By on June 18, 2019

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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52 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1986 Ford Escort EXP, for Driving Enjoyment...”

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    My first car was an 85′ EXP which was the odd looking first iteration. It was a super fun car to drive, in some ways the precursor to the small displacement tuner cars of today. Mine was a 5 speed no option heater and a key car, of which I have fond memories.

    • 0 avatar

      Escorts as a whole weren’t bad drivers by the (very low) standards of the day, particularly if they had the more powerful engine.

      But a GTI, Civic Si or Corolla FX-16 would run rings around this.

    • 0 avatar

      My first car was an ’85 Ford EXP GL without a single option, not even a radio. Non-tinted glass, manual steering, 5-speed manual, no rear defroster. It was a fun little car and I also have fond memories. I certainly loved the utility of the 2-seat configuration and the large hatch.

  • avatar

    It’s hard to believe there was a time when people wanted a under-powered 2-seat Escort, but they did. This came out about the time I was looking at minivans, so I never paid much attention. It looks to be in good shape and I’m sure it will sell to someone who just loved them

  • avatar

    OK, Corey, not to quibble, but I’ll quibble for the sake of accuracy…

    I love seeing old rides that people have cared for over the years, but I’m not sure how a Ford that sold hundreds of thousands of copies qualifies as a “rare” ride. It’s rare now, but it sure wasn’t when it came out.

    It seems these rides tend to fall into two categories: the truly rare stuff (like exotics, one-offs, customs, etc) and mass-produced cars that have become rare through natural selection. This car falls in the second category. It’s a survivor, but I wouldn’t call it rare.

    Maybe there should be a “Survivor” series?

    Anyway, as I said, I’m just quibbling.

    • 0 avatar

      I think what’s rare is this particular trim level, but I’m not sure

    • 0 avatar

      “It’s rare now, but it sure wasn’t when it came out.”

      You answered your own question. And this car didn’t sell that well. No hundreds of thousands.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, yeah, *this* particular trim didn’t sell all that well, but Ford did sell hundreds of thousands of EXPs over its’ run.

        Personally, I’d call exotics, classics, limited-editions, or oddballs “rare rides.”

        This is more of a survivor, and I think that’d make for an interesting series as well – mass-market cars that there aren’t many left of. The fact that someone takes the time to care for these survivors makes these cars interesting.

        Again, it’s a quibble – I like the series a lot – but I just wouldn’t call this “rare.”

        • 0 avatar

          The Ford EXP and Mercury LN7 combined moved 265K units from 1982 to 1988-1/2. Of those, just about half were sold in a single model year – 1982.

          The “Gen II” EXP was sold in Ford form only and exact sales numbers are unknown. 86 and 87 productions was broken out by Ford, and about 55K units were sold in all trims. 1988 Ford EXP production was rolled into Escort sales numbers, but it had to be lower than the 25K units moved in 1987.

          Most Escorts and EXPs of this era rusted back to the earth decades ago when the rear shock towers rotted out and/or the fuel filler neck rotted out.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, the EXP did not sell “hundreds of thousands of copies.”

      By objective measures of the day, the car was a flop.

  • avatar

    Couple of things.

    This was the ‘updated’ EXP/Escort. As such, the GT editions came with a 1900cc fuel-injected engine, and a 5-speed. Unlike their predecessors with the anemic 1.6 engine that was burdened with a wide-speed 4-ratio manual trans (because that was the cheapest way to get good EPA ratings), these 85 1/2 had pretty good acceleration for 1985.

    I know because I test drove one. I really wanted to buy an American car. The Escort GT cost considerably less than a VW GTI.

    Flat out acceleration in the Escort GT was pretty good. But the engine sounded loud–and COARSE. The GTI was less loud and sounded GOOD.

    And that’s a metaphor for the cars. The GTI’s steering, clutch/shifter, brakes all felt 10x better. Granted, the GTI at that time was arguably the best hot hatch, certainly a contender, but I’m sure a Corolla GTS or Mitsu Mirage Turbo would also be 5x better.

    Typical of most domestics, Ford got the ‘numbers’ right, finally, 5 years late, but subjectively was still not in the same league.

    The next Escort GT (designed by Mazda) proved to be fun and was a credible alternative.

    • 0 avatar

      EXP went to 5-speed manual in 1984. I had an 85 in the “Gen I” body style (no lower cladding, no spoiler, frog eyed front clip and hood) that was 5-speed (non-turbo).

  • avatar

    “two distinct versions of Escort EXP, a fact which seems to elude Modern Internet Times”

    Both versions are represented here:

    Automobile Catalog has a nearly-comprehensive list – with specs (and stats , where available) – of most models from most manufacturers in most markets throughout history, complete from A to P (they are working alphabetically to finish it eventually – still waiting for Toyota, dammit), including ProfessCars™ simulation; a spec-based guestimation of performance and fuel economy.

    Good for hours of time-wasting fun.

  • avatar

    I had a 1986 Mercury Lynx XR-3, which of course, is a badge-engineered Escort GT. It looked a lot like the EXP shown above – except it had seating for 4 – and was equipped with the fuel injected 1.9 engine with a 5-speed manual transmission. Although it had the factory handling package with 195/60×15 tires – quite large at the time – it didn’t feel quite as nimble as other hot hatches. But it was a nice highway cruiser and gave me many years of good service. It had surprisingly nice upholstery and the front seats were almost identical to those from the same-year Mustang. Much more comfortable than the seats in the Mazda MX-3 that I bought to replace it.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      You are right about those seats…high-end Fords of the 80s had great seats. Mustang GTs, T-bird Turbo Coupes, all the Merkurs and Lincolns, even my buddy’s grandmother’s LTD LX (the Fairmont-based one) had better seats than their GM, Chrysler, or most Japanese competitors.

  • avatar

    I picked up an ’84 or ’85 in 1990 for like $1,600. I don’t remember which year it was,it had the first version’s front end but with the LN7’s bubble hatch and spoiler. I like the look of that combination best. Luckily it was a MT because that 1.6 was so slow. I wish it had the 1.9 from the ’86 Escort GT I had bought new in Fall of ’85 and totaled in ’89.

  • avatar

    I had an 82 Mercury LN-7 (same car as the EXP) as my first car. I paid $2600 for it in 1986, which seems like a lot of money now that I think about it..

  • avatar

    One bid, for $5k, and it hasn’t met the reserve? I don’t think it’ll sell. The braided hoses are over the top.

    These were a lot better looking than the sleepy-eyed first-gen EXPs. I saw a nice one of these one my way to work recently, and posted a picture to the V.I.S.I.T. FB group.

    • 0 avatar

      No offense to the seller, but I never warmed to the EXP/LN7 variants.

      But now, it’s a credit to Ford that automakers would do these variants.

      Basically, Ford took an Escort 2 door, lopped 1-2 inches off the roof and ‘fastbacked’ it. This killed the utility of the car–and the car did not look especially sleek or cool–this was no Karmann Ghia or Scirocco.

      Poorer Chrysler did an infinitely better job with the 024/TC3 2-door versions of the Omni/Horizon, IMO.

      I will say the bubbleback rear glass of the Mercury version was a little easier to stomach (but that bubbleback glass KILLED the Capri RS).

    • 0 avatar

      FWIW, an lower mile “Gen I” style Ford EXP sold for $10K earlier this year (or late last year). I want to say that version had 17K miles. That one was all original, this one is at least missing it’s factory wheels, which were pretty darn attractive for the era.

    • 0 avatar

      The braided hoses aren’t just over the top, they’re not even properly fabricated. Those fire sleeves are supposed to be clamped and sealed at each end so that their liners don’t wick oil. (The orange part you see is silicone rubber, usually rated to 450°F and some higher temperature for a short time. Inside the orange part is cloth liner, usually something like asbestos, fiberglass, or something like that to insulate the actual oil line or fuel line.)

      This is not really complicated stuff and how to do it right isn’t exactly a big secret.


      • 0 avatar

        They are not braided hoses, they are the universal braided sleeving with the blue anodized clamp covers over the top of the standard rubber hoses.

  • avatar

    The first EXP was in a contest for weird and ugly with the Datsun F10 for me.

    But the first Escorts with the 1.6 engine came out in 1980 when I had a totally annoying ’80 Jetta 1.6 assembled on a Friday night overtime shift after a beer hall outing in Wolfsburg. The engine was good though, nice and smooth – too bad about the rest.

    My friend bought the ’80 Escort manual. It ran down the road in a series of hiccups, with strong torque reversals at odd intervals and felt quite unwell. Trickling around town at low speeds it proceeded in a series of bunny hops entirely of its own volition. What a piece of incompetent nonsense.

    After my parents Pinto that was rubbish and a ’78 Fairmont six they bought that needed literally 20 minutes warmup from cold before it wouldn’t stall (They’re all like that sir), I wasn’t surprised at the lack of grasp Ford had on emissions tuning with the Escort.

    So I had no recollection that they changed/updated the car for ’85, due to my complete disinterest in the vehicle and Ford in general. Another piece of trivia to add to the vast memory banks. Only got interested years later when the Escort came with a nice DOHC Mazda four. That was a nice car. The CVH-engined vehicles always sounded like they were wounded but were gamely pressing on against all odds.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The Mercury LN7 had the bubbleback hatch from the inception that differentiated it from the EXP with the flat back window.

    The marketers at Ford actually cited the heritage of the 55-57 Thunderbird when it was introduced. “Gosh it’s also a two seater!”

    My sister owned a first year 81 Escort which had its teething problems; head gasket etc. The later years like this one were far better.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    If my Fiesta ST ever ends up wrecked, as much of it that survives will be bolted into one of these.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This example isn’t too far from me. As much as I liked the EXP, I thought the LN7 was cooler, but they both can stay in the 80s.

  • avatar

    It was the Consolation Prize when not qualifying for the Mustang GT. Or were too young for the V8 Mustang, says your insurance agent.

    • 0 avatar

      In 1996 when I purchased a new home, I got Homeowners Insurance through Allstate. The Agent asked if he could quote on my car insurance. When he found out I had a 5.0 Mustang, he told me Allstate wouldn’t write a policy for them. I was in my 40’s at the time !
      GEICO had no problem with it.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        Funny since I own a MN-12 Thunderbird with the V8. I’ve been insured, home and automobile for years with Geico paying a fairly reasonable rate. If I had a somewhat newer Mustang, mechanically the same vehicle because of its reputation I’d be paying a higher rate.
        Those youngens with their pony cars…

        • 0 avatar

          T-Birds have never been problem for the insurance industry, even with HO V8s.

          I was working at a Ford dealer in ’88 and seen several young guys buy new 5.0/GT Mustangs (or gifted) and had to “sell them” right back to the dealer once they got insurance quotes.

          So “obviously” I had an ’89 Mustang LX 5.0 on order, and I knew I’d be paying a bit more for full coverage insurance than on my beater ’79 Mustang 5.0 Ghia. Yeah, so what?

          So I took delivery and was quoted $5,000 a year! Hell I had a perfect/clean driving record and my Ins agent was a family friend I’d known all my life. No matter. Geeze that’s more than half of what I just paid for the car.

          Since I paid cash for the car, the only other alternative was to get basic “liability” and self-insure the rest. Allstate wouldn’t take that bet. In fact no Ins company in the state would sell me straight “liability”…

          They really hated 5.0 Mustangs with young dudes behind the wheel. Luckily there was a state program that sponsored “high risk” drivers. Good times.

          • 0 avatar

            edit: I was 20 years old.

          • 0 avatar
            MRF 95 T-Bird

            In the future I’m considering a Mustang eco boost or the last V6 as a potential replacement. I think the insurance on those is fairly reasonable where they don’t lump you in with the younger GT owner.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I was working part-time at a Ford dealership just after the first generation of these came out and therefore have experience with them.

    It was American cars of this era/like this, that allowed the Japanese to destroy the D3+ 1/2 dominance on the North American market. The cars that the Japanese were selling were in so many cases, just better.

    And the front fascia/headlights of the 1st generation EXP were said to look like “a frog being castrated”.

  • avatar

    This was just an extensive refresh, like the Escort got that year(.5). I loved the look of it. What Ford was able to do with integrated bumpers, body cladding and headlights on these old things really set it off for me. My brother in law had an earlier pre refresh EXP that he loved and took great care of, but despite his hard work, minor mechanical and body failures mounted and he finally sold it. They looked good, but yeah, were more than a little rough around the edges.

  • avatar

    The EXP is a rare car that looks better in pictures than in person.

    • 0 avatar

      Absolutely right. They were placticky and underwhelming, and smaller than you’d expect, and slower, too. But they were photogenic – they looked great in Motor Trend and Car & Driver.
      And they depreciated something fierce.

  • avatar

    That’s actually a handsome little design.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    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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