By Charles Krome
Somewhere in an alternate universe, this car is thought of in nearly the same terms as the 1963-1967 C2 Corvette: In that place, both represent second-generation vehicles that transformed their predecessors from “me too” wannabes to full-on, award-winning sports cars that would be followed up by a long, ongoing run of high-performance progeny.
Here in our world, on the other hand, the second-generation Ford Probe, produced from 1993-1997, was a one-hit wonder that morphed into the “modern” Mercury Cougar before being put out of its misery in 2002, a victim of America’s addiction to low fuel prices.
The story here starts in 1989, with Ford using plenty of help from long-time companion Mazda to try to develop a sporty compact car to take on the growing tide of front-wheel-drive, semi-high-performance cars from the Asian automakers. That and perhaps move the Mustang to a V6/FWD setup to reduce costs. The results were just encouraging enough to spark a second iteration of the Probe, and this time Ford and Mazda appear to have taken the project more seriously. Certainly, the buff books did. The Ford Probe GT was Motor Trend‘s 1993 Car of the Year and was named to the Car and Driver 10Best list in both 1993 and 1994.
The GT was driven by an advanced-for-its-time 24-valve V6, a 2.5-liter mill capable of developing about 164 hp and 160 lb.-ft. of torque. Under the hood of a car weighing in at 2,900 lbs., and mated to a five-speed manual back when that was the fast way to do things, this was good enough for a C&D-clocked 0-60 time of 7.1 seconds. The mag also listed the Probe GT as capable of 0.86 g on the skidpad and able to go from 60-0 in 182 ft.
“[T]he darn thing corners like it was only two inches off the ground, yet ride quality is impressive. Whether on the road course, driving through the mountains, or cooking through the slalom, the Probe GT sticks like burnt eggs to a frying pan. Its combination of marvelous road manners and a smooth, torque-drenched powerplant makes it a joy to drive under any circumstance, even in traffic around town. The 2.5-liter V-6 engine is a masterpiece. Churning out 164 horsepower, it provides quick, immediate response and a wide powerband.”
MT editors end up waxing lyrical about the Probe GT heralding “a renaissance of historic proportions” for U.S. automakers, with the Ford located “at the leading edge of a revitalized domestic car industry.”
Unfortunately for the Probe, it was another Ford, the Explorer, which really kicked off the automotive renaissance that started in the late 1990s. And when relatively cheap gas led to exploding demand for full-size pickups and SUVs, cars like the Probe quickly lost their audience. Today, I suppose its legacy lives on in cars like the coming hi-po versions of the Fiesta and Focus, along with the occasional appearance of the “floating roof” design cue (see the Mini Cooper Coupe).