Home » Basically Twins Under The Skin: 1986 Mazda 626 vs 1989 Ford Probe

Basically Twins Under The Skin: 1986 Mazda 626 vs 1989 Ford Probe

Sbsd 3 25 2024
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Good morning, Autopians! I hope you all had a good weekend. Today we’re looking at two cars that look nothing alike, but share the same platform. And one of them is the spitting image of a car I used to own and love.

On Friday, we had some silliness involving song lyrics, and it seems it’s official: John McCrea’s dream girl made a mistake. Nothing at all wrong with a LeBaron convertible, at least in my opinion, but to sacrifice an MG to get one seems like a bad move.

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Some of you thought that particular MG was a bit overpriced, and it is at the high end, but if it’s mechanically as good as the seller says it is, it’s a fair deal. All MGBs have some rust somewhere; I think they rusted on the trip from Abingdon to the cargo ship, and that one isn’t really bad at all. Sure, you could probably find a nicer-looking rubber-bumper MGB for this price, but this will be a whole lot more fun to drive.

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All right, let’s move on. Platform-sharing is a time-honored way for an automaker to provide a variety of cars for lower development costs. Tool up some new sheetmetal for an existing structure, and voila, you have a sports coupe based on your four-door sedan. And if you have another automaker to partner with, your options open way up. Ford and Mazda shared platforms for years, from pickup trucks to economy cars to compact SUVs. Today, we’re looking at a classic Mazda sedan, and the sporty coupe that Ford made from it that almost ruined a legendary name.

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1986 Mazda 626 – $3,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Vancouver, WA

Odometer reading: 153,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives great

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I am a huge fan of Mazda’s front-wheel-drive cars. They’re tough, good-handling, and easy to live with. The second-generation 626 (or third-generation Capella, if you prefer) may look like any other Japanese sedan from the same era, but it has a liveliness that some others lack. Mazda didn’t adopt the “Zoom-Zoom” marketing campaign until the year 2000, but the spirit was there well before then. This is a fun car to drive.

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The 626 received some upgrades halfway through this generation, including a new dashboard, composite headlights, and – most importantly – a fuel-injected engine. A turbocharged version was available, but this one isn’t so equipped. It is, however, equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, and Mazda’s FWD gearboxes and shifters are, and were, excellent.

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This one runs and drives great, and has new brakes and a new radiator. Inside, it almost looks like a new car, and I really like this red-brown color. It works well with the gray exterior, too. I know some of us are starting to sound like a broken record, but I really miss colors when it comes to cars.

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I get the feeling that this car isn’t perfect, however; there’s a board behind one rear wheel in one photo. Usually when someone does this, it means the emergency/parking brake is inoperative. It does the trick, but do remember to remove it before you try to back out – and yes, I do speak from experience. Of course, you could just fix the parking brake…

1989 Ford Probe LX – $4,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Mattoon, IL

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Odometer reading: 140,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives great

I did a serious double-take when I saw this car. For the first year or so that I lived in Oregon, I owned one almost exactly like it: same year, same color combination, same trim level. The only difference is that mine had a digital dash. It served me very well, and I put a lot of miles on it, including two trips down to LA and back. I only sold it because I found a cheap Miata and needed the driveway space, and even then I thought twice about it. The guy who bought it from me flew up from Florida and drove it home; it was exactly like the car he had in high school. To know a black-over-red Probe LX manual is to love it, apparently.

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The Probe’s main claim to fame, of course, is that it was almost a Mustang. The Fox-body Mustang was supposed to be gradually phased out, and be replaced by this car. When AutoWeek broke the news in April of 1987 of Ford’s plans, the response was immediate and overwhelmingly negative. We all know what happened: The Mustang soldiered on unchanged, and the new car was sold alongside it as the Probe. But having had plenty of seat time in various Fox-body Mustangs, and having put 20,000 miles on a Probe just like this, I can unequivocally say that the Probe was the better car.

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This Probe has had only two owners, and has covered only 140,000 miles. It looks like it’s in great shape, and the seller says it runs and drives well. That’s all the information we get, though. I can tell you that mine was rock-solid reliable with quite a few more miles on it than this one, for whatever that’s worth.

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It looks great, both inside and out, but it is a rust-belt car, so a careful inspection is a good idea. If it really is as clean as it looks, this could make a great classic for someone. It’s probably a good thing that the Mustang lived on as a rear-wheel-drive muscle car, but show up to a car meet in yet another Fox-body Mustang and nobody bats an eye. Show up in a pristine first-year Probe, and you’ll get their attention.

Like it or not, these are now classic cars. And the great thing about classics of this era is how usable they are; these cars were excellent everyday drivers when they were new, and they still could be. Of course, it would be a shame to subject either of them to road salt, but for summertime cruising they’d be just the ticket. Which one is more your style?

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(Image credits: 626 – Craigslist seller; Probe – Facebook Marketplace seller)

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Greensoul
Greensoul
29 days ago

I am amazed at how well both of these have held up. The interiors still look great on both and that is some tough wearing upholstery with actual color! Both of these were right before the power shoulder belt era to boot. This one is a toss up.

Ricki
Ricki
29 days ago

Oh hello again folks.

Going with the probe because in what is surely a coincidence, everyone I knew that owned one was extremely attractive. Also I think I’ve about had my fill of four-door cars.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
29 days ago

626 for sure

AlterId
AlterId
29 days ago

Both very nice, but the Probe wins it if the undercarriage is anywhere near as clean as the rest of it. A “Both” option would make a pretty nice 1980s garage, though.

I don’t know how reliable the Ford V6 in the 1990+ first-gen Probe LX was, but I remember it getting pretty good reviews at the time because of all that torque. I do think that the idea of each of the three Probe trim levels having its own exclusive engine was pretty cool for a car of this class, though.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
30 days ago

I think I’ll Probe-ably go with the Ford.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
30 days ago

Probe me baby!!!

Holly Birge
Holly Birge
30 days ago

As much as I love these first gen Probes (my husband had a ’90 LX V-6 auto when I met him), I’m voting for that 626. It just looks fun.

Racingtown
Racingtown
30 days ago

The Probe is too expensive…but I can’t pass up the Taylor Swift lipstick red interior.

(My daughter has been binging the Eras tour)

Wezel Boy
Wezel Boy
30 days ago

The Probe. Because pop-up headlights.

A4A
A4A
30 days ago

I drive a Mazda that’s 35 years younger than the 626 here, but interestingly enough has the same grey over red color scheme.

There’s not nearly as much red admittedly, only the seats and parts of the doors/dash. But at least they are still holding on to fun interior colors to some extent.

That being said, I chose to get Probed. I prefer hatches and coupes over sedans in general, and just love the look of that thing. 626 is a pretty generic sedan for the era, I would rather have a clean 86 Accord.

StLOrca
StLOrca
30 days ago

For all of the schoolboy-level snickering (“Heh, heh, he said ‘probe'”), I’ll take the Probe. I had a neighbor who drove one and he was stunned that he loved a Ford.

Marty Densch
Marty Densch
30 days ago

Tough call but I don’t need four doors so I’ll go for the Probe because of the liftback. About that block of wood behind the rear tire — the owner might have been storing the car and kept the hand brake released to keep it from sticking while engaged. I do that with my Miata when I store it for the winter.

RC
RC
30 days ago

Operational status: Runs and drives great

I mean… this was kind of a lie even for a factory-fresh 626. I had one of these in high school, and “great” it was not. Serviceable, yes. Room for 4 and their backpacks, assuredly. Capable of summiting mild hills… eventually.

This was a 93-horsepower engine. Which, fine for the time, but put some weight in the car and you could feel every ounce of it. We take for granted the 200+ HP that is default on modern cars, and by the standards of the time this was workable (this was a 2500-pound car), but it ends up in this weird category for me.

For the money, there are newer, safer, more entertaining prospects. It’s not a nostalgia magnet like a Camaro or a Trans Am or, hell, even a truck of that era would be. And while Mazda/Ford produced some neat-o stuff (I had a B2600i mixmaster that lasted for a quarter million miles and later in life a Mazda 929), Mazda of this era was an also-ran to the much-better engineering of Toyota or Honda.

It’s a super-clean example of reliable transportation of the era, which is sorta like having a perfectly executed pour of a red solo cup of Shasta Orange out of a 3L bottle. Satisfying in its own way, but not worth very much.

That said, I’d take the Mazda given the choices here.

Scott Ashley
Scott Ashley
30 days ago

I think Ford benefited a good deal from the Mazda partnership. I once had a conversation with a Ford salesman who said the same. Ford and Mazda went separate ways and i stuck with Mazda

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
30 days ago

I looked at the 626 and admired that nice red interior. The. I scrolled down to the Probe and OMG SO MUCH REDDER.

My dad had a 626 of that generation which served him well for 12 years. I have major nostalgia for it, but the Probe would be my choice. Coupes are nearly extinct and pop up headlights been dead. Getting both in one car is too good to pass up.

Prizm GSi
Prizm GSi
30 days ago

While I too enjoy the MUCH REDDER interior, a deep oxblood red interior with a darker silver exterior is truly the finest of all automotive color combinations. That said, I still like the Probe, because popupanddownheadlights.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
30 days ago

Probes have styling that still somehow looks decent in 2024.

But 1st gens have less probelems….

Last edited 30 days ago by Bizness Comma Nunya
OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
30 days ago

I owned an ’86 626 with the same interior color. Loved the car. Reliable, and for the time good fuel economy. As others mentioned, not a lot of power but one could make do by rowing through the gears.

The car met its demise when an inattentive driver rear-ended me with such force that the driver’s seat reclined permanently into a near-horizontal position. That ’86 626 gave its life for me.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
30 days ago

Freshman year of high school I rode to school in the back seat of a black 1990 Probe with a red interior. The back seat was a terrible place to sit if you’re taller than 6 feet, and my head hit the roof constantly. So I hated riding in that car, but nostalgia is a funny thing. So Probe me…wait…

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
30 days ago

That 626 is too minty to pass up, and you *never* see these any more. They’ve both got red interiors, which is a big plus – I miss color-keyed interiors. A 626 Turbo hatch would be the ultimate unicorn, but I’ll take the 626 as is.

Xpumpx
Xpumpx
30 days ago

that Mazda, woof! Ford really knocked it out of the park on this one. gimme the Probe! wait, wait, you know what I mean

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
30 days ago

Tough call.
I’ll take the Probe if for no other reasons than those seats.
Some of the best stock seats of the era. Very comfortable and supportive, with near perfect bolstering.
It’s a genuinely nice cockpit for us tall folk.

Last edited 30 days ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Cyko9
Cyko9
30 days ago

The 626 is too nice of a car to pass at that price. Were the Ford priced closer (sporty tax), I might vote for it. Then again, I remember those feeling pretty heavy. It might look the part, but I’ll bet the Mazda is actually more fun to drive.

David Puckett
David Puckett
30 days ago

I drove a manual ’84 626 coupe and my wife drove a manual ’85 626 Turbo 4-door when we were first married and we loved both of them! Under-powered for sure, but never felt “slow” to drive due to a really slick 5-spd in both. Great handling for the time period and such a step up from the late 70s Chevy and Ford we had before.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
30 days ago
Reply to  David Puckett

The turbo was underpowered? I remember reviews at the time saying that the turbo engine made way more than the rated power.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
30 days ago

Gimme the Probe. And that now sounds ironic, since I’m from way out of town. But that is stereotyping! The Grey fellas do that.

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