Although the Ford Escort was a hot property overseas since the 1960s, it was not offered in the United States until the 1981 model year. At that point, it started selling like hotcakes. Then, in 1982, Ford created a sporty spin-off from the Escort. It was called the Ford EXP.
The beginning of the Ford EXP
Keep in mind that automotive manufacturers had recently come out of the oil embargo era. So, economical small, front-wheel drive, cars were the in thing with consumers. Unsurprisingly, Ford tried to create a sporty and economical two-seater off a platform they already had in order to maximize their project costs. To that end, Ford created the EXP. It shared the floorpan and drivetrain with the Escort but lost two seats, and was lower to the ground.
The exterior of the EXP
The exterior of the EXP is where the big difference between the cars was. Ford got rid of the stand-up grille of the Escort and instead created a wedge-shaped hood that was flanked by light pods that integrated with the fenders. Two small slots on the bumper became the cooling vents for the engine. The two-seater also had a shorter an angular C-pillar behind the driver’s seat, giving it a notchback look. It became affectionately known a the frog face car.
The oil embargo and environmental restrictions
Remember the oil-embargo I mentioned earlier? Well, on the heels of the oil embargo, the government also enacted environmental restrictions. Horsepower ratings across the auto industry took a hit as a result. Between the oil restrictions and the horsepower hit, the Ford EXP engineering team was able to put together a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that put out 70-80 horses, which was not exciting, but not bad for the time. Autotrader reports that the zero-to-sixty time for the car was 12.4 seconds. EPA numbers of the day put the car at 44 miles per gallon. A turbo engine was made available later. It brought the zero-to-sixty time down to 9 seconds and raised horsepower to 120.
The original EXP model ran from 1982 to 1985. An update for the 1985 model year, in line with the redesigned Escort, gave engineers an opportunity to have a do-over. So, they came up with a new EXP. But, when the new car launched, it more closely resembled the Escort. So, it was renamed the Ford Escort EXP. It did, however, have a model-specific bumper with an integrated air dam, grille, and B pillar cover.
In the mid to late 1980s competition for the small coupe market was increasing. The Honda CRX, Pontiac Fiero, and Toyota MR2 were all now on the scene. Although there were engine and horsepower tweaks along the way for the Escort EXP, the competition had more power. So, the Escort EXP was pretty much the old guard at that point. However, it would soldier on until ultimately meeting its demise in 1988.
Today, the EXP, and younger Escort EXP are rare sights on the road or even at car shows. They are considered a classic by many state motor vehicle departments because of their age. But, even still, there just is no love for this piece of Ford history. At the time of the writing, there is only one listed on Autotrader, and one on Ebay Motors.