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Ford EXP: The Forgotten Ford Escort

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author photo by Bill Leedy August 2017

It's question time: Who here would like to buy a car? I see a lot of hands raised, so that's good considering the target audience for this site! Now, how about we get a little more specific: Who would like to buy a 70-horsepower 2-door 2-seater based on the Ford Escort? Boy, those hands went down fast! Well, it turns out that about a quarter of a million people bought precisely that throughout the 1980s in the form of the forgotten Ford EXP.

You'll vaguely, sort of, remember the Ford Escort. It was that car in the '80s where its owners would only admit to driving one in hushed tones. Nobody has ever excitedly said "I drive an Escort!" Well, unless your Escort was from Europe, and it said "Cosworth" on it ... but that's a whole other story. Except for the higher-strung ones with GT badges, the Escort -- while mostly unkillable -- was also quite forgettable.

On the plus side, while it may have shared its floorpan and drivetrain with the Ford Escort, the Ford EXP didn't look the part. It had frog-eye headlights and a slanted nose with only small holes for cooling. This gave it a vaguely 911-ish look ... you know, if you squint really hard. Mercury also had their own version, called the LN7, which had a few more slats in the front but also a bubble rear hatch, a la the Capri, instead of the normal hatchback that came with the Ford.

Power came from the same 70- to 80-hp 1.6-liter 4-cylinder as the Escort. However, a couple years after the car's introduction, in an effort to capture younger buyers looking for something more fun, a turbocharged version became available with around 120 horses. Since the longer EXP weighed a couple hundred pounds more than a standard Escort, performance for the non-Turbo model wouldn't even have qualified for the word adequate: From a standstill, you could reach 60 mph in a yawn-inducing 12.4 seconds! Does anything outside of a dump truck take that long anymore? The Turbo would knock that down to 9 seconds -- not exactly brisk, but at least it gets into the single-digit range.

After skipping the 1985 model year due to poor sales, the Ford workers who wanted it to continue took it upon themselves to come up with a new design for the EXP based on the newly redesigned Escort. The result convinced the bosses to start building the car again with a similar 2-door 2-seat layout -- but with the more generic Escort front end instead of the unique design; this version also saw the Ford version gaining the bubble-glass rear hatch area, which had been previously limited to the Mercury. This generation would only last a couple more years before being dropped in favor of the all-new Ford Probe.

The cars Ford intended the EXP to compete against enjoyed much more success and notoriety: The Honda CRX, the Toyota MR2 and the Pontiac Fiero were all slightly more successful in that they all have huge followings by enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike, while the Ford EXP is largely unknown by even the average automotive enthusiast -- but now you know all about it.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Ford EXP: The Forgotten Ford Escort - Autotrader