Rare Rides: A Ford Probe From 1991 - the Mustang Replacement

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides a ford probe from 1991 the mustang replacement

Probe is a significant name in the history of Rare Rides, as the series started off in early 2017 with the Ghia-designed Probe I. That design study was the kickoff of a series of Probe concepts from Ford; a series which ultimately resulted in an aerodynamic liftback that entered production in the late Eighties.

Let’s see a clean, original example of the all-but-vanished first-gen Probe.

The world was a scary place at the end of the Seventies, as an energy crisis left the Detroit Three shook. Waves of uncertainty washed over Ford’s offices in Dearborn, and ideas began to brew about an all-new type of Mustang.

The old, rear-drive Mustang should be thrown out, Ford thought, and replaced with something more modern and front-wheel drive. Around the same time, Ford purchased a 25-percent share in Mazda, a company with which they had worked previously with some success. Ideas gelled, and Ford soon employed Japanese designer Toshi Saito to come up with a new Mustang which would reside on a GD platform donated by Mazda. Probe’s design was finalized by 1983.

In 1985, Mazda took over Ford’s old Flat Rock Assembly with the intent of producing three GD-platform cars: Mazda’s 626 and MX-6, and Ford’s Probe ⁠— then known as the SN-16. Things were moving along just fine until April of 1987, when Autoweek did a little story with a rendering of the SN-16 and an intriguing title “Exclusive: The ’89 Mustang.”

Public outrage was immediate and severe. Mustang fans across the nation clutched their gold chains and nervously lit a Marlboro while they considered just what a front-drive, Japanese-engineered Mustang meant for the stability of the nation.

Letters were written.

A couple of members of Ford’s top brass reconsidered the idea of a new type of Mustang, observing that after the announcement of the new Mustang, sales of the old one increased notably. Ford sent its spare engineers off to hastily develop a new version of the Mustang. Said version would not be a fully-budgeted new model, but rather another rework of the existing Fox platform. Thus, Ford’s hand was forced into creation of the SN-95.

Meanwhile, the Probe went on sale for the 1989 model year. Initial sales were good, as non-Mustang customers enjoyed futuristic styling and reliable front-wheel drive. Trims were three in number for Probe. The base GL used a 2.2-liter Mazda engine (110 hp) and boasted modern luxuries like seats and air conditioning. The mid-level LX had additional power options, and for 1990 could be optioned with the good old 3.0-liter Vulcan V6 (140 hp) that powered numerous Ford vehicles. Max cash ordered up the GT, which had the same equipment as the LX and a turbocharged 2.2-liter version (145 hp) of the same F2 engine found in the base LX.

The first-generation Probe lasted just four model years before it was replaced by a much more swoopy and modern second generation for 1993. The second-gen was more Mazda than Ford, using only Mazda engines. Probe finished its life in 1997, when it was replaced by the sporty Escort ZX2.

Today’s Rare Ride is a very clean Probe LX with the V6 engine and a four-speed Mazda automatic. In the correct white with black and red trim and 77,000 miles, it asks just $1,995 in Phoenix.

[Images: seller]

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3 of 81 comments
  • Flipper35 Flipper35 on Oct 16, 2019

    I still remember the Talon/Eclipse ads with the title, "How to wax a Probe".

  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Oct 16, 2019

    Vulcan V6? Really? How could they do that. Who came with idea to utilize laggard like Vulcan in sport coupe? 2.2L Turbo - yes. Otherwise Probe looks better built than Fox Mustang. And interior looks nicer too. In general it looks like coupe made by Japan Inc in late 80s early 90s.

    • SPPPP SPPPP on Oct 17, 2019

      I agree, the Vulcan seems like an odd engine choice. But as I think back, Ford's engine cupboard was pretty bare in those days. A 3.8L was not likely to happen in this car, and it was a low-revving non-sporty engine anyway. The 2.3L HSC and 2.5L HSC four-cylinders were nothing too exciting. The non-turbo Lima 2.3L (Pinto) engine wasn't too great. The straight-six and the V8s were obviously not going to fit. I guess all that was left was the Vulcan engine. Which probably explains why Yamaha came into the picture for the SHO in the late 80s. Once the Duratec 4-cam V6 came out, things got a lot better for Ford in terms of engine performance.

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