Pity the poor EXP. During Ford’s renaissance in the 80s, there were some hits, some bunts, and a few strikeouts. The ’83 T-Bird, Mustang 5.0 and Taurus were in the first category. The Tempo and LTD II and LTD/CV in the second. But the poor EXP was a dud; even in a decade when small two-seaters— Honda CR-X, MR-2, Fiero—were all the rage. But the EXP had at least two strikes against it: it was too tall, due to sharing the cowl with its Escort donor, and it lacked a proper engine. Who wants a tall and dull sporty coupe, never mind with an ugly face?
The first generation EXP (full CC here) arrived in 1982 with a face only its mother of Fords could love. And to further sour the EXPerience, performance was at least as ugly, Although weighing 200 lbs more than the Escort, it had the same asthmatic 70 hp 1.6 L CVH four. And its suspension tuning was little or no better than the initial Escort’s klutzy handling. But it cost a substantial amount more. It must have seemed like a good idea to someone at Ford, but it just didn’t deliver the goods. At the end of the 1985 model year the plug was pulled, after just three years of weak sales.
A crude turbo-version did nothing to boost sales, and finding one now would be quite a catch. As would a Mercury LN7, which only lasted two years, during which all of 40k were sold.
As the story is told, a group of employees at the plant where the EXP and Escort were built hated to see it go, pulled an EXP off the line and grafted on the newly-revised Escort’s front end, thus cobbling up their idea of what a gen2 EXP could look like, all in the hopes of keeping it alive. Ford CEO Donald Petersen was shown this, had pity, and approved it for production as a 1985.5 model. And thus after a half year’s hiatus, the gen2 EXP stormed back out into the market to do battle with the CRX and such, wearing an Escort’s front clip.
Well, Honda had done it right, with a unique and lower body for its little sportster, and some sporty engines to match. The EXP by this time was blessed with the Escort’s bigger 1.9 L engine and a better sorted-out suspension, but it still didn’t ignite any real interest.
By the late 80s, Ford was committed to the Mazda 626-based Probe, and the EXP had no more future; not that it ever had much of a past either. 1988 was the last year, and the EXP became one of the few blotches on an otherwise dynamic decade for Ford.
Buddy of mine bought one of the gen2s in 1985. He’d had a beater ’74 Camaro before that. He regretted buying the EXP pretty fast.
Ah yes, the Ford Muscort/Escang. Always looked like they took the worst of the Escort, Mustang, and a vague jazzhands reference to Fox-based Thunderbird and tossed it in a Super Bass-O-Matic.
I wonder if the LN7 would’ve looked better with the Capri’s box fender flares.
Either way, it was a true achievement that the EXP/LN-7 managed to make the Escort GT look like the attractive upgrade option.
I always liked the looks of the second generation EXP, more a Baby Mustang GT, Poor Man’s version than the first one ever was, with it’s Aero front headlamps and body cladding/front air dam similar to the 80-82 Cobra/Mustang GT bits. This car and the Dodge Charger 2.2, along with the Fiero 2M4 were some kind of attempt to sell performance looks for an uncertain future ahead. When the 1979 Mustang Cobra Turbo came out, who knew then that the 5.0 had a rebirth just a few years later, a renewal that continues on today, with the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger enjoying good to great sales?
Believe it or not I know someone that collects these. Prefers that early ones and especially the Mercury variant.He has some really cool collectors cars as well but a soft spot for the EXP.
Wow, I have never noticed before how fat, thick and ungainly the facelift makes the EXP. I will confess to being in the minority who liked the front end styling of the original. The high cowl and thick center section were at least trimmed down with that front.
This second version comes off kind of brick-like. Cool idea, bad execution. The Chrysler L body coupe (which finished life as the Charger 2.2) somehow comes off looking so much better, despite having a back seat.
Same here JP. The facelifted front end looks just like any other boring small car of the period. Not an improvement.
Completely agree with you guys. I actually like the original frog-eyed EXP. It looked kind of futuristic to me when I was kid. Yes – it was probably intended to look like exposed pop-ups, but I don’t find it unattractive. Giving it the Escort front clip kind of killed it for me. I think the ’84 EXP might look best with the LN7’s wraparound glass and the original frontal styling.
Count me in. The original wasn’t pretty, but at least it was interesting. The facelift comes off as just a weird Escort variant, kind of like that “backwards ball cap” coupe version of the MINI Cooper.
They should have done a proper sport coupe version with better suspension and the turbo 4 as used in the T-Bird Turbo Coupe and Mustang SVO. Then again, it was seen as bad form back then to have a small car faster than your performance options…
Unfortunately the Lima and CVH were totally different engines. I don’t think the Lima I4 was ever adapted for FWD use.
They did have a Turbo version of the CVH in Europe though. But it wasn’t until the Focus platform that Ford even cared to offer a proper hot hatch in the US.
I agree with you guys. The original long fenderline to the headlight buckets did a better job of hiding the high cowl. The notch-back look of the early EXP was better too, as opposed to the bubble hatch from the LN7 that was used later.
Agreed. I think if they had something to offer under the skin these would be held in higher regard, The original CRX with it’s tired looking sealed beams and taller blockier styling(compared with the gen 2) wasn’t much better in the looks department to me than the EXP, but they were much better cars otherwise so they’re more desirable
Hmm, I never thought these looked/were too tall, I just figured the last thing you should do if making a “sporty” version of any car is make it longer….and consequently, HEAVIER. Apparently, Ford figured that since Chrysler was able to pull off a sporty car by stretching the Omni – Horizon, that they could equal or surpass the Chrysler effort. Unfortunately for Ford, Chrysler made their car a 4 seater, helping it to appeal to a wider range of buyers.
As far as looks, the EXP reminds me of the car pictured in the article on friction-powered toys “Made in Japan”.
I actually have owned two of these cars over the years. The first one was a 1983 Mercury LN7 which was a unicorn 15+ years ago when I bought it as a cheap commuter. It was in good condition and all original, save for the 1.9L engine upgrade as the original 1.6L had long given up, according to the owner. Sadly, as with many cheap cars I have ended up with, I didn’t keep it long and found it a new home elsewhere.
The second was a 1987 EXP… bright red… I thought it was a much neater looking car over the earlier offerings… but again, didn’t own it for long!
I can’t recall the last time I saw an EXP on the road… it’s been a long time now. It’s sort of like the 1981-1990 Escorts… they’ve vanished. You can find the 1991+ units all over the place though.
I thought the same thing about the 1981-1990 Escorts, but what did I see but a pre 1988.5 Hatchback drive by me the other day. Driven by an old man wearing a huge fur hat and a pipe clenched between his teeth.
Car didn’t look too bad aside from being battleship grey. This was spotted in New Hampshire.
The last early 80s Escort I ever saw was one I saw in the aftermath of a highway crash north of Saskatoon in Jan 2001. From the broad squiggly black line of rubber trailing it, it was evident that the left front suspension had collapsed, sending it over the center line and sideswiping a Chevy Venture. Nobody hurt, very lucky all around, the Escort driver was a real sh..bird, I was very angry at the negligence of someone driving a dilapidated unroadworthy old POS at highway speeds like that.
You mentioned the LTD II as part of Ford´s renaissance in the 80s.
The Torino-bases LTD II was only made from 1977 – 1979.
I guess what you were thinking of was the Fox-based LTD, which was built from 1983 – 1986 model years and sold alongside the LTD Crown Victoria, but which was never officially called LTD II.
Thank you for mentioning this. I spent a lot of time early in my driving days in 80’s era foxes, the first of which was an ’84 Marquis.
OK, class, let’s review this once and for all. This is an LTD:
This is an LTD II. Questions?
Are you sure? 🙂
Anyway, it was a typo. I meant to say “LTD III”
Yet another article with no mention of the Ranger pickup as a hit. It was just as important as the ’83 T-Bird, HO Mustang, and Taurus in Ford’s comeback in the ’80s, yet nobody EVER mentions it.
The Gen 2 EXP could have been attractive with a different powertrain, like the HO Mazda unit found in the later Escort ZX2. Then it would have been an affordable, practical hot hatch.
As it was, it was a hot hatch only without the heat.
I’m in a small minority that thought the body work on the original EXP worked, except for the front. I’m in agreement that the awful Ford Euro look that Ford drew on too many (one was too many) U.S. domestic cars was not an improvement. A kid with a straight edge could have done something more imaginative. Just drawing in a bit of powerdome and a quasi Mustang grill would have really improved the original.
I saw something I never noticed before, the first EXP seems to have a bit of Packardbaker in its DNA……..
My cousin ordered a brand new silver 1986 EXP from the factory. She got the sun and sound package, an automatic transmission and basically that was it. She loved that car and drove the heck out of it right through college. By the time she sold it, it had about 90k miles on it and still ran great. IIRC it was stickered well under 10k, around $9500.
My kid brother, greatly desiring a Mustang GT until he got the insurance bid, bought a 1988.5 EXP. Nothing but a POS. To think he could have gotten a CRX Si or GTI for the same price…..argh.
I came extremely close to buying one of these a few years ago. there is currently one for sale at a garage here in town. you can tell just driving by it has more filler in it than half the real housewives of wherever and is an ugly brown. but I still want to stop every time I go by.
1) I don’t like small cars
2) I love my jeep
3) I especially don’t like s@#$ brown small cars
4) it has 500lbs of bondo in it
I don’t get the attraction…
BUT I STILL WANT TO BUY IT!!!!
help me 🙁
The Mercury version had the “bubble” rear window much like the Capri had at that time. I think the Mercury version is a nicer car.
Posted a link to a site that has pics of the Mercury LN-7