History Lessons #24 – Ford EXP
Not everyone is a purebred. In fact, if you’re like most of the people on this earth, you come from two separate and distinctive families. The new Ford Focus ST follows a similarly branching family tree. For the first time, the high performance Focus you buy in the US is the same as the one you could buy in the rest of the world. We’ve tasted from the European performance well in the US in the past as recently as the 2002 – 2004 Focus SVT, which was similar to the European Focus ST170. This World Car attitude is very present in the current and upcoming Ford vehicle catalog; the Fiesta has been for sale here for some time now and the 2013 Ford Fusion we’ll be seeing here is very much the same as the new Mondeo seen throughout the rest of the world. In this series, we’ll look into the history of compact performance offerings from Ford and how two parallel developments in the US and Europe have evolved into the new 2013 Ford Focus ST.
In the ’60s and ’70s America had a love for what were called Personal Cars. By definition, personal cars were generally coupes and convertibles, sometimes impractical and mostly prioritizing looks and comfort. Ford is generally credited with creating this class of car with the Thunderbird. The first generation of Thunderbird was sometimes compared to the Corvette, but had none of the performance credence – which was cool with Ford because they never intended it to be a direct competitor. Instead of calling it a grand tourer, they marketed it as a Personal Car. The second generation of Thunderbird brought with it a longer car that allowed for 2+2 seating. The market reacted greatly and the blueprint for the personal car was on its way. These cars got consistently larger and larger over the years and by the time the cheap gas bubble burst in 1973, Thunderbirds had grown to immense proportions, with even more immense 7.5L V8s matched to an insatiable thirst for fuel (between 8 and 12mpg!). The golden age of the personal car was nearing an end.
Previously, we’ve discussed the North American Ford Escort, and around the same time that car was in showrooms, Ford was looking to keep the personal car alive using the new Escort as its framework; the project was called the Erika Project Personal. Ford figured there was still a market for a good looking car that appealed to one and two-person households. A smaller, sportier, more fuel efficient coupe might just be the answer. They figured if people needed more room than that, they’d still be able to sell them the Escort or something larger. Depending on who you ask, Ford delivered a car that seemed to generally hit all targets but may or may not be traditionally considered good looking.
The EXP was what Ford delivered in 1982 alongside its Mercury twin, the LN7. EXP stood for the project name, with the X coming from Ford’s internal assignment for anything labeled Project. The car sat on the Escort chassis, meaning it had the same front wheel drive layout, CVH motor, fully independent suspension, and dashboard. The car was lower, longer and sportier then the Escort. It featured a steeply raked lift-back and a front end like no other car on the road. The front headlamps rose out of the fender line a bit like frog eyes and the front bumper was slanted back and featured two horizontal slats.
Though marketed as a sporty personal coupe, performance was not all there. Despite having fewer seats, the car weighed 200lbs more than the Escort and with the same 70hp CVH motor and 4-speed manual, it was terribly slow. Its strong selling point was that on the highway, it could garner (using the entirely unrealistic EPA standards of the day) over 44mpg; a number that would look right at home with modern hybrids. The weight increase was mostly due to the level of equipment that came standard. Ford did begin to offer a no-cost (numerically) higher final drive to increase performance and later offered a close-ratio 5-speed transmission. Eventually the CVH motor grew to 80hp via a bigger intake, dual outlet exhaust manifold and freer flowing exhaust, retuned carburetor, and a hotter camshaft.
In 1984, the EXP received a performance makeover to fit in with Ford’s new focus on turbocharging. With the hope to gain some more traction in the youth market, they slapped the same turbocharged 1.6L CVH motor from the Escort Turbo GT into the EXP. With 8psi of boost, electronic fuel injection and a hot camshaft the car received a 35% increase in power to 120hp. For the exterior, the car received a deep front air dam, rear spoiler and a two-tone paint job with black flares and skirts. These cars, much like the Escort Turbo GT, are extremely rare and have a cult following. If you’re part of this cult, please let us know on our Facebook page. Look for a future article about one of these cult members who happens to own a fleet of these cars.
Unfortunately, the sales of the EXP were not what Ford had envisioned. Much of this can be blamed on the performance of the car. The Mercury LN7 only lasted until 1983 and the first generation EXP was killed in 1985. Its disappearance was short lived as it did return in 1985½ with the facelifted first generation Escort. Gone were the frogeye lights and the turbocharged motor. In its place were aerodynamic lights similar to the standard Escort and the CVH engine grew to 1.9L and power increasing to 90hp in the Luxury Coupe and 106hp in the Sport Coupe before finally rising to 115hp in the 1987 Sport Coupe. By the end of 1988, more than 225,000 EXPs and LN7s were built and in October of that year, the EXP was no more, replaced by the forthcoming Ford Probe.
Next time, we celebrate our 25th History Lesson with a special car that many people have been begging to read about. This one’s a biggie and it’s Pinto powered…sorta.