Ask someone to draw their ideal of a 1990s sports car and they might well pen a passable sketch of the Ford Probe. No, it wasn’t technically the greatest car in the world to drive, but it endures in the collective memory for the prevailing attribute of simply being cool (and, yes, for its silly name and for being a bit of a flop, too).
The first Probe was launched in 1989 in the US, but it wasn’t until the second-generation model’s arrival in 1994 that the UK got to try out this new-age Capri successor. The second-gen model had a much sleeker design and was derived from the front-wheel-drive Mazda G platform used by the Mazda 626 as part of Ford’s partnership with the Japanese company. In fact, the engine, chassis and transmission were all Mazda-developed, while Ford focused on the bodywork and interior.
The Probe shared similarities with the Mazda MX-6 on which it was based, but it was supposed to act, spiritually, as the futuristic reimagination of the hallowed Mustang pony car, with pop-up headlights – now a symbol of times gone by – contrasting with narrow front headlights to give a UFO-like visual impression.
Ford sold around 15,000 Probes in the UK over three years – well short of its 20,000 annual target – before imports stopped in 1997 ahead of the release of the more overtly sedate Cougar a year later.
The Probe was originally available in the UK for £19,350. Throughout its production life, though, its entry price fell and it eventually cost as little as £12,700, largely as a response to its dwindling sales.
The sad fact is that it really was a fun car to drive, given its Mazda-Ford parentage. Two smooth petrol engines were up for grabs: a base 113bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit and a more powerful 24v spec (named for its valve count) with a 2.5-litre V6, good for 160bhp and capable of 0-62mph in 8.5sec.
The Probe wasn’t sparse on equipment for the time, either, with central locking, electric windows and seats, air conditioning and leather upholstery included as standard and a power sunroof optional.
In the UK, Probe numbers have dropped year on year. Only 321 examples were registered by the end of 2020, according to howmanyleft. co.uk, so a low-mileage example in above-average condition could turn out to be a good investment, given the model’s increasing rarity.