We've not fea­tured one in ages, but this Probe's worth the wait!

Amer­i­can blood, Bri­tish heart, Ja­pa­nese mus­cle – the Ford Probe is com­pletely alien to most tra­di­tional Ford fans. But as Dean Flow­ers’ show-stop­ping ex­am­ple proves, we need to have a bit of a re­think…

Fast Ford - - Contents - Words DAN BE­VIS / Pho­tos ADE BRAN­NAN

Well, here it is: a Ford Probe in

Fast Ford mag­a­zine. Did you ever think you’d see the day? Pos­si­bly not, but in fact this mo­ment has been a long time com­ing. The Probe may have had an un­for­tu­nate rep­u­ta­tion in pe­riod – par­tic­u­larly at the hands of the loath­some Steve Coogan char­ac­ter Gareth Cheese­man – and the ini­tial plan to mar­ket it as the fourth­gen­er­a­tion Mus­tang in the States was met with wide­spread anger by mar­que afi­ciona­dos: with front-wheel-drive, Ja­pa­nese en­gi­neer­ing and the ab­sence of a V8, there’s re­ally noth­ing Mus­tang about it.

But a lot of wa­ter has passed un­der the bridge since the 1990s, and it’s high time the Probe un­der­went a re-eval­u­a­tion.

In­deed, the more you con­sider the na­ture of it, the cooler it seems – and when mod­i­fied to the fas­tid­i­ous stan­dards of Dean Flow­ers’ ex­am­ple, you can see why it’s right­fully earned a place in these pages. This Probe is, in short, sub­lime.

“I have no idea why these cars failed to at­tract sales and were so un­pop­u­lar,” Dean muses. “The name prob­a­bly didn’t help! And I guess they were very ex­pen­sive new – not too far off Es­cort Cos­worth money, I be­lieve. They’re pretty rare now, with fewer than 400 24-valves on the road.”

It’s cer­tainly an un­usual model, with these sec­ond-gen Probes be­ing around 60% Mazda and 40% Ford – Mazda took care of the en­gine, trans­mis­sion and chas­sis (it’s es­sen­tially an MX-6 un­der­neath), while Ford did the in­te­rior and body. The per­fect fu­sion for the Ford fan who’s watched a lot of Fast & Fu­ri­ous movies, per­haps? It’s def­i­nitely an in­ter­est­ing ad­di­tion to Dean’s mo­tor­ing his­tory; he’s had over a hun­dred cars over the years, all mod­i­fied, and among the near-end­less list he reels off we count 14 BMWs, 7 Mercs, a bunch of VWs and Audis, and – most rel­e­vant to our in­ter­ests – oo­dles of Fords, in­clud­ing var­i­ous XR2s, XR2is and XR3is. Most sig­nif­i­cantly, Dean clearly has a pen­chant for V6-en­gined Fords; he’s had a Capri 2.8i, Mon­deo Ghia V6, even a Granada Dorch­ester stretch limo with a 2.9… along with quite a few Probes.

So how did he come to be so in­ter­ested in this rel­a­tively ob­scure model? Sure, its fans are pretty vo­cal about its mer­its, but it’s not your clas­sic go-to fast Ford, is it? “When I was about 15 or 16 my fa­ther bought a black 24v Probe,” Dean ex­plains. “The car was prob­a­bly only three or four years old at the time. And when I was 19 I bought the car off him and did a few mods to it, low­er­ing it and fit­ting 18s… but I blew the en­gine up at Ford Fair about a year later on the Sil­ver­stone track! So I changed the en­gine to a Ja­pa­nese-spec KL-ZE from an im­port MX-6 - the UK en­gine be­ing the KL-DE. That dyno’d at 196bhp at the wheels on more than one oc­ca­sion, and was a very fun car with good us­able power on the road.”

“I’ve taken the car to shows, and the re­sponse has been great – with some peo­ple find­ing it hard to ad­mit to them­selves that they ac­tu­ally think it’s cool!”

You can see why the en­thu­si­asm is so in­grained then, and why Dean’s keen to es­pouse the mer­its of this hid­den gem. Hav­ing been a mem­ber of the UK’s first Probe club, the FPOC, from a young age, he kept the black Probe un­til he was 21 be­fore mov­ing onto the world of trou­ble that is the Mazda RX-7. Many cars and moons passed, un­til eight years later Dean spot­ted his old Probe for sale; it had been off the road for a while but he bought it back as a fixer-up­per, ac­quir­ing a bunch of parts in­clud­ing the wheels and USDM rear bumper you see here. But that car is not this car… no, the one you’re look­ing at here was at the time owned by a club mem­ber by the name of Brian O’Keefe, a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer who’d heav­ily mod­i­fied the car with all man­ner of cus­tom parts, although by late-2017 he’d started to lose in­ter­est in the project; it changed hands a cou­ple of times, and then Dean found him­self buy­ing it for a de­cent price. It just seemed too good an op­por­tu­nity to pass up – his orig­i­nal Probe still needed lots of work whereas this one was al­ready com­plete, as well as be­ing more pow­er­ful, hav­ing lower mileage, and wear­ing much nicer paint.

“I was in Thai­land work­ing at the time, so I ar­ranged to col­lect it from Southend on my way home to Wales with­out even view­ing it. I flew into Heathrow, caught the train to Southend, and drove the car home with my suit­case in the back.

“The Probe had many mod­i­fi­ca­tions, but was a lit­tle too stuck in the ’90s for my taste,” he con­tin­ues. “It had blue lights, a vented car­bon bon­net, 18in TSW Mon­zas, lots of red and blue de­tail­ing un­der the bon­net, stick­ers, blue floor mats, but I could see past this when I bought it and knew there was a clean, low mileage car un­der­neath. I man­aged to sell al­most every­thing I re­moved from the car for good money, so I ac­tu­ally got al­most half my ini­tial pur­chase price for it back!”

The car came with two full-to-burst­ing lever arch files of his­tory, con­tain­ing ev­ery sin­gle re­ceipt right down to lit­tle things like wiper blades, as well as en­gi­neer­ing di­a­grams for ev­ery cus­tom mod­i­fi­ca­tion

car­ried out by the fas­tid­i­ous for­mer owner. “Peo­ple in the own­ers’ club thought I was men­tal for chang­ing a very well-known car in the com­mu­nity,” Dean laughs. “How­ever, I think a lot of them for­gave me once they saw the fin­ished item. To me it al­ways felt like I was driv­ing some­body else’s car un­til I changed it up.” Among the changes car­ried out in Dean’s ten­ure are the full black leather in­te­rior swap in­clud­ing dash, head­lin­ing and car­pets, stag­gered Eta Beta wheels, Mus­tang split­ter, stock re­place­ment bon­net and front end re­paint, flushed front bumper, USDM rear bumper, smoothed tail, USDM tail­lights (the num­ber plate lives where the re­mov­able red rec­tan­gle in the mid­dle is), re­moval of all the ’90s-style blue stuff, and a full de­tail and paint cor­rec­tion. “Some of these af­ter­mar­ket parts I stole off my orig­i­nal car,” he ex­plains, “and I also bought a black donor car for the in­te­rior and bon­net.”

All of this com­ple­ments the unique en­gine, in situ when Dean pur­chased the car. The UK-spec KL-DE has been treated to the cams, pis­tons and port-matched in­let man­i­fold from the JDM-spec Mazda KL-ZE, along with ported and pol­ished heads, cus­tom fu­elling, be­spoke ex­haust, one-off throt­tle body and MSD ig­ni­tion, which raises the power from its stock 165bhp to an im­pres­sive (and dyno-proven) 226bhp. More than enough to give it the go to match the show pro­vided by those im­pec­ca­bly-fin­ished Knight Rider-meets-GTO curves.

“Ear­lier this year I de­cided I needed to down­size the amount of ve­hi­cles I had, and busi­ness was do­ing well so thought it was time for my dream car; I al­ways wanted a black-on-black 1964 Lin­coln Con­ti­nen­tal, so at least three cars needed to go,” he says. And we can’t be­grudge him that – af­ter all, Lin­coln is the lux­ury arm of the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany in the US, so per­haps Probe-toCon­ti­nen­tal is a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion? “This Probe was lined up as one of the ones to go, and I was very sur­prised that of the three cars I ad­ver­tised, this was the first one to sell. It went for full ask­ing price too, very quickly - the price was £3,500 which is a lot of car for the money, but also a lot more than any Probe has sold for in many years. Maybe this is a sign of the times, and peo­ple are ready to ac­cept this Ja­pane­se­based Ford with Amer­i­can styling?”

We’d agree that this is al­most cer­tainly the case. These weird lit­tle global-mashup Fords have been left to lan­guish in the shad­ows for too long; they may have been over­looked or even sneered at in the nineties, but the hard­core own­ers re­mained faith­ful and now, as num­bers dwin­dle, peo­ple are recog­nis­ing the Probe for the lit­tle sweet­heart it re­ally is. “I’ve taken the car to mostly non-Ford shows like Grav­ity and the Play­ers Clas­sic, and the re­sponse has been great – with some peo­ple find­ing it hard to ad­mit to them­selves that they ac­tu­ally think it’s cool!” laughs Dean. And that pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? We’ve been sidelin­ing these cars for too long. As this sleek 24v proves, Probes can be made to look stun­ning, with re­li­able per­for­mance to match. It’s not a Mus­tang, it’s not a Capri re­vival, it just is what it is – a Probe. And we like Probes. There, we said it.

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