The Ford Probe is one of those cars that time, it seems, forgot. It is hard to believe that back in the pre-Focus days of the early nineties, the sports coupe was at the forefront of the company’s strategy. So what’s the story with this model? Did its legacy really die out with the end of production in 1997?
The Probe, in keeping with its name, established its pioneering credentials with a concept version appearing alongside Marty McFly in Back to the Future II. The sport hatchback that was released onto the market in 1989 held onto the futuristic design of the concept. It packed a decent punch with a Mazda F2 engine, but it was the sleek all over panelling that put it on another design plane from most of the competition.
That was a promising start. But the Ford Probe made its big bid for domination in 1993, as Ford invested heavily in an updated version released to great fanfare. It entered a hotly contested sports coupe market in competition with the Vauxhall Calibra, Volswagen Corrado and Honda Prelude. The Corrado in particular had a reputation for being a rip-roaring drive, to which Ford set out to make the Probe measure up. A V6 engine was introduced with 185 hp, capable of acceleration from 0-60 in around seven seconds. However the top speed didn’t quite match the Corrado, which perhaps shouldn’t really have mattered, except these were the 90s and back then, top speed was a really big deal.
Witness a relatively youthful Jeremy Clarkson deriding the Probe’s max speed as ‘a mere 140mph’ in the same review where he also criticised its poor fuel economy. Not that it was all bad from the Top Gear presenter. In a line bringing back memories of Alan Partridge, he believed the Probe’s appearance was ‘good enough to snap knicker elastic at fifty paces’. While perhaps saying more about Clarkson than the car, he was not wrong: the breath-taking design – which had moved on even from the first generation – really did turn heads. Indeed, comparing the budget sports cars on offer in 2013 to the Probe, you have to conclude that in terms of a car being a sheer pleasure to look at, there is almost nothing now, for a comparable price, to match the beauty of the Probe.
That leads on to the question at issue: was the Probe a dead-end, or does it have a legacy? The view that high-grade hatchbacks should look like sports cars does certainly seem to have died rather a death in the past decade. In fact, Ford ceded the point with the Focus, and just look what that has done for them. While no one would place the Focus ST alongside the Delorean in a futuristic style contest, its performance is probably comparable to the Probe. Then there are the sales figures, which obviously speak for themselves.
Perhaps the answer to our question is that the Probe does have a legacy, in that it showed the way not to go. Ironically enough, that led Ford to the Focus and where they are today.
Nevertheless, we all know what happens with retro fashions. As the prevalence of online Probe-admirers shows, this grungy motor may yet prove to be one that gains in affection as the years pass.