Home » The First Concept Car Entirely Designed By A Woman Would Have Made A Better Small Mustang Than The EXP

The First Concept Car Entirely Designed By A Woman Would Have Made A Better Small Mustang Than The EXP

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It pains me to say it, but the industrial design world has historically been a male-dominated place. If I were to ask you to spit out a few famous names in the world of fashion, you’d likely have a fair balance of Vera Wangs with your Giorgio Arminis. Sadly, with product and automotive design, such a list would read like a sausage fest.

Outside of a presence in Color & Trim department, car design studios were remarkably free of women well into the eighties. It’s important to recognize the contributions of some of those who worked to break those limitations, particularly when the work was especially good.

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As I started to work on the next phase of my alternate reality timeline of two separate Mustang models, I noticed a concept from one of these ladies that would have been an ideal fit for one of the open blocks on my Gantt chart. Honestly, it would have blown away the rather unsuccessful entry that Ford did put into this position, so it’s well past time to revisit it.

I Can’t Go For That (The EXP, I Mean)

Recently I’ve started looking at what would have happened if Ford gave us two Mustangs in 1974 instead of the rather unloved Mustang II. I proposed a small compact model and one about the size of the rival Camaro and Firebird.

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The “big” standard sized one has received my attention but now I want to focus on the smaller alternate reality “Stallion” model that I introduced as a Tom Tjaarda-designed Ghia concept come to life.

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In reality, the Mustang II was actually downsized so drastically that it fit into the small coupe market and left the niche of larger Pony cars wide open for the Camaro to make inroads. The larger (and much better) 1979 Fox-bodied Mustang helped solve some of those problems, yet now the market for a smaller coupe needed to be addressed. Ford did just that in 1982 when they sort of gave us the “little” Mustang that I’ve been suggesting. The issue was that the car that they gave us to fill that space wasn’t particularly good.

The Ford EXP (and Mercury twin LN7) were coupes based on the Escort that had just been released the year before, and they had a bunch of strikes against them from the start. First, despite having a decent amount of room in back, the cars were sold as two-seaters only; after the 1955-57 T-Bird Ford of all people should know is marketing death for a mainstream car. Second, the performance of the Escort on which the EXP was based on was less than stellar, with a whopping 70 horsepower and a zero to sixty time of over 14  seconds. Worse than that, the EXP didn’t weigh any less than the five-passenger Escort so you were gaining absolutely nothing in performance and handling over the more practical car.

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Ford

Now, if the EXP had the styling of a Pininfarina masterpiece, you might have forgiven some of these flaws, but the final blow was that the Ford “sports car” bore a strong resemblance to a rather sad frog. With its hooded headlamps, chopped roof, and too-high flanks, it just looked rather awkward.

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Ford introduced an updated model in 1986 with a stock Escort nose and black painted trim to make the side windows look bigger. I’ve always thought this looked no better than the first one; it sort of resembled an earlier EXP that got in a wreck and the body shop added a front clip from a regular Escort hatch (which, essentially, they did).

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Ford

Sales were projected to be 200,000 annually, but they didn’t break half that in the 1982 debut year. After that, it never sold beyond 30,000 units a year up to its 1988 discontinuation.

Sadly, Ford had some great designs from an Italian studio, yet they chose to ignore them, including one by a designer whose name you probably won’t know, but should.

Who Can It Be Now?

As with any company, if you ask what goes on behind the scenes you might get different answers from different people. In the design departments I have worked in, most concepts are an amalgamation of ideas, and in the aftermath there are varying claims of who was really responsible for what. Still, there is rather strong evidence that the first car concept solely developed both inside and out by a woman was the 1982 Ghia Brezza.

Marilena Corvasce was reportedly hired by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro when he was still working at Ghia in 1967. By the early eighties, she was still the only female designer in the now-Ford-owned design house. Finally, after fifteen years there, she was given a project she could claim entirely for herself, inside and out. The Brezza brief handed to her was for a small mid-engined sports car, oddly similar to the Fiero that General Motors was developing at the time. In fact, the Brezza was created in a very Fiero-like way by chopping two production Ford EXPs apart and attaching the front wheel drivetrain behind the front seats.

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Ford/Ghia via Scott Grundfor Restorations

The Brezza’s wedge-shaped nose features a recessed character line below the front bumper that descends to the bottom of the covered rear wheels to cut away some of the visual mass, an effect further helped by a horizontal split running around the perimeter of the car. At some point in its life, the lower half of the car was painted grey, possibly in a continued attempt to lighten the look. Ventilation slots on the “B” pillar were added to feed the rear-mounted engine. Jason was quick to point out that the little “whiskers” on the grille were used later on police versions of the Taurus.

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Ghia/Ford

In back, the design works though unavoidably it comes across as a bit heavy thanks to the wheel skirts. Flying buttress continue the roof line down behind the rear window, but in the Brezza’s case they are filled with glass where both sides are entirely outside of the car. I do have to say that I’m never a fan of fake side windows. The Brezza shares this trait with the later Fiero GT and the Delorean; I know why they do it, but it comes across as Hollywood-movie-set trickery that’s easily dispelled. It always seems like there’s a better way (look at a Maserati Merak or a Bora, for example).

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Mecum, Beverly Hills Car Club

After the press coverage was over, the Brezza went into storage; Ford apparently never considered it for production. The front-drive EXP was their market-ready answer to the small sports coupe, yet it really sold no better than the equally doomed Fiero.

Marilene’s design deserved better; hell, we all deserved better than that rather ill-conceived EXP. Here’s how it might have happened in the alternate timeline.

And Now You Find Yourself In ’82

Though it would have been given updates, my 1974 Mustang Stallion would have been getting a bit long in the tooth (not unlike the 1975 Monza that Chevy was still selling then). We’d have to play with dates a bit, but let’s say that Ghia’s creation by Corvasce would have been ready to go as a production version of our little Mustang sidekick. Here’s the Brezza again:

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Ghia/Ford

As always, we’d need to make some significant changes first. The whole two-seat-mid-engine layout would not fly for a car intended to sell in big numbers for years on end, so we’ll switch it to the much-more-mass-market Escort front-drive layout. I would really, really only want this available with the turbocharged four-cylinder that Ford finally offered with a respectable 96 horsepower. Equipped with this powerplant, the Escort was able to hit sixty in the nine-second range; pathetic today but class-leading back then. Here’s the revised Brezza as the Stallion:

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Ford

I’ve had to push the front bumper out a bit for the federally mandated 5MPH collision standards, and the clear “running lights” would need to be simply “flash to pass” windows for the retractable lights. The lower “B” pillar vents are not needed with no engine back there so they’ll disappear, and the skirted rear wheels that were such a presence on early 80s show cars would never be accepted for production. Also, you can barely see it, but I’ve brought the side windows down slightly for better visibility and to reduce the too-thick-looking sides.

The inevitable Mercury version is the Capri with exposed quad lights and unified-looking side glass with body-colored fillers near the back of the smaller quarter windows.

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Ford

In back, I’ve done more extensive revisions. Here’s the stock Brezza:

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Ghia/Ford

Now, the Stallion. A small, fold-down back seat for kids or adults on short trips would be a must. Naturally, we’ll put in a hatchback over the now-engineless rear; I’ve added more rear overhang and slightly tweaked the roofline to be not as steep and allow for a bit more rear headroom. We’ll keep the upper “B” pillar vents, maybe making them functional to keep those jammed in the cramped rear compartment from suffocating.

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1982 Ford Brezza Concept 08 5
Ghia/Ford

The taillights are an interpretation of a “three bar” Mustang style, albeit with amber signals above. The STALLION name is embossed in the bumper trim.

Overall, this Stallion ends up looking remarkably like the slightly smaller Honda CRX that appeared a few years later; a car the poor EXP couldn’t hold a candle to but this Stallion might have given a run for its money.

(Space Inside For) The Kids In America

In the automotive design world, it’s apparently very rare for the same person to design the inside and outside of a car, so the fact that Marilena Corvasce was assigned to do both is rather remarkable. It does look like she had serious limitations on what she was able to do, since the dash appears to be a standard 1982 Escort/EXP unit covered in felt and pool noodle foam.

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One thing I never liked about the Escort/EXP is the auxiliary gauges mounted WAY down low behind the shifter where you really can’t see them (carried over to the Brezza and even seen on more legitimate competitors like the VW GTI/Scirocco):

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Ford

To be fair, we’ll try to use as many Escort components in our Stallion as possible (since Ford would likely do that on the production) but with some changes. I’ve moved aux gauges (and the clock) to a pod on top of the dash for best visibility (the Escort and EXP had a radio speaker there which we’d never use on the stereo-only Stallion).

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Stallion Interior 5 11

Now we have that space down below open for other things. I’m thinking modular boxes such as something to hold your cassette tapes that you can take with you, or a fold-out cupholder in these years before that was common. Either that or just leave the space open as a “purse nook”. I’d say even the ashtray would be an option; why waste that space if you don’t smoke?

Rising Up To The Challenge Of Our Rival

In hindsight, the Brezza was yet another great concept that was destined for mothballs when it could have changed history. It probably would have been a far better “small Mustang” sport coupe than the EXP that was actually built.

Based on the history of most of these types of sport coupes, the “Stallion” buyer demographic would likely have been largely female, all of them buying a car created by a bunch of dudes. That’s pretty sad, especially when you see how nice the Brezza was. Plus, if Ford had advertised who the mind behind this alternate timeline Brezza-based Stallion was, Marilena Corvasce might have inadvertently helped to inspire more women to get involved in a profession dominated by names like Harley Earls and Marcello Gandinis much sooner.

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Ed Dale
Ed Dale
3 days ago

Why not add the Ford Cosworth engine from the UK? More power, more torque, still out of Ford’s parts bin. Might have been tricky to get it to work front wheel drive . . .

behindTheTimes
behindTheTimes
4 days ago

As a former driver of a Mustang II (which I did *not* like) and a CRX (*did* like), I approve this message. I think your Stallion had a better chance of competing with the CRX than the EXP. I don’t recall even considering the EXP when I bought the CRX.

Josh Turner
Josh Turner
4 days ago

Some echoes of the Brezza would show up in the (much better proportioned) Ghia design for the GN34, which nearly made production. I get the criticism of external glazing, but they look fantastic here.

https://www.classicandsportscar.com/features/ford-vs-ferrari-reloaded-forgotten-gn34-supercar

Jose Kercado
Jose Kercado
2 days ago
Reply to  Josh Turner

That’s is *definitely* a refined Brezza! Too many similarities to be a coincidence. Looks great.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
4 days ago

Enjoyable, I would drive one!

Vee
Vee
4 days ago

The more I look at it the more I think that having sidemarker lights that extend from the bumper rub strips towards the front wheels, and keeping the black paint window trick from the Escort would help even further. Maybe having the door be scalloped below the window with a a little box hanging down to include the door handle in the black paint, even. Otherwise the car carries the weirdly top heavy rear three quarters view, and the shoulder looks just a bit too tall still.

Tim Cougar
Tim Cougar
4 days ago

For the rear of the Capri, I’m picturing full-width all-red horizontally-ribbed taillights, and the license plate moved down to a recess in the bumper. Maybe inset circular reverse lights like on the 1983 Cougar, or put those down in the bumper too.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 days ago

Let’s be honest being a designer who designs a brand new car for an OEM is like being a NFL head coach. There are only so many positions. No one gets considered unless they have years of experience and are successful at it. Also many persons no matter how bad they are keep getting reconsidered because there is no standard that is proven to be successful. While I like the design that covered wheel thing is a European nightmare and would not have been successful. Without it very nice. Was it a prelude to the DeLorean,? Maybe but the DeLorean was a failure. You can’t compare or use statistics for a position that only has less than 100 positions in the world. But yeah blame the past because it doesn’t fit the idiotic mind set of the present.

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
4 days ago

Nice article – I didn’t know about Corvasce. One of the big things that hurts the Brezza is using the Escort underbody structure, giving it a cowl height and beltline that is about two inches too high. Drop the beltline down like you did and it gets better – drop the cowl and it’s better yet. Your result starts giving off Sierra vibes, with a bit of a fuller look

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
4 days ago

I didn’t hate the EXP/LN7 – but they would have been far better with flip-down headlamp covers and rear jumpseats.

And those windows on the Fiero and DeLorean – They’re not fake. They’re just behind the center partition.

A fake window is the shiny black plastic rear quarter “window” of a Cadillac CT5.

Jose Kercado
Jose Kercado
2 days ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

Also, the “fake” windows add much needed visibility.

Tbird
Tbird
4 days ago

Vaguely recall looking at a beat EXP (frog lights) as a possible first car (this was 1992). I still kinda like them but know they are crap cans.

Stunning the difference between an 8-10 yr old car now and then (my daily is 10 and feels like it has years left to give).

Last edited 4 days ago by Tbird
DysLexus
DysLexus
4 days ago

Thank you for this research on Marilena Corvasce and the brilliant work on the Stallion project. Several months ago I asked if there were many female car designers since I knew of none.

Having 2 artistic daughters who also love cars I appreciate it.

behindTheTimes
behindTheTimes
4 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

“…my classes at school and that was, uh, a long time ago.”

As evidenced by your headings referencing songs of the 80s.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
4 days ago

I like moat of this, but the face is kinda bland. The frog eye look of the original EXP was probably the only thing it had going for it. If nothing else, it looked distinctive. Maybe if that was incorporated, I’d like it better.

Just my opinion…

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
4 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Yeah. I have to agree.

Tbird
Tbird
4 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Agree – does it use the tiny lamps the old GMT400’s had or were they not available yet?

Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
4 days ago

The subtle Hall and Oates reference is appreciated.

behindTheTimes
behindTheTimes
4 days ago
Reply to  Saul Goodman

As is the Survivor reference.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
4 days ago

I love it, but where’s my redesigned futuristic Pony emblem? 😉

As the Bishop Timeline goes into the ’90s, I’d love to see what it might look like, given how the breed differs from that in our universe!

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
4 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Yes!

Presumably, the Ford Taurus would have still appeared in the Bishop Timeline (perhaps sooner, given the success of the aero forward Mustang family),with a similar effect on car design for the next decade as it did in ours.

Plus, pre-millennial tension combined with a growing interest in design nostalgia as the Bishop-boomers began to hit disposable income levels would seem to promote a similar interest in retro-futurism that Ford would need to address…

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
4 days ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Agree with Jack. Yes, Bishop, keep ‘er rollin!

JumboG
JumboG
4 days ago

Anything would have been better than the EXP. Of course it has the same specs as an Escort – there’s no major difference other than the lack of rear seats and slightly different body work (particularly in the back.) It’s like comparing specs between a 2 door and 4 door of the same car.

JumboG
JumboG
4 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

The power isn’t the only problem with the Excort/EXP. They’re just crappy cars. Although my opinion might be slightly biased as I dated 3 women with EXPs in HS/College.

Toecutter
Toecutter
4 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

I’d have made it RWD with the 2.3L Lima 4-cylinder from the Mustang SVO under the hood, except about 400 lbs lighter than the SVO we got. The front would have been elongated if necessary. Imagine 0-60 mph in around 6.5 seconds in a deliciously light platform. Also, I like the rear window you added. If shaped correctly, it could reduce drag vs the real concept’s straight cutoff. I’d still have retained the rear wheel skirts, although made them easy to remove ala Citroen DS.

This is how we could have had an affordable entry-level compact malaise-fighter with world-class fuel economy in the 80s. Assuming Cd value of 0.25, Escort-like frontal area, and a weight of 2,600 lbs, this could have been a 40+ mpg car with the at-the-time EPA test cycles.

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