh, yeah—we weren’t going to dwell on that anymore.

You would think my luck with the Tempo was because I had finally bought a car that didn’t already have 150,000-plus miles on it. And you’d be right.

But in my defense, I did take good care of it. And it had a minimum of extras. It had a standard five-speed manual transmission. (I wanted that in case I ever had to push start the car. Remember my VW bug?). It didn’t have power windows, in case we drove into a river. It had a standard-issue radio and cassette deck combination. (In case anyone thought to steal it. Remember my Honda and the third time it was stolen?) It had Capture3manually operated seat adjustments. No electrical do-dads that might fail. It did have a mechanical remote trunk opener, which was one of the nicest little conveniences. (Reference my 52 Chev.)  We drove the Tempo to Montana several times. (Since it was white it was very visible to cows.) It served us very well.

You see? I was learning. My wife should have been proud.

But I won’t dwell on that any more.

Both of my daughters learned to drive in the Tempo. I even taught my friend Steve Martin’s son Daniel to drive in this car. I like to think that was because I was more patient than Steve. But I guess not many people had a clutch on which to learn.

I drove the Tempo for many years as a sales manager and I covered a lot of territory. There were only a few times that I wished for an automatic transmission due to tired knees after a long traffic jam. Sandy, my wife, is from heartier stock. She drove it a lot, and never complained about driving it.

Paying for it was another story—but there I go again!

Being a front-wheel drive car made the steep hill we lived on in Des Moines on 10th Ave. S. a snap. Even in the huge snow we had occasionally, I was able to drive right up the hill and into my driveway.

(The previously discussed LTD was not so snow-friendly. I parked it at the top of the hill by North Hill Elementary, now Middle School, and walked home. Being on top of the hill did highlight the LTD’s most obvious benefit. It was a great sled, and steered like one. And its massive weight created a thrilling high-speed descent.)

My youngest daughter was a life guard for King County Parks Department during high school.  She worked up at Wilderness Lake and Pine Lake. Driving the Tempo home from work one day she was rear ended. The Tempo was still drivable but in order to fix it, the bid came to $117.00 over scrap value. In other words it wasn’t scrap; it was just the value of the car.

Oh, we know that song real well. We keep our cars until they either don’t run or the cost to repair them is too high. In this case, we weren’t sure what to do. We ended up scrapping the car and the check from the insurance company was enough to help get another car. I was earning a pretty good income at this time, too, so money wasn’t a big issue.

Even though the car ran well and gave us good service, I was actually kind of glad when it left. I always felt guilty about buying it behind my wife’s back.

But it could have been worse. Oh, yes—it could have been much worse.

After all, the devil made me do it.


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