Rare Rides: The 1986 Ford Escort EXP, for Driving Enjoyment

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the 1986 ford escort exp for driving enjoyment

Rare Rides featured an EXP once before, in the form of a tidy first-generation example painted in blazing orange. Today’s EXP is a much more modern looking second generation, in two-tone grey and black.

The first Ford EXP was manufactured until partway through the 1985 model year. It carried on alone after its short-lived sibling, the Mercury LN7, ended production during 1983. Small, lightweight, and down on power, the EXP focused on fun driving and fuel economy. It even reached an impressive 44 miles per gallon highway in the hands of Car and Driver. But, by the middle of the Eighties, the competition in the affordable two-seat economy coupe field grew up like weeds around the EXP. Pontiac created the Fiero, Toyota had the MR2, and Honda offered the CR-X.

Ford knew it was time for a new EXP.

Ready during 1985, the new EXP was offered officially as a 1985.5 model. Its release coincided with a refresh of the Escort, from which the EXP borrowed many of its parts and a platform. The odd looks of the first generation were gone, replaced with the smoother, ruler-designed Escort look. Fittingly, the model was renamed Escort EXP. Unique to EXP were the front and rear bumper designs, as well as a grille.

New for ‘85.5 was the larger 1.9-liter inline-four from the Escort. EXPs used a three-speed automatic, or four- or five-speed manual transmissions. Wheelbase, length, width, and height were all nearly identical to the old EXP, though weight increased from 2,047 pounds to 2,338.

There were two distinct versions of Escort EXP, a fact which seems to elude Modern Internet Times. The lower end version was the Luxury Coupe. Standard Escort seats and fewer options were matched with a carb-fed version of the 1.9 for 1986, which produced 90 horsepower. TBI was added for ’87 and ’88, though power did not increase. At introduction in 1985, only the Luxury Coupe was available.

Upscale EXP customers waited for the more expensive Sport Coupe, introduced for 1986. Here, upgraded bucket seats and a center console filled an interior which featured additional power equipment like side mirrors. The Escort GT donated many components to the Sport Coupe, including a suspension the Luxury Coupe did never received. Here, the 1.9-liter had electronic fuel injection and initially produced 106 horsepower (increased to 115 in ’87).

Unfortunately, sales of the EXP peaked its first year at over 98,000, and fell immediately. The second generation never recovered that initial figure, and averaged about 27,000 sales per year. It was discontinued during 1988. But by then nobody cared — it was Probe time.

Today’s 1986 EXP is a Sport Coupe located in Washington, which is in Pennsylvania. With a five-speed manual, recent repaint, and 75,000 miles, it sits at $5,000 on eBay presently.

[Images: seller]

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2 of 52 comments
  • IBx1 IBx1 on Jun 19, 2019

    That's actually a handsome little design.

  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Jun 19, 2019

    I've always liked these , they were much more handsome than even the Escort GT, but our base FX16 (not GTS) was considerably faster . These seemed to be popular with the competition car audio fans. Inexpensive to get into leaving lots of money and space available for equipment

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