The Ford Probe: The Car That Was Almost a Mustang

The Ford Probe: The Car That Was Almost a Mustang

Last Updated August 8, 2023 | Andrew Boyle

To most Mustang enthusiasts, the name Ford Probe should seem a little alien. In most respects, this sleek little coupe is just one of the many oddities of Ford’s history. This car wasn’t especially popular, powerful, or memorable. That all being said, the Ford Probe was nearly introduced as a Mustang.

Believe it or not, the battle over the sanctity of the Mustang brand has been fought before. Similar to the unease surrounding the Mustang Mach-E, the Ford Probe was not welcomed into the Mustang family with open arms. For a variety of reasons, the Probe was demoted from the Mustang platform and became an internationally-sold model from 1989 to 1997.

What Was the Ford Probe?

There isn’t an overview of any vehicle produced in the mid-to-late 20th century that doesn’t somehow involve the OPEC oil embargo. In response to the massive fuel shortage in the United States, the design of the Mustang began to respond accordingly. Both the Mustang II and the Fox Body Mustang were a step down from the raw power and grunt of the first generation. After the Fox Body had completed its stint as the Mustang du jour, the direction of the Mustang’s future was unclear. Was it going to continue down the path of being a relatively modest vehicle (no knock on the Fox Body), or was it going to return to a more typical pony car brashness?

Ford Probe

Knowing what we know now, the Probe was not selected to be a member of the Mustang line. Fans weren’t comfortable with a vehicle that was engineered mostly by Mazda, that was FWD, and that lacked a V8 being considered a Mustang.

When it came to the Probe, Ford listened to the fans.

The majority of the Probe’s design came from Mazda, despite being known here as the Ford Probe. The same thing could be said about the North American Ranger truck at the time. Most of the Probe’s technical components can be traced back to the Mazda MX-6.

As previously mentioned, all Probes are FWD vehicles, and their entire catalog of engines doesn’t include a single V8.

There were two generations of the Ford Probe, with the potential third generation being pitched right on the eve of their discontinuation. The first generation of the Ford Probe had two inline 4 engines engineered by Mazda (a 2.2L I4 that was turbocharged and a non-turbocharged variant) and a 3.0L V6 engine made by Ford. The second generation had a 2.0L I4 and 2.5L V6 from Mazda and Ford respectively as well.

Why Was The Probe Considered a Mustang Replacement?

There is a bit of a conspiracy around the Ford Probe, however. It’s hard to believe that Ford seriously thought that American consumers would embrace a foreign-engineered FWD coupe as a Mustang with open arms. Unlike the Mach-E, the Probe was a full replacement for the Mustang, so there wouldn’t be any other Mustang options if the Probe was fully adopted.

Some people insist that teasing the Probe as being the next Mustang could be a sort of “New Coke” marketing bait and switch. This is in reference to the short-lived (and widely hated) version of Coke that was released in the mid-'80s. The backlash to this new formula was so pronounced that the return to the standard Coke gathered a lot of attention. By feeling that Coke fans “saved” Coke, their attachment to the beverage grew. This applies quite directly to the Ford Probe.

Everything about the Probe is antithetical to what a Mustang is. This whole moment could have just been a contrived circumstance to get Mustang fans to rally around their own vehicle, stoking passion for it even further.

This is certainly possible, but we may never know for sure. Regardless of how shocking the idea of a FWD foreign-engineered Mustang seems, it never panned out. Despite what some people are saying now, Ford still holds a lot of esteem in the Mustang’s brand name.

So, if you are feeling a bit uneasy about the introduction of the Mach-E into the Mustang family, remember: It could’ve been much worse.

Sources: Worst Sports Cars: Ford Probe, Motor1 | How Ford's Pony Car Survived a Brush with Death, Automotive News

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