By on July 14, 2009

Curbside Classics takes you back to 1971 for a virtual comparison test of six small cars, based (and partly borrowed) from a C/D test.

Few cars are more polarizing than the Pinto (except the Prius, of course). Commonly derided for its exploding gas tank and general crappiness, other folks found (still find) it to be cheap, fairly reliable transportation with a variable fun quotient, depending on its configuration. Sometimes, cars develop their reputations later in life, but the underdeveloped Pinto was pretty much an open book right from the beginning. A children’s book, at that. The Pinto should have been called Foal; it was a baby car.

Although its incendiary qualities weren’t yet recognized, C/D‘s editors were very disappointed with its structural and build quality. “We can see it reviving all those terrible old Ford (Model T) jokes, like ‘What time is it when one Ford follows another Ford down the road? (answer: ‘tin after tin’)”. Actually, the Model T was made out of very high quality steel, so the joke is a bit ironic.

Ford’s quest to keep weight and price low, (and possibly a rushed timeline) contributed to the tin can effect. “Whenever you hit a bump, the steering wheel whips around in your hands and the whole car rattles and rustles like a burlap bag full of tin cups. Self destruction seems only moments away.” As in when a GM X-body with locked rear brakes plows into that cute ass-end.

I guess I was too young in 1971 to fully grasp the Pinto’s structural deficiencies. I was too busy grasping the steering wheel and stick shift of a 2-liter, 4-speed version through the narrow, snaking, river-hugging Jones Falls Road. Of all the Fords I was being paid as a seventeen-year old dealership car jockey to shuttle to the distant body shop down this road, that particular Pinto configuration was the most fun (the Mach1 Mustang tried to plow furrows into the road). I wasn’t the only one to appreciate the Pinto’s handling qualities:

The rack-and-pinion steering and the shifter for the four-speed transmission are light and direct and the whole car bites into corners as though it knew what it was about.” Helps explain why the Pinto had a successful career as an SCCA Class B racer. Although not with the 1.6-liter engine that was in C/D‘s test Pinto. If they had tested the optional German 2.0 version, the Pinto might well have moved up a notch in the rankings. The British engine was a noisy and gutless lump, despite its pedigree in past (and future) Euro-Fordmobiles. In this version it made all of 75 (gross) horsepower, resulting in a very un-frisky zero-to-sixty time of fifteen seconds.

But it wasn’t just the acceleration; the Pinto with the 1.6 engine failed in the key freeway cruising test: it was a noisy buzz-bomb. Detroit had (mostly correctly) identified the imports’ one major weakness: unpleasant cruising on the freeways at higher speeds. The tiny engines long favored in Europe and Japan due to their different conditions were not conducive to the American way of driving.

That’s why Detroit responded with six-cylinder compacts in 1960. But they defined a new class, rather than competing directly with the imports. And now, with the import wave turning into a tsunami, Ford and GM were determined to take them head-on. And quiet comfortable freeway cruising was the one chink in the imports’ armor they sought to capitalize on.

The Gremlin sure excelled in that particular category. Unfortunately it was the only one. In every other way, it was an epic fail. But Ford was starting with a clean sheet. And they should have just left the 1.6 back in old Blighty.

My memory of driving dozens of new Pintos off the transporter trucks tells me that well over two-thirds or more 1971s had the 2.0, although with the three-speed automatic, it was still as much of a drag as was the (brief) gf who had one of those. Mercifully, the 1.6 disappeared after 1973. But the Pinto’s sporting qualities also started to evaporate about then too. De-smogged motors, despite their growth in displacement, became duller. Automatics became more common. Power steering, too. And Ford slathered on the sound-deadening insulation to mitigate those tin-can reverberations. In its later years, the Pinto became terminally boring, if freeway compliant.

With a ten-year production run, the Pinto outlasted its cross-town competitor, the Chevy Vega. And after the omni-present VW, it’s the most common of these six cars in Eugene today; I had to choose from between three Pintos I’ve shot. This red example is particularly rare, for all you Pinto-philes. The “Runabout” hatchback became available half-way through the 1971 model year. And by 1972, the glass portion of the hatch doubled in size. Why do I actually remember useless details like these?

This particular Pinto speaks to me in the most sympathetic way possible (for a Pinto), and not just because of its relative rarity. It has that just-right balance of patina, freshness, and historical accuracy (see the vintage aftermarket wheels). Very unlike this abomination (that’s a factory-direct Pinto Cruising Wagon). You younger folks (thankfully) don’t know what you were missing. The seventies started out on a high note . . . .

Tell me one specific model Detroit car that got better looking with age. Designers spend years developing and styling a new car, just to start mucking it up in year two or three. And the government’s ridiculous five-mile bumpers didn’t help either. But this first-year Pinto is still frisky and as cute as a baby, even after almost four decades. Not bad for a tin can.

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72 Comments on “Curbside Classics: 1971 Small Cars Comparison: Number 4 — Ford Pinto...”


  • avatar

    The car I’ve owned which I remember the most fondly was a 73 Pinto wagon with the 2.0L engine and 4-speed I had in college. I bought it brand new, wrecked it driving it off the lot, got it back a month later then drove it like I stole it for another year before its premature demise in the side of a semi that made an illegal turn. (Incidentally, say what you want about “tin can” but the police estimated my impact speed at about 50 mph and I walked – OK, limped – away from the accident.)

    I loved that car but refused to replace it with a 74 model with the horrible chrome railroad-tie bumpers. So I did what any self-respecting twenty-something would have done at that time — I bought a brand new Mustang II. But that’s another story for another day.

  • avatar
    Jonathan Gregory

    Is the door supposed to have mismatched scuff trim? That seemed the focal point of yesterday’s teaser photo. Unless of course I was turning a blind eye to the trailing cursive of the “o”.

    I had those sweet rally rims on the back of my first whip: ’77 Maverick 2-door.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Nicely written article. A friend’s mother bought a brand-new 1972 Runabout model equipped with air conditioning and the deluxe interior. I always thought that Pintos were much better trimmed inside than Vegas and Gremlins. Too bad that Ford cut corners with the fuel system and structural integrity.

    As for this sentence: Tell me one specific model Detroit car that got better looking with age.

    Do you mean Detroit cars built during the 1970s, or ANY Detroit car?

    Because, if you mean the latter, I can think of at least four:

    The 1956-57 Rambler, which became much better looking for 1958 by getting rid of its odd grille that incorporated the headlights.

    The 1960 standard Ford was facelifted to become the 1961 model, which featured more “traditional” Ford styling cues (more upright grille, pie-plate taillights).

    The 1962 Plymouth, which was bizarre during its debut year, but was facelifted into a handsome car for 1963 and 1964.

    The 1962 Dodge, which was even more bizarre than its Plymouth corporate cousin, but also sported dramatically improved styling for 1963 and 1964.

  • avatar
    paris-dakar

    I learned to drive a stick on a late-70s Pinto. Not a bad car. I could see Road Racing one, there are tons of available upgrades for that Engine.

    I’d almost consider the Ford SOHC I4 to be a classic Engine.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Frank,

    I’ve got a couple of great Mustang II CC shoots in the can. Which did you have: Coupe or Fastback?

  • avatar
    Airhen

    I don’t know that I’d call the Pinto attractive, but rather unique as it really is dated to the 70s which is nothing to be proud of. The 70s was tough on everyone with it’s ugly fashions, big collars and ties, and not to mention Carter wearing sweaters in the White House while he hid in the closet dreaming of surrendering to the Soviets.

    I certainly have memories of riding in the back of several Pintos, which included one owned by an ugly babysitter that I am sure to this day is still unmarried.

  • avatar

    Paul,

    I had a ’74 Coupe, V-6 with automatic, green with green vinyl top and green interior. All very 1970’s.

  • avatar
    Cmiller

    I’m too young to remember the car, but my Father had one, and a failed race team partnership had him put all the go fast parts on his daily driver. He talks about the car more than he talks about my childhood. ;)

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    Tell me one specific model Detroit car that got better looking with age.

    If we are speaking only of aesthetics and its totally in the eye of the beholder, than I have a few that looked better than the previous.

    – ’88 Pontiac Fiero GT Fastback was a vast improvement of looks over the earlier coupe models. And the mid-engine fire problem got worked out!

    – ’87-93 Mustang. A much cleaner look with the new aerodynamics over the previous ’79-86 Fox body.

    – ’93 Dodge Daytona. It was a cool looking car, too bad it didn’t have anything under the hood to match it.

    – ’00-08 Ford LTD. If I were an Octagenarian on a mission from God, this would be the car. Prolly the best looking LTDs since the 60s.

    – ’86-96 Corvette C4. As apposed to the ’84-85 models with the roarin’ 185 HP V8, these were much better.

    – ’80-82 Pinto. New rear glass hatch, “sporty” front end, and standard mag wheels made the top of the line model almost cool. The best was the Sport model paint job; fire red with orange on top of yellow rally stripes.

  • avatar
    Mike66Chryslers

    Those look like the exact same taillights as were used on the Ford Maverick.

    Tell me one specific model Detroit car that got better looking with age.

    You’re just asking for a flood of comments with that line. Off the top of my head, I can think of: Chryslers from 1965 to 1966. Plymouth Barracuda from 1964 through 1969. Plymouth Valiant after 1962. In the 1970s specifically? I’ll have to think about that. I like the front-end redesign on the Dodge Coronet for 1970, but I’m sure some people hate it.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    I also learned to drive a stick with a friends Pinto squire wagon, we thought it was pretty cool. I always wanted the one that had the sunset stripes and portal window with slotted mags. If I remember these things got great gas mileage

  • avatar
    paris-dakar

    - ‘87-93 Mustang. A much cleaner look with the new aerodynamics over the previous ‘79-86 Fox body.

    I always thought the 85-86 Capri was the best looking of the Foxstangs.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    Abomination? That pinto wagon is awesome. I even souped it up in photoshop a while back: http://i183.photobucket.com/albums/x204/dolo54/1978_ford_pinto_cruise_mod.jpg

  • avatar
    paris-dakar

    Abomination? That pinto wagon is awesome.

    A Pinto Wagon with an SVO Mustang Turbo EECC IV Unit would rock.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I’ve never seen a Pinto here. Mustang II, like 2 or 3.

    Mavericks… hell, there are some still kicking.

    I dig the car you pictured. And definitely love those (style) wheels.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    Tell me one specific model detroit car that got better with age…
    Easy, the Studebaker Avanti.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    @dolorean23:

    ‘93 Dodge Daytona. It was a cool looking car, too bad it didn’t have anything under the hood to match it.

    What, you don’t consider 224hp and 217 lb·ft adequate? Those were the specs of the ’92-’93 Daytona IROC R/T model.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    All right; some of you have valid examples. But my comment was limited to a specific model where the basic sheet metal didn’t change, just the crap that was added (face-lift) to make it look “newer”. The Barracuda was all-new in ’67.

    newfdog, your example is all wrong. The original Avanti, with the round headlights was quite brilliant, if a bit strange. And it went down hill from there, for decades. The later Avanti II versions became disgusting charades of the real thing. Sorry.

  • avatar
    jmo

    A Pinto Wagon with an SVO Mustang Turbo EECC IV Unit would rock.

    Wouldn’t the torque tear the thing apart. You’d have the front half of the car stationary and the back half would be torn loose and spining around.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    In my teen years, Pintos were EVERYWHERE in northeastern Indiana. I had two high school friends who drove them regularly, a 71 with the 1600 and a 72 with the 2000. A cousin had a 73 (white with orange lower bodysides, orange vinyl interior and sport wheels). The Pinto was a good looking car till the LTD bumpers got hung on it.

    My family of 4 even rented one when we went to Disney World in 1971. My dad was a big car guy, but everyone else thought it would be cool to get one of those new Pintos for the week. White with green interior. I’m not sure how we got all the luggage in it. I think my sister and I had to hold bags in the back seat.

    Pleasant cars, but alas, as with most everything else during the Iacocca era at Ford, time took more than its toll on them as they aged. As with all other contemporary FoMoCo products, they rusted HORRIBLY in my area. As many as were built, it is amazing that there are so few now. But I’d still rather have one than a Vega.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Paul:
    All right; some of you have valid examples. But my comment was limited to a specific model where the basic sheet metal didn’t change, just the crap that was added (face-lift) to make it look “newer”. The Barracuda was all-new in ‘67.

    OK, I can play by those rules. I think the 80 Volare was better looking than those that came before, particularly the wagons. Also, the 78-79 Lincoln was better looking than the 75-76, just like the 72-73 and 74 were better looking than the 70-71. While I’m on Lincolns, come to think of it, the 88-89 Town Cars looked better than the 80.

  • avatar
    allegro con moto-car

    My first car was a ’73 Pinto, 1.6 L manual with a rather large rear window on the hatch.

    Every month I removed crap/debris from the carb bowl. Never could figure out how it got there.

    I learned all about brake and carb jobs on this car. When it finally died it was mostly yellow, with a brown fender and a blue door.

    Allegro

  • avatar
    paris-dakar

    Wouldn’t the torque tear the thing apart. You’d have the front half of the car stationary and the back half would be torn loose and spining around.

    Only 220 hp, plus a Turbo, so it’s at higher RPMs.

    I’ll bet it would be a blast to drive.

  • avatar
    Sid Vicious

    I had a 77 stick with the metric 2.3 liter.

    Once hauled 6 guys, lawn chairs and a cooler full of beer to see Nightmare on Elm Street II at the drive in on “carload” night.

    Took a pretty good shot in the drivers door from a big Grand Marquis or similar. It held up well. Finally blew the motor revving it up(didn’t know jack about a timing belt back then.) Moved on to a 72 Gran Torino.

  • avatar

    Corvair also improved with age in my opinion

  • avatar
    Monty

    I dunno…of all of the cars my family owned through the late sixties to early eighties, our ’70 Maverick and ’75 Pinto wagon were the best (of albeit a bad lot, but nonetheless) cars during a nearly twenty year period.

    The Mav had the 200cid six and the auto, and the Pinto had the 2.3 liter with the stick. Neither car was quick off the line but both of them could cruise the highways at excessive speeds all day long. We drove the Mav from Toronto to Winnipeg and did the trip in less than 24 hours, and the Pinto went through the Rockies back and forth from Calgary to Vancouver several times a month.

    We kept the Maverick until it was sold in 1978, and it lasted another three years until the rust finally killed it. The Pinto lasted until 1989 when it was unfortunately euthanized after a nasty highspeed accident that my dad was able to walk away from.

    The Pinto, in particular, was never as bad a car as the MSM made it out to be. It was a pretty good little car, and the wagon version that my dad had could hold an awful lot of cargo. My dad’s favourite thing about the econobox Fords we had was that they were incredibly easy to repair in the driveway.

  • avatar
    willpie

    That looks so much like the ’72 Pinto I drove in high school it’s a little eerie. Same color and everything. The only difference I can spot is the Runabout hatch; mine had a trunk.
    I liked that car more than I let on to my friends (I took a lot of heat, driving a Pinto to high school in the ’90s), and miss it to this day. Its inner workings were simple enough that even a spaz like me could do my own wrenching. I learned a lot working on it, between replacing the radiator, rebuilding the carb, replacing the starter, doing a little body work, and trying to get girls to come within 45 feet of it. Good times.

  • avatar
    NickR

    (the Mach1 Mustang tried to plow furrows into the road)

    Meaning it was heavy or had terrible handling or both? Just curious.

    Did you ever get to drive a Boss 351 or one with a 429? I would imagine they were at least fast in a straight line.

    I remember seeing a wagon like the one pictured when it was new. God I hated the 70s.

  • avatar

    The Pinto was a decent car but personally I find the Vega to be a better looking car both back in the day and even now. I will be fascinated to know if you can find one (Vega) in Eugene. I will still occasionally see a Pinto even today in Tampa but I have not seen a Vega in many years maybe even a decade.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    High School buddy bought a US mail Pinto for 75 dollars at auction back in 1983.

    Stuffed a 289 V-8 in there with a 4 speed, 9 inch rear and a cage in the interior his brother welded as a school project. We tore out most of the dash, the heater, radio, rear seat, the sound insulation and the spare tire. Car tipped the scales at 2100 lbs with a full tank and two idiots inside. Fiberglass hood from JC whitney or some place. No rear bumber and those fantastic mag wheels on the pictured car.

    Acceleration was nothing short of frightening. The rear axle was a little too wide so the tires stuck out past the fenders. A cop noticed this at a light and gave him a ticket. Another time we were stripping asphalt from the street when a cop made a u turn and we booked it. Handling was not too bad thanks to the spring boosters we had up front and the air shocks in back to lift the body. I wonder if the US mail was accused of running from the cops, it still had marking on it.

    Those were the days when for no money you could build a tire burning hot rod and have fun with it. Those days are long gone.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Sherman Lin, I was worried about that too, but wait ’till you see what I found – you’ll love it, if you like Vegas.

    NickR, The Mach1 understeered heavily on those very tight curves. No, never got behind the Boss versions; they had substantially upgraded suspensions.

  • avatar
    walksatnight

    It’s still not a bad looking little car. I have no idea why the balance of modern small cars are so ugly – they just are.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Well, my parents bought a ’71 Pinto in late 1970, after loving a Ford Escort while on a visit to the UK, where I was doing graduate work.

    In late ’71 I came back to NS for a visit, and to discover that the Pinto was a bag o’ crap compared to the Escort, in every way possible — ride, steering, mileage, comfort. The Ford Escort at that time was a cartsprung box like the Pinto, but someone had actually sweated the details.

    My parents’ Pinto had the 2.0 liter SOHC engine, and zero power. Took it to the Ford dealer during my holiday, and sure enough, the belt had slipped a tooth, as C/D had alerted readers.

    Fast forward to late 1974. Came back to NS and parents gave me the Pinto, as they had bought a new car because there was a long rust hole clear through the driver’s door in only 4 years. The inner and outer panels of the door had also separated at the bottom. Excited by my new ride, took it to a bodyman – “Cancer clear up to the waterline! Junk it.” was his advice. The waterline was the kink line in the door just below the handle. Sure enough, in damp weather the whole bottom of the car was like a sponge. Rotted out.

    I kept it for the winter of 1975, driving everywhere with a giant old blanket stuffed into the door to keep 60mph breezes out. Looked into the oil filler hole in the cam cover in April, and could see all the cam lobes were worn so badly, there was squished metal splaying out from the lobes. Didn’t use any oil though.

    Pintos? Can’t convince me they were ever any good.

  • avatar
    JG

    A few of my friends have built no money hot rods.

    The ingredients were a 2.3L Fox Mustang, a Junkyard 302, flat cam, open long tube headers, 4 bbl holley, ported stock heads and a vic jr. manifold, and a secondhand nitrous kit. Used ET streets on used drag wheels were in the mix, as was a V8 spec T5 and traction bars. Probably $2500 into the whole thing and it ran deep into the 11’s.

    These days you’d be better off getting a 5.3/auto from a chevy truck, throwing a cam and headers at it, and dropping it into the same car. 400 hp at the wheels and no nitrous to muck around with!

  • avatar
    windswords

    “I guess I was too young in 1971 to fully grasp the Pinto’s structural deficiencies. I was too busy grasping the steering wheel and stick shift of a 2 liter, 4 speed version through the narrow, snaking, river-hugging Jones Falls Road.”

    “But the Pinto’s sporting qualities also started to evaporate about then too. De-smogged motors, despite their growth in displacement, become duller.”

    You had the best one. The 2L engine with the 4 speed put out 100 HP. It was quick. I had a friend in college that had one. After college I bought a ’72 for $300 with no radio. It was a 4 speed also but it had the 1.6. The 2 and the 1.6 put out 100 and 75 respectively in 1971. But just one year later, because of anti-smog devices those number dropped to 75 and 55. I don’t think I ever passed anyone in that car.

    The thing I most liked about the car was that it was wide compared to other small cars, import or domestic.

  • avatar
    windswords

    dolorean23:

    Tell me one specific model Detroit car that got better looking with age.

    “- ‘93 Dodge Daytona. It was a cool looking car, too bad it didn’t have anything under the hood to match it.”

    You already know about the 224hp IROC R/T (same engine was available in the ’91-92 Spirit R/T). But the years before that had the 174hp turbo II motor. I knew a guy who had one. He left some surprised looks on the faces of early 80’s Covette owners with that car.

    “- ‘80-82 Pinto. New rear glass hatch, “sporty” front end, and standard mag wheels made the top of the line model almost cool. The best was the Sport model paint job; fire red with orange on top of yellow rally stripes.”

    IIRC the Pinto ceased in 1980, with the last revision coming in 1979 – with squared headlights. I had one, also with a 4 speed. This was years after my 72 had gone to car heaven. My favorite was the middle seventies with the sloped nose and the glass hatch.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    My first car was a 71 Pinto 1600 with a trunk, orange, with a cracked axle housing, for $125. Unlike the description in the article, it had the quietest idling engine I have ever heard – you couldn’t hear it while standing next to it.

    The floor and wheel wells rusted out big time. That vehicle remains the only one in which I got splashed through the floor (soaked) when I hit a big puddle. It was great in the snow – much better than some front-wheel-drive cars I’ve driven, mainly because it was so light.

    The 1600 was reincarnated in the 1978 Fiesta that Ford imported from Germany, which was the car I actually learned to drive on. It performed very well in that vehicle.

    I kept the 71 for only a year, and ‘upgraded’ to a Fiat 128 SL. That was more fun to drive, but not as comfortable and much less reliable.

    I then got a 76 Pinto 2300 with the 4-speed and kept it 5 years. It was bulletproof mechanically, but I had to rebuild the unibody a lot. I went on my honeymoon in this car.

    To keep the Pinto thing going, I got my new wife a 1980 Bobcat 2300 with the automatic. This horrible car never got more than 14 MPG, was dangerously slow, ate tires, and leaked water around the enormous hatch seal. It was given as a ‘gift’ to me for $1, and became one of the most expensive cars I have ever owned. No amount of rebuilding or replacement could improve this awful car.

    All of these cars were fitted with the ‘blast shield’ to improve the rear collision safety. I never worried about it.

    I occasionally think I’d like to have another 71 with the 1600, but they are very rare these days.

    What’s remarkable is this: A base-model 1971 Pinto sold for $2000 (Lee Iacocca’s goal at the time was a 2000-lb weight and $2000 sales price). That $2000 is worth $10560 today, which buys a very nice economy car with orders of magnitude more features, safety, comfort, reliability, and performance.

    Maybe the good old days weren’t so good after all!

  • avatar
    NickR

    I like the front-end redesign on the Dodge Coronet for 1970, but I’m sure some people hate it.

    Nothing, NOTHING looks meaner when viewed from a rear view mirror than a 70 Dodge Coronet R/T or Superbee bearing down on your bumper.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    I dimly remember the TV commercial that Ford ran when they introduced the Pinto. The sticker price was $1919.

  • avatar

    Among the Valiants, I think the ’70-’72 style was the best (except for the original ’60, which was a totally different sort of look). The general genre of boxy Valiant went from ’67 or ’68 until ’75. Definitely went downhill after ’72.

    The stylistic best of the boxy Volvo wagons were the 940/960/740 which were all latter day boxy wagons.

  • avatar

    After one of the Arab oil embargoes, Tom Schelling, who got the Nobel in economics in ’05, prematurely traded whatever he had for a Pinto, in a quest to save money on gas. My father, also an economist, suggested he should have crunched the numbers before buying the thing. So he crunched the numbers, and found that the capital cost of buying the new car totally washed out any savings on gas.

  • avatar
    daro31

    What a trip down Memory Lane the last few days on TTAC. In 1971 I was working on the line at Ford building those tin cans they called cars. There was hardly a rear inner fender that wasn’t split, I mean the steel literally open to the road. We could have never got those cars together without miles of black tape and buckets of black sealant. That is why I baought my first new car, a 1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle.
    I remember coming back from vacation and seeing the first shock absorbing bumbers hung on those cars, what an abomination. Plus the poor guys that had to lift those babies on, it took a few back claims before some engineer figured installing those where a 2 man job. I used to hate it when we ran a lot of Bobcats, 2 tailights covered almost the whole back valance panel and took 4 extra nuts to put on. Always get behind on the line with 3 of those in a row. In 73 or so they started doubling the thickness of the sound deadeners in the firewall, I don’t think there was hardly a car with all three screws in the wiper motor, or all the nuts holding the heater in, thicker sound deadener, but same length bolts. I guess that is why to this day I have so much respect for the big 3 finance engineering group.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    @David Holzman: And the same math holds true today, which is one reason people don’t want to pay the ‘hybrid premium’.

    @daro31: I think you’ve pinpointed the start of the Japanese invasion. American consumers got fed up with decades of that sort of quality.

  • avatar
    50merc

    daro31, I love your report from the front line. More, please!

    “Ford’s quest to keep weight and price low, (and possibly a rushed timeline) contributed to the tin can effect.”

    The most important factor may have been Iacocca’s ambition and hubris. One of his Glass House rivals wanted to import a British Ford. Iaccoca jumped in and said he could give them a domestically-built car that’d be less than 2000 pounds and less than $2,000. The Pinto came in microscopically under those benchmarks.

    One way to save weight was to have the gas tank serve as the trunk floor. (Also done on other Fords.) This, along with differential design and placement, was blamed for making the Pinto a fireball waiting to happen. Actually, I think the Pinto was about as safe (i.e., no more deadly) than Vegas and other crap of the era, but the PR damage was done. The old joke was “Bad luck is when you’re waiting in line behind a Pinto and see in the rear-view mirror an Audi 5000 behind you.”

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    Have I mentioned how much I love Curbside Classics? It’s got to be my favorite feature of TTAC, it always brings up so many memories!

    My stepmom had a Pinto —no idea what year since I was all of about 5 years old— and all I really remember about that car is that it was DooDoo Brown, had a manual trans, and I loved riding in it! I don’t know why, but even today the Pinto strikes me as a rather good looking little car, especially the earlier ones with the thinner bumpers and thinner (shorter?) grill. Back in the day, cars were more easily distinguished. Ah, those were the days.

  • avatar
    Matt51

    Lee Iaccoca – father of the Pinto. Over Henry Ford’s(II)objections, Iaccoca forced it through. Selling an incendiary bomb after they knew what is was – the memo leaked, Ford had decided it was cheaper to let people die and settle the lawsuits, rather than redesign the car.
    For shame.
    http://www.oxbridgewriters.com/essays/business/bluffing-strategy-ethics.php

    “Ford rushed the pinto into production in 1971 to compete with foreign imports. In doing so, they did not discover that the gas tank could explode if the car was hit from behind until the tooling for the car was underway (Sherefkin 2003). Rather than slow production or spend on expensive retooling, they introduced the car as-is. Their decision was determined by cost-benefit analysis: the exploding tanks could be fixed at a cost of $11 per vehicle, or $137 million over the life of the Pinto. Estimated deaths and injuries from the gas tank would cost Ford $48 million (Anon 2003). The company sold Pintos to unsuspecting customers for eight years before the gas tank problem was brought forth by independent journalists. It is hard to consider ethical a course of argument that considers a human life worth less than an eleven-dollar repair.

  • avatar
    skor

    I learned to drive stick on a Pinto — ’74 coupe (tiny trunk) with the 2.3 engine. The car was a hideous shade of green with a black vinyl roof! The car belonged to my friend’s brother — the brother was away at college at the time. The owner was somewhat of a motorhead, he added tube headers, “race” cam, manifold, big carb, loud muffler and high energy ignition to the car along with stiff springs and shocks. Surprisingly, the car actually ran quite well, it could certainly run rings around my father’s Granada. The thing that I found most astonishing about the car was the steering. It was my first experience with rack&pinion and it was an eye opener. Compared to other 70’s cars, the Pinto was certainly not the worst of the bunch. If it had not been for its unfortunate occupant incinerating quality, it would probably be judged much more favorably today.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    50merc: “The old joke was “Bad luck is when you’re waiting in line behind a Pinto and see in the rear-view mirror an Audi 5000 behind you.””Now there’s a car that got a bad rap, thanks entirely to one, hysterical, yuppie soccer mom who crushed her kid when she mashed down on the wrong pedal (which was admittedly of a similiar size and shape as the brake pedal).

    Then, when 60 Minutes decided to do one of their great, tabloid-style exposés on it (complete with a tampered 5000 rigged to slip out of Park on cue for the cameras), well, it’s an understatement to say that sales of the Audi 5000 took a major nosedive.

    To this day, that little incident is the direct reason why the brake pedal must be depressed before the selector can be moved from the ‘Park’ detent on every single automatic transmission equipped vehicle.

  • avatar
    daro31

    Somebody said they would like to hear more from the front lines. Well when it comes to the Pinto gas tank thing there is more.

    I do not believe for a moment that it was Ford Company Policy, yet I still believe that it is the top brass job to know what goes on in their plants; especially with as highly a visible item as the Pinto gas tank.

    Back in thoses days all that mattered everyday in production, was how many cars do you get off the line. We were on mandatory overtime for years and so the product must be good enough because we were running 56 hours a week on one shift.

    When the fix came out for the gas tank, we called it the tupperwear shield, a white hard plastic sheild that fit under the gas tank strap and prevented bolts in the differential cover from tearing the gas tank open in a rear end collision.

    Of course they had to do a recall and retrofit millions of cars in the field as well as put them on the current production cars. Any one in manufacturing knows that it is an expensive proposition to have enough tooling to retrofit all the past cars and keep the current production running.

    If you made enough tooling to do it all at once you would end up with some pretty expensive tooling sitting around. So they had to spread out the plastic shields between production and recall. For a several month stretch we used to run out of the shields on the line, and it was a part that could be put on later and you didn’t want to shut down the line for a part like that.
    The cars would be markes as shield missing and continue down the line. Normal in an auto plant.

    Unfortunately sometimes the parts didn’t come in, so the production manager would have people go out after dark into the shipping yards and remove shields from completed cars, bring them into the plant and install them on cars again. You really can’t blame the Production Manager as this kind of behavior was recognised as good problem solving skills and rewarded with promotion.

  • avatar
    venator

    Re Detroit cars that loked better with age:
    @geeber: The Rambler was not a Detroit car, it was built in Kenosha, Wisconsin, by AMC, a company of Kenosha, Wisconsin (formerly Nash). By this time the Detroit component of AMC (formerly Hudson) was all shut down.
    @newfdawg: The Studebaker was not a Detroit car, either, as Studebaker was a company of South Bend, Indiana.
    These do not count. The term Detroit refers to the former so-called “big three”. Bit players like AMC and Studebaker were by definition quite different from “Detroit.”

  • avatar
    venator

    As for the Pinto fuel tank issue, the Crown Victoria police cars had to be retrofitted with similar plastic components to supposedly prevent a conflagration upon being rear-ended. I do not believe that the civilian cars were recalled for the same problem.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    As for the Pinto fuel tank issue, the Crown Victoria police cars had to be retrofitted with similar plastic components to supposedly prevent a conflagration upon being rear-ended. I do not believe that the civilian cars were recalled for the same problem.…

    The CV really got an unfair rap for being a firetrap. Because of their use in law enforcement, far more CVs found themselves sitting on the side of the road in a prone position, with high speed traffic whizzing by. How many other cars routinely get rear ended at such high speeds?

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Matt51

    Of course the real irony is that these days most safety improvements are evaluated by exactly the same sort of cost benefit analysis, by companies, industries and governments.

  • avatar
    venator

    golden2husky, right you are. If I recall correctly, it took ONE freak accident involving a police car, in Washington, DC, I believe, to prompt the order for the retrofit of all police vehicles. As for the Pinto, I do not remember how common those accidents were, and at what minimum speeds they could occur, I was on the other side of the pond at the time.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Deaths from fires in Pintos were at the same rate, or lower, than of its competitors, according to the NHTSA statistics for the 2 million that were sold before the design was changed. 27 people died.

  • avatar

    Pintos. God bless ‘em.

    These things were everywhere when I was in high school in the early 1980s. It was the beginning driver’s cheap, disposable car. My one friend bought a 1.6 for $75 because it needed a fender. His 1964 Dodge 880 was killing him on gas and repairs so the Pinto was his ‘reliable’ car, which it generally was. Copius amounts of Bondo fixed the quarter panels enough for it to get a inspection sticker.

    Another friend bought a ’77 for about the same price that didn’t have a straight panel on it. He carried a wooden mallet in the car for nighttime use: it was common to see him get out at a traffic light and whack the fender to get the one headlamp to illuminate. Funny stuff.

    My own Pinto experience was a 2.0 stick 1974 model in metallic lime green with matching interior. I paid $300 for it out of the junk line at a used car dealer to replace a totalled Fiesta. Unfortunately, it suffered from multiple Pinto problems: bad cam, failing head gasket and a rotten exhaust system that was surprisingly expensive. I offed it onto another stupid person for $500 and lost money.

    I once worked on a V6 auto version that surprised me with it’s amount of zip, but the extra weight didn’t do the handling any favors. Panel fit on these was atrocious. I remember replacing a fender on the V6 for the owner and it was totally impossible to make the gaps line up. If you got 2 out of 3 you were doing good. We also used to have a “grille spotting” contest for Pintos. The plastic grilles were so fragile they were almost all missing at least a couple of their ‘teeth’. Spotting one still intact was cause for a small celebration as we rode around in ours. I think Pintos were the VW Beetles of my age group. Not a good car, but not as bad as history may make you believe.

  • avatar
    Mike66Chryslers

    Paul Niedermeyer : The Barracuda was all-new in ‘67.

    You’re right, I forgot about that.

  • avatar
    geeber

    venator,

    When the author referred to a “Detroit” car, he meant a domestic one, not one actually designed and built by GM, Ford and Chrysler. I’m sure that he didn’t mean to exclude Nashes, Hudsons, Ramblers or Studebakers because they weren’t built by the Big Three.

    As for the Pinto gas tank controversy – The infamous memo was taken out of context by Mother Jones. It performed a cost-benefit anaylsis of new regulations, which were required to be calculated in that manner by the federal government. Ford didn’t do anything wrong in that regard.

    An article in a 1981 issue of the Rutgers Law Review noted that the number of fire-related deaths in the Pinto was not out of line with that of other small cars from that time.

    On the other hand, everyone agreed that there was not a problem with Pinto wagons – they were not subject to the recall – and they accounted for a very high percentage of Pinto sales. The 1973 Pinto wagon is one of the best-selling wagons of all time.

    The article did not break out sedans from wagons, if I recall correctly, and this could make the Pinto’s safety record look better.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    One Detroit car that got better within a design generation: Plymouth Valiants -63-66.

    The 65 corrected the 63-64’s silly angled front fender character line with a simpler horizontal one, and the 64-65 dropped the trim to nowhere used on the tail light surrounds of the 63.

    Plus the detailing of the tail lights and grille on the 65 are the best of the lot. 66s squared off a lot of the lines and sort of destroyed the whole theme that reached it’s peak in the 65. IMHO of course.

    I own a 63 Valiant Signet. The 65 looks much better to me. The Dart didn’t fare as well. The 63 was the best of that lot.

  • avatar
    postjosh

    rudiger :

    To this day, that little incident is the direct reason why the brake pedal must be depressed before the selector can be moved from the ‘Park’ detent on every single automatic transmission equipped vehicle.

    a sensible modification if you ask me. what really made me crack up was the ugly warning sticker they retrofitted onto the transmission lever of the bauhaus interior of the 5000.

  • avatar
    spyspeed

    The Pinto was also the beneficiary of the marketing slogan “road-hugging weight.” I think this was coined for comparison against the 76 Chevette.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Geeber: don’t you know you can ruin the hatchet job Mother Jones did by telling the truth like that?

    One of the first cases the dumb driver had slowed down on a freeway in the fast lane to look for her gas cap [which she had left on the roof after filling up and was hit by a Chevy Van from the rear at about 60. A perfect storm of stupidity. The van driver had bent over to pick up a cassette. [\"Reckless Homicide-The Ford Pinto Case\"]

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    GS650G: No rear bumber and those fantastic mag wheels on the pictured car.

    Wow – no bumper on a car that definitely needed one. Don’t like any car with the gas tank right out back.

    Did a small part of a project at my last employer for retrofitting Crown Vics where we built an assembly line/testing line for an automatic fire extinguisher system installed in the trunk. Was supposed to successfully prevent a fire from a rear-ender at highway speeds when a police car got hit by another vehicle travelling at 70 mph. Used airbag style components to propel the extinguishing agent under the car through ducts pointed at the gas tank.

  • avatar
    geeber

    DweezilSFV: The Mother Jones article is hardly accurate. It wildly overstated the number of fire deaths in Pintos because of rear-end collisions.

    On the other hand, the car’s structure did seem to be flimsy. The Car and Driver reviewers noted this in their test, which was conducted in 1971, or long before the gas-tank controversy became a page-one story.

    I believe that Ford chief stylist Gene Bordinat summed it up best – he said that Ford of North America just wasn’t that good at building really light cars. It didn’t have enough experience with keeping weight down while maintaining structural strength, primarily because really low weight and high fuel economy hadn’t been a priority with most American buyers.

  • avatar
    happy-cynic

    Hey, Great article, like other posts, I enjoy the Curbside Classic series.

    Also I really like the other posts from the “front lines” I would love to hear more from all segments of auto industry.

    I remember the ads touting the simpliciity of the Pintos.
    I never owned one, but my remember my one of my neighbors buying the Pinto wagon. It looked pretty good, he used it like a truck for his carpentry business.
    I remember some else buying the hatch. It was two tone orange and white. It had all the options, including the anntenas mounted under he front and rear bumpers. I did gave it a look of scorn, I think he saw me and looked pretty ticked off.
    The repair stories brings back memories of growing up. ( Say, that would be a good best and brightest, what would be the best semi-classic car to get and restore)

    I think the kids today are really missing out on things, you learn about about fixing old cars.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    re: Daniel J. Stern :

    What, you don’t consider 224hp and 217 lb·ft adequate? Those were the specs of the ‘92-’93 Daytona IROC R/T model.

    Yeah! Forgot about the IROC model. Though if I remember correctly it went 0-60 in something like 7 seconds, which for early 90s was pretty fast I suppose.

    re: windswords

    IIRC the Pinto ceased in 1980, with the last revision coming in 1979 – with squared headlights. I had one, also with a 4 speed. This was years after my 72 had gone to car heaven. My favorite was the middle seventies with the sloped nose and the glass hatch.

    I had thought so too, until the kid down the street drove up in a 1982 Ford Pinto recently. When he told me the year I asked to see the title and sure ‘nuf, it said 1982 on it and it wasn’t a rebuild. I dunno if it came from Canada or Mexico but it was legit.

    And I do remember the turbo model Daytona (I had one in my Mom’s Shadow ES). It took nearly a second to spool up and blew up 90% of the time after the 50K mark. However, when they worked, they were awesome fun.

  • avatar
    dulcamara

    I had a 73, 2.0, 4spd in graduate school. Got it new and drove it until I got a real job. It had a modest oversteer issue, which bit me in the ass a few times, but was easy to correct if you weren’t driving on ice.

    Total POS, but i liked it at the time.

  • avatar
    Galaxy Flyer

    I owned two Pintos–a ’73 Runabout with 4-speed and 2.0L and a ’77(special order during the strike)with 4-speed and 2.3L. I drove both a total of 260,000 miles in 47 states and 4 Canadian provinces, across the US 4 times; and, on one memorable trip, it took me 10,000 miles in six weeks. As bad a car as there could be, it was also dead reliable and took me where ever I wanted to go and brought me back in one, unburned piece. I am on my third M-B car and I don’t any of them would take the place of those memories.

    I washed them regularily, no rust even in New England, greased and did the oil changes on 3,000 schedule, drove Michelins and used good parts.
    GF

  • avatar
    dman900

    I just discovered TTAC and it sure takes me down memory lane (I got my license in 1972). A couple of pieces of Pinto trivia that have been clogging my brain for 30+ years … I think Pinto ads were the first to use the term “road-hugging weight” (I guess compared to the SuperBeetle or Datsun 1200), which later became a common figure of speech and I also remember a factory optional fender flare kit called the “Hot Pants Kit”. That may have been included on the Cruising Wagon. But all jokes aside, by the late ’70’s, a 2 liter 4 speed Pinto with junkyard Capri rims and good European radials (low profile 185/70-13’s!) was considered a pretty sporty, cheap car by my circle of friends. I owned a ’73 Vega GT and both cars were faster and could be made to handle better, for less money, than a 510.

  • avatar
    beicholz

    Pintos bring back such great memories for me…that I just bought one as a weekend car. It’s a ’76 Runabout with only 40K miles. The car is a “loaded” V6 with power everything. It’s surprisingly comfortable and fast. Also surprising: We thought of Pintos as “small” cars in those days. However, by today’s standards, they are actually pretty big. Also, the heavy metal all over this car, and even the doors, remind you that cars used to be made of metal, and not plastic.

    There’s a vibrant and growing Pinto community. Log on to http://www.fordpinto.com to meet some nice folks who, like me, have a strange, unexplained affinity for Pintos.

  • avatar
    N68X

    2011 is the 40th aniversary of the Pinto!
     Come to the Knottsberry park show in California to help celebrate!!
    April 10 2011
    http://www.fabulousfordsforever.org/
     There is also a cross country Pinto trip planned.
    http://www.pintostampede.com/
    That leads to the Carlisle Pa show June 2-5
    http://www.carsatcarlisle.com/ce/events/ford-nationals/

  • avatar
    N68X

    The Pinto gas tank was outside the car not like 50Merc describes.
    The document that the procecution used in Grimshaw VS. Ford was for a rollover fix that included 12,000,000 cars and trucks.
    Not for the ford Pinto fix. There were only about 3.5 Million Pinto built.
     The death total up to 1977 was only 27.
     I would bet that Iif I made 3.5 million “ANYTHING” 27 people would find a way to die from it in 7 years….????


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