The cars we loved.
The late 80’s and much of the 90’s produced some of the most interesting low to mid end sports coupes. The force of the Japanese competition forced the Big Three to re-evaluate some of their offerings. In the case of Ford, it was in the epicenter of the American response to the Japanese sporty car invasion. On one hand there was the all American Mustang, with its rear wheel drive and V8 power. The other end of the spectrum was where most of the shaking up occurred. The Probe, once planned as a Mustang replacement, became Ford’s answer to any number of cars ranging from Cavaliers to Daytona’s with horsepower figures ranging from 110 to 145.
The old adage of “If you can’t beat em’ …join them” took on new meaning with Ford hooking up with its long time Japanese partner Mazda to develop a new platform (called GD) that would spawn a compact coupe for both of them.
Looking like it came straight out of a Syd Mead illustration, Ford’s product of this union called the Probe looked unlike any sports coupe before it. In GT form it was more aggressive looking with ribbed side panels, big flat spoiler and front air dam with prominent fog lights. The lesser models had a lean look that better showcased the sleekness of the design. They were also lighter than the aero skirt clad GT. Inside was not as futuristic, but very modern with a few new best practices in ergonomics being used to good effect.
The RX7 like instrument cluster was adjustable with the steering wheel, assuring a good view no matter what height the driver was. Other modern touches like flowing door panels that merged into the dash reminded you that you were not in a Mustang.
Ford’s Probe came in three varieties, a base GL with a 4 cylinder, mid-level LX with a V6 and the high-strung GT with a turbocharged four. The turbo required a lot of effort to be rewarding with most of its charms being had in the upper rpm band. To make matters worse, reaching those upper revs too soon often resulted in torque steer.
By contrast the LX model with its 3.0 litre Vulcan OHV 12 Valve V6 had a smooth power band that made it more rewarding to drive. It like the GT had 140hp being sent to the front wheels. The LX was as quick if not quicker than the GT in a dash from a stop light with a 8.2 0 to 60 time. Word was out that the Probe LX, not GT was the modern performance coupe to get from Ford. In much the way that the Mustang LX had become a sleeper performance car earlier, the Probe LX continued the trend. Like the GT, the LX was available with a 5 speed manual or was more likely to be equipped with a four speed automatic.
The LX competed most directly with Chevy’s Beretta GT and Dodge’s Daytona ES, all V6 powered cars with similar attributes. Among these, the Probe was the fastest and best built. It’s rear suspension was a Chapman strut set up that was superior to the twist beam systems in most competition. It kept the Probe composed on rough surfaces when Berettas and Daytonas were known to lose composure. 15 inch wheels on Goodyear GT + 4 tires insured a good ride and reassuring all-weather performance. The overall quality and its style of the moment looks are behind the relatively high sales figures for the Probe LX vs. its competition or the GT for that matter. There are still plenty of good running examples to be found. The V6 was more reliable and parts are much easier to find since the engine was shared with the popular Taurus. Ford learned a lot in its partnership with Mazda. In many ways, the Probe was the starting point in the overall modernization of Fords products to match expectations typical of buyers for Japanese cars.