From time to time newspapers, other printed publications and their readers have have been stirred to action and engaging in letter-writing campaigns.
My favorite letter-writing campaign was not about politics, saving a TV show or some grand social cause. It was about a car, the great Ford Probe controversy.
In the late 1980s, Ford Motor Co. was looking to develop an economy car to compete with the flood of imported compacts entering the American market. Ford also realized its current Mustang was in need of a refresh. So, Ford top executives, of the bean-counter mindset, decided to put these problems together and team up with Mazda to redesign the Mustang as a “modern” four-cylinder, front-engine, front wheel drive compact.
Well, one day a Ford executive, of the gearhead variety, was making the rounds when he visited the “new Mustang” team. One glance at the clay model and it was clear from the car’s proportions that this was no V-8 powered, front-engine, rear wheel drive muscle car. This was not a Mustang. He was furious.
Shortly after, the “new Mustang” was “somehow” leaked to the automotive press. They too were furious that their cherished all-American muscle car was about to become a foreign-designed economy car.
(At about this same time, an underground effort within Ford assembled a covert design team to develop, without approval, a Mustang that was truer to its iconic, trendsetting heritage.)
AutoWeek Magazine was the first to break the story and its readers launched a letter-writing campaign demanding that Ford preserve the Mustang in all its tire-burning, torque-thumping glory. Other automotive magazines’ readers followed suit.
By several accounts, Ford received hundreds of thousands of letters.
In the face of all this public outcry, Ford couldn’t afford to launch its new car as the next Mustang.
It renamed the car Probe and finally approved a new Mustang that was true to its roots.
The Ford executives then learned that such a Mustang was already under development.
While the Probe was a good car and had strong sales its first year, 1989, sales quickly dropped off and were easily surpassed by the new Mustang, released in 1993.
Market researchers had claimed that the American public wanted fuel-conscious four-bangers, but a tidal wave of impassioned letters and steady sales numbers proved that car buyers were still willing to invest their emotions and their money into passionately designed American muscle.
By 1997 the Probe was dead. A parade of other models following the economy car formula would rise and fall in its wake.
The Mustang still lives. In fact, it has outlived all other cars from Ford, which is transitioning to a lineup dominated by crossovers, SUVs and trucks. A market-based decision.