By on October 30, 2017

Image: 1983 Ford EXPGreat handling, two seats, sporty styling, and coupe lines. No, we’re not talking about a Corvette Z06, because it’s another Malaise Day here at Rare Rides — and our topic of discussion is a shockingly orange Ford EXP.

I always thought those letters stood for EXtra Powerful, but maybe I was wrong. Let’s find out.

Image: 1983 Ford EXPFord announced its first two-seat vehicle since the 1957 Thunderbird, and set it for introduction at the 1981 Chicago Auto Show. Intended for the post-oil crisis customer, the EXP was light, sporty, and efficient. Imagine the sea of brown suits with large lapels which crowded around this new sporty coupe. Exciting!

Based on Ford’s successful CE14 platform, the EXP and its Mercury LN7 sister were cousins to the Escort and Tempo from Ford, and the Lynx and Topaz from Mercury.

Image: 1983 Ford EXPBuilt in California, Michigan, and near Michigan (Canada), the EXP lived through two generations. The first was available from 1982 to 1985, and was lower and slightly longer than its Escort sibling at 170.3 inches. Ford went all-out in increasing the EXP’s length from the Escort, which measured 169.4 inches.

Image: 1983 Ford EXPDue to the revised length and heavy rear hatch design, the EXP weighed roughly 200 pounds more than a regular Escort, but had the same 70 horsepower, 1.6-liter inline-four engine. Ford achieved its goal of efficient motoring here, as when Car and Driver tested an EXP in 1981, they found it managed 44 miles per gallon on the highway.

Image: 1983 Ford EXPThe EXP had much more standard equipment than the Escort. All models had full instrumentation, carpeting, rear defrost, power hatch release, model-specific rims, and, on manual transmission models, a sports exhaust.

EXP sales were strong enough to warrant a second generation for mid-1985 through the 1988 model year. Though it had more modern (and Escort-adjacent) styling, the second-gen EXP still did not find sales success. Lackluster performance and elevated pricing didn’t help the EXP, but the impending introduction of Ford’s new front-drive Mustang (you know it as the Probe) was already underway, effectively sealing the fate of the EXP.

Image: 1983 Ford EXP

Our example today is a well-preserved first-generation model with just 66,000 miles. Listed recently on Denver’s Craigslist (listing removed) as a one owner vehicle, the responsible seller (who enjoys excellent Porsches as well) was asking just $2,500.

Find one like it or the even rarer Mercury LN7 (1982-1983 only), and you too can drive an interesting, rare hatchback on the cheap.

[Images via seller]

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65 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1983 Ford EXP Handles All Your Malaise Driving Needs...”


  • avatar
    FormerFF

    As a rule, the style of car I most wish would come back into favor is the small sporty coupe, just not this one.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’ll quibble: I don’t think this is a “rare” ride. These things were thick on the ground in the ’80s.

    Granted, the condition on this particular one makes it something of a unicorn. And it’s definitely a time machine.

    But rare? Naaah.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      How many EXPs survived?

      That’s what I am assuming makes it rare. Like finding a mint condition 1st year Chevrolet Citation.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        A mint condition first year Chevy Citation would make any atheist believe in the Devil.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I’m sure there’s a small number of them that survived, which makes it remarkable that this one’s still around (and in the condition it’s in). But does that make it any “rarer” than any other (less-than-fondly remembered) car from that time?

        Now, an EXP Turbo Coupe – yes, it was a thing – would be rare. Or maybe something like the NUMMI-built Nova with the Toyota FX16’s engine. Or that Alliance GTA that went up a while back.

        But this one? This is one of a gabillion Ford made, and there’s nothing really remarkable about it aside from its’ condition. Not rare. Just sayin’.

        Now, I’d be down with a column called “1980s survivors”…

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Actually, production was quite low, which explains why Ford killed it off after 1985. The second gen sold even worse, and thus did not last long, either.

      The Escort itself was a top seller at the time, but the EXP variant was not nearly as common.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Just because a car wasn’t a sales success doesn’t make it rare. Take it from a guy who was 18 when it came out…these were FAR from rare.

        Now, the turbo version they made of this car WAS rare.

        • 0 avatar

          You have to consider things in present time, though. They get taken off the roads via rust, crashes, etc. The old Subaru Brat wasn’t rare when new – it is now. Same with the Jeep Comanche, a Studebaker pickup, or an original GTI.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Now, don’t think I didn’t catch your attempt to seduce a known GTI fan who, in fact, has admitted the ’80s GTIs were as much an object of his adolescent lust as Miss September 1982 was. Ha!

            But I’ll tell you what *would* be rare: how about a Euro-market GTI that made it here somehow, or perhaps a Rabbit pickup that got the GTI treatment? I’d argue either of those would be rare.

            I think you just need to make a distinction between rare or one-off type vehicles and “survivors”. This EXP is definitely the latter. No matter how many are left, they were certainly never rare to begin with, and I’d say the same is true of any of those other vehicles you mentioned.

            But I’d love to see a series on survivor cars like this EXP, and I can’t think of a better person to do it.

            How about “Time Warp Rides”?

            Ahem…Tim?

          • 0 avatar

            I’m not sure it’s worth another whole series though, just to get into the splitting hairs of rare vs. survivor. This series has enough name recognition now to warrant clicks!

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Ah, but think of the opportunity to double your brand!

          • 0 avatar

            I have a feeling I know where the comments would go though.

            “This has XXX production figure it’s not rare.”
            “Oh this is rare because X it doesn’t belong in Select Survivors.”

            And at the end of the day, none of that helps anything.

    • 0 avatar
      scott25

      I’ve never seen one in my entire life, probably the only domestic brand vehicle made in the last 40 years I can say that about. They’re definitely rare. I remember when Isuzu Amigos and Impulses were thick on the ground also, they’re still rare now. But rare enough for “Rare Rides”, probably not. Just like this car. There has to be at least a few hundred still in existence. This series should be for cars of which there’s <10 on the continent or bizarre customs.

      • 0 avatar

        “This series should be for cars of which there’s <10 on the continent or bizarre customs.”

        As the creator of the series, I’ll disagree with you there. If there are <10 examples, it’s unlikely that a) there are numerous good photos to use and b) that you’ll find one listed for sale.

        There are a few Rare Rides posts a week, and we would run right out of <10 example cars very quickly. No more Rare Rides.

        For the most part, I hate custom cars.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    “Due to the revised length and heavy rear hatch design, the EXP weighed roughly 200 pounds more than a regular Escort, but had the same 70 horsepower, 1.6-liter inline-four engine.”

    Yes, but with those ram air intakes it was probably closer to 71 horsepower.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Would one of those new Hellcat crate engines fit in one of these? (Hey, it’s got a hood bulge so you never know…)

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I always liked the EXP/LN7. That one is very nice.

    This car must have inspired the frog lights on the Nissan Leaf 1.0.

  • avatar

    Better looking than the Mustangtempo, and you can’t argue with 44 MPG. I want it.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Malaise is correct.
    The EXP, along with many cars of that era, did not last very long. With fading paint, flaking clear coat, and mechanical difficulties these disappeared from the road in a few short years.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Highly unlikely the engine will last past 70K miles. Unless it’s already been rebuilt or replaced.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Be still my beating heart.

    My first car ever was a 1985 Ford EXP, purchased from a dealership that my dads secretary traded the car into. I paid $250, or I should say my dad did as I was 15.

    She had wrecked it. A votec install of a front clip and voila I had a perfectly straight 56k mile 2 seat sports car…I thought the world of my EXP, so carry on haters you can’t ruin my EXP love. I put a wider and lower profile tire on my car so it handled fantastic, despite each tire being of a different make/model. I recall buying them used from a tire dealer in Trenton, mixing and matching to get 4 tires of reasonably equal tread life. I had not care or concern that none was a match. Mine even had the JC Whitney Turbo muffler installed by me, which I am certain add at least 30 HP to the 80 heart pounding ponies the 85′ was endowed with
    I had the 5 sp, no AC variant and never got 44 mpg, ever. The steering wheel in the one pictured is from a Mustang GT circa 1983, the EXP had the Escort steering wheel in case their is a purist among us.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I wanted one of these really bad back in my high schools days (mid/late 80s). I knew people with Escorts but the EXP was different… and I wanted to be that guy.

      Instead I got a Mustang coupe with the inline 6 as my first car. 4 seats plus a trunk seemed so lame compared to my 2 seat hatchback dreams. What I really wanted was a Honda CRX Si. I would come real close just 8 months later when my Mustang was stolen and I got an ’85 Civic S1500 hatch. I retrospect the Honda hatch was really the ideal car. It had all of 90HP (wow!) and got mileage in the mid 30s with the 5 speed manual. I’m also 99% sure my Honda out handled the Ford… plus I had A/C!

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        Yeah, the CRX really outclassed these in every way. Same idea, much better execution.

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          I am certain the CRX was a better car, but good luck buying a CRX for $250 with minor front end damage and 56k on the odo in 1991.

          As with many others 1st car, the EXP was dead center in the venn diagram of my meager budget and skill sets. Just about every car I have owned since was a better car in all respects. But, to me, your first car is truly special as it was my first experience with ‘freedom’ and adulthood. Great memories for me.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      By the standards of the day, this wasn’t a bad car.

      I can’t abide that front headlight treatment, though.

  • avatar
    Numbers_Matching

    I recall these always sitting like they had 5 bags of sand in the trunk with positive camber in the front and negative in the rear. Were they tuned that way?

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Ah – this brings back a memory of a high school-era “drag race” with a fellow classmate. He had his parents bought tan EXP while I was in my mom’s baby blue 1984 Nissan king cab truck. Believe it or not, the truck just slightly edged out the EXP, I gained with his every shift.

    These days it would be about as exciting as molasses to watch.

    • 0 avatar

      Haha, I imagine watching those two cough their way to 60, as a base modern Corolla flies by like a Corvette.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Actually…the EXP would give a Corolla a race. C/D tested one and found a 0-60 of 9.8 seconds.

        https://www.caranddriver.com/features/not-so-fast-there-bud-feature

        A 2017 Corolla will do 0-60 in a touch over 10 seconds.

        And know you know why I diss the living f**k out of Corollas.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Heh, I once dragged my dad’s Pinto against my buddy’s dad’s Corolla. He won…so he got pulled over by the cop who was watching us. I’m sure the cop had a good laugh over it.

  • avatar
    427Cobra

    My best friend had one of these back in the day… manual transmission, no A/C… I drove it around for a weekend, when I attended his wedding… not a bad car for its time, but nothing to write home about either.

  • avatar
    Higheriq

    I came very close to buying one of these in metallic lime green in 1982, but I ended up with a left over 81 Omni O24. The EXP and LN7 didn’t do well because they were competing with 4-seat Mustangs and Capris in the showroom. These were relegated to kids’ cars, and parents didn’t go for them because of the seating and 4-cylinder Mustangs/Capris weren’t much more money.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    We were discussing this car. There is some weirdness that include the red seatbelt for the driver side and a ton of overspray on the under carriage on the rear suspension, spare tire well, and gas tank.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    I’ve never seen one in the wild that I can remember, and I grew up in the 80s. I didn’t even know about them until well after they stopped making them.

    But Ford Escorts of that generation I saw all the time.

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Great condition. Saw a rusted out version couple months ago.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Worked part-time at a Ford dealer when these came out.

    For the time they were OK, in comparison to what they might have been cross shopped with.

    Remember there was still some lingering brand loyalty then, as well. But as others have noted, there were better options, even at a Ford dealership.

    The ‘frog being castrated’ headlight comparison seemed to deem them eternally as ‘uncool’.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A neat find would be the second generation version which had the European style headlamps and the improved engine. The GT version had the nice clean slotted grill and air dam with dogs while the Escort had the offset grill with GT logo.
    Also the second generation had the bubble back from the early LN-7.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought the Escort GT only existed after the EXP died. Were they available at the same time? That’s some serious product overlap right there.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Ford EXP lived from 1982 to 1988-1/2.

      The first generation was from 1982 to 1985. The 1982-83 model year got the notchback, like this one in the pictures. The 1984-85 got the bubbleback and the notchback was eliminated. They were powered by a 1.6L 4-cylinder engine shared with the Escort, and offered 4-speed, 5-speed, and 3-speed automatic transmissions. The 4-speed manual was dropped in 1984. The ’83 version in the pictures above would have 165R80/13 tires on steel rims!

      The 1985 model year offered an EXP Turbo, which got an updated front end, TRX rims (metric rims roughly 13-1/2 inches, beautiful but forget ever finding tires for them) and suspension, rear spoiler, seats from the same era Escort GT, and different gearing.

      There was development of a 1985-1/2 model that never saw the light of day.

      1986 model changed design language to match the Escort and Escort GT. The biggest difference was the front grille opening. The EXP was offered with the base 1.9 and the HO version found in the GT, but suffered from a weight and price disadvantage. The EXP GT, sold in 1986 to 87 was only available with a manual. All models got a rear spoiler.

      For 1988 and 88-1/2 the EXP GT was eliminated and only the base engine with 14″ wheels and base suspension was available.

      Mercury had their own version, the LN7, which was sold for only two years 82-83, and had the bubbleback for both model years. The LN7 never caught on and suffered from low sales volume.

      Fun fact, the 1982-1985 Ford EXP/Mercury LN7 have the inglorious distinction of having the worst F/R weight distribution of any modern passenger car built. 68F/32R – they were ill-handling understeering cars – but near unstoppable in the snow.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        “The ’83 version in the pictures above would have 165R80/13 tires on steel rims!”

        Does anyone else vastly prefer these to the black steelies with plastic wheelcovers that we get today? Give me a silver or body-colored steel wheel with a properly styled hubcap and beauty ring any day.

        – – –

        A recall a family friend’s panning the EXP when she got one as a rental. Her basis of comparison was a Peugeot 505; she was on year two or three of two decades in that car, bought new. Oddly enough, both cars were stick. I can’t imagine how rare manual EXP rentals were in the US, or manual rental anything for that matter.

  • avatar
    DownEaster

    In the context of the time, Ford was “broke” when the EXP came out. The 1983 Fairmont Based LTD was done on the cheap. The EXP probably came about because of the thought of high gas prices in 1979 or 1980 that people thought would just keep going up. There was a thought at the time that a high mileage “commuter car” that was sporty would be needed. Dodge had the Omni )24 and the Horizon TC3 based on the Omni/Horizon. Pontiac was working on the Fiero which was supposed to be a “community car” that turned into a sports car. Ford developed the EXP as a fusion of both ideas.

  • avatar
    DM335

    The EXP was marketed as an upgraded Escort. The price tag was a bit higher than a comparable Escort, but the insurance was also higher since it was a 2-seater “sports” car. In 1985, Ford improved the looks of the Escort GT, which made the EXP even more of an albatross. Somewhere along the way, Ford decided to badge it as an “Escort EXP”, which was the kiss of death.

  • avatar
    threeer

    From Webster’s: Rare: seldom occurring or found. So, maybe back in the day of manufacture, not rare. Today? Seldom found.

    I test drove a used first gen back when I was in high school, just because it looked so different. Not exactly a memorable ride, but it sure looked like nothing else on the road (and maybe that really wasn’t a good thing). Thanks for finding one and bringing some magic 80’s back! Oh, and digging the 914 in the garage…

    • 0 avatar

      The early ’80s were a – let’s say difficult – time for car styling. Thinking on it, very few cars rose even to the level of acceptable from that standpoint. Mercedes ranks high on my list of looking good/OK in the early ’80s.

  • avatar
    TheImpalaKid

    I had one of these that I bought new in 1982.

    It was a peppy, fun little car to drive, and was perfect for my wife and I as a newly-married couple.

    I always thought it looked like a squished frog from the front.

    Ours had the “even-more-rare” TRX suspension and wheels/tires.

    What it didn’t have was A/C, so when we moved to New Orleans, A/C was a necessity.

  • avatar
    True_Blue

    The only fact I can divulge is that Escort rear seats will indeed fit into an EXP or LN7, thanks to the pan commonality.

    I doubt it’d be a place you’d wanna spend more than 15 minutes though.

    • 0 avatar
      cognoscenti

      I actually rode in the back of one of these once circa 1987 (yes, with no back seat)! Accompanying two teen girls necessitated the seating position. I specifically remember us listening to Whitesnake’s self-titled album while the girl who owned the EXP drove us over to her house. I was into the girl – but the car, not so much.

  • avatar
    jdowmiller

    I went to high school in the early ’90s, when all us poor Ohio kids would’ve been driving ’80s garbage. I recall *one* EXP. So for me, it was rare even at that time. I suspect that most other examples had rusted away already.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I remember looking at these after they first were released. They were not inexpensive relative to a Mustang/Capri, and I thought they were rather underpowered. For not much more money, you could get into a 4 cylinder Mustang and not feel like you were going to be run over by every bicyclist in town.

    About 20 years ago, the neighbor kid had one of the last EXPs that I can remember seeing. This was a post-1986 version, that had the contemporary Escort GT grille and wheels. I have to give that little pony credit; that kid did everything in his power (both intentionally and unintentionally) to kill that car, but it kept coming back for more. He eventually grenaded either the trans or the motor and then continued his ways on a fairly recent Camaro RS. I moved away not too long after, so I have no idea how long the ‘Maro survived.

    Idiot.

  • avatar
    drw1926

    The EXP and LN7 came out when I was in my late teens/early 20’s…I was very Ford-biased as my Pops worked at Dearborn Engine Plant & Dearborn Fuel Tank for over 40 years. I used to think these were the coolest cars you could buy…I had a very well-worn brochure for each that I would drool over like most guys my age would look at Penthouse or Hustler back then. Memories!

  • avatar
    Funky

    I always liked the look of these. Unfortunately, I never took the opportunity to drive one or to take a close look at one. Still regret it to this day.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    I’m more excited about the Porsche 914 in the garage…

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I remember the chief of polices son had one of these, I think it was a brand new 87 or 88.I always liked the look, kind of 7/10th scale Mirada, which I crushed on as a 10 yr old
    Incidentally, my fisrt car was a Mk1 GTI, silver/gunmetal two tone, an obvious respray by a previous owner , but otherwise was stock.I still think the unassisted steering was one of the most accurate systems I’ve ever driven to date, from a FWD chassis.
    It had the blue interior. It would cost over 10 grand to find a similar condition MK1 and let alone the difficulty of finding replacent parts.I gave up.

  • avatar

    Hey Corey, just a tiny technical point on an otherwise enjoyable article: CE14 was the 1990 European Ford Escort (C for C-segment, E for Europe, 14 for project number). When the EXP and LN7 were developed, Ford hadn’t adopted this naming system (project no. 1 was the Aerostar, so logically 14 postdated that model, though there were exceptions). You could say it was based on the successful 1981 Escort and Lynx. If we’re talking platforms, I don’t think Tempo and Topaz shared one with the Escort and Lynx, at least not in the way we understand them today, but of course they were related.


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