Ford EXP

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Ford EXP
Manufacturer Ford
Also called Mercury LN7
Production 1981–1988
Model years 1982–1988
Assembly Wayne, Michigan (Wayne Stamping & Assembly)
Milpitas, California (San Jose Assembly)[1]
St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada (St. Thomas Assembly)
Body and chassis
Class Sport compact
Body style 3-door hatchback
Layout FF layout
Platform Ford CE14 platform

Ford Escort
Mercury Lynx
Ford Tempo
Mercury Topaz

Mazda 929 Cosmo
Successor Ford Probe

The Ford EXP is a sports compact coupe that was produced and sold by Ford Motor Company in North America from the 1982 to 1988 model years. The first two-seat Ford since the 1957 Thunderbird, the EXP made its debut at the 1981 Chicago Auto Show. Sharing the dashboard, wheelbase, suspension, and powertrain with the Ford Escort, the EXP was longer, lower, and more aerodynamic than its five-seat counterpart.

In line with the first-generation Escort, the EXP was produced in a version from 1982 to 1985, undergoing a facelift during the 1985 model year. The model was dropped after the 1988 model year. Although not intended to replace the EXP (as it was originally designed to become the 1989 Ford Mustang), the 1989 Ford Probe would become the next front-wheel drive sports coupe sold by Ford. After the EXP, the next two-seat Ford marketed in North America would be the 2002 Ford Thunderbird. Then in 1998 the Escort of the time was marketed as a ZX2, a nod to the EXP and the XR2 from the 1980s. Although EXPs were sports cars, it was common to remove the rear carpeting to put in rear seats as the floor pans are identical between the 3-door Escorts, Escort GTs, and EXPs, however the lower roof line makes rear seating uncomfortable.

From 1982 to 1983, the EXP was sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealers as the Mercury LN7. The LN7 was distinguished largely by its "bubbleback" hatch, large bumper strips across the doors, "black-out" tail lights, and more slits in the nose clip than those of an EXP. The vehicle, however, was dropped after failing to meet sales expectations.


By 1980, Ford Motor Company had entered a period of major transition. Following the termination of Lee Iaccoca (to become CEO of Chrysler), chairman Henry Ford II retired and Ford's chief stylist, Eugene Bordinat, stepped down as well.

During the late 1970s, there had been a push by automobile manufacturers around the world to make small, fuel efficient cars; this was initiated by the OPEC oil embargo of October 17, 1973–1974. This embargo included a 70% increase in oil prices, causing long lines at gasoline filling stations, and skyrocketing prices for gasoline. People wanted, demanded more miles for their gasoline dollars. By the end of the decade, this led auto manufacturers from the United States, Japan, and West Germany to rethink the adage that "bigger is better".

The world would respond with smaller cars. A second energy crisis and a renewed recession followed in 1979-1982. Ford studied a two-seater commuter car called the Super Gnat. It was to have a three-cylinder engine with a wheelbase of just 78 inches. In addition, Ford built the Mustang RSX concept car, exploring a slightly smaller two-seat derivative of the Mustang.

Although Lee Iacocca was fired from the company, the most important part of his career at Ford was the Ford Mustang. In 1964, the Mustang was developed by adapting the underpinnings and powertrain of the mainstream Ford Falcon economy car and repackaging it as the sporty Mustang. During the 1970s, the same product engineering was used in the development of the Ford Granada, Ford Thunderbird/Mercury Cougar, and the entire Lincoln product line.

To replace the aging Ford Pinto, the company began development on the Ford Escort in the late 1970s. While originally intended to be a "world car", the North American version shared little aside from its engine and its name in the final design.

The basis for developing the Escort into the EXP stemmed from company marketing research. Ford felt that the growing number of one and two person households, combined with the lifestyle of the younger target audience who desired a small sporty car, led them to the conclusion that Americans wanted a "lively little car that is dependable, efficient, and good-looking".[2] Conversely, if a potential customer wanted the extra room for four or five passengers, they would buy an Escort, Mustang, or Fairmont. Much like a European gran turismo, the EXP would be a personal vehicle for two people with a cargo area in back for emergency transport of anything or anyone else.

As the Falcon became the Mustang and the Maverick became the Granada, Ford restyled the Escort from the beltline up and turned the rear seats into cargo space. The distinguishing feature between the vehicles would be an all-new rear hatchback and front headlights. Mercury received a similar variant of the Lynx named the LN7.

Comparing the EXP to the original Thunderbird, Ford Division, general manager Louis E. Latalf said, "we're introducing another two-seater with the same flair, but the EXP will be a very affordable, very fuel efficient car matched to the lifestyles of the eighties."[3]

Name origin[edit]

According to an article published in Popular Mechanics (March 1981), the letters EXP were supposed to stand for Erika Project Personal, where project cars are designated X. The "Erika" came from the code-name from the European Escort.

1980-1981 EXP sales model[edit]

The EXP was coming but Ford hadn't marketed it yet or decided what some of its details and options would be. A few EXPs were built just for conceptual design and advertisement. These extremely rare EXPs shared the body style of the EXPs and LN7s to come in 1982 but featured many things that would be available in every EXP or LN7. They were all painted in vibrant colors with black painted across the entire car under the door bumper-lines and had a round silver badge where Ford's blue oval would find itself in 1982. These models particularly stood out as they had dual vents towards the front of the hood instead of the vents to be later seen on the front bumper clips, lacked bumper strips on the doors, and the rear taillights were completely red where all the EXPs produced had black around the reverse lights. An SS package and "bubblebacks" -like that of the LN7 and 2nd gen. EXPs- were optional along with black paint around the door windows later seen on 2nd gen. EXPs, aluminum oval-spoke wheels and "1.6L" badges on the front quarter panels. At least 10 were made in Canada and were all featured in a rare catalog featuring only those cars and people with them. No sightings have been recorded since.

First generation (1982–1985)[edit]

First generation
Mercury LN7 Sport Coupe.jpg
Mercury LN7
Also called Mercury LN7
Model years 1982–1985 (EXP)
1982–1983 (LN7)
Engine 1.6 L CVH I4
Transmission 4-speed IB4 manual
5-speed MTX-III manual
3-speed FLC automatic
Wheelbase 94.2 in (2,393 mm)
Length 170.3 in (4,326 mm)
Width 65.9 in (1,674 mm)
Height 50.5 in (1,283 mm)
Curb weight 2,047 lb (929 kg)

The EXP's uni-body rode on the Escort's 94.2inch (2393 mm) wheelbase, with front-wheel drive, and four-wheel independent suspension from 1970s European Fords. At 50 inches tall and 14 feet long, the EXP was longer, lower, and sportier than the North American Escort. The EXP's wheelbase is also shared by the "foxbody" Mustang of the same era differing by less than an inch in length.

Performance wasn't the car's strong suit, however, since the EXP weighed about 200 pounds more than a typical 1980s Escort but carried the same small 1.6 L CVH I4 engine rated at 70 hp (52 kW) and a standard 4-speed IB4 manual transaxle. The engine was specifically developed for the North American market of fuel efficiency while the European models of these engines spun faster and made more power. Originally there were to be 2 available engine options; 1.3L CVH and 1.6L CVH, however the choice was made to only use the larger 1.6L CVH. Europe ended up with all the CVH variants while North America only saw the 1.6L and later 1.9L CVH engines. Also the suspension is that of European Fords from the 1970s, sharing nearly every part with modifications for FWD applications of North American Escorts. Nevertheless, the March 1981 issue of Car and Driver reported that their EXP with a manual transmission reached 44 MPG on the highway, a figure comparable to modern hybrid cars.

Both the Ford EXP and the Mercury LN7 had a sharply sloped windshield, wheel arches with prominent lips, and wide body side moldings not far below the top of the wheel well. The biggest difference was the rear fascia. The EXP was a notchback with a lift-up hatch, while the LN7 used a big "bubbleback" back window. The EXP's minimalist grille consisted merely of twin horizontal slats on the sloped front panel (the LN7 had ten). The "bubbleback" appearance was used on the larger Mustang-derived sports coupe for Mercury called the Capri.

Priced considerably higher than the Escort, the EXP carried an ample list of standard equipment. It included power brakes, full instrumentation, full carpeting, map lighting (non-sunroof), electric back window defroster, power hatchback release, a digital clock, a cargo area security shade, and rims that are noticeably wider than those of Escorts. Models with a manual transmission had a sport-tuned exhaust. Automatic models had a wide-open throttle cutout switch for the optional air conditioning compressor clutch. Other options include floor vents and power steering or air conditioning and manual steering , AM/FM radio, cruise control, roof luggage rack, rear window wiper, various seat styles and fabrics, removable sunroof, right hand mirror, TRX tires and shocks, child seat, and a very wide variety of colors inside and out with many various pinstripes and other painted decals.

As the full 1982 model year began, Ford offered an optional (at no extra cost) 4.05:1 final drive for better performance. Later came a close-ratio transmission with 3.59:1 final drive ratio intended for the same purpose. Ford also offered a 9" rear brake drum set over the 8" rear brake drums of other EXPs and Escorts. As the years went on many different rim options became available but the color choices became more limited.

Finally, in March 1982, an 80 hp (59 kW) version of the CVH engine became available (High Output option H.O.). It had higher (9.0:1) compression, a dual-inlet air cleaner, lower-restriction exhaust, a bifurcated 4 into 2 into 1 exhaust manifold, larger carburetor venturis, and a higher-lift camshaft.

EXP / LN7 Convertibles[edit]

Ford was experimenting with the EXP's potential with the newly released EXPs and LN7s of 1982. A select few of each were sent to manufacturers to convert the standard EXPs and LN7s to convertible models. These models are very rare as Ford didn't sell any more than the estimated 28 LN7s and recorded 8 EXPs that they had had made. Very few of these convertible models are reported to be around today.

EXP EV[edit]

Further experimentations from Ford with their EXPs resulted in producing 4 all-electric EXPs. These selected 1982 EXPs are powered by 39HP GE (General Electric) electric motors and Soleq parts all built together by EVA out of Cleveland, OH. Electric Vehicle Associates (EVA) used their technology from the Escorts they made ("EVcorts"). Production of both vehicles were limited as the costs to convert these 2 cars was far beyond the cars' original values. Its original range is estimated between 20 and 60 miles with a top speed of 70MPH. This idea didn't meet expectations either as these EXPs were lacking both sport and practicality. It's unsure if EVA went on to convert EXPs and Escorts at their own expense.

Many other EXPs would be subject to electric propulsion, but not on Ford's dime. It was a popular competition in colleges, tech schools, and universities to convert smaller cars like EXPs to electric power and then compete against other schools with them. Involved in these competitions were the cars' general performance, endurance, and efficiency.

EXP ASC/McLaren[edit]

In 1982 ASC and McLaren equipped two EXPs with sunroofs, true notchbacks, ground effects, and charged aspiration. ASC (American Sunroof Corporation) did the cosmetic modifications and McLaren made the performance modifications. One has the following modifications: supercharger, turbocharger, tighter steering, 1 inch shorter ride height, Recaro racing seats, TRX suspension, Koni shocks, twin fuel pumps, fuel injection, machined uprights (for wheel clearance), enhanced power steering, and portion-valved brakes. This EXP ASC McLaren makes 120HP and 137 ft/lb of torque. Ford added their own removable sunroofs, ground effects, "bubblebacks", and spoilers to save money and later turbocharged EXPs themselves to make the same amount of power. The other EXP has yet to be spotted.

SCCA EXP/LN7[edit]

Ford provided 3 Exp/LN7 cars for SCCA competition racing in 1982. One car was made with PBS. What was previously an LN7 was transformed into a competition race car through fiberglass body parts, racing suspension, and a PBS 2.0L (Ford 1.6L) CVH mated with a 5-speed transmission. A second car was made into a competition rally car and the third car was another circuit car like the PBS LN7 but little is known about these two racers.

Mercury LN7[edit]

The Mercury division of Ford Motor Company marketed the EXP as the Mercury LN7, much as the Mercury Lynx was derived from the Ford Escort. While sharing a common powertrain with the EXP, the LN7 differed slightly in its styling. As with the Mercury Capri, the LN7 was styled with a convex-curved "bubbleback" rear window. In addition, the grille had slightly different styling, with the grille of the LN7 having 10 slats compared to the 2 of the EXP.

The LN7 sold far under sales projections and was discontinued after the 1983 model year after approximately 40,000 were sold; compared to the rest of the Lincoln-Mercury model line, a two-seat compact sports coupe was relatively out of place.

LN7 Scoundrel 500[edit]

As part of a Weinstock's promotion a select batch of Mercury LN7s were built with all black interior, purple exterior, and gold pinstripes along the body and within the black bump strips. These LN7s had every available factory option and could only be won by sweepstakes entries, Ford family members and employees could not enter the sweepstakes or own any of the LN7 Scoundrels. Along with being awarded an LN7, winners were granted a $1000 gift certificate for/from Weinstocks. Interestingly, if a winner had already ordered an LN7 they could be refunded in full and their ordered LN7 became the Scoundrel Edition car if they chose. It's assumed that only 500 of these LN7s were ever made.

EXP Turbo Coupe[edit]

By 1984, Ford was trying hard to conquer the youth market, especially the affluent young motorist with offerings such as the Mustang SVO, Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, and the new EXP Turbo Coupe also built by Ford's Special Vehicle Operations (SVO). It shared most of the parts the McLaren ASC EXP came with; turbo, Koni shocks, stiffer springs, lower ride height, improved brakes, and TRS Michelin tires.

In the car's initial development there was a plan for adding fuel injection and a turbo charger to increase power significantly, but there wasn't enough time to get it into the first 2 production years. The turbocharged 1.6 L CVH engine, available for the Escort and EXP, featured a high-lift camshaft and EEC-IV electronic controls. It delivered boost up to 8 psi, raising power to 120 hp (89 kW), a gain of some 35 percent over the naturally aspirated models.

The Turbo Coupe had a unique front air dam and rear decklid spoiler, with a taped "Turbo" badge on the rear bumper. It also had two-tone paint with a black lower section, a unique C-pillar appliqué featuring the EXP lettering, black wheel flares, and black rocker panel moldings.

Second generation (1985–1988)[edit]

Second generation
Also called Ford Escort EXP
Model years 1985.5–1988
Engine 1.9 L CVH I4
Transmission 4-speed IB4 manual
5-speed MTX-III manual
3-speed FLC automatic
Wheelbase 94.2 in (2,393 mm)
Length 170.3 in (4,326 mm)
Width 65.9 in (1,674 mm)
Height 50.5 in (1,283 mm)
Curb weight 2,388 lb (1,083 kg)

By the mid-1980s, two-seat sports coupes were in vogue. Cars such as the Pontiac Fiero and Toyota MR2 (both mid-engined, rear-wheel drive sports cars) were so popular that even Cadillac was considering producing one that evolved into the Cadillac Allante. Yet despite their popularity, Ford EXP sales were sluggish. Its styling was stale[citation needed], and for a sports car, its performance was generally regarded as less than adequate. Build quality and refinement were also inferior to Japanese competitors such as the MR2 and Honda CRX. Based on these factors, Ford decided to discontinue the EXP during the 1985 model year. However, a group of employees at the plant that produced the EXP took one off the line and fitted it with parts from the recently refreshed Escort to create what they thought would be a more appealing and competitive model. The "prototype" was presented to Ford CEO Donald Petersen, who liked it and approved it for production.

The result was the 1985½ Escort EXP, and after a brief absence from the lineup after the end of the 1985 model year, the EXP returned with a new look and a re-badged nameplate. During its first three months it posted steadily increasing sales, but even with the upgrades it remained a slow seller.

The 1985.5 Escort EXP had a 2 barrel carb, the 1985 Escort steering wheel, and a sleek new front-end design, including an air dam and flush-mounted headlamps. The new EXP also acquired the LN7's bubble hatch. Otherwise, the new four-window coupe design looked similar to the original EXP at the rear, but markedly different up front.

Gone were the distinctive "frog-eye" headlights, replaced by flush-mounted headlamps with wraparound marker lenses (which were also introduced in the other Escort models) and parking lamps mounted below in the bumper region alongside a wide center slot. Ford's blue script oval stood prominently above a single-slot grille. Large 'EXP' recessed lettering was easy to spot on the wide C-pillar. Wraparound full-width taillamps (split by the license plate's recessed housing) were divided into upper/lower segments and tapered downward to a point on each quarter panel.

1985.5–1986 Luxury Coupe[edit]

The Luxury Coupe had a Holley 2 Barrel Carb version of the 1.9 L engine rated at 90 hp (67 kW), along with a tachometer and trip odometer, reclining low-back bucket seats trimmed in cloth/vinyl (or all vinyl), AM/FM stereo radio, overhead console, and left remote mirror.

1987–1988 Luxury Coupe[edit]

The Luxury Coupe had a throttle-body injected (which Ford termed CFI, for Central Fuel Injection) version of the 1.9 L engine rated at 90 hp (67 kW), along with a tachometer and trip odometer, reclining low-back bucket seats trimmed in cloth/vinyl (or all vinyl), AM/FM stereo radio, overhead console, and left remote mirror.

1986–1988 Sport Coupe[edit]

A multiport fuel-injected high-output (named the EFI HO) version of the 1.9 L CVH engine rated at 106 hp (79 kW) went into the Sport Coupe, which also had special handling components, performance bucket seats, center console with graphic systems monitor (consisting of an overhead schematic diagram of the car with embedded lights to indicate functionality of items such as headlights and taillights, and fuel level), fog lamps, dual electric mirrors, and low-profile 15 inch handling tires on cast aluminum wheels. The 1987 model year saw the Sport Coupe's power rating increased to 115 hp (85 kW).

GN-34 consideration[edit]

Near the EXP's end Ford was looking for their next performance vehicle(s). A new engine was to be released in 1989, Ford and Yamaha's 3L SHO V6. One of the chosen cars for the engine was the EXP. At least one EXP was made with modifications to fit such a large engine. A 1st gen. EXP was chosen for this modification, it had wider quarter panels in the front and back to fit the RWD mid-engine SHO. It is unknown how many were made, but it is assumed that the cost to convert EXPs to such a machine would out-weigh the price to sell those EXPs to the public and the conversion company couldn't meet demands. Ford instead put their new SHO engine into the Taurus in the year 1989. One EXP with the widened body modifications was at one time a pace car and currently resides in the Roush Performance museum, although its designated engine and drivetrain is unknown.


From the beginning, sales of the EXP were never as strong as the marketing executives had hoped they would be. This can be partially attributed to the fact that it never delivered the performance that a car in the two-seat market segment required. By the late '80s, insurance rates on two-seater cars were also rising.

Additionally, a totally unrelated situation faced by Ford may have also hastened the demise of the EXP. In 1982, with the economy still in a recession, Ford began work on what was to be the new fourth generation Mustang. The goal was to replace the rear-wheel drive muscle car design with a sleek, fuel-efficient, front-wheel drive "design of tomorrow". It was also an attempt to counter General Motors' GM-80 plan, which was to offer a front-wheel drive Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird by 1990.

When Mustang loyalists learned that Ford was planning to drop their beloved pony car in favor of a Japanese-derived front-wheel drive car, criticism quickly mounted against it. The current Mustang's sales began to rise and the future of the rear-wheel drive Mustang was no longer questioned. With easing gasoline prices and under the strain of a massive letter writing campaign from Mustang enthusiasts, Ford reconsidered the decision.[4] By this time, Ford had invested a significant amount of time and money in the new design. They were unwilling to simply cut their losses and scrap it.

With the upcoming dealer debut already planned for August 1987, Ford turned to its inventory of already owned names. They picked one they had been using on a series of radically designed, aerodynamically advanced concept cars, from which the car's design was originally premiered. The new car was renamed the Ford Probe. This left Ford with a difficult problem, as they did not have the resources to produce three sport coupes. The logical choice was to drop the one that had the poorest sales figures. By October 1988, and after more than 225,000 EXPs and LN7s had been produced, the last EXP rolled off of the assembly line.

Not many of the EXPs remain today, 1 resides in Brazil, 1 in Argentina, and another resides in Germany. All that remain are in North America, owners and enthusiasts can be found on the EXP LN7 Owners Group page on Facebook. The group is home to many "EXPerts". 2 at 221 recycling centre.


  1. ^ "PLANT INFORMATION: Wayne Stamping and Assembly Plant". Ford Motor Company. Archived from the original on July 22, 2009. Retrieved September 13, 2016. 
  2. ^ "Fords Other Two Seaters". Archived from the original on March 19, 2006. Retrieved September 13, 2016. 
  3. ^ "'82 Ford EXP". Archived from the original on July 13, 2012. Retrieved September 13, 2016. 
  4. ^ "Ford Mustang Survives Probe". HowStuffWorks. Retrieved 2009-05-10. 

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