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Car Disgust--Ford EXP

Exp1 The idea behind the Ford EXP was a good one, especially for the fuel-crunched but performance-starved automotive world of the early 1980s. The basic concept was similar to that used by the later Pontiac Fiero and Toyota MR2: You start with the foundation of an existing small car, strip out the rear seats to save weight, add on some performance upgrades, tighten up the handling, and give the package a longer, lower, and tantalizingly sleek body. Given the fact that the EXP would beat both the Fiero and MR2 to the market, and that Ford was gathering itself for a strong performance and styling push for the rest of the decade, the idea sounded like a slam dunk.

When the EXP debuted in 1982, it was clear that the slam dunk clanged hard off the back rim.

From the formula above, the EXP started with a 1980s Ford Escort--not a bad base for the time. But the level of performance implied by a two-seat sports coupe was wholly missing. The EXP received an unchanged version of the Escort's 70-horsepower four-cylinder, saddled with 200 extra pounds of weight--this despite the fact that the EXP sacrificed the Escort's rear seats and hatchback utility.

Exp2Instead of a sleek restyling, the EXP received a sound beating with the ugly stick. Its unbelievably awkward, oddly proportioned lines and a curious headlight treatment gave the effect of a cross-eyed tadpole. I'm not sure, but I don't recall the "retractable headlights permanently stuck open" look being particularly cool in 1982 or, really, at any point in our nation's history. So it was slower and uglier than an Escort, but at least it was more expensive.

As a two-seat sports coupe with ostensibly sleek styling, the EXP was meant to be Ford's pre-emptive answer to the Fiero, but it failed to clear even that modest bar. Instead, it was an Escort with all of the usefulness stripped away. Think about that for a moment--the Escort was a useful subcompact, but it's hard to imagine buying and driving one just for the joy of it.

Some cars are so innately desirable and attractive that it's startling to see them later on in their lives with peeling paint, darkened chrome, and dirty windows. It's somehow sacrilegious to see great cars reduced to humble mortality. In the case of the EXP, though, the opposite was true. Even when new, it took no imagination at all to envision an EXP as a rusty, neglected daily driver with thin, fading paint, discarded once the driver could afford something better.

The EXP eventually underwent a much-needed reskinning, lifting the EXP to roughly the same level of passion and adulation as one would expect from, well, a regular Escort. It was revolutionary only for the level upon which it looked better than its predecessor.

Exp3I'm fully aware that as a habitual defender of quirky, forgotten, oft-derided cars, I'm probably on the wrong side of this issue. In reading through the Ford EXP fan club site (the existence of which is a tribute to the power of the Internet), I came across DRBurdyshaw's 1982 EXP and his heartfelt tribute to his lust for his EXP.

"Since I've been a fan of EXPs and LN7s (Chris comment: that was the short-lived Mercury version of the EXP) for a long time, I decided that it was time to have one ---- and the search began. After many, many months of looking, I found this little gem."

That's what Car Lust is all about, and DRBurdyshaw's immaculate silver EXP does approach cuteness. But given my horrible weakness for 1980s sports coupes, what does it say that even I wouldn't want one?

Oh, and for those of you who are about to very legitimately point out that the EXP bears more than a passing resemblance to last week's Shelby Charger, or the previous Chevy Monza, I can't hear you because I have my fingers in my ears and am chanting at the top of my lungs. That's the kind of well-reasoned analysis you get here at Car Lust HQ.

The commercial below features some fantastic computer effects, as well as some highly entertaining pseudo-computer or robotic language.

Time: Now.
Place: Anyroad, USA.
Action: Creation of a new personal sport coupe.

0:10 - You know, when I see a car and two futuristic (potentially cybernetic?) drivers rising up through the floor, I know it's time to buy.

0:12 - The "female" just gave a slow, deliberate, obviously robotic smile at the camera. She's definitely cybernetic, no doubt plotting the overthrow of her human oppressors from her Ford EXP.

0:19 - "A beautiful package of world-class technologies ..."

Such as ... repackaged economy car technology?

0:28 - I don't think I'd ever before seen the video editing tactic of superimposing a circular video of a driving car onto the wheel of the car. Good stuff.

--Chris H.


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If an underage Monza and a Thunderbird had a bastard child, it would've been this car. Blech!

Big Chris

"0:12 - The "female" just gave a slow, deliberate, obviously robotic smile at the camera. She's definitely cybernetic, no doubt plotting the overthrow of her human oppressors from her Ford EXP."

Look 0:14 she's ready to burst out laughing!

You've certainly made no friends over at But, I couldn't agree with you more. How UNexciting, which is no doubt why I forgot all about these cars. But hey, 46 mpg - woohoo!

OldCarGuy: "You've certainly made no friends over at"

Yeah, and I feel a bit bad about that. I know what it's like to like unloved cars and to feel persecuted about it. These people are my people.

In a way, it's like the Mustang II brouhaha - I don't particularly like the car, but I do like the people who like the car.

@OldCarGuy - apparently there was a time when manufacturers were permitted to quote their own highway MPG numbers without regard to reality. I can't imagine any of these beasts, including the 80s Chrysler products discussed last week) getting anywhere near 46 MPG regardless of how they were driven.

My sister had an EXP.

Back in the spring of 1985, I got my CRX. Shortly thereafter, my sister decided she was getting a new ride. I suspect it was a case of keeping up with the Joneses. However, my sister wasn't getting one of those "cheap Japanese things," oh, no--she was getting a Real 'Merrican Sports Car! (In Northeast Ohio, in those days, driving a Honda got you dirty looks and occasional guff from the UAW and AFL-CIO crowd.) I went home for a visit one summer weekend, and there was Baby Sister's brand new EXP in the driveway, resplendent in bright arrest-me red, still bearing its window sticker and temp tags.

Did I want to drive her exciting new Real American Sports Car? she asked. Sure, why not.

The seats were low, and not terribly well designed. The ergonomics of the dashboard and control panel were stuck in the Carter administration somewhere.

It had a 70-horse engine and a slushbox. 0-60 took, well, quite a while--noticeably longer than the CRX (which was no drag racer), and without the fun of rowing through the gears.

It cornered, in the sense that if you turned the wheel, the car would change direction, but it didn't like to be tossed around on twisty roads. It would go around the curves--the lateral G statistics were probably competitive with the CRX--but the steering lacked road feel, and you got the sense the car wasn't having any fun either.

There was nothing really overtly bad about it. There was just nothing really very good about it. It was not a happy car.

I was home for an extended stay later that summer, and one night, my sister called. The EXP had a dead battery, could I come out give her a jump? I did, of course.

Two nights later, she's out somewhere again, same thing happens. CRX to the rescue!

After the third or fourth dead battery in a week, she takes it in to the dealer. The problem was a low-grade short in the wiring harness that was trickle-discharging the battery. The service guys eventually found it, but only after two new batteries and two replacement alternators failed to do the trick. Lucky for my sister, it was still under warranty. Lucky for Ford, the Ohio lemon law wasn't yet on the books.

While the EXP was living up to Ford's reputation for reliability--"Found On Road, Dead!"--the CRX purred along happily.

I didn't tease her about it. (Much.)

CookieTDO: The description of your sister's EXP is hilarious.

"It cornered, in the sense that if you turned the wheel, the car would change direction"

It completely reminds me of one of Ford's slightly better known forays into design of a small "sporty" car - the Pinto. And I can actually see a resemblance to the Pangra Version of the Pinto - but that had real pop up headlights:

Chris wrote: "...the EXP bears more than a passing resemblance to last week's Shelby Charger, or the previous Chevy Monza..."

Only in the context of having two doors and two usable seats. But while each of the three vehicles in question is truly awful in its own way, at least the Charger & Monza had (or, in the case of the Monza, could be ordered to have) a decent amount of power. The EXP, by contrast, couldn't pull the skin off a day-old bowl of pudding.

I have no direct experience with the EXP, but can say with some certainty that the equivalent Escort had the potential to be a real nightmare. A friend bought one in 1981, his first new car. It spent so much time in the dealer's shop during its first year that my buddy was delighted when it caught fire and burned to the ground. I should add, given the statute of limitations on such things, that he didn't seem awfully surprised. Needless to say, he's never bought another Ford product.

"Oh, and for those of you who are about to very legitimately point out that the EXP bears more than a passing resemblance to last week's Shelby Charger, or the previous Chevy Monza, I can't hear you because I have my fingers in my ears and am chanting at the top of my lungs. That's the kind of well-reasoned analysis you get here at Car Lust HQ."

This quote is exactly why I like coming here, Chris!

I'm not disgusted by the EXP. I'm disgusted by the unimaginative short-sighted corporate culture that created it and wasted so many opportunities to make great cars. Ford built some great cars in the 60s. Then they started selling crap. US Manufacturers thought they had a lock on the American market, and could sell the public what ever junk they decided to produce that year. It was all a game of cheap production costs and disposable cars with really short life expectancy. The idea was that when it broke customers would have to buy another one. That kind of crass approach to products depresses and dispirits consumers and the people who actually build the cars - it saps every ounce of pride that someone could take in their car or in their job.

Wow. The worst part about it is that my mom's old Subaru Justy - all 1950 pounds of it - generated only 4 LESS horsepower out of a 3 cylinder. Seeing as it was only six years newer than the "performance-minded" EXP, the fact that a slightly newer stripped down econobox could almost certainly beat it off the line and through a slalom is really, really sad.

For what it's worth, I'm less offended by the front and much, much more offended by the weird Escort + Citroen rear combined with the early '80s Mustang front fenders. There's bizarre, and then there's letting Stevie Wonder design your cars. Heck, the Pacer has better lines than that. I'd rather stare at an AMC Eagle than that. In fact, I'd even prefer to look at an old Jeep truck with its uglier-than-sin grill than that thing. It would probably outrun it, too.

In the early 90's I worked at a place called Town Fair Tire in Western Massachusetts and the one thing I remember about the EXP was the unconventional Michelin TRX tires. The TRX's were tires that were unique to only a handful of vehicles and would only fit one specific type of wheel. I believe the only American cars using these were the EXP and possibly certain versions of the Mustang. Being unique also meant they were pretty EXPensive.

Nothing like the look on an EXP owner's face when you gave them the quote.

Just got an 82 EXP on the road after it has sat for a couple years. It required me to replace control arms, ball joints, axles, brake lines, rotors,calipers, wheel cylinders, master cylinder, brake booster and a few other parts. I am planning on this car, which is nicknamed 'THE TIRD' as daily work transportation. I just hope no one that I know happens to see me behind the wheel! With gas prices rising I must leave my F250 v-10 (10mpg)in the garage and hope to see the ridiculous mpg that ford had claimed. Hopefully I do not spend my fuel savings on more parts.

I had an EXP, which I got new for graduating from undergrad with a medical school admission.

It got me through 4 years of med school, barely. Caught on fire 3 or 4 times and was only capable of about 15 miles/hour by the time that I drove it into the Toyota dealership to trade it in.

This car was a mess!

In November 1982 I purchased a new medium blue metallic Ford EXP with a 1.6 HO, a four-speed manual and a sunroof. I never once had any problems with the car and sold it after 10 years of ownership and 150000 miles. Great car -- just slow -- but the national speed limit was 55 mph back then.

The EXP wasn't my first choice. Toyota and Mazda had waiting lists for their 1983 models - so I bought the EXP.

I had the unfortunate pleasure of riding in the EXP from WI to NY in 1990. Although the gas mileage was great, it was one of the most uncomfortable rides in a car - ever. My parents' 76 Pinto Runabout was better!

Ah, yes... Unrequited love, thy name is EXP. Bought a nearly-new '87 Sport Coupe after driving an '81 Escort L that was hands down the most mechanically reliable car I've ever owned (but whose body rotted out from around the cockpit and drivetrain because the idiot first owner had it treated with Rusty Jones). Figured, Why not? Ford had other ideas.

Painted in ticket-me-first red clearcoat, it had a 1.9L EFI engine with hemi heads that produced 115 HP/120 ft-lbs. Mated to a 5-speed gearbox, it was a lot peppier than the '82-'85 iterations. But it was still nowhere near "sports car" performance: It regularly got smoked by CRXs (hi, Cookie!) and base Acura Integras. Heck, the lighter Escort GT could flatten it.

Riding on 15-inch Goodyear Eagle GTs, the thing handled like it was glued to the road -- as long as the road was dry, that is. Add a little snow or ice, and you learned a whole new meaning to to the phrase, "Wanna go for a spin?" Even in the rain, the twitchiness was terrible. Despite this tendency, though, it handled well enough that I never dented the sheet metal.

The body still looked fresh after 6 1/2 years of ownership, which took a lot of work seeing as how the car was always parked outdoors in New England. But the mecahanics were an absolute nightmare. The EXP embodied everything Mochi Mochi said above about American car makers' attitudes at the time.

First, there was the non-adjustable front end. If it fell out of alignment, you had a stark choice: buy new tie-rod ends at a C-note apiece or watch as the tread melted away on those H-rated tires. I probably replaced the tie-rod tails five times, and got terrible tread life to boot.

Then there was the time the thing just croaked at 50 mph. Engine stopped dead, but it wasn't electrical. Nope: ignition module. Another three Benjamins out the door.

The final straw was the dead fuel pump, and in the course of fixing that, my mechanic (who by this point pwned my credit card) discovered a leak in the gas tank that was NOT caused by rust-through. By that time, the A/C was gone, the power steering was on its way out and the engine chip was toast. This was at 92,000 miles, and it had been faithfully maintained according to the "severe service" schedule.

Hello, Mazda dealer!

I do not really care what others think or performance wise-even though I do love power,speed and handling-about the EXP. It is an ugly car and I barely found out what it is is but I actually kind of like the car and from what I know they are rare because I have never seen or heard about this car until now here on the internet. It gets smoked by other cars but I dont really care about that.Also, haha ur funny Found On Road Dead..Maybe that is why fod is the one who is not going bankrupt now and days and yeah back in the day fords did have real bad reliability issues but I never had a problem. We have a 1985 ford f150 and we almost put 300,000 miles on it nd it still could have kept on going but my dad wanted to rebuild the motor to sell it. Now it is my daily driver. Plus we have nothing but fords and we have never had a problem with any of them..besides the fact that the older models like our 85 and 74 need parts but it is obvious cuz after time parts need to be replaced. But im still getting n EXP, anyways they r selling it for 350 running and in good condition so i dont care hehe..n for all those against fords, $%^!@#$ you...First On Race Day..For Off Road Driving.But dont get it wrong I am a car enthusiast and I like almost any car of any make wether ford, dodge,chevy etc...but i prefer ford.

Well, the early 82-83 were called 'frog eyes' by car mags then. The 87-89 versions were somewhat better with the 1.9L 115hp GT motor.

Two seaters that are not true sports cars just do not sell. BTW, Smart car isn't doing that great, either.

I always thought the first generation EXP was homely-and I'm being kind. My wife and I did buy a second generation, 1986 1/2 EXP and were pleased with it. My wife recently said it was her favorite car of those we have owned jointly. We owned the "Sport Coupe", with the bigger rims and tires. It was not a bad-looking car, but it was an Escort. As long as you had reasonable expectations, it was a competent vehicle. Of course, having 2 seats, the car was of limited utility. When the talk turned to procreation, it was time to trade. We settled on a 1991 Mazda 626. But that's another story...

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