This write-up has been taken from the History section of www.performanceprobe.com, with new additions, deletions and pictures.
The history for the model we all know in the UK starts from 1993 (see towards end of article):
The Probe was a joint venture between Ford and Mazda. It marked the first time a Japanese automaker had come into Detroit's backyard to produce a car for a U.S. affiliate. It was manufactured at the new $550 million AutoAlliance International Incorporated assembly plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, right along side Mazda's MX-6 and 626 coupes with which it shared most of its understructure.
The Probe was first brought to life in 1979 as a highly aerodynamic concept car named Probe 1, there were several more of these concept cars during the early 80's
Ford Probe I Concept
Ford Probe IV Concept
In 1982, as gas prices soared, Ford began work on what was to be the new fourth generation Mustang, replacing the old, bulky rear wheel drive muscle car design with a sleek, fuel efficient front wheel drive design of tomorrow, and like previous models, designed, engineered, and built by Ford. It was also an attempt to counter General Motors' GM80 plan, which was to offer a front wheel drive Firebird/Camaro platform by 1990.
The new design was coded the SN8 and was lead by Barry Johnson. In early 1983, Ford got outof the engineering side of the equation when it struck a deal with Mazda, of whom Ford owned 25%, giving Johnson and his team the Mazda 626 as a platform to build their new car on.
The 626 platform was exactly what Ford was looking for, small with front-wheel drive. Toshi Saito, a designer from Ford's North American Design Center, was in charge of designing the new Mustang's exterior beginning in the summer of 1982. He designed a series of concept sketches for the Mustang, of which, the team selected several that they felt best met Ford's needs and presented them to top management. They selected the ones they liked the best and Saito went back with full-sized tape drawings of their choices. Out of those, Ford's management picked two they liked the best and Saito went to work on full-sized clay sculptures of their choices. When he was complete, a final selection was made.
In September of 1983, a fiberglass model of the selection was made and shipped to Mazda headquarters in Hiroshima, Japan along with with Ford's four person styling team in charge of designing the new Mustang–Barry Johnson, Toshi Saito, a designer/engineer, and a secretary– to complete the production work on what was now code-named the ST16. Room 321 at Mazda headquarters became a home away from home, Ford's Dearborn Far East control center for the Mustang.
Once they team arrived in Japan, the problems started. Mazda's management approved the car's design, but Ford quickly began to question it. They were concerned that the design, originally slated for an earlier production date, might seem dated by the time the car finally reach production. Saito immediately began work on another series of sketches which included new, sportier lines. Ford was stretching the design boundaries because the car was expected to be the next generation Mustang. The feasibility process was trying. Ford insisted on a lower cowl, a lower hood, a lower nose, and a more steeply raked windshield than Mazda was prepared to produce. Radical wraparound quarter glass and a frameless glass hatch were also on Ford's list. In December of 1983, Saito's new design was approved by Ford's management in Dearborn, and was presented to Mazda's management. Mazda's engineers weren't happy, but it was approved, and the car was re-engineered to fit the new design.
When all aspects of the design were approved by both Ford and Mazda's management, it was released to Mazda and a complex follow-through procedure was set up to make sure everything agreed with the original specifications.
Many questions began to rise about the new car, one being where to Probe was to be built. Mazda had been considering building a plant in the United States and Ford had a closed up casting plant available in Flat Rock, Michigan, 15 miles south of Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn. After Lengthy negotiations, Mazda purchased the property from Ford, converted the plant into a warehouse, and built a modern assembly plant next to it. Here, the Mustang would be built along side of its structural twin, the Mazda 626 and MX-6.
Under their skin, the new Mustang, MX-6, and 626 were the same. The Mustang, like the MX-6 and 626, was to be a front-wheel drive vehicle with a transversely mounted 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Mazda engine. They'd share Mazda's electronic engine-control systems and port fuel injection. The Mustang GT would get the 626 GT's turbocharger mounted on the same 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. The turbocharger was to be replaced the following year by Mazda's single overhead cam V6, rated at 175 horsepower, while the base Mustangs will be offered an optional V6, which, at the time, was available in the Ford Taurus. With its combination of sleek but aggressive lines, the new Mustang was both distinctive and instantly likable. The relatively unadorned GL and LX versions boasted a drag coefficient of 0.308. The GT, with its wider tires, additional front fascia openings, and spoiler was only slightly less efficient, with a drag coefficient of 0.312.
Ford Probe Mk 1
Unfortunately, when news of the new Mustang hit the public, criticism mounted against it. Critics complained of the new Mustang's front wheel drive configuration, Japanese heritage, and lack of a V8. The current Mustang's sales began to rise and the future of fuel burning V8s were no longer questioned. With easing gas prices and being under the strain of a massive letter writing campaign from Mustang enthusiasts, Ford went to work on a new design for the Mustang. The sleek Ford/Mazda sports coupe slated to be the next generation Mustang now needed a new name. With the dealer preview coming up, where the Ford/Mazda coupe was suppose to make its debut in August of 1987, Ford turned to its inventory of already owned names. They picked one they had been using on a series of radically designed, aerodynamically advanced concept cars, from which the car's design was originally premiered. The new Ford was to be named the Ford Probe.
In May of '88, at the Chicago Auto Show, the first Ford Probe was introduced to the public as the 1989 model. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder originally expected to power the new coupe was replaced with Mazda's 2.2-liter 4-cylinder engine with a single overhead cam, aluminum head, three valves per cylinder, and low-maintenance hydraulic valve-lash adjusters. The base engine produced 110hp at 4700 rpm and 130 foot/pounds of torque at 3000 rpm. The more energetic GT powerplant added a Mitsubishi/IHI turbocharger and an intercooler to the intake tract, as well as a knock sensor and electronic boost control to the engine-control system. The entire arrangement was calibrated to provide midrange output; the maximum boost pressure rises to 9.3 psi in the vicinity of 3000 rpm, tapering down to 7.3 psi elsewhere. The results were 145 hp at a 4300 rpm power peak and a healthy 167 foot/pounds of torque at 2000 rpm that increased to 190 foot/pounds of torque at 3500 rpm. Within one month, Ford dealers had ordered over 100,000 Probes to supply the public's demand for the aerodynamic sports coupe.
Despite its sporty appearance and design, the Probe could be equipped with enough luxury options to suit a driver well into the hedonistic phase of life. Options included air conditioning, cruise control, a trip computer, and power everything. The GT came standard with four-wheel discs brakes and an option for the anti-lock system. If you wanted an automatic transmission, you had to forgo the turbocharged engine and choose either the GL or the LX. Both models had softer suspensions, narrower tires, and cleaner, more conservative bodywork than the GT. The LX had a more luxurious interior trim than the base GL and shared the GT's highly adjustable seats, tilt steering, electric mirrors, and alloy wheels. Like the GT, both the GL and the LX could be outfitted with a long list of comfort and convenience options. If you had to have electronic gauges, the Probe LX was the only choice. The Probe faced such established competitors as the Toyota Celica, the Honda Prelude, and the Nissan 200SX, as well as the MX-6, but it showed itself to be a strong contender. The Probe was also priced competitively. A fully equipped GT was only about $17,600 back in 1988.
For the 1990 model year, the Probe received a minor body restyling and a new engine was added to the lineup. The LX model received Ford's popular Vulcan 3.0 liter 12-valve V6 engine with electronic fuel injection. Borrowed from Ford's line of Taurus's and Rangers, the overhead valve V6 included Ford's advanced ECC-IV engine control and was not available on the MX-6 and 626 platforms. The engine produced 140hp at 4800 rpm and 160 foot/pounds of torque at 3000 rpm. A massive 80 percent of the torque was produced at only 1000 rpm. For 1991, the LX's V6 increased by 5 horsepower and 5 foot/pounds of torque. It was at this time when Ford and Mazda was amidst working on a replacement for the current Probe. This time, Ford would get the opportunity to have a word in the platform design and help create the car from the ground up.
For the 1993 model year, the Ford and Mazda design teams merged once again to give the Probe a complete restyling and the second generation Probe was born. Again the new Probe was to share it's understructure with Mazda's MX-6 and 626. Ford concentrated on the interior and exterior styling, while Mazda engineered the engine and chassis. The Ford/Mazda team added 2 inches to the length of the new Probe as well as 4 inches to the width, while still managing to shave off 125 pounds. Along with numerous other enhancements from lessons learned since the first Probe's debut, Ford brought the experience of many days at the track to the design table, creating one of the best handling cars on the road. The base model received a new Mazda 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine with 16 valves and dual overhead cams producing 115 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 124 foot/pounds of torque at 3500 rpm. The GT model was powered by the new 24-valve Mazda 2.5 liter V6 engine with multi-port fuel injection, four cams, and a computer controlled variable induction system. The V6 produced 164 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 156 foot/pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. The second generation Probe was introduced in August of 1992. (early 1994 UK market)
Ford Probe Mk 2
When Ford released the new Mustang in 1994, Probe sales began to deteriorate. Due to the decreasing sales, Ford planned on discontinuing the Probe, making the '96 model the last Probe year, but then continued production through to the '97 model year. During that year, Ford only sold 32,505 Probes, making it the worst selling Ford car for that year. On March 17th, 1997, Ford announced the discontinuation of the Probe, Thunderbird, Cougar, and Aerostar.
Although the Probe, Thunderbird, and Cougar were discontinued, Ford planned on reintroducing the three in the coming years.
The third generation Probe was to be built on the same platform as the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique as the earlier generation Probes were built on the Mazda MX-6 and 626 platform. The base third generation Probe would have the same dual overhead cam 16-valve Zetec 4-cylinder engine that powers the Contour, producing more power then the old engine with 125hp at 5500 rpm and 130 foot/pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. The GT's engine, like the 4-cylinder, is the same engine as available in the Contour... the Duratec 24-valve 2.5L V6. It will produce 170hp at 6250 rpm and 165 foot/pounds of torque at 4250 rpm. Unfortunately, as the Probe was born from what was to be the new Mustang, the new Cougar was born from what was to be the new Probe. In June of '98, Ford introduced the new Probe… as the redesigned 1999 Mercury/Ford Cougar.