I got my first Contour used from a friend that purchased it new. It was a 1997 GL.
It had its AC compressor replaced @ 100K, and the shop forgot to put water back in the car when they did the work. Well, the car overheated and warped the head on the way home from the shop. Rather than sue the shop and have a long court case of "He said, She said", he asked me if I wanted to buy the car as-is. I said yes, and purchased it for 4K.
After getting the head replaced and an overall tune up, the car ran like a dream. Handling is great, and its pep from the Zetec engine is phenomenal for its displacement.
I drove the car every day for about 3 years, and loved every minute of it. The longest trip was to Centralia Illinois in 7 hours from Alabama.
I pampered the car, and knew it inside and out. I had replaced several sensors, but they were replaced as expected by the life expectancy engineered into them.
All in all, the car was great!
It was a week and some days ago from when I write this, that I did the unthinkable; I pulled out in front of an 18-wheeler. Yes, it hit hard and hit fast. It tore the car apart. By the grace of God I lived and was without a scratch. I was happy to be alive, but heartbroken over the loss of the car. I made up my mind about 30 minute later that I would get another one.
As soon as I got to a computer, I was looking for a 1997 5-speed Contour. I found one, and as soon as I had the insurance check, I went and got it. It has some problems, but I am getting this one back in shape. It's odd that it looks like my car, but you sit in it, and suddenly realise no two cars are alike. It feels different and handles different, but looks the same. With some work, I am sure it will be a sweet heart also.
The point is some of the reports here are praise, the others are decries. No two cars are the same, and how you maintain them has much to do with it. Enjoy this fine little car. It's a real sweetie for its cost and size. It's sport without all the body flair that gets you pulled over because of how your car looks, if you're going a bit too fast.