Ford Product Development Center
16 June 2002
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FORD PROBE I CONCEPT
Red with black lower body and red cloth interior
Don Kopka was made Ford's vice president in charge of design in late 1980 upon the retirement of Gene Bordinat. Some years before he had realized that the upright and flat fronted design of Ford products of the Seventies was doing nothing to contribute to the ongoing and expensive battle to meet Federally-mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) requirements instituted in the wake of the '73 energy crisis and oil embargo. Kopka championed design changes that by his estimate added 1.5 miles per gallon to Ford's CAFÉ in the early Eighties, changes that cost under $20 million to implement but were the equivalent of nearly $3 billion in powertrain re-engineering.
Kopka adopted a progressive and long term approach to changing the outlook within Ford to be receptive to aerodynamically efficient design and began, with this concept in 1979, the Probe series of aerodynamically designed concepts and studies. His goal was nothing less than to change Ford's thinking about design.
Probe I was created at the Ford Dearborn Design Center where Kopka was the executive director of the Advanced and International Design Studio. Its sleek and pointy aerodynamic shape, flat wheel covers, pop-up headlights and skirted rear wheels achieved a drag coefficient in the wind tunnel of 0.25, some 37 less than the 0.40 then typical for a 2-door 4-passenger coupe. It was introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1979. Probe I was extensively displayed at shows and events following its introduction and received widespread media attention, helping to spread the impression that Ford was on to something.
Built on a Mustang chassis of the period, or perhaps a Pinto, there wasn't much difference, the Probe I package envisioned a collection of the advanced technological functions with which show concepts seem to be endowed. Little of it works, but it would be easy to cut a slot in the console and then say it "can be started by a universal credit card which also can be used to buy gas and pay tolls." Probe I once had the 2.3 liter Mustang/Pinto 4-cylinder engine and automatic transmission but they have long since been removed. Ford claimed the Probe could achieve a fuel economy of 39 miles per gallon.
Finished in red with black lower body sides that accentuate the deep rear wheel skirts, Probe I has a body constructed of metal with a fixed tinted glass roof panel. The windows also are tinted glass. The wheels have machined disc-type wheel covers to reduce turbulence. The interior is upholstered in red cloth with tan leather trim. Its gauges appear to be functional.
Probe I's age is showing, and not well. The exterior is in no better than fair condition, with a material number of scratches, edge chips and a small dent in the driver's door. The interior appears to be in decent shape.
Ford's real payoff on Probe I would come years after its introduction as the aerodynamic outlook had spread throughout Ford design. Probe I is a seminal step in automotive design, in need of a good and caring home where its history and significance can be preserved for the edification of future generations of enthusiasts.
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