We had so much fun with the ‘Forgotten Marque’ series, we couldn’t leave well enough alone. Our new series puts the spotlight on “sporty” cars-they never earned the sports car designation, but they were a diversion from the otherwise mundane offerings by mainstream manufacturers. We kick off our series with the Ford EXP and Mercury LN7.Ã‚Â
1982-1985 Ford EXP/Mercury LN7 Series I
Ford’s “global” car, the Escort, came to North America in 1981. Sensing a lack of a small, sporty car to slot below the Mustang, Ford was able to quickly add a sporty, two seater body on top of the basic Escort mechanicals.
The EXP was the first Ford two-seater offered in 25 years, but comparisons to the original, iconic Thunderbird end there. Powered by a 1.6 liter, 70-hp four, coupled with a 4-speed manual, the EXP was actually 200lbs heavier than a comparable Escort. Performance was less than stunning. Road & Track reported 0-60mph in 15 seconds. In 1984, Ford offered an EXP Turbo version of the same engine, delivering 120hp. Unique front fascia and rear spoiler treatments separated the Turbo from lesser EXP’s.
Mercury had their own version of the EXP when it launched, sold as the LN7. The car was the same in every way, with the exception of a glass “bubble-back” rear hatch, and some other minor differences in appearance. LN7 sales were a fraction of the EXP’s, and the model was dropped after 1983.
1986-1988 Ford EXP Series II
The Escort had received a makeover in 1985. The EXP took a short break, and returned with those upgrades, as well as the LN7’s bubble-back glass hatch and integrated rear spoiler. The Turbo model was gone, but larger 1.9 liter 90hp and 106hp engines were on tap. After a run of 225,000 cars sold, Ford discontinued the EXP.
For a small two-seater, that’s not a bad run. If the EXP had one major flaw, it was that the car never had the performance to back up the sporty looks. Even so, the EXP was a bargain-basement ride with a sporty exterior that was appealing to young buyers. Since the car was mostly Escort anyway, it was an inexpensive way for Ford to lure more customers who would have dismissed the Escort as too plain.
Ford’s own product portfolio was the main reason behind the axing of the EXP. Ford had been developing a front-wheel drive pony car to replace the Mustang. Those plans were foiled when Mustang loyalists let Ford know loud and clear that this move was unacceptable. The car was so far in development, Ford still green-lighted it, and sold it as the Probe, and the Mustang was allowed to continue as a rear wheel drive, V-8 pony car as God had intended.
Ford likely sensed the EXP might take away sales from the base model Probe. Also, the Escort GT was essentially a more practical EXP, so putting the EXP out to pasture was the only logical thing for Ford to do. In 2008, it is hard to imagine Ford having so many sporty cars to be forced to pick which one should go.