Home » The High Tech Ford Probe IV Concept Could Have Inspired A Futuristic “Fox” Mustang

The High Tech Ford Probe IV Concept Could Have Inspired A Futuristic “Fox” Mustang

Topshot Probe Mustang 2 Ts
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My eleven-year-old plays drums at The School Of Rock in town, usually hacking away at Boomer Dad staples while some fourth grader screams into the mic.  The other day he told me of the amusing new-to-him fact that the members of the band ZZ Top all had long beards except for the one with the last name “Beard.”  That’s odd; indeed, the one person you most expect to possess such a salient feature doesn’t have it. The car world has a few of these conundrums as well, and one of the strangest belonged to Ford in the eighties.

Design boss Jack Telnack slowly eradicated boxy cars from Ford’s malaise-era lineup and replaced them with aerodynamic versions as the decade of decadence went on. The eighth-gen Thunderbird that arrived in 1980 looking as square as a house was transformed into a smooth BMW 6 series-looking stunner. The Taurus replaced the straight-lined LTD, and even the boring Fairmont got a rounded Tempo successor.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Based on this, progression, you would think Ford’s sportiest car would get an equally dramatic aero-styled makeover, but it didn’t; sort of like Frank Beard without a beard in a band where everyone else had beards. The 1979 “Fox” body Mustang was a nice-looking car, but it rapidly dated against its radically changed stablemates. Facelifts helped a bit, but in some ways things like adding composite headlights and flush rear quarter glass only made it look like older people who have had “too much work done” on their faces in a bid to cling to relative youth.

Used 1987 Ford Mustang Gt 50 Gt 1653736836
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Could things have been different? I’ve been showing you how, so now let’s get our Wayfarers and bomber jacket with the sleeves rolled up on and head back to 1986.

Don’t Dream It’s Over

For a while now I’ve been doing an alternate history timeline of Ford’s famous Pony Car, starting with two separate cars (a small and large one) replacing the 1974 Mustang II.

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Timeline 5 11 24

Last week, we explored how the alternate reality new-for-1979 Mustang could have possibly been based on the first of Ford’s “Probe” series of show cars; concepts designed for maximum aerodynamic efficiency. I tweaked the Probe I to become more Mustang in its profile and detailing to create a far more dramatic 1979 first “Fox” body model.

Probestang Front 5 11 24

In the real history of Ford, the Probe I went into mothballs while they continued to pump out new versions of low-drag Ghia-built concepts. The Probe II came next, and it was a rather disappointing semi-productionized version of the Probe I:

Probe 2 5 4 24
source: Ford

Next up was the Probe III, the only Probe to ultimately be transformed into a production car, namely the European market Ford Sierra (sold here briefly as the Merkur XR4Ti).

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Probe 3 5 12 24
source: Ford

By my alternate mid-eighties, our Probe I-based Mustang would have started to get a bit dated looking, with Ford seeking new inspiration for a replacement that, unlike the real FoxStang, would have been cutting edge. Low and behold, by now Ford had the fourth version of the Probe series available to influence America’s favorite sports coupe (well, “favorite” if you believe Ford and the sales figures).

Look out! We’re Probing the Pony once again.

Addicted To Love (Of Aero)

After the launch of the Sierra, Ford and Ghia took aero to the next level with the 1983 Probe IV; a dramatic concept with a reported drag coefficient of 0.15, or essentially the same as an F-15 fighter jet (this is actually the Probe that our aero fanatic top commenter Toecutter first suggested as a Mustang).

Probe 4 5 12 24
source: Ford

With the Probe IV, the team seemed to find the most extreme solutions to automotive aero and decided to simply not say “no” to them. For example, some of the biggest sources of drag on a car are the grille openings and the wheels, so the Probe IV did away with both. What? How? Well, first they moved the radiator to the back of the car; actually, they split it into two and put one on each side of the car and vented it from “gills” on the rear quarters. There’s the expected full belly pan as well.

1983 Ford Probe Iv Aerodynamic Innovations
source: Ford

Next, they made full covers for the wheels; not “wheel covers” in the traditional sense but full skirts. The front ones were pivoting, flexible things that allowed wheel movement in turns.  There’s even active aerodynamic details like the front spoiler. What’s especially cool about the Probe IV was that it was a fully functioning automobile.

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Probe Iv Overhead 5 12
source: Ford

Even without these out-of-the-box solutions, the overall shape of the Probe IV was both wind-cheating and unique. As a four-seater fastback, the design immediately seems like something that could be Mustanged into our next, larger Ford Pony Car for the late eighties.

Carry A Laser Down The Road That I Must Travel

The aero revolution was well underway at Ford by 1986. The Taurus really fleshed out much of the lineup from the Tempo on up to a world-beating aesthetic, or at least best-of-the-world matching. The Probe IV was a design looking for a chassis, and while the live-axled V8 Mustang might not have been the most advanced, it was certainly fast and entertaining enough to give that advanced concept a worthy heart. Besides, in our alternate timeline, Ford’s full-sized “Pony Car” was still a vehicle striving to stay ahead of the curve. There’s something appealing about that old pushrod hero under the hood of a futuristic car; sort of like the Wild West cowboy-style character of Han Solo in a world of lasers and spaceships.

The Ford Probe Iv 1982 V0 F90m4xq799w91

Changes to the Prove IV to a Mustang are extensive without altering the overall form much at all. Four doors change to two, and the beltline moves up to make the glass short enough in height to roll down (you can’t have the Delorean-style tollbooth windows on a Mustang).  The covered wheels naturally have to go; the cost and maintenance headaches (imagine a flat tire) aren’t worth the trade-off, and that’s disregarding them getting jammed up with snow. Worse than that, with such covers the Probe IV just doesn’t look enough like a “car” to appeal to the average buyer.

Screenshot (304)

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Once again, it’s heavily watered down; as I said in earlier posts, I’d be glad to try to buyers kicking and screaming into the new age, but they likely won’t go there. You can call it “selling out”, but then you could also accept it as making a good design that pushes the envelope and still appeals to the consumer. If the property tax bill on your current house is due and it’s higher than what you paid for your first two cars put together (mine is) you need to sell stuff.

As a concession, I might offer optional smooth 1982 Trans Am-style covers to add to the Mustang GT turbine-style aluminum wheels for maximum aero:

1986 Gt Front 5 12 A

Naturally, a hood bulge will be needed to clear the motor with that ultra low nose; probably bigger than I’ve shown, and that “pot roast” looking intake manifold on the multi-port 302 will need some work. The front end now has headlamps behind retractable tinted covers.  Typical composite lights could be used as well but they didn’t look aggressive enough for the GT model.

Convertibe 5 13

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The rear-mounted radiator system of the Probe IV will never fly, but note that there’s a slot below the front edge of the bumper that can open and close depending on air needed and speed; on the highway with it shut you’d be getting superb aero and feeding the radiator from below.

Here’s the back view of the Probe IV from when it came up for sale not long ago:

Ford Probe Iv Rear 5 12
source: Dragone Classic Motorcars

For the conversion to the 1986 alternate reality Mustang, a small Saab-like lip spoiler is added below that glass, and the slots in the bumper are now vertical three-slot taillights, deeply sunken in to allow the panel to act as a bumper (2.5MPH required by now).

1986 Gt Rear 5 12

Again, the aero hubcaps would do wonders for reduced drag, but they just don’t look “Mustang” enough. Still, we’d have to offer them as an option to those that understand the benefits. As with the bowling ball covers on 1982 Trans Ams, they’d likely disappear from the options list and off of customer cars into the weeds next to curves.

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1986 Gt Rear Smooth 5 12

In 1986, Ford was almost unrivaled for the number of highly aerodynamic cars in their lineup; the ProbeStang IV would have made the Mustang the ultimate statement of this mission, instead of the by-now-dated real-world Fox body desperately trying to keep up.

Ride Into The Danger Zone

The Probe IV’s dashboard is surprisingly functional and interesting looking, with the exception of climate and secondary controls tilted so you have to cock your head to read them. I’d keep much of that for the alternate universe 1986 Mustang with some changes.

Prove Iv Interior 5 12 24
source: Ford

On my Mustang translation, the door panels understandably get taller. The window switches styled as an extension of the dash creates an integrated appearance and positions them for convenient operation. I’ve removed the foot-operated parking brake and given it a handbrake where the Probe IV has seat switches (power seats will just be standard Ford seat-side switches. The steering wheel is also more Mustang-like, with Taurus cruise control buttons on it. I’m showing analog gauges but you might get digital as an option, at least in the Ghia model that would be adjacent to the Camaro Berlinetta. The storage bin next to the automatic transmission selector would disappear if you pick a five-speed.

Fox 2 Gauges 5 12

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The most notable detail above the Taurus rotary HVAC controls is the car-side shape with multiple illuminated callouts to bring attention to any faults. It’s actually a DIAGNOSTIC AND AERO CENTER. Besides calling out faults like low fluids there’s also an indicator “aero gauge” to the left that shows your current coefficient of drag. Oh, yeah! It BEEP BOP BOOP. It changes based on the position of the spoiler and whether or not the grille slot is open. It’s absolute stupidity, with the exception of possibly letting you know that your engine temperature is rising into the danger zone because the active grille mechanism is busted (but there’s a warning light for that so it is pure stupidity).

A64761169124a6f58340a6fa36a9d702 2

Buttons above the display let you cycle the digital display through car data not shown in gauges like oil temperature; the other button lets you override the automatic aero systems. Pure silly wow-tech theatrics befitting the late eighties; you’re lying if you say you wouldn’t have loved this kind of shit back then.

Alive And Kicking

You can point to a number of cars that the Probe series influenced; some of them were Fords but it seems like none were the Blue Oval’s iconic coupe. This Prove IV-based model could have done more than push the Mustang design to the forefront; it might have also forced GM to put just as much effort into rapidly updating the F-Body Camaro and Firebird. We might have seen a Pony Car arms race the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the late sixties, but this time with technology mixed into the muscle war.

Today, the Chevy and Pontiac rivals are gone, while the Mustang slowly turns into the equivalent of one of those bands that end up on the nostalgia circuit, occasionally making new music and playing it at concerts between the hits so that aged fans with prostate issues can take a bathroom break. It didn’t have to end like this.

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Relatedbar

Ford Missed Out By Not Offering This ‘Big’ Mustang Alongside The Pinto-Based Model We All Know – The Autopian

These Old Ford Styling Concepts For The Mustang II Show How Wild It Could Have Been – The Autopian

There Should Have Been Two Fords With The Mustang Badge In 1974, And Here’s The First One – The Autopian

 

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Scott
Scott
12 days ago

I haven’t read The Bishop’s article above yet (I’m sure it’s fascinating as always) but I just felt an urge to mention that I rented a Ford Probe for just one night to take my new wife from the reception venue to a motel for a few hours of sleep before running down to JFK to catch a flight to our Paris honeymoon. Apart from everything else going on at the time, I do recall that the Probe wasn’t bad at all to drive, for what it was. I know that nobody asked, but the fact that I recall this almost 30 years later seemed to make it worth a mention. I also remember that my tie was crooked in all the photos, and that the vodka penne was surprisingly good.

Not saying I’d pay Bring a Trailer money for a well-preserved example now, but if I had more money than sense… 😉

Musicman27
Musicman27
13 days ago

Whoever designed the “box art” for this article needs a bonus and a pizza.

The Artist Formerly Known as the Uncouth Sloth
The Artist Formerly Known as the Uncouth Sloth
13 days ago

Christ…I don’t give a f**k about the car. What about ol’ Big Hair, there?

Timbales
Timbales
13 days ago

These look like a vehicle Gil Gerard would have driven in the Buck Rogers tv show.

Greensoul
Greensoul
13 days ago

Your obsession with Ford Probe concepts lately is a bit odd, scary, and compelling all at once. What is this recent obsession with probes???? I got a kit in the mail today from my PCP to clean the basement thoroughly for an upcoming anal probe/colonoscopy. Are you up for your test? Are you due for one? Your old enough. We can talk car shop before the drugs kick in and we both get cameras stuck up our butts at the same time, ha ,ha. I’m sure that would make for a good article on this site.

Greensoul
Greensoul
13 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Yup, lemon lime flavor? Big lie. Strawberry banana, Id rather drink chalk, it would taste better. I read a lot of things I don’t need to on this car site. What I don’t need to know on this site is agenda stuff from other writers, whom I love, on this website. Honestly, as an old gay dude, that colonoscopy will be the first time I’ve had that kind of action down stairs since the abusive/gay divorce from 20+years ago! TMI! Can we discuss that oversize backlight on a 65 Barracuda now, or would you rather the bent back window on a 77 Impala or Toronado XS. Jason has a tail light fetish, mine is auto glass. The Renault Fuego had a very sexy hatch glass, feels so freeing to bring this conversation back to cars, which is why I’m here in the first place. BTW. Yup, I’m a sick puppy. Just realized I kinda brought up an agenda, sorry Mercedes, I am a hypocrite of sorts it seems

Greensoul
Greensoul
13 days ago
Reply to  Greensoul

Bishop, I’m so inspired by your work and a bit jealous. I wish we could upload photos or content here, I could send pics of my work from back in the day. I had a full scholarship to attend GMI back in 1983 based on sketches I’d sent them. I totally redesigned the T car! Went to Michigan for a meet and greet, and all I will say is this, the world was not the slightest bit gay friendly back then. Nuff said. I enjoy the acceptance I have now, but also know to not push the agenda. I am not an alphabet soup person. Just an old gay dude that loves cars and rv’s. All of my car geek friends are straight before that 12 pack on the lake. Morning after with the hangover, were changing a spark plug somewhere on something

Ron888
Ron888
13 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

I dont know what drug they used for mine but the waking up part was amusing.Full consciousness for awhile then a patch of total memory blank.Repeat several times.
In one of the lucid moments i remember helping my sister fix her bike for a license test.Which looking back wasn’t smart!
The bike ran fine and she didnt crash so i guess i really was fully awake for that period.I guess?

BTW loved the song title headings.Oddly i recognized the most obscure one first

Last edited 13 days ago by Ron888
Mr E
Mr E
13 days ago

Love the design! Not totally sold on the tail lights, but I’d still drive the hell out of that if it existed.

If your son plays his drums in your house, you (as well as my parents were when I was a young lad starting out) are a saint.

Mr E
Mr E
13 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Ha! It was much more cost-effective in the early 80s for my folks to buy a crappy acoustic kit and some earplugs. Plus, Simmons drums were stupid expensive when they first came out. I have an electronic kit, but prefer my acoustics…in much the same way I prefer my V8 Mustang to the electric one.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
13 days ago

I vote for the turbine wheels. I’m loving these alternate Mustangs. Carry on my wayward son.

Toecutter
Toecutter
13 days ago

If this got a Cd value of 0.24 and had the same frontal area as the Fox body we got, with a 5.0 V8 under the hood, fuel economy would have been low 30s mpg on the highway with modern EPA ratings, maybe 40 mpg at a steady 55 mph. Top speed with a stock 5.0L V8 could theoretically exceed 170 mph.

This is a cool design.

Imagine the subsequent generation going less conservative on the drag reduction as the tech arms race heats up, and getting a sub 0.20 Cd based upon the Probe V concept while still looking at last marginally acceptable enough to sell in large numbers.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
13 days ago

That’s some fine work Bishop! The Pearls before Swine censor is eye twitching at the top-shot caption.

Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
13 days ago

I just want to say that this has been one of the best series of articles from an automotive publication in a long time. I love these reimagining’s! Once you wrap up this Mustang series, I’d love to see another popular model get reimagined through the decades

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
12 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

I would like a ‘what if British Leyland hadn’t shat the bed quite so comprehensively’ series please and thank you.

Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
11 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Can you do a 90’s section for the Mustang where the took the fight to the 3 series and came out with a Mustang sedan?

I would have called it the Mustang S. The S officially would have stood for “stable” like a group of horses but unofficially for “sedan”

10001010
10001010
13 days ago

That ’87 Foxtstang with the hatchback is the best Mustang IMHO but I’m probably biased since that’s about the time I was learning to drive and that’s what Mustangs looked like back then. However, I never warmed up to the 4th gen Mustangs of the 90s so this Probestang IV is definitely better looking than the SN95.

Also, I agree that Mr Mister has been carrying a damn laser and I will hear no arguments about alternative lyrics with some “Kyrie” nonsense. What, next you’re going to try and convince me that David Lee Roth doesn’t have his back against a wrecking machine? Get out of here!

10001010
10001010
13 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seven teeth.

Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
13 days ago

The “Shock the Monkey” reference is much appreciated, once more!

Thanks for taking a Sledgehammer to the Mustangs we ended up with and sharing your altered designs with us.

Against All Odds, even with my love for the Fox body Mustang, I still really like this design.

I’m not very good at this, but I’m only Human.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
13 days ago
Reply to  Saul Goodman

Against All Odds, even with my love for the Fox body Mustang, I still really like this design.

It’s not hip to be square.

Last edited 13 days ago by Jack Trade
Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
13 days ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Even if so, we are still Stuck With (it.)

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
13 days ago

I am seeing the 10th gen Thunderbird in that front 3/4 view. And the convertible looks like the Cougar!!

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
13 days ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

If only the Cougar looked that good with a rear quarter window that wasn’t a flipped over Thunderbird window.

Aaron Nichols
Aaron Nichols
13 days ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

I was thinking the exact same thing.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
13 days ago

I like the overall look – but why would the transmission gear selector be on the passenger side of the console with ancillaries on the driver side?

And I’m not sure how the roof would work on a convertible with those slab sides – I feel there needs to be some ledge running around the side for the windows to allow the mechanism and roof to work and meet up with the windows.

The unfortunate consequence of the 2 door slab side is the DLO suddenly looks like a GM-10 Lumina or Regal.

That said – nobody has ever rolled up their sleeves on any Bomber Jacket.
We did push up our sleeves on our Member’s Only jackets, sweaters and pink linen sportsjackets tho.

Last edited 13 days ago by Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
13 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Yeah – it’s a great position for a RHD world – not so much for LHD
I’m sure theres a bit of story there….

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
13 days ago

The red character line across the body is a great this-timeline touch. I always liked those as an ’80s-appropriate splash of color on the Foxes.

I wonder if the success of this design would make the ’90s retro-cue look come sooner (as an attempt to grab attention/be different) or later (as presumably even Bishop-timeline Ford would eventually let an antiquated but reasonably selling Mustang design solider on for a loonnng time)? If later, would that bring us right to the S197?

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
13 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Or like the F-150 perhaps. Nothing about it is usually specifically nostalgic.

Does beg the question though if Ferrari might sell more if it went retro.

Toecutter
Toecutter
13 days ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

I think it would if Ferraris became light, narrow, low, and nimble again. The small sports cars thy made in the 1950s and 1960s were their best, IMO.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
13 days ago

I’ve had my prostrate probed enough, thank you.

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
13 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Could have been worse – could have been the Mercury Speculum

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
13 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Hoping to avoid that and I meant prostate, not prostrate as in my comment. Damn auto correct.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
13 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Grey aliens came visiting again? They are some major weirdos

AssMatt
AssMatt
13 days ago

Wow, I wasn’t expecting to have Mr Mister stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Plus now I have to watch Back to the Future II when I get home.
Thanks, Bish!

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
13 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

It was my understanding that in the 80’s anything was possible.

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