The Main Reason The Ford Probe Was Discontinued

The oft-forgotten Ford Probe was supposed to be a design and engineering marvel that would replace the aging 1980s Mustang. Instead, it was killed off unceremoniously after an eight-year production run. The idea for the Probe took root in the mid-'80s when automakers still felt the aftershocks of the previous decade's oil crisis. Sales of sporty "pony cars," like the Camaro, Firebird, and especially Ford's Mustang, were stagnant. The Mustang hadn't seen a significant redesign since 1979, and the "Fox" platform that it rode on was even older.

At the same time, Mazda, in which Ford had a 24.5% ownership stake, was developing their next generation 626 sedan and coupe, later renamed the MX6. Ford executives reasoned that the way forward for the Mustang was a fuel-efficient, front-wheel drive design that could be developed economically by sharing its architecture with the new Mazda models. 

In April 1987, AutoWeek magazine leaked the upcoming Japanese-inspired Mustang replacement, and all hell broke loose. Fans bemoaned that their beloved muscle machine was getting displaced by a reskinned Mazda. Worse, it was front-wheel drive and had no V8 option. Ford received an avalanche of feedback that persuaded it to continue with the Fox body Mustang, which it did until 1994.

So what became of the car that was meant to replace the Mustang? In 1989, it was released as the Ford Probe and sold alongside and in direct competition with the Mustang.

[Featured image by Niels de Wit from Lunteren, The Netherlands via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 2.0]

It was actually a pretty good car

Even though the Probe shared its underpinnings with the Mazda MX6, it didn't share a single body panel. Instead, the Probe was an evolution of Ford's Ghia-based concept cars dating back to the late 1970s. In retrospect, the Probe was a handsome car and highly aerodynamic. It was also reliable, handled well, and its liftback design provided excellent utility. The Probe GT made Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best lists for 1989, 1993, and 1994. It also won MotorTrend's Car of the Year in 1993.

In essence, it was good at everything but excelled at nothing in an environment where buyers were spoiled for choice. Even within Ford's lineup, the Mustang trumped the Probe for performance driving and the Thunderbird was a superior personal luxury car. On top of all that, the Probe was considered expensive.

So why was the Probe ultimately discontinued? It boiled down to poor sales. By 1997, the Probe's final year, Ford sold less than 20,000 units compared to 108,000 Mustangs. Ford did such a poor job of positioning and marketing the Probe it was almost destined to fail. A third-generation Probe was planned, but that design became the early-2000s Mercury Cougar, also an unsuccessful car. 

[Featured image by Jeremy from Sydney, Australia via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 2.0]