Based off the Ford Escort, the EXP was a compact two-seater which was the first one offered in 25 years. The mechanicals were identical to that of the Escort, but had a longer, more aerodynamic body. It was first introduced at the Chicago Auto Show, and introduced in early 1981 as a 1982 model vehicle.
|Ford Motor Company|
|Body Style||3-Door Hatchback|
|Length||170.3 in (4326 mm)|
|Width||65.9 in (1674 mm)|
|Height||50.5 in (1283 mm)|
|Transmissions|| 4-speed IB4 manual|
5-speed MTX-III manual
3-speed FLC automatic
|Engines|| 1.6L CVH I4 - 70bhp (1982-1985)|
1.6L HO I4 - 80bhp (1982-1985)
1.6L HO-EFI I4 - 88bhp (1983-1985)
1.6L Turbo I4 - 120bhp (1984-1985)
1.9L CVH I4 - 90bhp (1986-1988)
1.9L HO-EFI I4 - 110bhp (1986-1988)
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)
In a response to the OPEC oil embargo in the mid-1970's, there had been a push for automobile manufacturers to produce smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. In the short time following, Ford had studied a two seater commuter car called the "Super Gnat", which was to have a three-cylinder engine with a short wheelbase. Along with this, Ford also produced a concept named Mustang RSX, which was a smaller, two-seat derivative of the Mustang.
Lee Iacocca leadership at Ford had previously introduced one of its most successful cars, the Mustang. The Mustang [1964 ½] originally was no more than a Falcon with a different, more sports-car like body. Similarly, Ford would adapt their newest economy cars, the Ford Escort and Mercury Lynx by putting a sporty body on top and removing the rear seats to produce the EXP and LN7.
The EXP's rakish non-boxy body rode on the Escort's 94.2 inch (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 EXP 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, as the EXP had a notchback with a lift up hatch, and larger tail lamps. The grille was identifiable with two slats, unique to the EXP.
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.
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.
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 (1986.5-1988.5)
A reworked Escort had appeared as a mid-year 1985 model, but the restyled EXP wouldn't arrive until later in the 1986 model year. After a brief absence from the lineup, the EXP returned in resulted form with 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 couple 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 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.
The Luxury Coupe had a throttle-body injected 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.
A fuel-injected high-output 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, 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. 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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