Concepts and prototypes : Ford Probe III
Back in 1981, when the development of the Ford Sierra (project Toni), was reaching its latter stages of its development, management felt the need soften the buying public. The styling, penned by Patrick Le Quement, was as avant garde as its predecessor, the Cortina’s, was conservative. So, the design team produced a more extreme version designed to continue the Ford Probe line of concepts that started in 1979, and rolled it out at the Frankfurt motor show in September 1981 – a year before the production Sierra was due for launch.
Ford’s European concept car output had certainly gained some flair during the 1970s. The company had taken control of the Italian carrozzerie Ghia, and from that point on, it proved a successful kick-start to the company’s styling output. Ghia’s creations for Ford (such as the Coins, Megastar and Action) were nothing if not bold – and this smart new design language filtered into the company’s production output.
The Probe III was greeted with a warm welcome from the press – but Cortina buyers who knew this was a taster of their car’s replacement were less than keen. In fact, many were openly hostile. Alexei Sayle sneered, ‘…it’s just a poxy hatchback,’ in the BBC’s Arena programme celebrating the life and times of the Cortina. His was the voice of many.
The Probe itself, despite the controversy, was a beautifully detailed concept. It featured overtly aerodynamic features including Citroenesque enclosed rear wheels, smooth underbody detailing, flush glazing, and integrated door mirrors (which would appear on the production 1988 Probe coupe no less). The car’s cd was 0.25, which was actually a world away from the production Sierra’s 0.34 – but it was a figure that in 1981 was close to miraculous for a five-door hatchback that could conceivably be used in the real world.
And even today, its influence can be seen.