I’M NOT sure if Gareth Cheeseman – the egocentric salesman character created by Steve Coogan years ago – reads The Champion,but he’ll be delighted by this week’s revelation if he does. The Ford Probe is a classic car.
Yes, the Ford Probe. Remember it? It was the Nineties’ belated follow-up to the Capri, but for all sorts of reasons it never really caught on in the same way that the automotive star of The Professionals did. After just three years and a little over 15,000 sales it was quietly dropped in the UK, making way for the Mondeo-based Cougar that arrived just a few months later. That was way back in 1997, but 22 years on the Probe seems to get an excitable flurry of likes and retweets every time it pops up online.
In many ways it was entirely the wrong car to follow up the Capri – it was front-wheel-drive, so any cheeky opportunities of getting the tail out on wet roundabouts were dashed from the off, and its TV appearances with the aforementioned Cheeseman on the excellent Coogan’s Run killed its street cred in an instant. It also arrived just as two-door coupés were all the rage, so it had a lot of competition; not just from obvious rivals like Vauxhall’s Calibra, but real eye-grabbers like the Alfa GTV and Fiat Coupé too.
But look at one now, when there are fewer than 500 left on the UK’s roads – making it a far rarer beast than the Capri – and with Nineties nostalgia all the rage, and there’s something really compelling about it. For starters, if you get the 24-valve version you have a silky, 2.5-litre V6 beneath the bonnet, delivering mid-range torque in a way that the turbocharged three-cylinder engines of today just can’t match. For me, the thing I love about the Probe is the way it looks, with those full-width rear lights and concept car profile. And pop-up headlights, of course. Any car with pop-up headlights is, I’ve always thought, automatically cool simply on account of having them. Why can’t we bring them back?
The Probe might have had a silly name, an unfortunate on-screen fan and the misfortune of following a motoring cult hero, but I reckon its time has finally come. I’m just glad that Instagram – rather than Gareth Cheeseman – seems to agree.