Deprived but not disowned

Design Notes - 1988 Ford ProbeAlthough it was groomed since birth to be America’s quintessential free roaming horse, the Mustang, it lost its stride and took on a less vaunted title: Probe. It came close but ultimately fell victim to the true Mustang’s enduring support.

Let me slice through all the metaphors and be plain. The origins of Ford’s Probe, as many car fans are already aware, are deeply intertwined with the Mustang. This post will take a quick gallop through that process and see what the interbreeding rumors were all about.

That was supposed to be a Mustang?
We’ve all heard of mercy shootings of injured or sickly horses; however, Ford decided to spare their one-time Mustang successor and give it a chance at life. The whole thing was triggered by a changing sports car market.

1982 SN8 Mustang model front rightThe program to convert the fourth-generation Mustang into a front-wheel-drive and, most likely, a non-V-8 car was underway by early 1982. The intent was to compete with the onslaught of increasingly popular sporty imports and GM’s widely rumored GM80 program; itself a conversion of Camaro/Firebird to a front-wheel-drive platform.

1982 SN8 Mustang model rear leftAt the time, Ford had a 25 percent controlling stake in Mazda and began to collaborate with the Japanese car maker to achieve their goals more efficiently. Thus, it was decided the Probe–er sorry, Mustang–was to be built on Mazda’s 626 platform.

By summer of 1982, Toshi Saito, from Ford’s North American Design Center, began producing sketches that explored possible directions to take this new kind of Mustang. After that list was narrowed down, Mr. Saito built full size models of the contenders. Once a winner was selected, Ford wasted no time producing a fiberglass model in September of 1982. That model is depicted in the three pictures shown above right and left, and directly below. The pictures were taken on October 6, 1982.

1982 SN8 Mustang model profile right

At this stage, the project was referred to as the SN8 Mustang. Easier to spot in the gallery-sized versions is the name “Mustang” stamped prominently across the rear bumper and on a logo on the B-pillar. (Be forewarned that these pictures which look sharp here reveal their low resolution origins in the gallery.)

1982 SN8 Mustang GT model front rightTo the right is a picture taken on November 12, 1982. It is of a proposed SN8 Mustang GT model. From this angle, the SN8 reminds me of Ford’s Escort-based EXP. The production Probe’s fender-spanning rear view mirrors are sort of hinted at already.

In the gallery there is a sketch of two convertible SN8s (showing the top up and down) and the tail lights are different than those shown on these models.

1983 SN8 Mustang running prototype rear leftIt was around this time Ford transplanted the project, and several employees, to Mazda’s headquarters in Hiroshima, Japan.

By January of 1983, Ford had a running Mustang prototype finished (shown left).

Below is an image of that same prototype’s interior. It looks quite nice for 1983.

1983 SN8 Mustang running prototype interior left

Despite SN8’s seemingly on-track progress, things were about to be anything but predictable.


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