The Truth About Cars » ford probe The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » ford probe Mustang by Mazda? When Ford Probed The Possibility Fri, 10 May 2013 16:17:52 +0000 Photo courtesy of

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

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

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

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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Junkyard Find: 1989 Ford Probe Thu, 07 Jun 2012 13:00:35 +0000 Here’s the new 1989 Ford Mustang! Well, that was the original plan for this cousin of the Mazda 626, but Mustang fans would sooner have accepted Leonid Breznhev’s face on the $20 bill than tolerate the sacred pony’s nameplate on a front-wheel-drive, Mazda-based car. So, the Mustang continued to be based on the increasingly elderly Fox platform until 1993… or 2004, if you consider the fourth-gen Mustang to be a Fox (which it was). Meanwhile, this car was sold as the Probe, and hardly anybody bought it. Here’s a first-year example I shot yesterday at a Denver self-serve junkyard.
One thing I’ve learned about the Probe during my tenure as a 24 Hours of LeMons judge is that the Probe (regardless of engine) is much, much, much quicker around a real-world road course than a Fox Mustang.
This one probably wouldn’t be all that quick on the race track, though, what with the automatic transmission.
Another thing I’ve learned about the Probe in LeMons racing is that it tends to be very fragile. Engines, transmissions, suspensions, everything just falls apart under any sort of abuse (Fox Mustangs aren’t exactly reliable in LeMons, but they hold together much better than the Probe). This one made it to just over 100,000 miles.
It appears to have served as a company car for the Pistola y Corazon Tattoo Shop.
Kit-car builders like these dash-mounted turn-signal controls; the RX-7 of the same era also uses this design.

15 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 01 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 02 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 03 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 04 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 05 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 06 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 07 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 08 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 09 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 10 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 11 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 12 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 13 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting 14 - 1989 Ford Probe Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Marting Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 71
And The Winner Is… Sat, 01 Jan 2011 08:05:54 +0000
Yes, somehow a Ford Probe— one of the least reliable cars in 24 Hours of LeMons history— has taken the overall win at a 24 Hours of LeMons race. Not only that, the BoomPowSurprise Probe won by a commanding 32-lap margin, meaning the car could have nuked its engine with nearly an hour to go and still won.

Speaking of nuked engines, here’s what the BoomPowSurprise Probe looked like the last time it was leading a LeMons race. Note the flames under the car. We’ve seen this car in a half-dozen or so events, and we’ve seen it throw rods in just about every one of them. Not this weekend! Congratulations, Team BoomPow Surprise!

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Curbside Classic: 1986 Ford Tempo – A Deadly Sin? Thu, 28 Oct 2010 16:13:01 +0000

From the blooming tree in the photo, it’s obvious that I didn’t just shoot this Tempo recently. But then it wasn’t just this past spring either; it was a year and a half ago. Why have I been temporizing? Few cars leave me feeling more conflicted than the Tempo: is it a Deadly Sin or a Greatest Hit? But I find myself in a temporary state of equanimity today, so let’s see if we can’t put the Tempo into proper perspective. Tempus fugit; it’s now or never.

As lowly as it may seem today, the Tempo played a very significant role in the salvation of Ford in the early-mid eighties. That crisis, not dissimilar to Ford’s recent one, also involved pulling Ford back from the brink of bankruptcy. Donald E. Petersen was Ford’s Allan Mulally of the time, and his task was formidable (see related article here). Ford’s product line going into the eighties was bloated and boxy, and almost took the Blue Oval down. A radical change was called for, and Petersen delivered, in a critical one-two-three punch, despite having limited resources.

Petersen placed his bet on aerodynamics, or at least the image of it. To get a clearer perspective of that, compare Ford’s Ghia Navarre Concept of 1980 (top) and the Ford Probe III concept of 1981 (below). What a difference a year and a fresh new direction can make. And the styling influence of the Probe on the Tempo is all-too obvious.

Strictly speaking, the Probe III more directly predicted Ford’s European Sierra, which arrived in 1983, one year ahead of the Tempo. It was shepherded in part by Bob Lutz, and replaced the boxy Cortina and Taunus. Built on a totally different RWD platform, the Sierra was initially challenged in winning over the generally conservative buyers of European mid-size Fords. And of course, the Sierra was the basis for the Merkur XR4Ti, one of Lutz’ less successful ideas.

Back to the USA: in 1983, the reskinned T-Bird arrived, the first of that succession of aero-punches. It was welcomed with open arms, including yours truly. The Tempo followed one year later, and the final killer blow (to GM, mainly) was the Taurus in 1986. The Tempo played a crucial role in paving the way for the Taurus, and getting folks increasingly used to the jelly bean look. The strategy worked, particularly so in California, where the shift away from GM cars was seismic, and a predictor of things to come. In that trend-setting state, Ford was suddenly cool, the last of the Big Three to enjoy that status there for a long time, if ever.

The Tempo’s first year (1984) was also its best ever, with sales exceeding 400k. The secret to its success: a fresh look, attractive pricing, and GM’s X-Body cars. With stickers starting at about $7k ($14k adjusted), the Tempo cost about the same as a Honda Civic four door, if you could get one then without a dealer mark-up. But the Tempo was roomier, offering interior dimensions closer to the Accord, which cost considerably more.

By 1984, GM’s X-Bodies, mainly in the form of the Chevy Citation, had imploded due to a number of recall and quality issues. The timing of the Tempo was perfect. Although sales drooped a bit after the first year, the Tempo was a strong seller for most of its ten-year (overly) long life, except for the last few years, by which time it was sorely long on tooth. By then, the Japanese competition had left it in the dust. But the Tempo did what Ford needed it to do, at a minimum. The question is how well did it go about doing it?

That’s the shadow side of the Tempo, and its almost identical Mercury Topaz twin. Let’s first look at how the Tempo was developed to get a better picture of its strengths and weaknesses. The Tempo was hardly a clean-sheet new car; the same applied to the T-Bird. While Peteren was betting the whole Ford farm on the all-new Taurus; he could only afford to bet the outhouse on the Tempo.

The Tempo was designed to replace the boxy, foxy Fairmont. But with FWD mania sweeping the land, the Tempo was built on an elongated gen1 Escort platform, stretched to the rear and pushed out at the sides a bit, but essentially identical from the cowl forward. That included the Escort’s front and rear MacPherson strut suspension, which seemed to promise more on paper than it delivered, at least in the US. The differences between the European and US Escort was most painfully felt in the suspension tuning, and the flaccid and imprecise manners of the early US Escort found its way into the Tempo. Ford’s Focus on excellent handling was still a ways off.

Ford wisely abandoned early notions of using the Escort’s weak-chested 1.6 L engine in the Tempo. Needing something a bit larger,they chose not to use their existing 2.3 L OHC four as used in a number of Ford’s other cars. Why? Undoubtedly, it was an expedient decision based on available resources. The 2.3 Lima four facility was probably running at or near capacity, meanwhile the transfer lines for the old Falcon six were going begging.

So instead of developing a nice modern and smooth new engine like the Hondas enjoyed, the Tempo’s four was basically a Falcon 200 CID OHV six with two of the cylinders lopped off, crowned with a new cylinder head. Dubbed the HSC, for “high swirl combustion”, it was a rather modest affair compared to the competition (except GM’s Iron Duke), and suffered from nasty NVH (noise, vibration, harshness), lacking any sort of balance shaft. Expedient yes; but not anything to be proud of by any stretch.

That included its power output, which went up and down over the years, randomly: it started with 90 hp in ’84 and ended with 98 hp, with way stations of 86 and 95 hp along the way. Thankfully, the carburetor only had to be suffered for the first year; a succession of ever-better fuel injection systems followed. But Ford’s advanced ECC-IV electronic engine computer was there from the get-go, even if there wasn’t much get-up and go.

If you were searching for that, there was a tempting-sounding HSO (high specific output) version on the option list some of those years. But with all of (don’t laugh) 100 hp, it was an oxymoron. Oh well. The Taurus’ Vulcan 3.0 L V6 with 130 hp finally became available in 1992, and put the misnamed HSO out to pasture.

Lest I forget, the Tempo was available with four wheel drive, starting in 1987, as a response to the growing popularity of the Subaru and Audi quattro. It was at the height of four-wheel drive passenger cars fad, a precursor to larger things to come. The driven rear wheels probably endeared the Tempo to some snow-belt customers, but it was not a big success, and disappeared after some years. That also applies to the Mazda-sourced 2.0 L diesel engine, that made all of 52 hp, but had a whopping 41/56 (old formula) EPA sticker. Ever see one; or should I say hear one?

So how did all of that development history come together behind the wheel? Before that though, let me say I was a bit smitten by the Tempo’s leading-edge looks when it first appeared, but my expectations were modest, based on experience with an Escort or two, my Turbo Coupe, and reading about the engine’s origins. A sleek new suit does not always make the car.

Stephanie and I took a kid-less vacation to explore New Mexico for a week, in the spring of 1984, and we were treated to a new Tempo sedan as our rental. My idea of exploration is not just the typical tourist stops, but the back roads and non-roads. We thrashed it all over the state, including trails normally associated with four wheel drive vehicles. The verdict: a travel companion that talked too much, tripped too often, and wouldn’t keep up the desired pace. The noisy, overworked four droned and thrummed perpetually. Handling was imprecise and flaccid. The suspension’s longish travel was a help, but better damping was sorely missed as the Tempo bounced along.

The best thing I can say is that the Tempo is that survived all the abuse I threw at it. Good thing I only dented instead of tearing off the oil sump on one particular rock. It would have been awkward to explain to the rental company what I was doing just there. Stephanie’s driver at home was a Honda Civic at the time, and let’s just say the Tempo was no Honda. Even less so in its latter days, when the Japanese competition had evolved several generations further.

The Tempo’s initial interior styling (picture is from an ’87, I think) wasn’t anywhere near as adventuresome and leading edge as the exterior might suggest. Ours was a horrific shade of red, and rather tacky. This was rectified somewhat in later years, but it appears that Ford’s interior stylists still had more of their feet in the late seventies than mid eighties.

The Tempo may have started out as a leading-edge trend-setter, but lived out its long life as a car your Mom or Grandma would drive. And its long life span probably also enhanced its reliability. Like much of Detroit’s cars, they tended to take a few years before they worked their kinks out. My memory tells me the Tempo never had any really blatant quality issues, but on the other hand, the early ones seem to all have disappeared.

The Tempo: a band-aid that got Ford through a painful transition and served some folks well enough, but probably nobody complained when it was finally removed. A Deadly Sin? After reading the comments, definitely yes.

More new Curbside Classics here

]]> 103 Capsule Review: 1995 Probe SE and the Foxy Stone Tue, 19 Oct 2010 14:00:32 +0000

Count on Rodney to ruin a fine romance. “I just thought you should know,” he said as I opened up the lockbox to find the keys for our only four-cylinder, five-speed Probe, “that I screwed your up.”

“You screwed me up?” It wouldn’t be the first time; he’d recently driven a new Taurus headfirst into our “JBL: The Sound Of Ford” display while trying to manuever it out of the showroom, approximately four hours before I was scheduled to deliver it to its new owner.

“No, I screwed your up. The girl sitting at your desk. With the hairy forearms.” Come to think of it, her forearms did have a fair amount of remarkably dark hair on them. “She still thinks my name is Cleveland Washington or something like that. We hit it off right in the club bathroom, like I am known to do.” And yes, indeed, Rodney was rather infamous for anonymous tile-surrounded sex. There were five waitresses who worked the late shift at our local Waffle House. Rodney had violated two of them on the women’s sink over the past year and was working a third with all the patience of a champion bass fisherman. “You know what it means when a girl has hairy forearms.”

“I really don’t.” So he told me. Well, I should have realized that.

The second-generation Probe was probably the best car to come out of the long, difficult Ford-Mazda relationship. In six-cylinder GT form, it was almost ridiculously satisfying to drive, combining tasteful styling, solid interior design, and a lovely snorting sound from the small-bore V6. Even today, one will occasionally see a Probe GT take an SCCA regional autocross win. Good car.

One problem: it was not an easy car to insure. Not only were they stolen at a rate that occasionally exceeded the daily production of Probes at Flat Rock’s AutoAlliance plant, the GT was quick enough to make a big mess when it crashed. Somebody at Ford had the brilliant idea of making a four-cylinder Probe that looked like a six-cylinder one, and the Probe SE was born. We sold them for about fifteen grand, when we could get them. It was a great car to drive, and although it was no Probe GT, it was considerably more stylish than, say, the Escort GT sitting next to it on the lot for $13,100.

We didn’t actually have a Probe SE on the lot, but our locator program said there was a blue one about 100 miles north of us and that it was a “friendly” dealer. Smaller dealerships like ours were usually willing trade partners; the three large Columbus, Ohio dealerships almost never honored a request. Why should they? If you’re “floorplanning” a thousand Fords on your lot, why make your inventory available to the shop with fifty-five cars in stock?

Our general manager, Glenn, was out, so his underling, Tony, was eager to make a deal. There were no real obstacles. The girl was an “A Plan” customer, meaning she paid the employee rate thanks to a father who worked at a Ford plant. She wanted a blue one, and that was the one we could get. Off we went to the finance office. Did I mention that this young woman, despite being rather hairy of appendage, was classically beautiful in a very Armenian fashion? She was so good-looking I had trouble speaking around her, and she made a point of mentioning that she was single.

“You know,” Rodney whispered in my ear while the F&I guy did his magic, “that if you go d…” Here, dear readers, he conjured up what we could call a “chain of custody” involving the order in which his, hers, and my body parts might have interacted and might potentially interact, with the end result being the implication that I would, by proxy, be retroactively servicing him. It is a measure of the customer’s mind-bending good looks that I was not entirely deterred by this.

Thirty minutes later she was out of F&I. “How’d it go?” I inquired of our finance guy.

“Total stone.” This was dealership argot for “credit criminal who wouldn’t qualify for a prepaid MasterCard.”


“Not a problem. Dad called in and signed. All done.” And with that, I delightedly shook my new customer’s hand, looking deeply into her eyes so as not to notice her arms.

Three days later, it was delivery day. I’d worn my better shoes for this one and ironed my pants. The appointed time arrived, as did she… without Dad. Tearfully, she told me that she and her father had been through some personal problems. He had evicted her from his trailer (!!) and was refusing to sign. But she badly wanted the car… so badly! What could I do?

Well, dear readers, I could do nothing. Over the next six hours, our F&I guy called in every favor known to man. Meanwhile, the general manager called me into his office.

“If that car doesn’t leave tonight, don’t come in tomorrow. You let your (worse instincts) lead your head around.” Nine o’clock came and went as the phone rang back with denials. Finally, around ten thirty at night, a West Coast lender called in. The deal was structured in a manner I still don’t understand to this day. I lost my commission, the girl bought a six-year extended warranty, her payments went from $310 a month to $459. The initial disclosure of that payment caused her to run out of the dealership crying, but she was eventually coerced back in to sign the papers.

And all that remained was to get her father, who would not sign any loan documents, to at least sign the “A Plan” authorization. Three weeks later, my wife and I used my “day off” to drive my F-150 demo two and a half hours into the deep Ohio wilderness. Back we went, off the paved roads, to a gravel track and up a steep hill. I was in mild fear for my personal safety as I knocked lightly on the crooked door.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” A gruff man’s voice.

“Ah, Sir,” I said, every syllable coming out sounding more and more like the prissy doctoral student I desperately wanted to in no way resemble at this particular moment, “I have this document…”

“GIVE IT HERE!” The door cracked open and a tattooed arm snaked out. There was a pause, a scratching noise, and it was shoved back out at me, with the “PIN code” filled out and, amazingly, an “X” on the signature line. It took me a terrified moment to realize that Dad had made his mark, so to speak. He was illiterate. But how did the numbers get there? “TAKE IT AN’ GIT OUT!” I heard giggling, low, sexy. It had to be the daughter… then I heard the man laugh. Oh boy.

By the time I reached the door of my truck, it was plain that the two occupants of the trailer were having noisy, extremely satisfying sexual intercourse. “Why are you smiling?” my wife asked as I fired up the straight-six and reached into the cupholder.

“Imagine that these two Coke bottles are anatomically correct dolls,” I said to her, “and I’m going to explain what Rodney, in a sense, has had in his mouth.”

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