By on May 10, 2013

Photo courtesy of http://racingsouthwest.com

In the early 1980s, as the economy continued to slump and gas prices soared, American car makers were desperate for a way forward. The good old days were gone forever. Under pressure from the Japanese, whose small cars had gone from rolling jokes to serious, high quality competition in little more than a decade, the big three knew they needed to make a radical departure from their traditional approach before it was too late. Although some of the more stodgy cars would soldier on and continue to sell to members of the Greatest Generation well past their expiration dates, for the rest of us the future was a smaller, lighter and more efficient. The winds of change were blowing and even the Ford Mustang felt the chill.

In 1982 Ford began to take a good, hard look at their strong selling V8 powered, rear wheel drive pony car. Introduced in 1979, the Fox body mustang was a radical departure from the Ford Pinto based Mustang II that had carried the name forward through the disco era and it was a good car, but all indications were that the front engine rear wheel drive platform appeared to be on the way out. Most domestic manufacturers were headed towards front wheel drive platforms, Chrysler was already heavily invested in its K car and rumor had it that even GM was considering moving its Camaro and Firebird to FWD. Fortunately, Ford’s 25% stake in Mazda offered them quick and relatively inexpensive access to a FWD platform already under development, the Mazda 626, and they chose to examine that option.

Toshi Saito of Ford’s North American Design Center prepared the initial concepts, one of which was chosen and the project moved forward into a full sized clay mock up and eventually a fiberglass model was constructed and sent to Japan where Mazda headquarters in Hiroshima. Mazda’s management approved of the design, but after some thought Ford decided that it wasn’t quite what they were looking for and came back with a longer, leaner and more rakish design that required some re-engineering from Mazda. The car was to be produced in the United States and Mazda purchased a Ford property in Flat Rock, Michigan to produce the car alongside their own 626 and Mx-6 models.

Photo courtesy of spannerhead.com

Much like the now oft-derided Mustang II, the new Mustang was set to be a radical departure from the Fox car. First, no V8s were to be offered. Instead, the front wheel drive Mustang would mount a Mazda sourced transversely mounted 4 cylinder good for about 110 horsepower. For the first year, GT Mustangs would feature the same 4 cylinder with turbo good for about 145 horsepower – comparable to what the Mustang V8 was making at the time – and the next year move to the Mazda V6 which was good for about 175 horsepower. The design was sleek, slippery and generally well liked by those who saw production models and images.

The public backlash against the car came as a real shock. Mustang enthusiasts and red blooded ‘Murricans everywhere were appalled at the thought of a Mustang based on anything other than good old American design and sent up a howl of indignation that resonated all the way back to Ford’s executive offices. Firmly in the Reagan era, a resurgent America would simply not tolerate the venerable Mustang name attached to a Japanese design. As thousands upon thousands of angry letters poured into the corporate offices, buyers rushed into dealerships and sales of the Fox body Mustang, which had been slipping as the design aged, suddenly increased.

Photo courtesy of actionautoaccessories.com

People, it seemed, were anxious to own what was sure to be the last “real” Mustang rushed into the dealership before it was too late and, in a moment of “Classic Coke” vs “New Coke” brilliance, Ford capitalized on the controversy. The classic Mustang would remain on sale, but the new car would live too, and so Ford reached into the bag of names and pulled out one that had been attached to an especially well received aerodynamic concept car just a few years earlier and, with a knowing wink to proctologists everywhere, dubbed it the “Probe.”

Photo courtesy of forums.nicoclub.com

The rest is well known history. Introduced in 1988, The Probe was a success and it went on to win the hearts and minds of many of those who cross shopped it with its primary competition, the Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge Turbo K variants, the small FWD GM cars, the Cavalier and the Beretta and Japanese turbo cars of all makes and models. Sales were brisk and the Detroit News reported in 1989 that Ford was selling around 600 of them a month. The design was refreshed in 1993 and almost 120,000 were sold that year. By 1997, however, the design had run its course and only 16,777 were sold. Meanwhile, the “Classic” Mustang soldiered on, was continually refreshed and, although it has been updated and redesigned over the years, it is still with us as the front engine, rear wheel drive pony car that God and Lee Iacocca originally intended.

Looking back, the 80s was a time or real, small-car innovation. Car companies, both domestic and foreign, put forth an amazing number of designs across all price ranges as they fought for market share. In that regard, I suppose, Ford really didn’t hurt themselves by keeping the ‘Stang and adding the Probe to their showrooms. I’m guessing the Probe really didn’t steal buyers from the Mustang as they each appealed to different market segments. I wonder, however, what would have happened if Ford had made the decision to stick with New Coke? Would GM have followed suit and put the Camaro and Firebird on a smaller FWD platform? Would the Chrysler K Turbos have eaten all their lunches? I wonder…

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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64 Comments on “Mustang by Mazda? When Ford Probed The Possibility...”


  • avatar
    jco

    oh, the MX-6 was such a neat car. the boxy first gen and the curvy second gen. i haven’t seen one in years.. but everything up here rusts out. i bet 95% of them were cashed in under the Cash for Clunkers thing. too bad. i think the Probe always looked cheaper and more plastic-y.

    i’m glad they stuck it out, though. the s197 mustang is such a perfect take on what the mustang is and should be.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      Oh boy did they rust. One of my buds had a Gen I as a beater in the early 2000s and the trunk floor was almost gone, and you couldn’t put more than half a tank of gas in it. And you could reach through the rear quarters into the trunk.

      Dayum were they fun back in the day when only a coupla years old. They’d readily take upgraded turbos, intercoolers and 20 PSI putting down 250+ HP at the wheels. They didn’t live too long when hammered that hard (all the WBO2 and data loggers I have now were literally hundreds of thousands of dollars back then) so it was just rough efficiency calculations and such to kinda figger how many extra injectors to bung into the intake and when to trigger them.

      But you could smoke concurrent ‘Vettes all day long. They were a torque-steering hoot.

  • avatar
    car_guy2010

    The Probe sucked hard.

    I’m glad that Ford listened to Mustang enthusiasts.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    A RWD second generation Probe/MX-6 could have been something brilliant. As it was, the second generation cars looked better than they performed, unfortunately.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Having test-driven a high-mileage ’93 GT, I disagree. While it wouldn’t surprise me that a base automatic would be underwhelming, the GT was a corker of a car to my then-18-year-old self. Upon coming to a stop, Dad suggested I hit the throttle to see how it pulled, and he regretted it. It was equally impressive in the curves, and I was in love with the thing at the end of our brief drive. The only thing that kept me from buying it was what were sure to be high maintenance costs on a 145k mile car with a very cramped engine bay. I wound up with a ’92 Jetta 2 door, which was nowhere near the performance equal, but was all the same all that a first car should be.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    I’m not convinced Ford was serious about the Maztang. It did create buying frenzy though.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I really wanted one of these when they first came out. The Probe GT on the spec sheet listed 145 HP, but the performance figures were closer to those of a similar weight car with 160-170 HP. The probe was one of the first “popularly priced” cars that you could get with a CD player. I think it was about an $800 option. That would be the equivalent of about $1500 today.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      There was rampant speculation that both the base and GT engine were grossly under rated to make insurance company actuaries happy. Neither version performance numbers added up to the alleged HP, torque, gear, where the power comes from, and weight vs. 0 to 60 times.

      Not to mention the Mazda truck engine selected was a torque monster by 1980′s standards.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    You don’t see them much anymore, but I really liked the second-gen Probe GT. Fun to drive too. I wish Mazda had dropped that v6 in a Miata of that era as well.

    Had they not kept the RWD Mustang I think you would have only missed out on the later Fox body cars. The gap of a few model years (like the GM F body) would have been followed by more or less what you have now as the resurgance of RWD and the retro boom happened.

    I will say this…were I buying these cars today, gas mileage aside, I would likely take the Mustang GT over the Probe GT, but mainly for nostalgia as the 5.0 is frozen in my High School years as the pinnacle of cool for the time but were I saddled with the Base models? Probe all the way. The Probe 4 cyl was still fun with a stick. The base Mustang was a steaming pile in those days be it the 2.3 or the 3.8 models.

    • 0 avatar
      Buzz Killington

      Some folks have transplanted that V6 (usually the higher-power Japanese version) into Miatas. Not the most powerful option, but there is nothing wrong with a Miata powered by a 190hp, butter-smooth, high-revving 6.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I really enjoyed your article, Tom.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks. How about that one, giant run-on sentence I left in there?

      This was actually a lot of fun to write. Since I am not really a Ford guy, I’m not sure why I recalled the controversy this morning. I started looking up the various facts and the more I read the more interesting it became. I thought others might like some light reading.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I would also be interested to hear about the de-evolution of the Lincoln Continental in the same time period… Fox to Taurus FWD to whatever it was based on in ’95.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Ignoring the practical aspects such as they didn’t make them yet, a more practical approach might have been a hard top miata with a v6 or an RX7 frame with a 5.0. I think no fwd is a dodged bullet and like the mustang the way it is now. A miata with mustang looks would sell well today I expect and the rx8 was beautiful also. A modern Ford v6 would make either one fly.

    No need to be practical when playing “what if”.

  • avatar
    James2

    “the next year move to the Mazda V6 which was good for about 175 horsepower”

    The first-gen Probe got Ford’s Vulcan V6, iirc. It had about the same hp as the turbo 4.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      You are correct. The Vulcan 3.0 was offered in the LX trim from 1990 to 1992. You also got 15″ wheels and 4-wheel disc brakes. On paper I think it had 5 less HP (140 vs 145) and a lot less torque (about 30 or 40 pounds less). But as others have noted, most feel the turbo 4 was very under rated from the factory for HP numbers in particular.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        I had a 1990 Vulcan 3.0 V6 Probe. It was neither fast nor fuel efficient and the torque steer was horrible even with the lower torque V6. Mine survived Hertz rental use/abuse plus at least 3 more owners and 18 years. It was fairly easy to repair and it could haul big stuff like a water heater, so I wouldn’t be surprised if someone kept it running as a beater.

        I thought that the late 80s/early 90s Mazda 626, Mazda MX-6, and Ford Probe were fairly nice used cars for the price. Less expensive than a Corolla and more fun to drive. They used to be fairly common when they were 10 to 15 years old.

  • avatar
    lowsodium

    The probe was a piece of junk. Which explains why you rarely see them nowadays. In the last 3 years I have seen maybe 2-3 of them. I see foxbody mustangs everyday.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Tom, pretty sure you have a typo – 1989 sales volume was a lot better than 600 units a month.

    I bought a Ford Probe in August of 1988 – a 1989 model fully loaded. I was very reluctant to drive one, I wasn’t a fan of the exterior styling, but when I drove it I was very impressed by the power, handling, and the ergonomics. The interior was incredibly well laid out and had a number of features a bit ahead of its time.

    To this day remains my favorite car I’ve owned. Went 186K miles in 4-1/2 years before I got rid of it (yes, you read that right). In that time did two alternators, and a radiator that I would say was “out of normal.” Yes, did a clutch at about 130K – and that was stunning to me as I hooned the bejesus out of that car, and autocrossed almost every weekend.

    It had so many great features that for the price range were not usually in that class. Trip computer, CD player, subwoofer, adjustable suspension, a maintenance monitor (no science behind it, just based on miles) and it was a stunningly practical vehicle. It could honestly seat four adults. The cargo area was massive (14 cubic feet if I remember, seats up) and with seats down it could swallow an unbelievable amount of cargo.

    When I got rid of it 4-1/2 years later everything still worked. The power seat was finicky and the driver side auto down feature on the power window didn’t work anymore. That was it.

    Perfect?

    Nope.

    Brakes sure could have been better. The 1989 models had a nasty issue with water leaks through the tail lights that would pool in the spare tire well (yup). The rear power antenna was garbage (yup). I had read the Mazda automatic tranny wasn’t super reliable (no idea, I had a stick). The trip computer display died – twice (both under warranty). I would suspect there was a TSB and part number change in hindsight because it was never an issue after the second replacement. The sunroof was manual, and if you removed and stored it in the cargo area, the way it was designed you could carry the sunroof and…well you could carry the sunroof strapped down in the back.

    Honestly, I would love to find a garage queen owned by a little old lady – but there is nothing collectible about the Probe, they have zilch in value, and the numbers are dwindling.

    The ’89 in my opinion is the best. It has a unique body style to that model year (the front clip and rear tail lights changed in 1990) and no motorized seat belts. The 90 did get the Vulcan V6 as an option, leather, and 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS. Addressing some issues that I had with the ’89 model. But the motorized seat belts were invented by a sadist I’m pretty much convinced, and if you babied the Mazda 2.2L under the hood, you could get some outstanding fuel economy.

    It was a darn good car.

    • 0 avatar

      Alas, you are right. *sigh* I need to read more thoroughly. The actual quote is: “about 600 cars more are sold each month than in the preceeding one.” I guess that means steep upward trend…

      http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2209&dat=19890216&id=-AEmAAAAIBAJ&sjid=CfwFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5404,4849196

    • 0 avatar
      MPAVictoria

      APaGttH you and me seem to share the same taste in cars. I currently own a 2009 G8 and I also used to own a 97 Ford Probe 4 cylinder 5 speed in metallic green. That said my experience with the front wheel drive Ford was not as positive as yours. First the good. The car handled very well and was pretty quick even with the 4 cylinder. Plus I always liked the interior! It had nice materials (for the time) and was sensibly laid out. I also loved the exterior design, especially the pop up headlights.

      Now for the bad. The thing ate suspension components, which got expensive, and mine had a weird intermittent issue where it would randomly refuse to start. Apparently the crankshaft position sensor on Probes is considered a wear item. Also parts were expensive!

      Anyway despite the issues I always liked the car and I still notice a few driving around Ottawa.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        My understanding is as the Ford bean counters really took hold in the 90′s, overall build quality went down, down, down. I can’t say I was a fan of the Gen II styling.

        I was one of the first kids on the block with a Probe in August of ’88. For the first couple of months where ever I parked I would have a small crowd gather. Come back from a store and hand prints all over the windows from people looking in.

        I love my G8, I loved my Probe. I guess I was lucky – I got a good one. It’s all up to the experience, right? Bought a Subaru in ’93 – God awful car. Lived in the shop – got rid of it after 4 years and only 44K miles when it started hemorrhaging oil. To each their own.

        • 0 avatar
          MPAVictoria

          “It’s all up to the experience, right?”
          You ain’t kidding! It is amazing how different people’s experiences can be with the same car!

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          A gen II garage queen can be found. In my garage. Unlike most of the American Ford products that saw interior quality sinking, the Second gen Probe had a class competitive interior with is Japanese competition. These cars did not suck by any metric. Only the Mazda sourced automatic was a bit short in lifespan. They were not Mustangs, however, but Mustangs were not Probes either. A probe was way more refined than the Mustang of that era. It is a shame that the Mazda Ford alliance ends. it turned out a lot of good designs. Just compare the horrid first gen Escortt to the Mazda sourced version. Night and Day.

          BTW, the second gen Probe was not a refresh of the first gen, it was all new and all better.

  • avatar
    Buzz Killington

    When I was a high-school sophomore, the 2nd-gen Probe GT was my “attainable” dream car (after my “unattainable” dream FD RX-7). I still like them; that V6 was a peach.

    They make wicked fast, but ultimately fragile, Lemons/Chump cars.

    • 0 avatar
      majo8

      I race a 2nd gen Probe in LeMons, and ours is just a little faster than the average crapcan that races in this series. Our engine is stock, so there’s some room for improvement. We’re aware of how fragile the V6 is in endurance racing, so we try to keep the revs below 6000-6200 rpm ( the redline is 7,000 ). Two races in and no major engine/drivetrain malfunctions…..

  • avatar
    Loser

    My wife had a ’91 LX with the 3.0 and 5 speed. Being a V8 rear drive guy I wasn’t a fan of her getting it but after a drive I was very impressed. Other than the stupid automatic seat belts it was a very solid and dependable car for us.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      The 3.0L V6 with the 5-speed was a nice package. The 3.0 V6 was competent, and as the 2.2 Mazda turbo 4 was iron block, there wasn’t a huge weight difference. The 15″ rubber and 195/60R15 tires made a HUGE difference in handling over the 175/70R14 on the previous gen model. I seem to remember the car did high 6′s or very low 7′s with the V6. Most would sneer at that being rubbish today – that was darn fast in 1990 for a car you could buy for about $15K nicely equipped. The Probe was a touch nose heavy and definitely prone to under steer, but it was predictable and a very forgiving platform to driver error.

      Ya – those motorized seat belts SUCKED.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Back in high school (1992-1995) there was a girl named Anne with a Ford Probe. She happened to be in the same class as I was and had an older sister she had to share her car with. Anne was a hillbilly beauty with a look somewhere between Loretta Lynn and that chick on the Voice who sounds like Loretta Lynn.

    Anne never understood why we laughed so hard when she said; “I have a Probe I share with my sister.” (What can I say we were 16.)

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I have a feeling that if the Mustang had gone FWD, we’d have a Fusion or Focus coupe…

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Its possible Mustang could of gone FWD in the mid 80s and then come back home in the 00s as a ‘classic’, and in the process yes a midsize coupe such as a Fusion Cpe would have probably be offered to replace its market share.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      I would kill for a Fusion Coupe. Right now I’m mulling a genesis coupe and giving up room for driving fun. The probe filled that small sporty car that mustangs gave up by becoming heavy and stuck in the V8/RWD configuration. There seems to be a sizable market out there for a 15-20K sporty coupe that a Focus-based probe would fill.

  • avatar
    skor

    Ford was right to consider a Japanese FWD car when they did. The economy was in the crapper, and gas was on the way up, it looked like events in the Mideast were about to kill the V-8 for good. By the time the Probe was ready for sale, things had calmed down a bit in the world, and gas was getting cheap again. Ford made the correct decision to keep the Mustang as is, and offer the Probe as a different kind of sporty car.

    I had a first gen LX. It was loaded with options you only saw on high-end cars of the day. My LX was OK. The handling improved tremendously when I replaced the stock struts with Tokico “Blues” and replace the stock tires with 205/15s. Overall it was a fine handling, quiet car that was average reliability for it’s day.

    Ultimately Ford let the Probe die on the vine. Again it was the correct business move. By the late 90s the big profits were in full size SUVs.

    Unfortunately, you won’t be seeing very many sporty FWD coupes being offered in the future, despite rising gas prices. Geezers can’t get in and out of such cars, and kids today can’t afford a new car at all.

    BTW, One winter when my car was covered with salt crust, I went out to the parking lot to find someone had written “Anal” in front front of the Probe logo. The worst part about the Probe was its name.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Yes it was a pretty unfortunate name but I wonder if the word “probe” had the same connotation in 1985ish when they chose it prior to production. These would have been folks who grew up before and during the Moon Landing and Mariner and Voyager probes, and remember in the 80s scifi such as Star Wars and Star Trek were big. They probably thought it fit in well with that meme, after all when did the UFO phenomenon go mainstream, late 80s maybe? Strieber’s Communion didn’t come out until 1987 and even then I don’t remember hearing about/seeing UFOs in the media until at least after the Gulf War. In hindsight they probably should have renamed it when the second gen came out but maybe said screw it, after Mustang success which sealed its fate.

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        Egads, you must be well under 30 (not bad, just egads I’m old in my mid 40s). UFOs were really big in the late 60s early 70s.

        So much so that bestsellers included ‘Chariots of the Gods’ (look it up) and there was even a TV show in the late 70s called “Project Blue Book’ which was all about the official USAF program of the same name.

        I promise, long before Scully and Mulder, there was plenty of UFO pop-culture. Oh yeah, Star Wars is the 70s (now I really feel old…).

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Close, 32. Ironically I read part of Chariots of the Gods in grade school, but I wasn’t aware the culture existed prior to my youth.

          • 0 avatar
            porschespeed

            Yup, even (original) Star Trek is from the late 60s and I only remember seeing it in reruns.

            Like lotsa stuff, we identify with what we grew up with.

            But yeah, the 60s and 70s were full of semi-honest exploration of all sortsa “alt” kinda things. Partially because we finally admitted to ourselves that the overwhelming evidence proved that governments lie on a regular basis and don’t have our best interests in mind when they do.

            Not that anybody really tried to fix that…

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        The name Probe already had the same connotations with gynecologist-visiting women in the ’80s. They hated it in customer clinics, but Ford went forward with the name anyway.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Thx for the backstory.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            As a 14 year old, I thought the name was fine. I associated it as much with their series of show cars as anything. Magazine articles said that women were uncomfortable with the name. It’s funny how many people can look at an idea and not come up with a clue as to how it might make someone else feel. With Probe, the name gained so much inertia before anyone involved figured out that women weren’t generally titillated by being probed that they put it on a production coupe. This is exactly the sort of ‘secretary’s car’ that even the most sexist product planner should have wanted women to like and buy. They slapped on a name as appealing to women as a Blue Ball edition would be to men anyway.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    It did make sense to make the Probe since FWD sports cars such as the Celica, Sirocco/Corrado, Laser/Daytona were fairly popular at the time. Though they should have marketed it as a Mercury (Capri?,Comet?) which would have given that division it’s own sporty car. The revised Contour/Mistake based Cougar was intended to be the Probe replacement but was quite subpar compared to the Probe.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I knew a guy who practically went rabid when Ford was thinking about making the Mustang FWD. I wondered how many letters he sent Ford by the time the “real Mustang” was saved. He swore if they did make it FWD, he would never buy another Ford vehicle. Since he buys cars and trucks fairly often, Ford saved themselves about 5 car sales, and about 5 F150 sales since then by him alone. I drove an early Probe a couple of times, it was ok, but I would rather have driven a real Mustang.

  • avatar
    360joules

    Here’s irony: my wife’s graduation gift from college was a 1989 Probe DX 4 cyl that replaced her high school & college 1965 Mustang 6 cyl. She brought it into our marriage at 60k miles with NO maintenance, as my car lovin’ father had great taste in cars but NO maintenace habits (Barrucada/Chevelle/442/911/Audi 5000/500SEL/and beyond). 150k miles on the Probe except 2 alternators and the bi-weekly moisture patrol in the spare tire well. Replaced the power antenna once. She loved the Mustang but the Probe could defog its own windows, was fast enough for her, handled & braked much better than the Stang (which was stored at her parents house until sold to loyal family friend). The back hatch and fold-down rear seats could swallow an immense amount of cargo. It was a perfectly acceptable commuter car on days when I didn’t want to rack up miles on my M5 or I would be parking in high theft areas. I think they are uncommon today because people liked them but never loved them until they were used up & discarded like unripe fruit.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      The reason most of these cars seemed to disappear overnight was because most came equipped with Mazda’s less than great auto trans.

      The auto transmissions generally gave up between 90K to 120K. The average cost of a trans R&R was about $3,500, which exceeded the book value of most Probes with 100K+ miles on the clock.

      The trans would grenade, the cars would get hauled to the trans shop, the owner would get an estimate, and then the cars would get hauled straight from the shop to the crusher.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Have to agree. The Mazda auto tranny was not the choice for long life. You don’t have to look hard on Craig’s List to find ’89 to ’92 examples for sale – most are dogged out. I missed a cream puff about six weeks ago by about two hours. A ’89 LX all options except automatic, 73K original miles. The car was showroom condition inside and out. Clutch was going – that’s it. $1.5K – ya someone had snapped it up. Would have made an awesome commuter car.

        • 0 avatar
          skor

          The infamous G4A-EL/4EAT Here’s a fun fact about that trans: It was copied from a larger GM unit but sized to fit smaller cars. If I was gonna crib a trans design, I don’t think I would have picked a GM unit to copy.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            GM had long been known as transmission manufacturer. Now in the mid 80s when GM was new to FWD I may have skipped their unit to copy, but the logic of the time may have been they knew what they were doing copy the leader.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            GM was a pioneer in FWD when they came out with the FWD Toronado and its Buick Riviera and Caddy Eldorado sibs, way back when…..

            GM copied the Audi version of the FWD system unit but made it much larger to handle the 455 engine.

            So GM was ahead of the curve at that time when it came to FWD on US cars. Audi and Fiat were leading the industry in Europe.

            Lots of manufacturers around the world were reverse-engineering GM’s THM 350 and 400 because it was the leading edge of automatics, at that time.

            Since then, everyone has improved upon the design and certainly seal materials have gotten better.

            Biggest complaint I had with GM THM 350 and 400 automatics of that era was the inevitable leaking front seal, usually starting at around 50K miles.

            Biggest complaint I had with the Ford C4 and C6 automatics of that era was their internal leaks that failed to bring the transmissions up to working hydraulic pressure, usually starting around 60K miles.

            Sometimes it would take a while before the car would move after you put in in Drive, and sometimes it wouldn’t move at all.

            When we experienced the same symptoms on our 1992 Towncar, I asked a Palestinian guy who owned a transmission shop in El Paso, TX, to rebuild our transmission, assemble it with HD clutch bands and use RTV as a valve body sealant, instead of swapping the tranny out for a rebuilt one from a commercial supplier. It was worth the extra cost.

            GM transmissions from the eighties were really the pits but in the nineties they got much better. A friend of mine owns a ’93 S-10 with the original tranny that has nearly 200K on it.

            And now we have Ford and GM working together on a new crop of trannies.

          • 0 avatar
            porschespeed

            I’d never heard before that the TH425 was cribbed from the DKW/NSU Auto Union (DBZ) days of Audi.

            I know the layout has been around since the late 20s of the Horch Auto Union days, but I’m curious as to what else is the same (but bigger) from a technical standpoint.I’ve never actually taken apart a early Audi auto trans. AFAIK, the F103s were all 4 speed manuals.

            I’m curious and sadly ignorant on this one, do tell…

            (Especially as I used to own a ’70 Eldo.) But seriously, GM was 50 years behind the ‘pioneers” of FWD. Cord, Citroen, Auto Union, Panhard, Saab, Llyod, even BSA, they were all at it a lifetime before GM caught up with the past.

          • 0 avatar
            skor

            @porschespeed,

            Yes, I keep hearing about how GM was a “pioneer” in FWD. GM’s only claim to fame was that they were the first American car company to offer a FWD car postwar.

            I really admire the first gen Toranodo/Eldorado….I still think that first gen Toranado is one of the most beautiful American postwar cars. On the other hand, GM’s FWD cars of the 80s were some of the most craptacular piles ever flogged on the gullible American consumer.

          • 0 avatar

            Considering the number of other manufacturers who bought Hydramatics and Turbo Hydramatics from GM, you’re in small company. Recent history may be different, but lots of different companies tried to make automatic transmissions and GM’s designs from the 1950s into the mid 1970s were the state of the art.

          • 0 avatar
            porschespeed

            @Skor, they were a ‘pioneer’ when it came to cheaping out, that was about all. Especially by the 1960s. Let alone the horrid days of the 70s/80s/90s…

            Ronnie, the TH350 and 400 were used by some in lieu of spending the dinero to do their own development (aka RR and Jag). The TH425 was used by Vector for 17 or so cars/underdevelopedturds and I’m not sure who else.

            I don’t see how that inherently correlates to ‘state of the art’. Jensen used Torqueflites and Benz/DKW/BMW/Alfa/Pug were all running ZF slushies in the 60s. They aren’t the be-all end-all, but TH350/400s generally require rebuilds under 100K miles, so they’re hardly impressive compared to the concurrent ZF auto product. Let alone the manuals as my 200K mile 77 5 series shifted just peachy. Rowing like an Opel Manta, but peachy.

  • avatar
    agent534

    Probe was a serious alternative to the Mustang until the arrival of the DSM cars. The Eagle/Laser/Eclipse instantly took hold of and made the Probe insignificant in a segment the Probe itself almost created in the 1 year it had to itself before the DSMs came to market. The DSMs came in 2nd place behind the Mustang the in the Motor Trend Bang for Buck competition by Motor Trend ( fun read, lots of great cars there: http://www.stangbangers.com/89_LX5-0_vs_Competition.htm )From that point on Probe was an also-ran. At least the first gen had distinctive looks, but they aged quickly and with the 2nd gen redesign, the Probe was just a girls car. My guess is they were too limited by Mazda’s designs for the Mx-6 to do much to make it competitive again, and probably did see the need to compete with the Mustang any way, which must have been amazingly profitable being based on a platform that came out in 78 with the Fairmont.
    They might have had a shot if they didn’t rename the 3rd gen Probe a Cougar and move it to Mercury who was long dead by that point, but they did

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      The things that were “amazingly profitable” were Ford’s SUVs. Back in the 90s Ford’s SUVs were so hot, the only way to make money faster was to print it yourself.

      What could have Ford done to make the Probe competitive? How about stuff a 3.0 SHO engine into it? That’s what these guys in the video did.

    • 0 avatar
      Conslaw

      What a great vintage article that is. We’ve come along way in 24 years. Then the Corvette had 240 horsepower, weighed 32xx lbs and cost $34,000. Today, a Hyundai Sonata Turbo weighs the same, has more horsepower and costs less. Notice that the MX-6 and Olds Calais, midsized cars, both weighed under 2800 lbs. Today even a high-mpg special like the Chevrolet Cruze Eco is over 3000 lbs.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Thanks for the link, what a great read. The 20th anniversary turbo Trans Am was a WICKED beast back in the day.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Cougar was based on the Contour/Mystique, not the Mazda. A Cougar with the Contour SVT mechanicals would have been OK in my book though and would have been the spiritual successor to the Probe with the SHO engine referenced above.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I loved the 2nd gen MX-6 coupe – that was a stunning design. My wife had one when we got married…about a week later the engine grenaded at 112k, but apparently oil and maintenance are required.

    I was always curious why Ford didn’t just swallow Mazda during their buying spree in the ’80s….


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