Skipping past the frog jokes, the EXP was a sporty alternative to and variant of Ford’s own compact Escort that went on sale in April of 1981, as a 1982 model. Its body was longer and lower, yet still shared a majority of Escort’s running gear. EXP was also more expensive than the Escort but came with more standard equipment.
Considering it was powered by the same 70 horsepower, 1.6-liter inline-four that was used in the Escort, and weighed roughly 200 pounds more, performance wasn’t a strong selling point. However, by March of 1982, an 80 horsepower optional engine was offered and, in 1984, an optional 8 psi turbo pushed horsepower up to 120.
It was commonly assumed that “EXP” stood for “experimental” or “express” but it was apparently an acronym. According to reports from the period, the “E” stood for Erika (the code-name from the European Escort), “X” for project (X being Ford’s letter designation for project cars), and “P” for Personal car. Essentially, EXP meant Escort project personal car.
Probably best known as a two-seater — Ford’s first in a quarter-century — the EXP was actually available with rear seats, as well (though, anecdotally, they were largely uninhabitable).
At the tail end of the car, hints of Escort remained but notchback styling helped set it apart. It also set the stage for the revamped 1983 Thunderbird.
Not all EXPs had the notchback styling. In fact, there was a version that only served up the “bubble” glass; however, it was a Mercury and called the LN7. Keep in mind Mercury had the Lynx, a virtual clone of the Escort, so the LN7 was a natural.
Up front, Mercury stayed the course with Ford’s caffeine-overload expression, however, multiplied the slots in the grille by a factor of five, for a total of ten.
The LN7 was an even greater sales disappointment than Ford’s EXP and was dropped after 1983. Incidentally, the EXP had also been officially discontinued after 1985, without a second generation planned.
However, as I’ve read the tale, a group of EXP workers quickly put together a refresh using parts from the updated Escort (including its flush headlamps) and showed it to the powers at Ford. It got the green light and we got a roughly-second generation of EXP that debuted in the middle of 1985.
It was an excellent update but still struggled for sales amid an ever-increasing field of competition and changing market. Though the second generation gave the model a stay of execution for a few years, it was ultimately phased out in favor of new models, like the Probe.