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, suspension, 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". 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."
Ford EXP and Mercury LN7 development took place in Ford's St Thomas plant in Ontario, the plant that produced the majority of EXPs and LN7s and all of the EXPs and LN7s for the 1982 and 1983 models. Here LN7s and EXPs were continually experimented on and further engineered as more technologies became available. But the plant only produced EXPs from February 16, 1981 to August 5, 1983 and LN7s from February 16, 1981 to June 30, 1983 ending the 1983 model year for both cars leaving the American plants to produce all the 1984 to 1988 EXPs.
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.
But it is more likely the abbreviations "EXP" and "LN7" are just different variations on the models they're derivative of: "Escort" and "Lynx".
1980–1981 EXP sales model
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 fenders. 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.
The first non-concept or prototype EXP (white with red interior) and LN7 (green with grey interior) both rolled off the line on February 16, 1981. The first EXP was driven off the line by Canadian Premier William Davis.
Ford expected to make/sell 200,000 EXPs and 70,000 LN7s in the first model year (1982) but their production numbers only met half that expectation. It is presumed they didn't meet the predicted sales figures either.
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 close to 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 CVHI4 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 two available engine options; 1.3-liter CVH and a 1.6-liter CVH, however the choice was made to only use the larger version. Europe ended up with all the CVH variants while North America only saw the 1.6 and later 1.9-liter 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" backlite. 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. These appearances made the coefficient of drag low for both the EXP (0.37) and LN7 (0.36) and also helped fuel efficiency.
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 an 8"(203 mm) rear brake drum set over the 7"(180 mm) 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 four-into-two-into-one exhaust manifold, larger carburetor venturis, and a higher-lift camshaft.
Then, in the last week of September 1982, in co-operation with Bosch, Ford Canada assembled the first electronic multi-port fuel-injected (EFI) 1.6 L for the EXP GT giving it the distinction of being the first model Ford offered with that option for the U.S. market. Although EFI with the EEC IV was an add on to the existing 80 hp H.O. CVH engine, it produced 88 hp (65.5 kW) and 94 lb/ft of torque in a 9.5:1 compression ratio, naturally aspirated configuration giving it an affinity for higher octane fuel.
EXP Turbo Coupe
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 TRX 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. With an 8:1 compression ratio and boost pressure up to 8 psi, torque was increased to 120 lb/ft and power raised to 120 hp (89.5 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.
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" backlite. 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.
By the mid-1980s, two-seat compact sports coupes were in vogue. By 1985, the EXP found competition in the Honda CR-X, Pontiac Fiero, and Toyota MR2. While the latter two were mid-engine, rear-wheel drive vehicles, all were similar to the EXP in deriving a number of powertrain and chassis components from other production vehicles. After four years of production, the first-generation EXP was discontinued during the 1985 model year. Originally marketed towards buyers that valued fuel efficiency over high performance, the Ford EXP had begun to struggle against newer vehicles. Build quality and refinement were also inferior to its Japanese competitors.
In 1985, a group of Ford assembly employees took an EXP off the line and upgraded it with parts from the updated 1985½ Ford Escort. The one-off "prototype" built by the factory workers was presented to Ford CEO Donald Petersen, who liked it and approved it for production, as a "1985½" model.
Officially renamed the Ford Escort EXP, the second-generation EXP abandoned the controversial front headlights and widely flared fenders in favor of a version of the bodywork from the standard Ford Escort, sharing its flush-mounted headlamps and amber turn signal lenses. The Escort EXP was given a model-specific front bumper with an integrated air dam; along with the Escort GT, the EXP was produced with its own grille, distinguished by a single slot below the Ford emblem. The rear bodywork remained largely the same; with the exception of the Mercury LN7 "bubble hatch" becoming standard; the grey rear taillamp lenses introduced in 1985 were retained. To match the lowered front bumpers, the rear bumpers were redesigned.
Along with the exterior, the interior of the EXP was redesigned to match the rest of the Ford Escort line.
Luxury Coupe (1985.5-1988)
The Ford Escort EXP Luxury Coupe was equipped with low-back cloth/vinyl (or all-vinyl) seats (from the standard Ford Escort), AM/FM stereo radio, overhead console, left remote mirror (standard), with a tachometer and trip odometer. From the 1985½ introduction to the end of 1986, the Luxury Coupe came with a 1.9L CVH inline-4 with a 2-barrel carburetor, making 90 hp. For 1987 and 1988, the 1.9L engine was equipped with throttle-body fuel injection, termed CFI (Central Fuel Injection) by Ford, while still making 90 hp.
Sport Coupe (1986-1988)
Introduced for 1986, the Ford Escort EXP Sport Coupe was produced through 1988. Externally distinguished by 15-inch alloy wheels, dual electric mirrors, and fog lamps, the Sport Coupe was fitted with components from the Ford Escort GT, including suspension and brake upgrades and sport bucket seats. Fitted with a center console, the Sport Coupe was equipped with a systems monitor (with LEDs as warning indicators for headlights, taillights, and fuel level). The Sport Coupe was fitted with a 106 hp version of the 1.9L CVH engine, equipped with multiport fuel injection. For 1987, the output was increased to 115 hp.
From its 1982 introduction, sales of the EXP were never as strong as Ford marketing executives had intended. After the introduction of competitive 2-seat vehicles (such as the Pontiac Fiero and Honda CRX), buyers shifted towards higher-performance vehicles. During the 1980s, insurance rates on 2-seat cars were rising over those of cars with back seats, creating a separate deterrent for buyers.
Within Ford, the development of the Ford Mustang played a separate part in the demise of the EXP. In 1982, Ford commenced work on the fourth-generation Mustang; beginning work on a "design of tomorrow", the goal was to shift the Mustang from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive, increasing fuel efficiency; in place of the Fox platform, the Mustang was to become a counterpart of the Mazda MX-6. At the time, General Motors was considering a similar redesign of the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird by 1990.
By the mid-1980s, as the public learned of the planned front-wheel drive Mustang, it spawned a negative reaction from buyers and dealers, leading Ford to reconsider the decision. However, as the front-wheel drive car was significantly far along in the development cycle, Ford chose to bring it to production, renaming it Ford Probe (after a series of aerodynamically advanced Ford concept cars). As Ford could not afford the market overlap of producing three compact sports coupes (alongside the Ford Festiva, Ford Escort, and Ford Tempo two-doors), the company chose to discontinue the Escort EXP, as it was the slowest-selling nameplate.
In October 1988, after over 225,000 Ford (Escort) EXPs were produced, the final Ford Escort EXP rolled off the assembly line.
Ford was experimenting with the EXP's potential with the newly released EXPs and LN7s of 1982. A select few of each were turned into convertible models. These models are very rare as Ford did not sell any more than the estimated 28 LN7s and recorded 8 EXPs that were produced, not to mention what kind of costs were involved in converting these cars. The 8 EXPs were converted by Dynamic Conversions in Hillsdale, Michigan. The 28 LN7s were converted by Andy Hotten's crew in Ford's St Thomas factory were most EXPs and LN7s were built. Very few of these convertible models are reported to be around today.
Further experimentation 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.
In 1982 American Sunroof Company (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: a 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.
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. 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.
LN7 Budweiser King
Another huge promotional sweepstakes event involved some rare LN7 replicas of the Budweiser Race Team's LN7 funny-car in 1982. Grand prize of the drawing was a normal LN7 (provided by Ford Motor Company) painted to perfectly match the real drag strip car, only one model is known to exist and its whereabouts are unknown. First prizes were tickets to two NHRA national events. Second prizes were four go-cart replicas of the Budweiser funny car, eight others were won at select NHRA events. It is unknown how many were made but they were all built by Ford Motor Company with 3hp motors powering them up to 15mph.
At least one first-generation EXP was modified as an early "test mule" for the 3.0 L SHO V6 engine co-developed between Ford and Yamaha and was part of Ford's GN34 program to develop a mid-engine sports car. Some were made RWD with the Yamaha V6 on display in the rear bubble hatch while others were AWD models with the V6 under the hatch as well. Some V6s were punched from 3.0 to 3.2 to 3.4 to 3.6 liters all mated to a ZF-5 transmissions.
It is unknown how many EXP-based test mules were built; later prototypes were custom-built designs. The GN34 mid-engine sports car was shelved in the late 1980s, with the Ford-Yamaha V6 engine leading to the introduction of the Ford Taurus SHO sports sedan.
One rare Mercury LN7 was also converted specifically for the 1981 PPG CART Indy Car World Series. It featured a dramatic front chin spoiler, brake-cooling ducts just ahead of the rear wheels, and a wrap-around rear spoiler all provided by ASC (American Sunroof Company) and Ford. The power plant was an early turbocharged version of the 1.6L CVH built by Jack Roush and Ford's SVO, featuring a reworked version of the factory 2-barrel carburetor, TRW cold-forged pistons for 8.5:1 compression, polished factory connecting rods, ported head milled down .06" on top a European 1.6L CVH head gasket, 3-angle valve seats, a turbocharger adding just 8psi, and water-alcohol-injection all adding up to 7,000RPMs (electronically limited) of 180 horsepower. The transmission is a factory Escort/Lynx/EXP/LN7 4-speed manual transmission blue-printed with extreme care and tight tolerances at an aircraft level allowing it to handle both the 180 horsepower, 7,000RPMs of input, and top speeds around 125mph. Very few photos of the car exist but it is currently on display in the Roush Racing Museum among a few of Ford's GN34 specimens.
One rare Ford EXP is one converted specifically serve as a CART Series PPG Indy Car World Series Pace Car in 1982. This car wears a tapered front clip and unique hatch and body-integrated spoiler, both reminiscent of a past EXP prototype. It also is widened at each of the four quarter panels of the car believed to allow room for a Ford-Yamaha SHO V6 in the front or possibly in the rear like the aforementioned GN34 EXP experiment. It is also possible to be host to another 1.6L CVH built and turbocharged by Jack Roush and Ford's SVO. Very few photos of the car exist but it is currently on display in the Roush Racing Museum among a few of Ford's GN34 specimens.
Ford provided 3 EXP/LN7 cars for SCCA competition racing in 1981-1983.
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 by Blume Power Inc. for driver "Dick Turner" rumored to be RWD and hosting a V8 under the hood.
The third car was another circuit car like the PBS LN7 but little is known about this racer.
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