In the wake of nearly three months since the acquisition of my first hobby vehicle (or a weekend car, a project car, a restoration undertaking... whatever you like to call it), the fortunes of the 1994 Ford Probe appear markedly improved. Approaching its 30th anniversary (first registered May 8, 1994), this vehicular relic now boasts an idling rhythm close to perfection, a significantly smoother acceleration profile, and a near-complete restoration of its operational features. Nevertheless, a considerable distance remains to traverse before the car attains the condition to which I aspire. Let me tell you more about the recent developments. 

Fixing the idling issue

Upon my initial acquisition of the vehicle, it bore the peculiar distinction of a hybrid, though not in the contemporary sense involving the symbiosis of an internal combustion engine with an electric motor. Rather, its combustion engine had undergone modification to accommodate the consumption of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a prevalent practice in Bulgaria, where the conversion of petrol-powered vehicles to LPG propulsion holds sway. When executed adeptly, such an adaptation yields long-term fiscal benefits and incurs only a marginal decrease in engine power. Alas, such was not the fate befalling my Probe.

1994 Ford Probe

The 2.5-litre V6 powerplant, equipped with a multi-port injection system, proved suboptimal for integration with the antiquated LPG systems reliant upon a single fuel dispenser. Think of this system as an additional throttle body, tethered to the LPG infrastructure, bypassing the original petrol injectors whilst operating on this alternative fuel source. Such was the state of affairs with my car, compounded by a lazy installation marred by substandard sealants within the air intake and throttle body. The result? A vehicle showing uneven operation running on petrol, barely idling, and an almost complete inability to operate on LPG.

1994 Ford Probe

No drilled air intakes and pipes; new spark plugs and cables

Within a few minutes after purchasing the car, I took the decision to take off the LPG system, which aligned with my objective of reinstating the car to its factory condition as much as possible. One of my first goals after parking the car in my garage was the comprehensive removal of the LPG infrastructure, coupled with the substitution of all engine components subjected to perforation or modification with their unaltered counterparts. In a fun logistical issue, I couldn't source a new air intake from my country but thankfully, I found someone in the UK who was happy to ship the missing parts. A few days later, the car was idling fine, I'd say at 95 per cent of its factory tune. Fresh spark plugs and cables together with a new fuel filter helped a lot, too.

An outstanding task remains in the replacement of another air intake, yet to be dispatched from the United States. Moreover, I have procured a new distributor, throttle body and intake manifold gaskets, and several vacuum valves and hoses, with hopes of attaining the remaining 5 per cent of idling smoothness.

The rust situation is getting worse

Conversely, little progress has been made towards addressing the issue of corrosion thus far. Dismantling the LPG system, which includes an LPG reservoir housed within the boot, revealed a burgeoning proliferation of rust. The section surrounding the spare tyre didn't look good but the worst part is the support that holds the rear shock absorbers (see the photos below). Fortunately, I found someone who offered their services towards executing comprehensive rust remediation, albeit not until this autumn.

1994 Ford Probe
1994 Ford Probe

The process will include the complete disassembling of the suspension, the rectification of all rust-afflicted points, the fabrication and welding of fresh side skirts, and the scouring of the undercarriage via sandblasting, followed by the application of a protective coating. Identical measures are anticipated for the engine bay, where, thankfully, the signs of rust are confined to a minor extent. Preceding these initiatives, a disassembly of the interior is mandated, alongside the detachment of both bumpers and plastic side panels. The subsequent reassembly poses a formidable challenge in its own right.

Parts, parts, parts… and then more parts

Central to the restoration endeavour of an aged vehicle is the quest for requisite components. This pursuit divides into two categories: the acquisition of brand-new parts, and the procurement of salvaged components from scrapyards. Despite the Ford Probe teetering upon the brink of its 30th anniversary, sourcing new parts remains a relatively straightforward affair. Proven online retailers such as RockAuto and AutoDoc offer an extensive inventory comprising engine, suspension, electrical, and braking parts.

To date, I have expended in excess of £1,000 on new components, including brake calipers, discs and pads, engine belts, spark plugs and cables, alternator and starter assemblies, gaskets, various sensors, in addition to all engine and transmission mounts. The forthcoming summer season shall witness the acquisition of sundry suspension and steering parts, although their installation is contingent upon the resolution of the rust problem.

1994 Ford Probe

Thoroughly cleaned and sprayed with black matte paint, this trunk trim is ready to be fitted

Conversely, the acquisition of pre-owned components from fellow Probe owners presents a more labyrinthine challenge. Noteworthy triumphs in this regard encompass the finding of several interior plastic trim panels—either absent or damaged within my vehicle - a driver's door window control switch (obtained at a not inconsiderable expense of £50), the aforementioned air intakes, and front seats in a pristine state.

1995 Ford Probe 2.0 16V

Finding a parts car in a scrapyard is crucial for projects like mine

Meanwhile, I’m in constant communication with a few brokers from Bulgaria, the UK, and the US, and it seems that pretty much all the parts that I will need will be in my garage in a month's time or so. These include bonnet insulation, rear bumper badges (someone removed them completely on my car), one last air intake, and timing belt plastic cover (someone decided that they could fix a broken plastic cover with a beer can – that’s smart, I have to admit, but not my style exactly).

1994 Ford Probe

Two new seats - before washing (left) and after (right)

1994 Ford Probe

24v and Ford logos are yet to be found

Commencing with the inconsequential

The tasks undertaken on my vehicle over the span of almost three months probably appear premature, considering there’s a major rust problem that needs to be fixed first. However, my strategic approach changed. I'd like to keep the vehicle operational - albeit imperfectly - for the forthcoming summer season and enjoy some joyrides before embarking upon the comprehensive rust restoration. The presence of winter tyres, a full nine years in tenure, didn't help the ride quality and steering precision, hence my decision to install a fresh new set of budget-friendly summer tyres. Before this, the wheels underwent a thorough refurbishment, a task admittedly ranking low on the hierarchy of priorities, yet undertaken with the foresight of coupling the tyres with fully refinished wheels.

A perfunctory detailing of the vehicle's interior might have been deemed premature at this juncture, too. However, knowing about the hours I'm about to spend behind the wheel during the summer months, I decided to ensure a state of cleanliness and freshness that satisfies my criterion. A more exhaustive cleansing awaits once the process of interior reassembly commences. The engine bay will also be thoroughly detailed in the final stages of the restoration, while the exterior will be deeply polished and waxed. But we’ll talk about that (hopefully) later this year.

1994 Ford Probe

Looking factory fresh again

What’s the plan for the summer?

As mentioned above, my aspiration for the summer months is to indulge in the sheer pleasure of driving my Probe. Admittedly, it may not yet possess the flawless condition I envision in the future. However, with a finely tuned engine, fresh tyres mounted on resprayed wheels, and every functional feature restored to optimal working order, I anticipate relishing moments behind the wheel. In adherence to a self-imposed restriction of wasting no more than one tank of fuel per month (a VW ID.4 serves as the daily driver in my family), the Probe shall emerge from its sanctuary in the garage exclusively for weekend drives.

But driving the Probe isn’t the funniest part about owning it. Don’t get me wrong – with each little fix or enhancement undertaken, the smile on my face gets bigger as I assume the driver's seat. The inherent nimbleness of the Probe, compared against the ponderous bulk of my 2.1-tonne ID.4, evokes a sensation of liberation, whilst the sonorous timbre of its engine - restrained yet energetic - fosters an intimate connection with the vehicle.

1994 Ford Probe

Gotta teach 'em young!

Moreover, I truly relish every moment spent immersed in the art of vehicle maintenance. Although my education as a mechanical engineer gives me a solid theoretical foundation, my practical experience in the realm of automotive repair is scant, confined primarily to sporadic forays during summer vacations as a kid at my father's automotive service shop. Yet, in the realm of the Probe, I have no time limits and nothing to hurry for, affording me the luxury to meticulously research each task prior to its execution. A 350-page Haynes repair manual gives me the courage to undertake the lion's share of repairs unassisted. Absolutely the best part is seeing actual improvement in the car's state as a result of my work.

To date, the services of a professional mechanic have been used solely for the replacement of the exhaust system, whilst all other tasks have been rectified through the sheer force of my own endeavours. A return to my dad’s shop is planned for the coming weeks for a new timing belt and water pump – a task I’m not ready to do by myself yet.

In summation, the forthcoming season holds promise of unparalleled enjoyment, both behind the wheel and beneath the bonnet, as I continue to shepherd my beloved Probe along the path toward automotive perfection.