(first posted 9/24/2014) It took some doing, but I was able to locate a first-generation Ford Probe in desirable GT trim, if not quite-so-desirable condition. Even when roads were teaming with Ford’s front-drive specialty coupe, versions with the 2.2 turbo were uncommon, so locating this one took some accomplishing. Yes, familiar readers, this curbside find is white but in Ford’s case, as top-of-the-line GTs were heavily promoted in the snowy shade, I’ll give myself a bit of a break. I’d have preferred to find one in a dark hue, but I’ll take what I can get.
Base level GL and LX coupes were more familiar and abundant, typically in blue-grey and red, though all trims were widely sold in black and other colors to go along with the white featured here. As the abortive replacement to the Fox chassis, the non-GT cars with their 2.2 did quite well against the weak 2.3 Lima engine in base trim Mustangs.
The GT, on the other hand, found itself under pressure both literally and figuratively as a boosted, high-performance variant which very much ended up as an afterthought, sales wise. Though GTs seemingly outsold their turbocharged Mazda platform-mates, Ford was none-too-happy with the Probe’s sales performance in general. Breakdowns of GT sales versus volumes of GL and LX trims are unavailable, but during their initial, extended 1989 model year, 133,000 Probes were sold in total, with sales rapidly tapering to a low of 50,000 for 1992 (for 1990 and 1991, sales were more or less around 100,000).
Those better versed in Ford’s manner of doing business should chime in; considering that some cars shared much less with other model lines and still sold less, Ford should’ve been happy. The Probe’s worst years, sales-wise, reflected the status-quo for many other front-drive sporty coupes (except, that is, for the DSMs, which were hotter than snap bracelets), and those cars generally didn’t have to contend with cheap, charismatic, in-house V8-powered competition. Furthermore, Mustangs always sold in equal or greater volumes, despite a chassis whose development costs were more adequately covered, so compared to what, for instance, Toyota made selling Celicas, Ford should’ve been quite happy with its profits from both models.
Relying on two model lines wasn’t the plan during the Probe’s genesis, as we all know, but with the 302 newly invigorated, the Mustang was once again popular, profitable and an image leader. Many were therefore able to predict what a superfluous entry the Probe GT could wind up being, and as the turbo 2.3 was edged out by the V8 in the Fox, both in GT and SVO guises, it was not only the idea of a front-drive Japanese coupe which was growing stale, but also the prospect of still-laggy, non-linear turbo power as an alternative means to high-displacement muscle.
Despite its good value (priced at $18k loaded), the Probe GT wound up being a competitive curiosity more than segment-defining entry. But even given the decreasingly critical role the turbo’d Probe could end up playing, there surely would’ve been little no purpose in canning the model. After all, Ford and Mazda had plans to bring the federalized, US-special 2.2-liter 12-valve engine, (conservatively) rated at 145-horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque, to markets across the country. And if the US-built 626 and MX-6 were already planned to get said engine, the Probe certainly wasn’t going to miss out.
Styling was directly related to the Probe IV and V show cars, with actual execution under Toshi Saito, a stylist working for Ford’s North American design studio under Jack Telnack. This prototype is dated at late 1982. Though ultimately built by Mazda, in a defunct Michigan Ford plant, using UAW labor, further Probe development was transferred to Hiroshima.
At Mazda’s insistence, the styling underwent many revisions both to accommodate the four/five door 626’s hard points and a painless means of complying with Mazda’s production processes.
Ford insisted on a lower cowl and nose than Mazda was willing to produce; if Hiroshima had its way, the Probe wouldn’t have even had its wraparound rear quarter windows. With some concessions from 626/MX-6 engineers, a common architecture was attained. In December of 1983, the design was approved by Ford’s management, but any potential the Probe had of dazzling audiences in the way such cars as the ’84 Audi 5000, the ’86 Taurus, or even the ’83 Prelude or ’83 Impulse managed was long gone.
Ford reportedly knew as much, with management stating concern the car would look dated upon debut. A restyle was ordered in late 1983 and the result of all that compromise and dithering is the car as it appeared in 1989. Seemingly lost in a sea of Berettas, Celicas, Integras, not to mention overshadowed by much sharper DSM coupes, one of the more futuristic proposals of the company responsible for the Tempo, the Taurus, the 1983 Thunderbird and Sierra turned into the more banal entrants in a segment defined by cliches.
That interior is not one of the era’s best, either. It could be worse as function, durability and finish are concerned, but Flat-Rock assembled cars were never on par with their Marysville, Smyrna or Georgetown-built competition, and that high cowl you see here was dictated by Mazda in the interest of platform commonality. The MX6, incidentally, marketed in such a way to distance itself from the 626, was similarly hamstrung by such upright details, even sharing the sedan’s interior. But there were much better ways of doing the inside of a sporty coupe.
There would be fortunately greater diversity within the 626/MX6/Probe line-up when the ’93-’97 Probe debuted, with Ford having much more control in the design of the two-door specific bodyshell (which the MX6 was also built upon, not as its four/five-door based predecessor) The sudden interest in curvy, organic shapes make a lot of sense when cars like the original Probe and 626 are taken into consideration.
The flipside to all Mazda’s tampering, however, was that the utter 626-ness aided the Probe, which was less expensive and a convincing alternative to many other of its competitors. It was rather like the Diamond Star cars in that regard, and that’s no bad thing.
Just as Mustang loyalists had feared, it drove like a Japanese sedan, but it drove like a good Japanese sedan (even before the “zoom-zoom” years, Mazda had its ride-and-handling house in order). The Probe was firmer than the 626, but neither were hard edged. It would never corner like a 240SX (only the Corrado did and in a very different way), or feel low and lean like a Prelude, but just like the Escort which followed, chassis-engineering was thorough.
There were no manic DSM or All-Trac rivaling AWD turbos, but performance was quite competitive in GT trim. The Japanese and European markets cars had two-liter, 16-valve naturally aspirated variants on tap. Why those never made it here is because the standard 2.2, which made a gruff 110 horsepower, was torquey, and in its own languid way, better suited to an automatic. But single-cam, multi-valve Mazdas of this era often develop noisy rocker arms and besides, the 16-valve engine was a lot sweeter than the throbbier 12-valvers.
GTs made up for this inferior refinement, however, with a massive wallop of torque. A rough gas-guzzler with a rapidly-tapering powerband, it delivered power early on and in a sudden way, with sixty coming up in about seven to 7.5 seconds. Automatic versions, owing to the ample torque and midrange power bias, were almost as quick. Torque steer was a problem, but being faster than imported front-drive competition was handy compensation. It was a remarkably big-hammer, American-style way of delivering power compared to other Japanese engines, and very different in character from the twin-cam and rotary screamers for which Mazda is famous. Power ratings were later revised to 203 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm, but the engine is widely thought to be underrated, often tested neck and neck with the Diamond Stars at speeds in the quarter mile and topping out around 130 mph, despite a low-end heavy power curve. In its beefiness, the Mazda F2T is unique among period four-cylinders.
Turbo power would be gone for 1993. The Probe GT’s refined and more Ford-influenced successor would receive one of Japan’s sweeter V6s and much improved, near class-leading handling. Ford always gives sporty-versions of its Mazda-engineered cars more aggressive suspension settings and rolling-stock; look at the ’91 Escort GT and ’93 Probe GT as prime examples, but in terms of outright muscle, the second-generation car was a much more subtle machine (albeit lighter and more solid). Plenty of these 93-97s are alive and well today, but it’s the first-gen car in GT trim which I’ve been looking for for months now.
I’m delighted to have found the one I did, and if I can find a T-bird SC, and good Escort GT, I’ll be ecstatic. The Thunderbird’s turns sixty this fall, and a boosted, pre-facelift MN12 would make an excellent CC find. If any of you out there find one, feel free to submit pictures. At any rate, this white Probe is a great intro to the years when Ford would really have it going on: the Taurus SHO was released concurrently with the Probe and in a few years, both would be much-improved (especially the Probe) and sold alongside the Contour SE, the Lincoln Mark VIII and twin-cam Escort GT, at various stages in their lives. Probe might not be remembered for much besides being a Mustang alternative, and it was far from an unqualified success, but it showed many of its two makers’ better qualities and helped define a successful engineering collaboration which would be one of the blue oval’s strengths in the ’90s.
Finding any first generation Probe, let alone a turbo model, is quite a score. While never having driven a Probe, and owning a 2.3 liter ’89 Mustang during production of the first generation Probe, you hit upon a very good point in drivability between the two. Undoubtedly, the naturally aspirated Probe provided a bit more enjoyment and a lot less frustration in hilly terrain.
Hear hear. While I never drove the N/A probe, my Dad did have a ’90 Mazda 626 LX which had the NA 2.2 in it. That was a great engine and never had a problem in the power department, something I couldn’t say about the many 2.3 powered Mustangs I drove owned by friends during the same time period. Later it shocked me to find out that the Mustangs were likely either the same weight, or lighter than the 626 – they always just felt… horribly slow.
To this day I still can’t figure out how Ford sold the 2.3 Mustangs, and let alone how they sold so many.
Same here in that I’ve never driven a Probe but have had the misfortune of driving a 2.3 Mustang on several occasions. Man, what a terrible engine for that car. An I4 may have been a necessity in the early 80’s but it really should have been replaced by a 6 as the base engine with the aero restyle, if not earlier.
I *loved* the Probe when it came out, though. Just such a futuristic shape, and one that looked fast and impressive. I was so taken with the car as a 7 year old that my parents had a shirt made with a brochure image of the car on it for me! It was black & white, and not super great quality as this was the mid 80’s, but I really wanted a shirt with a Probe on it so it seemed like the best gift at the time!
I put 80,000 miles on that 2.3 liter Mustang during my ownership – I wore out the carpet beneath the accelerator pedal. It was a durable car and always tried to do what was asked, it just simply did not have the ability to deliver what was asked.
The base Probe would be a LOT better drive than a base 2.3 Mustang…assuming youre comparing manual to manual or slusher to slusher. RWD has more rotational mass than FWD…its a slightly less efficient setup, so you really feel the difference with lower powered engines. Now when you max out your options and compare a turbo/manual Probe to a 5.0 5spd Stang, then the 5.0 is gonna win. Especially since as a starting point, the Stang has a LOT more upgrades available. The tuner thing hadn’t gained much traction at this point, so hot rodding 4 bangers wasn’t nearly as popular.
I own a 2nd gen ford probe that is in beautiful condition but the engine is not stock I dropped a 2.5 liter v6 Kl-ZE mazda motor in it
I don’t think the Turbo Probe made it to the UK.The Probe wasn’t a big seller here and had a poor image as a losers car after Steve Coogan’s detestable salesman character drove one in his show.
I traded my 1988 90-hp four-cylinder Ford Mustang for a 2.2-liter 1991 Probe. The Probe was a quantum leap. It felt tight and well-built compared to the jittery Mustang. The engine was much stronger and quieter. I didn’t mind the switch to front-wheel drive (even with a little torque steer). The Probe’s light weight made it quite economical. I traded the Probe off early after I saw one that had collided with a Taurus. The Probe’s cabin had crumpled like it was made of cardboard with little damage to the larger car. I drive a Taurus today.
Thanks, Perry. I remember when these were a Big Deal, and thinking, why do the rear-view mirrors stick out so much? An odd thing to visually emphasize.
Now I’d like to see an MX6. What a pretty car that was.
Incidentally, I was blanking on “DSM” until you wrote “Diamond Star” half way through. Maybe use the full name before the abbreviation, for the benefit of the aging dimbulb segment of your audience. 🙂
For graduation in 1998, my parents got my brother a 1990 variant Probe GT in grey and man, that was not only a good looking car but also a heck of a blast to drive. I’d known about them in the past – Dad had a ’90 626 LX that we all loved, and then a ’93 626 ES that we felt similarly about – but never really drove one. Wow, that was a wake up call, still ranks as one of my favorite cars.
A couple years later Dad had a ’96 Taurus SHO, and one saturday afternoon we took a family road trip 20 miles outside of town for lunch – Dad and Mom in the SHO, my brother and his girlfriend in the Probe, then me, my sister and her friend in Mom’s six month old 2001 Mustang GT.
Of course on the way back on the highway my brother and Dad got into a bit of a “speed contest”, what surprised me is how well the Probe held it’s own against the “mighty SHO” (Dad’s SHO had it’s engine rebuilt, by hand, under warranty and after that was quite the ringer). And, of course, after 20-30 seconds I took that as my cue to let the Mustang GT loose which despite them gaining a bit of a lead reminded them that Mom – of all people – had the true rocketship in the family. We just won’t comment on how fast the Mustang (RAPIDLY) got to…
Still, that Probe GT is something you definitely won’t find again. You nailed it with the second generation, I have a lot of experience with those (more later!) – they’re infinitely more refined but at the same time missing that raw edge that made me love the Probe GT.
When the turbo came on and you were in the right gear – you had to be ready for it. Torque steer and just an amazing hammer of a response from something that was rated so low in horsepower and torque. I remember commenting on how it demanded so much more attention than Mom’s GT thanks to the latter at least having traction control and a automatic transmission.
If I could find one of these in great shape – a impossibility, now – I’d grab it.
I always liked the looks of the Probe – never had the chance to drive one. I do remember sitting in one in a showroom and thinking it was pretty cool how the whole instrument panel moved up and down with the steering wheel.
I also remember that these were offered with a V6 for awhile – anyone else?
V6 Probes were for sale in the UK,CC effect strikes as I’ve just seen a dark blue one in good condition
LX’s had the Ford 3.0 V6 I believe.
They did, a friend of mine had a 3.0 V6/automatic 1st gen Probe. Whether it was a Mazda design or Ford, I have no idea. It was a powertrain that would be plenty sufficient for a family sedan, but completely uninspiring in a sporty coupe.
And I’ve learned something new again! Always assumed 1st gen Probes were 4-cyl only.
In the original plans for the car, both were to share a single-cam Mazda V6 which obviously never came into being, but beginning in 1990, the LX was available with the Vulcan, probably because such few people ordered the GT.
I don’t know how well the V-6 LX sold, but testers at the time were pleasantly surprised by it, particularly with manual (which I suspect was probably rather rare), simply because it was adequately muscular and not nearly as raucous as the turbo four.
Ford is the king of unfortunate names. Probe is up there on the list.
This may have been an okay car for the times for all I know, but I was in the camp that felt this threatened the Mustang, so I did my best to ignore it. If this had replaced and been named the Mustang, the automotive world might be a bit duller place today – the survival of the RWD Mustang is a key reason the Camaro and Challenger exist. The ’94 Mustang was a relief to see, and so much more interesting than this car in every way.
Grabber. Probe. Have there been pervier names in the history of the automobile industry?
Ford Fiesta(also a top shelf magazine in the UK famed for it’s reader’s wives photos)
Grabber, Escort, Probe, Festiva, Marquis (de Sade), Cougar…i’m surprised Ford hasn’t named something the GILF or MILF. Considering the automotive alphabet soup manufacturers like nowdays, I expect the GLF or MLF to happen any day now.
The alphabet soup has already started yielding unfortunate results. If you go back a year or two ago, Toyota pickups were available with the X-SP sport package. A byproduct of extra large cupholders, perhaps?
Toyota Racing Development has long left me scratching my head. Toyota TuRD (TRD) plastered all over their trucks.
+1 Had the Probe been more successful than the Mustang I fear RWD would have had it’s light put out forever, at least domestically just as true hardtops were(“why bring it back, no one else is”).
The name was so bad it really spoiled the car for me. I prefer Gen2 to Gen1, but would have never even shopped either, because I would never have been able to tell anyone I drove a Probe. Just plain bad.
Interesting the see the more Mustang-heritage tail light treatment on the styling model. I’d never seen that before. I’m glad they didn’t replace the Mustang with this car, though I do think it was an interesting addition to the lineup. But, naming it a Probe–seriously?!?! Instant way to cut the sales by 1/3, whether you are talking male or female buyers.
Even within Mazda, the Probe was referred to as “the good looking one.”
I remarked upon this cars release that it looked very very old already in its debute year. I just couldn’t understand how they could release that bloaty mess. It’s that cowl and high waist-line that is totally misplaced on a car with sporty pretensions. It felt like an old persons car, a grandmother car, a hairdresser special, and even not that special. I just couldn’t understand how somebody that big could misplace the market and demoghrapic that much. It felt as an also ran even before it ran. I just couldn’t understand it. But the explanation seems logic. It would’ve been a good middle of the field contender in 1985. In 1989, not so much.
I have more charitable feelings about the styling, though I’ve never driven one. Nonetheless, it does look very bulky for what it is. If the 1983 Pontiac Firebird had been FWD, I suspect it would have looked a lot like this.
Mrs. JPC got an early version of the Probe as a rental while on a vacation. The car had an automatic and she remembers it as dog-slow, and no fun at all. Her daily driver was an 83 Colt with the twin stick, if that tells you anything. To this day, she has nothing good to say about that car.
I was kind of like DaveB and just ignored these. So this piece is like a remedial lesson for me.
Makes sense. They were kinda like background noise when current and learning about them later in life gives me a bit more appreciation for them. But I must ask, were other coupes in this segment appealing to you when new?
I’ll bite on that question – yes. The DSM coupes were great, the Celica was still interesting in the more performance oriented versions, the Prelude quite desirable, and just to show that I wasn’t all import-oriented, the Mustang GT was definitely desirable (but not the LX). The Probe just looked..odd. And I am a fan of aero styling. The MX-6 coupe was also more desirable, probably due to the fender blisters. All of the cars mentioned looked good to me and had some shape, the Probe was much more slab-sided and if anything looked more like some kind of Star-Trek transporter module if that makes sense. I could see it paired with an early Pontiac TranSport in an Eichler home’s carport, both vehicles in white and the building in gray.
Now the second generation Probe looked really good, especially in top trim as the designers intended. I’ve never driven a first-gen but imagine it to be a failry dull and pedestrian experience.
I only ask because it was often viewed as a segment full of tinsel, lacking in substance. I didn’t feel that way, and generally have a place in my heart for most of its contenders, but I understand why someone may have just seen coupes like this as background noise.
It must be said, though, that if you were to drive a base Prelude with an automatic or a Celica GT with an automatic, you might now come away having had the most amazing experience, so the Probe was not unique in that sense.
It also wasn’t unique in the relative rarity of its high-po versions on the streets. You didn’t see many Celica All-Tracs (admittedly they were expensive) either. Now THAT would make quite the find!!!
I think you meant “not” instead of “now”, the context makes more sense I think after reading it a few times. You are correct, however in the case of the Prelude in particular I think the more basic versions still felt fairly premium, the Celica maybe not so. And yeah, the All-Trac was in a different league moneywise, I’d actually say the Celica GT-S would be more comparable to the Probe GT with the AllTrac being more of a specialty item, i.e. very rare to see at a dealer even when new; it was less the top spec of a line of cars and more of a specialty item that happened to be wrapped in a Celica body. In US terms but maybe time shifted a bit compare it to a Regal base vs whatever the top Regal was compared to the Grand National, i.e. you might be looking at Regals but doubtful that you’d go home with a GN, but if you were really wanting and able to afford a GN, there was no way you’d be leaving with a lesser one.
Back around ’91 I was just about to graduate from college so my perspective (while a bit more relevant than yours for example) maybe is not so relevant compared to someone say, another ten year older, or of the same demographic that would have bought one of the American “Personal Coupes” in an earlier era. Also being on the West Coast the perspective is a bit different than in the middle of the country.
But to clear up my perspective, I would say for myself at least I would easily have considered and been happy with the top-spec of each of the cars listed with the Probe GT far at the bottom of said list. If the choices were limited to base models of each, I’d probably keep looking altogether. Maybe that answered it better.
I don’t think the later carbureted Preludes were particularly quick, especially with automatic (not a happy-sounding combination), but the Prelude was a very slick piece of work in terms of interior and body engineering. There was clearly a lot of attention to minor details and it felt all of a piece even with a sunroof. The Prelude, even in base trim, was an expensive car for the class, and driving the car you could tell where the money went in a way that wasn’t directly related to power or features.
The Celica was pretty well built, but it wasn’t quite as robust-feeling and I always thought the quality of the trim and so forth was a half step back. That’s a subjective judgment, of course, but the Prelude felt like a car designed by engineers while the product planners tore their hair out.
I had an ’88 Prelude 2.0 Si 5-speed that I adored. The car did indeed feel premium, was plenty quick–even though not the fastest in its class. It was light, nimble and sleek in a subtle, sophisticated way. For me, it was the pick of its segment for the just-right combination of virtues. It also held its value incredibly well, unlike some of the competitors.
By then, I had moved past my new car mania and was driving a 66 Fury III sedan. I still had a minor yen for the Mustang GT, but not much else in the segment.
It would be interesting to see if anyone could find a later Probe LX with the Vulcan 3.0.
I think those were more common.
“This is not logical!”
Nice write-up, I drove a used one just like it in 1992. Very quick, felt like a V8 Mustang to me, but I didn’t care for the rest of it.
The next gen I liked a lot, found a great deal, so I bought a 95 V6 Probe V6 GT. I loved the clutch, shifter, and smoooooth V6, fun car!
That said 10 years later I got a Cobalt SS, another fun car.
Given a choice today, I like the Probe–but I’d take the Cobalt every time.
My sister drove an ’89 LX in college, and I had to replace the alternator in a Burger King parking lot. It was absolutely ludicrous how much crap I had to take apart just to replace an alternator.
It was a decent looking car for the time, but most people considered them a maintenance nightmare.
I grew up in a family with a lot of Ford owners and was actually quite excited when the news of this new Ford sporty coupe was 1st printed. As someone who had driven several 60s and early 70s Mustangs but had owned 3 or 4 small FWD sedans by 1988, I wasn’t at all bothered when I heard that this newest Ford would be a front wheel driver. The first brochures made the car sound interesting…but the pictures made it look like a large potato on wheels. My “theory” as to why the 1st gen Probe looks a bit compromised? Ford wanted a sporty car with hints of Taurus styling.
I finally got to drive a Probe in the summer of 2014. My “ride” was a 90 Probe LX with the Vulcan V6 and automatic transmission. It was love at 1st sight…a white car, similar to the subject car, with a RED interior (when is the last time Ford offered a red interior?) AND….a digital dashboard. I actually had to dig out the owner’s manual before the test drive to figure what was what in case of an emergency.
I wanted to buy it but didn’t as it was in a small town in the middle of nowheres with no way to get it home. A few weeks later I went by the seller’s location….the Probe was long gone.
Yes, the V6 LX even with automatic is a PLEASANT driving car, it’s just no Mustang GT beater.
I never drove the Probe, but my roommate had an ’89 or ’90 626 with the Mazda 2.2 engine and a 5 speed. It was smooth-running for a largish 4 cylinder, had plenty of torque for around-town driving, and was happy cruising at 70 mph.
Not sure how it would compare to today’s cars, but at the time, it was a pretty sweet powertrain.
Around 2001, a friend of a guy that I hung out with long ago used to drive his dad’s ’89 Probe sometimes along with his mom’s car. It was gold with a brown interior. He added a few things such as Walmart chrome star shaped wheel covers, a Ford racing sticker on the windshield and eventually a sound system. Even then I thought that it was cool with its pop up headlights, outdated but sporty design and manual transmission. I always got stuck in the back seat when we rode in his car. The interior shape reminded me of a bathtub.The third brake light on the trunk didn’t work and then later on the passenger door wouldn’t lock. They eventually got rid of it but they could easily afford to update their vehicles.
Back in ’98 I bought a ’90 Probe LX to flip, a 2.2L 5 speed. Flogged it about for a while before selling it and had a blast. Only thing I didn’t like about the car was the severe lack of headroom (I’m 6’3″) which forced me to drive in a very reclined position. Car lacked a sunroof, I can’t imagine how bad the headroom was on one equipped with one.
I had a friend who bought a ratty Probe GT when we were in high school, just like the feature car only in red(faded pink). I remember it felt FAST with all that torque(very similar delivery to the Supercharded Thunderbirds) but it was much more of a sensation than a reality, circa 2005 minivans would keep up with him when he got on it. Still though, in GT guise it was kind of neat looking, especially in black. Funny thing is that same friend ended up getting into DSMs last I saw him.
“I coulda been somebody…I coulda been a MUSTANG!”
My wife had a 1990 Ford Probe. She bought it brand new, right out of college. She had it when we met. It was an awful car. There were problems with the breaks and suspension that were never worked out. She kept taking it back to the dealer, and had no luck. Due to the problems with the suspension, the car went through tires like they were Lifesavers. Finally, after almost 4 years of problems, she traded it in on a less-sportier, but more reliable 1994 Mercury Tracer. Her Probe didn’t have AC, which wasn’t good during the humid PA summers. It was fast when it worked, though. I do have some good memories of the car, which aren’t fit for publication. Ha ha.
I had an ’89 GT that replaced an ’84 Mustang GT. The Probe was about as fast, much more refined, better handling, better built, and got better mileage. Plus it looked a lot better, at least in my opinion, and was also better in snow and ice.
The turbos were a bit of on an issue on these as people would flog them and then park and shut them off without letting things cool off first. I was told by a mechanic synthetic oil was a must with that motor. And it seemed like everything was hard and expensive to work on (besides the turbo, it also had electronic adjustable shocks, power antenna, pop up lights, etc, etc). Probably a big reason why they are so rare today.
The wheel hop when during burnouts was probably its biggest flaw. Pretty important to the Mustang demographic. Well, that and being Japanese.
Drove a brand new loaded 1996 Probe once, V6, black on black, it was actually a really nice car, very smooth and fast.
My brother had a 1st gen 3.0 V6 LX model. It had an auto, but he still wishes he had it. I bought a 2nd gen (’93) the week that they came out — a 4 cyl manual with a few options, and man did that car get a lot of looks for the first month or so. I drove it 199,880 miles, and it still had the original clutch and brakes!
I still have a Probe in the fleet — a 95 GT Lemons racer. If you need someone to do a write-up on the 2nd gen someday……..
Second gen Probes were pretty damn durable cars, the only major issue was the 2.5L’s appetite for distributors. And back in the day they were over a grand. Yeouch!
Crazy thing is, in 18 years of owning a second gen Probe GT, I’ve only replaced one distributor.
Funny how perspective really changes things. Back in these days, I was strictly into Jeeps and 4x4s…even muscle cars weren’t really on my radar nearly as much. But even then, I had a soft spot for the Daytona/Laser and the turbo awd DSM coupes. These never made too much of an impression on me either way. That pic of the silver one with the plain full face aero wheelcovers illustrates exactly why. The styling is very….sterile. They don’t look ‘bad’. They don’t make me turn up my nose like a 4 door sedan which is blatantly not right for a young single guy…yet they don’t inspire me either. Even the MX-6 with its more conservative overall look says ‘sporty car’ more effectively. I think decent wheels do help these out a LOT. Those 5 stars on the red 5 door hatch would perk up the look of a 1st gen Probe and give it the personality it needs. The 2nd gen on the other hand looks great. I test drove a ’95 GT 5spd we had on the lot when I was selling cars….drove pretty nicely and handled great. The V6 was the only sore point.
I hear the naysaying about the turbo engine. True, boosted 4 bangers aren’t for casual users. In an everyday car like a family sedan (aimed at pedestrian, non enthusiast operators) a n/a V6 makes more sense. But for someone who is looking for an exciting driving experience, the turbo is the way to go. It offers more ways to upgrade, and generally FEELS like a fast car. The endgame is that a ‘real enthusiast’ will usually gravitate towards rwd V8s…at least those of us who are fans of Detroit iron. Import enthusiasts will more likely embrace boosted 4’s with fwd or awd. Its just the mindset. Not replacing the Mustang with this platform was the right thing to do, even if Ford didn’t really see it that way in these days.
I always liked the looks of these, but in retrospect the best fix all around would’ve been to leverage those 626 hard points, add a 5-door model, and launch it as a replacement for the Tempo rather than the Mustang.
That actually makes quite a bit of sense.
I think the first generation Probe was done in at the start by Ford itself. By the time the Probe finally came out, Ford had the Taurus which changed the car design landscape almost overnight. Boxy was bad and aero was good. Had Ford offered the second generation Probe in 1989 then it might have been a good seller.
Also the Probe had to compete against a rack of good cars. The Prelude, Celica and the DSM cars (Talon, Eclipse and Laser) were some of the high quality Japanese cars offered for sale at that time. Plus the Dodge Daytona was still being offered during the entire first generation run of the Probe.
All of these cars and the car’s styling caused it to be an also ran.
I know some of the younger folks reading this post, shake their head when I mention the Eclipse was a good car as they think of the last generation made with all its bloat but in 1990 when the DSM cars arrived, they were a game changer as not only were they good looking and sporty looking they were quick, fun to drive and were affordable to buy. my best friend in high school father owned a 1990 Plymouth Laser and it was a good looking car that was quick.
I could never really get into this styling. It’s not bad, it’s not ugly… it just doesn’t do it for me for whatever reason. And I really like the contemporary MX-6/626 as well as the 2nd generation Probe, too.
Great insight into the development process. Most everything I’ve read previously was entirely Mustang-centric, so this is an interesting perspective to see it from.
I’m delighted to have found the one I did, and if I can find a T-bird SC, and good Escort GT, I’ll be ecstatic.
I came across a great example of an Escort GT from this generation awhile back, but only snapped one picture because I was most interested in the tri-color badge. Are these rare now?? I guess I haven’t seen any others besides this recently, but I’m not really paying attention either:
I test drove a used Probe a few years ago, but don’t recall many details. One thing that stood out for me was this impossibly high cowl that put the steering wheel 2″ if not 3″ above my thighs. Somehow that seating position messed it up for me. I love the exterior of the 1st generation Probe: logical, aero all the way with a very cool wrap around rear window. The 3-spoke wheels are cool too, except for the Swiss cheese disk on the inside. Take that inner cover or whatchacallit out and the design really pops.
I disliked the 2nd generation. It was too rounded and bulbous and it had those hideous automatic belts.
That seating position bothered me once again in the ’05 Pontiac Vibe that I am currently driving. A 10mm spacer under each front mounting bolt fixed it quite well.
The 2nd gen never had the automatic belts. The first model year ( ’93 ) had a driver’s side airbag standard, followed by dual airbags in ’94. You might be thinking of the 1st gen model.
Pre 1993 Mazdas are a real soft spot for me. Specifically the GC (1983-1987) and GD (1988-1992) cars. The first generation Probe styling always looked very cool to me, specifically the hidden headlights, wrap around glass and weirdly enough, the turn signal/windshield wiper stalk placement.
Cool style aside, the 626/MX6 always had the better look in my eyes. I love mine dearly, with 195,000+ miles and climbing daily, its a 1991 626 5-door. I also have a 1990 sedan as a parts car. One built in Hiroshima, and the other in Flat Rock. The difference in how well the two cars are put together is almost astonishing. The Japanese built car is far and away the better built of the two.
I’ve never driven one of these, so I’m vaguely curious how bad the torque steer actually was with the turbo engine. I know the testers at the time generally considered it pretty serious, presumably in part because of the nonlinear power curve — not enough torque followed abruptly by whoa, where are we going?
Interestingly, the test results indicate that the turbo GT (and 626/MX-6) were faster than the later V-6 cars, something period reviews sort of carefully danced around. Even if the 2.2 turbo wasn’t underrated, the torque outputs make pretty clear why the turbo was faster than the 2.5 V-6, although the latter was undoubtedly easier to live with.
I would say torque steer was perfectly manageable, but it was there. By today’s standards, terrible. By the standards of the day probably about average.
One of the road tests I remember described performing an overtaking maneuver basically without moving the steering wheel. Wouldn’t work in the US because the torque steer would pull in the wrong direction.
I never paid much attention to the Probe as a kid. Compared to the Mustang, the Probe was even more anonymous than a Taurus. I always thought the name “Probe” sounded futuristic, even though now my first thought is something medical.
I cannot comment about the turbo version, but the base version of the Probe was quite a commendable car. The base Mazda sourced engine delivered very good fuel economy, reliability, and decent power for the time (especially compared the the Probe’s stablemate in the dealership: a base Mustang with a Lima 2.3L). One of my friends had a base Probe as a daily driver up until about 2 years ago (it was rear ended in a snowstorm). He had at least 300k on the original engine.
We put 140k nearly trouble free miles on our 1991 GL before 10 years of road salt ate it away. Ours was “Crystal blue”. It looked silver unless it was next to a silver car, then it looked blue. Actually a pretty good color in a salty environment as it slowly turned grey from the salt until you washed or got rained on when you saw the color again. The performance and handling were more then adequate, and the GIGANTIC hatch made it great for camping/road tripping. The major daily pain was the power shoulder belts. Getting hit in the head getting out of the car as it traveled slowly forward or falling over half out the door because with the shoulder belt gone you forgot to take the seat belt off were all too common occurrences.
I always thought it would have made a real knockout of a coupe/wagon ala Volvo P1800ES. That would have made a nice fix to it’s other shortcomings, the high lift over for the hatch, and lack of head (and leg) room in the back seats.
P.S. I forgot how awful the red/red color combination was. The red interior went well with the black and white exteriors but the darkish paint with bright velour was painful to look at.
I’ve owned this 1993 Probe GT since 1998 and was very involved in the enthuiast community during the 2000’s. The first gen models were always the fast and easy to modify models. $20 worth of parts from a hardware store could bump the turbo from 6 to nearly 12psi. The torque steer at 12psi was extremely fun, though tough to point straight Sadly the first gens are getting almost impossible to find. Hell, good examples of the 2nd gen models are becoming more and more rare.
I currently drive a ’90 Probe GT back and forth to work with around 170k miles on it. Average around 27 MPG which is good considering my driving style. Still runs strong, still can manage 140 mph even at 4500ft above sea level (On a track of course….). Everything works, including adjustable suspension, pop-up lights, and auto seat belts. My dad bought it new late in ’89 trading of a 5.0 GT. Really a car ahead of it’s time with trip computer, adjustable suspension, and turbo. These are extremely rare cars now, I’ve only seen a handful of others in my lifetime. If this one had not been in a nasty hail storm it would be basically flawless and would consider preserving it.
Never was a fan of the second gen Probe.
Always loved the first generation. Just bought myself an 89 GT to tinker with a few months ago. Surprisingly fun car @ 20lbs of boost :p
I currently own my 5th first gen Probe. If it broke I was always very quick to get rid of it but then always found myself wanting another. 8 years ago I flew from Connecticut to Florida to buy the PGT I have now from the original owner with only 90k on it for $600 and drove it 24hrs back. 4 years ago I actually began tearing it down to build as a track car.
It wasnt until I took the car to the dyno that I quickly realized the engine wouldnt last so at that point I began bulding a tube RWD chassis to mount the body on. Here are some pics of the car now, Im basicly going to run around this Summer beating on it till it blows lol.
As soon as the chassis is done ill post more pics
I drive it on the weekends at 20 psi which makes about 230hp the second stage will kick in if i turn it on which will raise the boost to 26psi which will add about 50hp. The best part about this entire car was it only cost me $2400 to build it including the price of the car
I realize it’s been over a year since the last post but I have an opportunity to buy 1st gen. PGT with about 155K miles. It’s been off the road a few years now and was owned by the current and only owner…a woman…now retired. She has already lowered the price and wants C$2000. I haven’t seen it in person as it’s 3 hours drive. I live in the mid Ontario, Canada. She said it runs and will drive and she doesn’t know of any major rust issues. 17 years ago I owned a red PGT that was my daily driver for about 3 years. I loved it but unfortunately the love affair ended in an accident in which it was unrepairable. I should have removed the turbo now that I think about it.
Anyway does anybody have any thoughts on this? Yay or nay. Underbody rust possibly?
I have an 89 Turbo that i drive daily
CC-in-scale has this generation Probe, but I can’t remember which year.