Ford EXP

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Ford EXP
Manufacturer Ford
Also called Mercury LN7
Production 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
Related Ford Escort
Mercury Lynx
Ford Tempo
Mercury Topaz
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 a wheelbase 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.

From 1982 to 1983, the EXP was sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealers as the Mercury LN7. The LN7 was distinguish largely by its "bubbleback" hatch glass, but the vehicle 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 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]

For a long time, some were adamant that the letters stood for "EXPerimental"; others said that Ford marketing executives just thought it was an interesting combination of letters that did not have a meaning. However, according to an article published in Popular Mechanics (March 1981), the letters EXP were supposed to stand for Erika Project Personal car, where project cars are designated X. The "Erika" came from the code-name from the European Escort.

First generation (1982–1985)[edit]

First generation
Mercury LN7 Sport Coupe.jpg
Mercury LN7
Also called Mercury LN7
Production 1982–1985
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 rakish non-boxy body rode on the Escort's 94.2inch (2393 mm) wheelbase, with that car's front-wheel drive running gear, four-wheel independent suspension, and dashboard. The EXP was longer, lower, and sportier than the Escort.

Performance wasn't the car's strong suit however, since the EXP weighed about 200 pounds more than 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. 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, electric back window defroster, power hatchback release, a digital clock, and a cargo area security shade. 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.

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.

Finally, in March 1982, an 80 hp (59 kW) version of the CVH engine became available. 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.

The LN7 did not last long. A sporty two-seater seemed out of place in Lincoln-Mercury showrooms, and it was dropped in 1983 after only a total of 40,000 were sold.

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.

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 (1985½–1988½)[edit]

Second generation
Also called Ford Escort EXP
Production 1985.5–1988.5
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).


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. An additional and 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' GM80 plan, which was to offer a front-wheel drive Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird by 1990.

When Mustang loyalists got wind 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 gas 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 and 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.


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