By on March 9, 2012

There was a time, let’s say in the late 1980s, when the quantity of Pintos in junkyards went from “glut” to “famine,” as if a switch was flipped and all the Pintos just disappeared. The same thing happened with the early Hyundai Excel, too, only they lived, died, and got scrapped within a five-year period versus the 10-to-15-year period for the Pinto. Still, every so often I find a lone Pinto that hung on an extra couple of decades before getting junked. For example, this tan ’74 that showed up in a Denver self-service yard last month.
This car has all the hallmarks of long-term outdoor storage in Colorado, including completely obliterated upholstery and much-faded paint.
It appears to have been damaged and then Bondo’d in its early career.
This engine family had an exceptionally long run, making it into the 21st century.
In spite of all the legends about “exploding Pintos,” these cars really didn’t suffer from fuel tank fires much more often than other rear-drive vehicles with the gas tank between the rear axle and the bumper (i.e., just about every single vehicle sold by Detroit at the time). The problem was the infamous “Ford Pinto Memo,” which resulted in Ford taking a couple of big public-relations black eyes by appearing not to care about Pinto passengers getting burned to a crisp. Next thing you know, everybody knows someone who knows someone who died in a Pinto explosion.
I spent a lot of my teen years riding in Pintos, this being one of the most popular hand-me-down cars given to my peers by cheapskate parents in the early 1980s, and at least I can say it was better than the wretched Chevy Vega.

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83 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1974 Ford Pinto...”


  • avatar
    afflo

    I have a soft spot for these cars. Theyre so goofy with their odd proportions and “I AM a real car!!” styling. I didn’t grow up with them though. Mom doesn’t Have any soft spot for them – she had a Maverick as her first car and still has a grudge against Ford for that beast.

    I imagine if Ford released a 2000 lbs FR hatchback today, people would go wild. At least the message boards, which don’t have much to do with reality, all things considered. In the message boar world, Ron Paul is something other than an eccentric fringe politician from East Texas.

    • 0 avatar
      CobraJet

      Boy does this bring back memories. I used to car pool in the 70′s with a guy who had one like this in a green color. Every other week we took his Pinto, the next week my 69 Pontiac LeMans. I used to keep my hand on the passenger door handle and look to the rear when coming to quick stops on the crowded interstate loop around town. My plan was to jump out quickly if rear-ended in order to avoid the flames.

      His was a 74 and his wife drove a 76 Pinto. His 74 was a top of the line model with plush carpet and seats, am/fm radio and air conditioning.

  • avatar

    My brother had one of these when he worked in Jamaica. We visited him in 1978-left hand drive car in a right hand drive country, tricky narrow mountain roads, underpowered car, impatient brother/driver who seemed unwilling to take passenger advice on when to pass- my Pinto memories. He later sold it for more than he paid for it and bought a Mercedes after he beat the living hell out of the Pinto on very crappy Jamaican roads.

  • avatar
    PintoFan

    Great find, Murilee. You’re right about the relative rarity of Pinto junkyard finds now- I haven’t seen one in your typical self-service yard in years. These were good, solid cars that were reliable transportation for many people for many years- they weren’t any more dangerous than any other small car of the era. Even though that interior is pretty much toast, I hope somebody can get to the trim, lights, and glass before it all gets destroyed. Did you bother to check the clock and see if it was still worth taking?

  • avatar
    skor

    My friend got one as a hand-me-down. It was not a hatch, but the version with the tiny little trunk. Not as bad as most people today remember them. Everything from that era was terrible, even the Japanese cars. My sister had a B210 that you could hear rust on a humid night.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    In 1968, Toyota came out with a rear drive, four cylinder, four speed Corolla. So any pleas of ignorance from Detroit about not knowing how to make a rear drive, four cylinder, four speed subcompact car is a lie. Compared to the Corolla, there was no excuse for a Vega, a Pinto or a Gremlin.

    In the Corolla, a driver could sit upright with plenty of room for three others. The rear seat was roomy. The Corolla had a nice little trunk. The engine was excellent. The transmission was definately good enough. The handling was good. The quality was excellent. This is all in a car that precedes the Detroit offerings by two years.

    So why is the Pinto and Vega such a complete mess? Why isn’t there any room in these cars? Why the lousy quality? Why the poor engines? Why were there NO FOUR door versions of either car?

    I suppose that Detroit looked at the Corolla, the Datsun 510 and the VW Squareback and decided that the young people wanted a sports car, not a small economical sedan. They were convinced that small cars just weren’t going to bring in the profits, so they made two cars that looked better than they were. GM claimed it engineered the Vega, but the end result was so bad, you have to wonder what their engineering priorities were. Ford did little better. That engine was a piss poor British thing that should have been shelved five years earlier and never brought across The Pond.

    Both the Pinto and the Vega aped the Camaro and the Mustang instead of attempting to create a suitable, usable small sedan. So, there was no four door versions of the first American subcompact cars. Instead of a roomy comfortable interior, you got the stylings of a Camaro and a Mustang, but on an even smaller, less roomy platform. You thought the rear seat of a Mustang was useless? The Pinto had two “butt cups” split by the transmission hump and backed by a gas tank. Getting in or out of the rear seat of a Pinto was like squeezing through your mom’s birth canal. The doors were too long, but you needed every inch, and usually someone’s help, to get into a Pinto.

    Compared to the offerings from Japan – there was no excuse for the craptastic design and engineerings of the Pinto or Vega. So, why did they sell?

    They were better than the popular VW Beetle. Both the Vega and the Pinto were better than a Beetle. Instead of shooting for a better Corolla or 510, a better Japanese car – Detroit went for a better Beetle. As a result, they produced two cars that could not compete from the Japanese offerings.

    Now – imagine the Pinto compared to a Civic. I mean, honestly, how could Detroit look an American buyer in the face and tell them to put their cash down on a Pinto or a Vega?

    As for the Gremlin? That was noting but a sawed-off 1965 Rambler American with the new Hornet body shell on it. That vehicle couldn’t compete with itself. Sawing off the rear third of any car and putting it on the road should have been a crime.

    So, Detroit and Kenosha offered three miserable vehicles that only demonstrated to America that if they wanted a small car, they needed to buy Japanese.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      There was nothing wrong with the Pinto engines. The British engine was the standard engine in early Pintos, but, if I recall correctly, there was a larger optional engine, and most people chose it. The larger, American-built four-cylinder mill that Ford began offering in 1974 was also a reliable unit for the time.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        I’ll grant that the motor was reliable enough, but dear god was it weak. Perhaps I should be grateful, virtually every car I’ve driven since graduating from a Pinto has been fast enough, because every car built since 1985 is the Millenium Falcon compared to a smogged ’74 Pinto. We had a wagon, which I expect added a couple hundred extra pounds for that poor little mill to lug around.

    • 0 avatar
      Trend-Shifter

      You may have a little too much Toyota revisionist history here. The early Toyotas were terrible, especially in the rust belt.
      Frozen brake adjusters, corroded electricals, and rusted to the ground describes the 60’s and early 70’s Toyotas. A 2.0 liter Pinto engine was far more durable than the Toyota engine. It was almost industructable. It was regularly used as a racing engine. Ditto on the 1.6 liter.

      Let’s look at the early innovations that the first generation Pinto brought to the market that Toyota did not have.
      * Rack & pinion steering.
      * Disc brake option
      * Overhead cam motor
      * Timing belt
      * 5 main bearings
      * 100 hp 2 liter
      * Two stage carburetor

      The next Pinto generation brought this before Toyota
      * Hydraulic lifters in an overhead cam engine.
      * Electronic ignition

      So what Toyota did was copy and learn from Detroit.
      Over the following years Toyota did a better job of identifying problems, continuous improvement, and refinement. So it is after the 60’s and early 70’s that Toyotas quality and reliability started to blossom.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        I was basing that information on the 1969 Toyota Corolla I spent four years running around Colorado in that was inherited by the original owners in Ft. Collins. It was over a decade old, and was an excellent car – much better than the Pintos my family had.

        Sorry, I only experienced it. Maybe next time I can ask an expert who didn’t.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Early Toys did have rust problems, but Vanillas point is they were better designed and built. Just not rust-proofed so well.

        The Pinto did look nice at first though, very neat styling.
        Though with each face-lift it got uglier and uglier until it was almost unrecognizable.

      • 0 avatar
        Trend-Shifter

        @Vanilla Dude,
        I had the experience.
        I owned a foreign car repair shop in the mid to late 70′s.

        We specialized in VW, Opel, & Capri. We also took on whatever came our way that was foreign since we were the only game in town.

        We wrenched on quite a few older Toyotas. We also worked on Pintos since they were very similar to the Capri.

        Even right now I drive a 1973 Pinto over 550 miles a week going to work on the Detroit freeway system. I have had this car for 7 years and it is the lowest cost and most reliable car I ever owned. You can “cut & paste” the link to see it:
        http://www.flickr.com/photos/29396384@N05/4784736813/in/photostream/

      • 0 avatar
        carbiz

        Sorry, but the early Toyotas, Hondas and Datsuns literally dissolved up here in the hinterland. Toronto is the land of dumping 60 tons of salt on the roads when 2 snowflakes fall from the sky. Very few vehicles from the late ’50s through to the mid-80s fared very well with north eastern roads.
        I really don’t know where this myth that the Japanese vehicles are invincible started. From my former boss’ wife’s Lexus CUV getting stuck in the snow and being pulled out by my boss’ Equinox, to Suzuki delivering a few hundred Trackers to Canada back in ’99 that wouldn’t start in the cold, until GM shipped them up to Kapuskasing and ironed out the problem in real cold – where is it written that anything spawned from Japan has the birthrite to be worshipped?
        I guess it depends on what cars you grew up with? Mine were big-finned Mopars, 2 late ’60s Chrysler 300s, my first car being a 11 year old ’67 Polara. THOSE WERE CARS. When a classmate got a ’79 Datsun 210SX for his birthday, most of us looked on with a mixture of envy and pity. Yeah, the car was kind of cool, but surrounded by a sea of ‘Cudas, Dusters, Granadas and T-Birds, it looked kind of silly.

      • 0 avatar
        Marko

        @ carbiz

        Yes, it is true that perceptions of cars based on their country of origin can be skewed, but be careful of falling into cherry-picking. My great-aunt’s neighbor’s cousin’s ’83 Chrysler LeBaron might have been a lemon, but would that make me say that every American car is a lemon? Absolutely not.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      You betray your age as apparantly you did not live in that time era. Those old original Toyotas were crude pos cars that couldn’t get out of there own way and disinegrated before your eyes. They were also behind in technology with puny OHV engines, solid lifters and drum brakes. If anything Toyota did what Toyota knows best. Reverse engineering our stuff.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Though, Toyotas didn’t ignite in accidents.

      • 0 avatar
        84Cressida

        No, you’re actually describing Government Motors circa 2007.

        The early Toyotas were certainly better than the garbage Detroit was cranking out in the 70s. There’s a reason Toyota and Honda saw huge gains during that era and why the the Big 2 still have lousy reputations that haunt them. My parents had a ’75 Pinto during the 1980s and dumped it for a new ’84 Celica that was a better car than the Ford in every way you can think of.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheeljack

        “My parents had a ’75 Pinto during the 1980s and dumped it for a new ’84 Celica that was a better car than the Ford in every way you can think of.”

        I would certainly hope that a car built in 1984 was better than a 9 year old car that was designed in the late 1960′s and built in 1975.

      • 0 avatar
        carbiz

        … and, frankly, there weren’t enough of them on the roads to bother with. If half the cars on your block were Chevrolets, and a couple neighbors had issues with their vehicle, the entire block would hear about it.
        What of the lonely Toyota owner?

        1969 market share: GM 45%
        Ford 26%
        Chrysler 14%
        Toyota 1.13

        The one thing I really enjoy about watching old movies like Bullitt, or the Thomas Crown Affair, or any movie before 1974, is that my eyes do not bleed from the ugly, plastic imported garbage I see out my window.
        Ponchoman, I’d go one step farther: Toyota and Honda got BILLIONS of free advice, real estate and technical expertise as rich Ford and GM dealers bought up franchises for a song, then taught Japan Inc everything they know.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        @ carbiz. I also grew up in Southern Ontario,and agree with you 100 percent.

        The early Japanese stuff was complete garbage.Even today have a look at seven or eight year old Mazda. Try finding a rust free, old BMW or a VW.

        In these times,as folks are keeping thier cars longer,the “myth” about perfect,never break imports is slowly being put to bed.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      While it may not have been the right engine for the Pinto, the 1.6L “Kent” OHV engine was probably one of the simplest and most robust 4-cylinder engines ever made.

      Let’s not forget that Lotus used the engine extensively (often with their own twin-cam head) in various products. It was the engine used in Formula Ford racing for many years, and it had many industrial applications as well, including Bobcat skid-steers.

      Saying that the “Kent” engine should have been shelved 5 years earlier and never brought across the pond shows a real lack of knowledge about how fundamentally good this engine was. Variations of the engine were used in vehicles for over 40 years – it had to be good to have that kind of longevity.

      I had one of these engines in a 1978 Fiesta and a distributor failure and resultant pre-ignition event blew a chunk out of #3 piston, leaving no compression in that cylinder. I secured another engine and in the weeks leading up to the swap, me and a buddy tried to kill the old engine, over-revving it and subjecting it to all the abuse we could give it…we could not break it no matter how hard we tried.

      Now, if you’re talking about the 2.0L OHC, well then carry on.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        There was nothing wrong with the 1.6 and 2.0 engines from a reliabiltity standpoint. They were just too small for a car like the pinto. The 140 cid lima engine was also very durable with no built in issues. Likewise it was produced for decades, and was used for racing and industrial use. There is one in a business I know of that serves as a backup generator.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      The ’68 and ’69 Corolla was a sales flop in the US and Canada. With only 60 HP, a cramped interior, and extremely crude mechanicals, it did not meet the needs of the North American market and Toyota scrambled to get a new version into the North American market.

      The 1970 Corolla was still about as technologically advanced as a block of wood, but it came with 73 HP under the hood, a 3-speed automatic, and grew two inches. Those changes increased North American unit sales to about 17K annual.

      The Detroit obliterating Corolla didn’t arrive until 1979. The E70 was built with some very specific goals:

      1) Quieter, much be much quieter in the cabin for more refinement
      2) Must conserve fuel
      3) It needs to have all the modern features customers want
      4) No market gaps, young and old, from one corner of the planet to the other much appreciate the Corolla and should perform from the Arctic to the rain forest and everywhere between
      5) Built on the existing tradition of inexpensive to repair

      The redesign for the E70 started in 1974. Just as the ’78 Honda Accord was a game changer (as long as you didn’t get the God awful aluminum engine), so was the ’79 Corolla.

      But praise for the E20 to the E60 as the cars that destroyed Detroit is revisionist history, or memories that are just a bit too fond. As others have pointed out, if you lived in the rust belt, you could watch your Corolla return unto the earth from which it came.

    • 0 avatar
      bsa1963

      The 1970 and early 1980s were dark days for all cars – no matter which side of either pond you look at. Engineering in the 1970s seemed to be more about keeping up with government regulation on safety and fuel economy and less about style and substance.

      Being a child of the 1970s and coming of age in the late 1980s, I was able to witness the decline and death of the 1970s economy cars in the mid south where cars rusted albeit not as fast as in other region of the US. I don’t recall seeing the old pintos rust as badly as the Japanese cars of the same age, but I do remember seeing plenty of bashed and ragged out Pintos on the road back then. But we must remember that back then a 10 year old Pinto could be bought for $300-500.00 in usable, roadworthy condition, so there was no benefit to maintaining them; just drive it until it dropped then go get another one. I remember seeing these cars and laughing at them and their owners, wondering why they didn’t do better and try harder, in their car purchases. Since I was a car guy even then, I didn’t get that to most people, a used car was an appliance, not an extention of their personality. Realistically, I now doubt if most of those cars ever got so much as an oil change and it was probably a wonder that they even ran at all!

      Its probably true that the Pinto was no less safe than it other cars in its class. Yes it is terrible to know that safety issues were not addressed by Ford when they knew there was a problem, but it would be foolish to believe that any other car maker wouldn’t have handled the issue any other way back then. Back in the 1980s, I would guess that safety of the average 1970s ecomony car was a fairly even playing field; while the Honda or Toyota of 1974 may have had superior body engineering to the Pinto when new, the body structure was so compromised with rust by the mid 1980s, it was a none issue. Both were so old, worn, and suffered from lack of maintence that breakdown were likely at any time.

      Most if not all of the Amercan compacts were designed in the late 1960s for early 70s introductions as a result of the popularity of the VW (yes Toyota was around but I doubt the big three saw them as any more of a threat than AMC). Big three also remembered that some 10 years before, there was another small car craze but people quickly tired of small cramped cars and they had to be redesigned larger to keep them selling, so why bother to over engineer another small car that will be canceling or enlarging by 1974 anyway. By the time the fuel crisis came, they were losing so much money on the full size cars, there was no time or money to refocus on smaller cars. Add in ever tightening safety and fuel ecomomy regulations, along with the notion that the big three was up against foriegn makers who only made small models you can see the problems. Even if Ford should have replaced the Pinto by 1975, they really couldn’t afford to do it, besides – it was selling!

      Would I now, today put my 16 year old nephew in a Pinto – no. BUT I wouldn’t put him in a 75 Toyota either. Would I enjoy a Pinto wagon for an around town car -yes. But why:

      They were a part of my childhood and I remember them. Usta hate um, but changed my mind
      , getting old does strange things to ya.

      They have more headroom than really anything built in the last 10 years thats not a truck or a van.

      They are easy to work on and most of the parts are easy to find and dirt cheap too.

      Wha

  • avatar
    67dodgeman

    Was a time when the only pintos I saw had 454 V-8s stuffed in them, 2-speed powerglides, narrowed rear axles, and the largest slicks that would fit. Drag racers loved them.

    Bear in mind that Forza 4 recently released a car pack which included said pinto. Be still my beating heart!

  • avatar
    PaulVincent

    A friend had a Pinto, and I had an automatic ’68 Caprice with a two barrel 350. The Pinto would out accelerate the Caprice. They were not a bad car.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      There must have been something seriously wrong with your Caprice as any 4 banger Pinto I have driven was a 15 plus second 0-60 car.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      The 350 wasn’t even available on the ’68 full sized Chevys. A 307 and Powerglide more likely. And an early 2 liter Pinto with the stick was actually pretty brisk. Might well have done the deed.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        Assuming the chevy had a 3.08 rear end, which was what most standard small block models were equipped with, the glide would only hurt acceleration to about 15 mph. The 68 307 was rated at 200 HP gross and 300 lbs.ft. The 71 2000 cc engine was rated at 100 hp and 120 lbs.ft. gross. For 72 the net rating was 86 hp and 103 lbs. ft. It wouldn’t have stood a chance. The later chevette 1.6 was rated at 65 hp, and the chevette was around 400lbs. lighter than a pinto, so a stock 2000 cc pinto would have been close to a chevette in acceleration.

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    I still see a powder-blue Pinto frequently in the parking lot of my work. No idea who’s driving it. It’s not a resto-job, it’s slightly rusty and messy and looks as if someone was just driving and maintaining it continuously since the seventies. I should try and get a glance at the odometer one of these times.

    • 0 avatar
      ExPatBrit

      We had a 76 powder-blue hatchback for 4 years, with the SOHC 4 cylinder and the automatic.

      Actually a pretty sturdy car, had two people hit it and they just bounced off.

      People teased me about buying this car for my then pregnant spouse and it was probably the slowest car ever, but ultra reliable. Timing belt broke and I replaced it in my driveway for $20. Sold it for pretty much what we paid or it. Cheapest car ownership experience ever, even the insurance was cheap.

      Traded it for a Subaru that was a real POS.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    My dad had Beetles, then a Mavarick, then a Vega (the worst), then a Mustang II, along with a bunch of Pintos. Then in the early 80′s he bouught a very basic 79 Corolla. Every car he has driven since has been a base Corolla.

    • 0 avatar
      Contrarian

      SO he’s the guy always in my way at the on-ramp…

      • 0 avatar
        jeoff

        He may frustrate you, but he was always a very good driver. He turned 80 last year without ever getting into an accident. On family trips he could drive forever without getting tired or complaining. And even when given the worst directions from folks that were completely uninteligible to me, he always got us there on time. (I know that you you were mostly making a joke, but after a hospital stay last week, his driving days may be over– so he deserved a nice word.)

    • 0 avatar
      carbiz

      jeoff So your father jumped nearly a decade in technical development that existed between the Vega/Maverick and the late ’70s Toyota? And in those 5 or 10 years, you don’t think the D3 were working feverishly to get balky new technologies off the drawing paper and into production? Why do you think GM foisted the hellish 8-6-4 engines upon the world? Because they had the money and the technical lead to TRY.
      I cannot see how any reasoned person can (with a straight face) say something like, “Well, my ’83 Ford (model that they usually can’t even remember) was a POS, so I traded it in for a 1990 Accord (yet you kept the Ford 7 years still!) and it was a much better car.” And, sir, is your 2000 Accord not better than your 1990?
      These along with thousands of other silly conversations that I had to put up with while selling GM in a market where even the owners of the dealership didn’t give a rat’s a$$ because they owned 2 Toyota stores – bought and paid for with their profits from GM, of course.

      • 0 avatar
        Lokki

        Carbiz – now YOU Sir, are engaging in revisionist history. The D3 didn’t try in the 70′s. Not at all. They only responded to regulation, and only then as little as they -had to-. Yes, the early Japanese cars were not suited to American use outside urban areas. Yes, they rusted. However, the Japanese got better every year. The American cars didn’t. In fact, they got worse. Our family had owned a 67 Plymouth. It was a well built reliable car. The 1975 Plymouth that replaced it was junk. Sobad that after a few years, it was gone and good riddance replaced by a 78 Chevy.. which came frome the factory with the rear axle misaligned and a carb that couldn’t work and couldn’t be adjusted. Oh, and it rusted too. Badly. In 1980 ( note the decreasing lengths of ownership), my dad bought a Honda Accord and had it Ziebarted. It was revelation. Our family never bought another American car.

        So, there Sir, is the difference. In 1974 my student car Civic was less desirable than a Pinto (see my comments below) but six years later, Honda made a car that was excellent, while the D3 obviously didn’t give a damn anymore.

        And you know this is true.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    I had a friend in college who had a (new) 73 or 74 Pinto while I had a new 74 Civic (Thanks mom and dad!!).
    Yes, the Civic was a better car in almost every way but by the standards of the day it seemed scary tiny. To my imperfect memory the 74 Civic is a little smaller than a Fiat 500, a little bigger than a Smart. It was peppy but not remotely powerful. I don’t think I ever attempted to put anyone in the back seat…that was unimaginable.

    The Pinto I thought was a pretty nice car. I recall it had a ‘German’ engine and a slick enough little 4-speed along with some sort of improved handling package ( a sway bar? Radial tires?). The thing was fun to drive in the local mountains; the Civic was tolerable.

    I have always hated the Pinto’s styling for the simple reasom that the rear quarter panel made the tires look too small and as if they were inset too far inside the car body. It looked as if the body was temporarily set on a build-cart waiting to be transfered to its real chassis later.

    The interior was plusher in the Pinto although the Civic was clearly bolted together better. Think lazily tossed cheap throw cushions compared to a well-made school student’s chair.

    On quality, well, the Civic was made of THIN tin and no-apologies “I’m plastic, obviously” plastics. The car seemed disposable – like a throw-away razor. Great while it lasts but you know that one day it will break and you’ll just toss it away still looking ok but now useless. The Pinto was cruder, but of thicker stuff. You knew that it would gradually rust and molder away getting sadder and sorrier – at the end a rotting sullen mess running on 3 cylinders, but running.

    So given the choice as a college student, I’d have taken the Pinto over my Civic. Hands down. The Civics of those days were not the legendary Civics of the 80′s.

    On a side note, another friend was given a Chevette by his parents. We all thought it a cheap (obvious cardboard in the interior! POS. It had 4 doors so we once put 4 guys it it and attempted to drive away. Unfortunately it was parked on an incline and it was an automatic. 2 guys had to get out before it would move.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Gremlins mostly had AMC V6′s in them, though I think there were a few with VW water cooled engines.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        As the AMC Spirit, AMC bought four cylinders from Audi. Maybe there was a year of the Gremlin with them too, but AMC was very late to offer a decent 4 cylinder to their Hornet mix of cars. The Gremlin was too heavy for a 4 cylinder back then until it was updated as the Spirit, I bet.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        My oldest sister and I both had gremlins with the factory 304 V8. They were a real blast to drive. My sister bought her’s new. The VW or audi 4 cylinder that came out in the 77 gremlins was a piece of junk,they didn’t have enough power and were oil burners. That was why AMC ended up making their own 4 banger later on. If I remember correctly it was AMC’s 6 with 2 cylinders lopped off.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheeljack

        AMC used an inline six. The very same engine that lived on through 2006 in the Jeep Wrangler.

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      The first generation civics were pieces of junk. They rusted so badly that the NHTSA issued a recall on over 936,000 built between 1973-1979. The car’s lateral suspension arms,crossbeam and strut towers would rust out, causing suspension parts to dismember themselves from the car. Honda ended up having to buy alot of the cars back because they were beyond repairable. The civic also used one of the most complicated and troublesome carbs ever to come on a vehicle, the pinto used a simple Holley.

    • 0 avatar
      carbiz

      Revisionist history is all the rage these days. You can imagine my horror when I had to sell my ancient ’67 Polara and then drive my roommates ’73 Datsun 210 to run errands. Sure, the thing was kinda cute, almost peppy. Sure, my roommate could do the timing and spark plugs, etc. by himself – and he most assuredly had to!
      But as Lokki notes, these things were tiny and tinny! The door slamming sounded like a Pepsi can tab being opened. The car had absolutely no toys. My roommate put his own stereo in.
      The Lada was simple, too, no?
      My Polara was just as reliable, if not more so. It had power steering, power brakes, Sears (?) air conditioning, could seat 6 or sleep 4. The Datsun could nearly fit in the trunk.
      I dunno, I guess driving a ’57 Plymouth Fury through a neighbor’s fence at the age of 6 attuned me to vehicles with substance and flare. Even the Vega and Pinto had some styling, compared to a Datsun 210.

  • avatar
    geeber

    The infamous “Pinto Memo” was misrepresented by Mother Jones. It did NOT calculate the cost of making changes to the Pinto’s fuel tank versus the cost of paying out settlements from lawsuits.

    The memo was a cost-benefit analysis of a particular federal regulation, and Ford was REQUIRED to perform that analysis by the federal government.

    The Mother Jones article also wildly overstated the number of Pinto deaths related to exploding fuel tanks.

    The September 1981 issue of the Rutgers Law Review featured an article on the Pinto. In addition to clarifying what the infamous memo was really about, and stating the true number of deaths from Pinto fires, it also determined that the car’s overall safety record was average for small cars of that time.

    The rate of fire-related deaths was slightly higher for the Pinto than for other contemporary small cars (Vega, B-210, Corolla, Gremlin, VW Beetle). This must be weighed against the fact that the wagon version of the Pinto never had this problem, and it was extremely popular. The Pinto wagon accounted for an unusually high percentage of Pinto sales through the mid-1970s.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    My first car was a 71 Pinto sedan with the wonderful 1.6L Kent engine which saw service in the 78-80 Fiesta. I bought it in 1980 with a broken axle tube for only $125, fixed it, and drove it a year.

    Later I had a 76 Pinto sedan with the 2.3L engine 4-speed shown in these pictures. It’s a rough beast, but sturdy. That car lasted me 4 years.

    Finally my wife had an 80 Bobcat hatchback automatic, which is the worst car I ever had. It could only manage 14 mpg city and maybe 18 mpg highway, in spite of replacement and tuning of everything in the drivetrain.

    Thank you for pointing out TTAC regarding the ‘exploding Pinto’ myth. Many more people died in exploding GMC saddle-tank trucks than Pintos.

    The Pinto’s reputation declined further when its drivetrain and suspension components were used forever in Mustang IIs and Fairmonts.

    I still harbor a desire to restore a 71 Pinto 1600 if the right one comes along.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      +1

      A buddy of mine had a fairly well-optioned (for a Pinto anyway) 1980 Pinto with a 2.3L that he put over 230,000 miles on before he got rid of it simply due to a desire to move up. If memory serves, it was still a very serviceable car when he sold it.

  • avatar
    oldlt43

    The crushed Old Milwaukee beer can in the back brought back ancient memories of my college days in Texas when we used to describe how long it was from one town to another by the number of beers consumed between points. “Ain’t too far, about two beers”. Old Mil was popular with strapped students, particularly when you could get three quarts of a dollar during certain sales.(At least that’s the way I remember it.) The local frat rats looked down on Old Milwaukee as a cheap “green” beer for the independents while they sucked down their Heinekens or Michelobs on their daddies’ dime. The really cool guys were the ones who made a run to Colorado and brought back a couple of cases of the mystical Coors.

    • 0 avatar
      afflo

      “The local frat rats looked down on Old Milwaukee as a cheap “green” beer for the independents while they sucked down their Heinekens or Michelobs on their daddies’ dime.”

      ” cases of the mystical Coors.”

      It would seem that not just cars have improved! I admit being a bit puzzled watching Smokey and the Bandit. Like, “Wait, they were going through all this trouble for Coors? It barely qualifies as beer!”

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        Back then, watered down piss beer was the norm around much of the US, sad to say.

        And at that time, Coors was not sold but in a few states, namely in the SW I think.

        Anyway, glad we have beer that’s SOO much better now than that crappy stuff.

        None the less, there ARE still people willing to swill down Bud Lite or Miller beer, simply because it’s cheep while at the bar and thus can drink lots of them.

        I’d rather buy Redhook’s ESB, it cost’s a little more but so much better than the watered down mass brewed stuff and enjoy 2 quality glasses and go home tired but not drunk. :-)

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Coors was the Corona of the day.

  • avatar
    geo

    The Pinto is a perfect example of public perception vs reality. It was cheap, reliable, nicely styled (yes, I said “nicely styled”),economical, and not prone to rust like the Japanese competition. Yet it became trendy to snicker at it, based on pop-culture blather. And it does get annoying to hear people constantly criticize cars from this era (only American cars, mind you) using today’s standards as the benchmark.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      Yup. Most of the wiseguys who talked trash never owned one, or even drove one. It was mostly a way to show how “sophisticated” they were. Kind of like the iFans who walk around saying “Win-bloz”.

    • 0 avatar
      jeffzekas

      My mom owned a Pinto… the motor died at 75,000 miles… cheap interior, slow, poor handling… nowhere near as nice as my sister’s brand new ’76 Corolla…

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Not unlike the brand new 77 I bought for around $3200. It was tough little bastard, except for the 4-sp transmission with soft aluminum shift rails which constantly jammed. Until I replaced it with an older 72 trans (with steel shift rails).

    Mostly a reliable and economical car for the day. And no, it didn’t blow up, and neither did my earlier V8 Gremlin.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I helped stuff a 302 and 4 speed into my buddies pinto. These things were a hot rodders dream. he got his from a USPS auction for 75 dollars. It actually ran and he drove it home.

    We had to stiffen the body with cross members behind the seats because the doors wouldn’t close right. The clutch drops at 4000 RPM bent the body.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Was it right hand drive? There was a time(1992 IIRC) when I thought about building an autocross USPS RHD Pinto after my friend went from pretty slow to fastest car on street tires on a counter-clockwise course by the simple change of me riding along in the passenger seat of his E30 M3 for his last run.

  • avatar
    racebeer

    If I remember correctly, a bunch of these got gutted during the 70′s and rebuild as pretty good SSB racers in the SCCA. Not as good as the Opels, but pretty darn respectible.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    I love the rolled-over Explorer parked next to it. There’s a story there.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I think these guys got a bum rap with the exploding gas tank in the same way the Audi 5000 got it for unintended acceleration.

  • avatar
    PaulVincent

    “Why were there NO FOUR door versions of either car?” Young folk did not want four door cars back then. Some from that era still don’t want them today.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      The question is based on the fact that a model that includes a four door is usually a better more utilitarian design, even as a two door. Miniaturizing a Camaro or a Mustang onto a subcompact body makes it’s usability even less than found in a Camaro or a Mustang. Choosing this design route may have created what some at GM or Ford thought would be a better seller than a small four door, but choosing this design made the design less flexible, missing an opportunity to make more profit.

      Also remember that the hatches on these cars came later. The original Pinto and Vega had only a trunk, reflecting the limits of the sporty coupe designs upon which they are based. Making these two door coupes into hatchbacks were required because their designs were limiting. The back seats were useless. The trunks were too small. In 1974, the hatchback boom hit and most of the popular two door coupes that year became available as a hatch. The exception was the Duster/Dart which couldn’t accommodate the design.

      The AMC Hornet hatch was especially successful in 1974, being based on a sedan design. The Hornet had a full line of models, a two door coupe, a hatchback, a four door, a wagon, a sedan, and as the Gremlin, which didn’t have a hatch, but an opening back window instead.

      While the imported small car competition came over with roomier car designs based upon the need to include a four door into the mix, the Detroit subcompact group floundered with the wrong design. The early Japanese cars did it right. The Civic was an updated MINI. The MINI dates back to 1959. So why the hell did GM and Ford do this? What reasons are there for a long hood, hatchless kammback design that sits as low to the road as a pony car?

      Like the other offerings from Detroit from that era, the Vega and the Pinto suffered from a huge waste of space. Considering the width, weight and exterior dimensions of these cars, there were a who lot of cars in the same class from foreign manufacturers that did this better.

      Perhaps some consider the Pinto and Vega design unique and appealing, but another whole group of us couldn’t believe how cramped, wasted and silly these mini-ponies were considering that there was a huge market out there for a real practical subcompact design.

      BTW – both GM and Ford dropped this design logic when they replaced the Vega and Pinto in the 1980s. Even as the small car market expanded, we do not see another attempt to do a dedicated two door mini-pony platform like the Vega or the Pinto. Instead we see the new small sporty cars based on the sedan designs.
      Ford EXP/Mercury LN7=Escort.
      Honda CRX=Civic.
      Plymouth Turismo=Horizon.

      The lesson of the Pinto Vega design shortcomings has been learned.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        Vanilla Dude,

        The Pinto was initially only offered as a sedan for 1971, the wagon and hatchback (Runabout) were offered the following year.

        The Vega had all body styles from the get go when introduced in 1971.

        The hatchback craze didn’t really take off until after the introduction of the Civic and Rabbit in 1974.

      • 0 avatar

        Hey Dude,

        If you haven’t already seen it, here’s a detailed history of the Vega at Ate Up With Motor.

        http://ateupwithmotor.com/compact-and-economy-cars/195-chevrolet-vega-cosworth.html

        According to this, John DeLorean and Chevy tried to address Vega’s shortcomings before the car was ever released but were repeatedly rebuffed from on high. Meeting corporate cost/weight/engineering targets based on a set of specs that sounded like they were pulled out of thin air was the problem.

        Having owned a ’72 Kammback I can attest that they were a hoot to drive…plenty of power, nice ride for its size and great fuel economy for that package.

        When it ran, that is.

        At least Pinto was reliable, at least by comparison. So was Corolla and other Toyotas. They simply rusted away before their time, live the Vega.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    The Pinto was a good example of basic automobile engineering. I bought a 1974 sedan that my ex-wife “won” in the divorce settlement. She drove it to over 125,000 miles with few problems.

    The VW Beetle had much a much higher level of quality than the Pinto.

  • avatar
    Ben T Spanner

    I worked with a young, soon to be divorced, lady who drove a 73 so Pinto. Each morning she bought a gallon of gas a one pack of cigarettes. The Pinto broke a timing belt but as fixed in one morning at a gas station for $18. (They were enchanted by her charms)
    A friend of mine and I bought 74 and 75 station wagons from Purolator Courier Service. All white with a gazillion miles. We added the Ford fake wood and replaced the drivers seat with a junkyard item. Theses cars were 1 or 2 years old. Most had a shiny new engine, transmission or rear end with unusual Ford tags. Maybe these were Ford test units? The used car lots ate them up.

  • avatar
    Galaxy Flyer

    I had two Pintos, a ’73 and a ’77–loved them both. They took me everywhere I wanted to go and brought me unharmed. Over a quarter of million miles, 47 states, four province of Canada, from deserts to -40 in upstate. NY where the light switch fell apart after the car started up. I did four cross country trips.

    I got about 24 mpg, the valves needed doing, a bunch of Michelins when Michelibs were hot stuff from France. I can’t imagine how I did 15 hour days of driving it, though.

    GF

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    A GF had a new Pinto , the basic sedan with the dinky trunk, I think a 1975 or 1976. It was the “Pony” edition which was a real stripper- rubber floor mats and no air conditioning (this was in Texas) with a stick. As I recall it didn’t have very good driveability and the contemporary car/ consumers report magazines panned it as an attempt to get high sounding EPA numbers by modifying the engine in ways that made it less pleasant to drive in the real world. Remember the back seats being awful- worse than the Vega or the VW , with the back seats with “catcher’s mit” indentions that made your ass ache. Her father had bought it for her , although what she wanted was a used Austin-Healey! She hated the Pinto.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    We had a number of Pintos in our extended family back in the 70′s & 80′s. Our family also had a bunch of cars with the 2.3 Lima OHC motor, too. I had a 1979 Pinto ESS, which had the silver paint and red plaid (yes, really) interior and a four speed. A bunch of gauges on the dash, four speaker AM/FM (no cassette) and intermittent wipers were the big features of the car.

    It was a good runner for the times, considering some of the other cars in the family fleet with the 2.3 engines were really poor performers. Mine developed typical Ford engine oil leaks. Due to an insane college/work/performing schedule, I neglected the oil level once too often and spun the cam bearings. A racer friend rebuilt the motor with a bunch of Racer Brown parts, it really woke up the old Lima. The car was a decent handler from the factory, some beefy Monroe shocks made it even better. By the time they built my car in 1979, they’d been doing it for a while; it was really pretty well assembled, but I had continuous leaks from the engine, coolant and even the rear axles. I gave up on it and bought my 1986 Mercury Capri 5.0L.

    WRT the V8 Pintos: I’ve seen a number of them over the years, but the worst one I was in was a car my neighbor was trying to sell. He worked for a little crappy iron lot, always brought junk home. It would frequently expire in the front street and have to be jumped or towed back to the lot.

    One evening he brings home a V8 Pinto, you could see it was an obvious hack job, but he thought he could sell it to me – because I was “into” cars. I took that thing for a test drive, it had to be the scariest self-inflicted 10 mins of my life. The motor weighed down the front, so it didn’t turn or stop properly. But it DID accelerate! But, since it was still wearing the Pinto sized DRUM brakes, pressing on the pedal was an exercise in futility.

    I got out of the car, said thanks for the ride and politely declined the offer. I never ever drove one of his junk heaps ever again. Lesson learned.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    I had a ’74 Maverick in the ’90s…but I always wanted a Pinto.
    I wanted to stick a Turbo Coupe’s engine and trans in mine..have working AC, and enjoy blowing away ferraris…

  • avatar
    CougarXR7

    When I was little, my dad had a ’72. Maytag white with that funky silvery-blue interior that seemed to be popular on cheap cars back then. Had the 2.0 engine and C4 automatic.

    That thing just ran and ran and ran with no major issues whatsoever. It was slow, noisy, rough-riding, and crude. But it never let my dad down. It still ran like a champ when he traded it in on a ’78 Granada. THAT car is a story for another day.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    One of my sisters bought a new 77 Pinto. It had the vinyl top, pinstripes, tinted glass, whitewalls with wheel covers, am/fm, power steering and automatic. Fairly loaded for an econobox in those days. The 140 lima engine was rated between 82-88 hp and 112-116 lbs. of torque, depending on the year according to the specs chart in my chilton repair manual from the 70′s. That was pretty good for a car in this class in those days, hers got around ok. They only weighed around 2000lbs. Just imagine, GM’s iron duke put out similar power in bigger A bodies just a few years later.
    The pinto was a simple and reliabe car, they weren’t hated until the publicity broke out about the fuel tanks.
    Speaking of exploding fuel tanks there was a family by the name of Nichols that lived on our street that owned a corvair in 1974. They went on a family outing one weekend, and Mr. Nichols stopped and topped off the tank. Shortly after leaving the gas station they got involved in a head on collison with another car. The front mounted tank exploded, and the car immediately became engulfed in flames, and the family was wiped out in an instant.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I knew several people who had the Pinto, including a friend of my sister’s, he’d bought a dark green Runabout, I think a ’75 initially as it had the old style liftgate and it was rear ended and totaled out and he replaced it with a similar green later model, a ’76 or so that had the later all glass liftgates and I think he drove that for a long time. I just know that in the late 80′s, he bought a burgundy Chevy Beretta with sunroof.

    Another family we knew, the Millers, their son Mark had a ’79 or 80 white Bobcat version of the Pinto and I rode shotgun in it as he drove 3 of us conference members to a pool house where we got to swim for a while. I think that car had the tan interior.

    My Mom had test driven I think a 2 YO 76 Pinto wagon in ’78, it was that light metallic green and had the auto and I think AC but for some reason didn’t go for it, but DID end up buying a metallic brown ’76 Vega wagon that she drove up through 1982-83 and was replaced by the ’83 Buick Skylark (FWD X-body).

    That Vega was a decent, if slow car by then and in my humble opinion had the cleanest looking grill outside of the original 71-73 models.

    I knew someone who had a yellow Pinto, forget the year but I think a 71 or 72 as it had the smaller bumpers and it had been rear ended and the center panel between the taillights were shoved in but the trunk still closed.

    My former BIL bought a used silver ’72 Pinto sedan in ’76 and drove it with my sister after they married to nashota Wisconsin to seminary school and by the spring of 79, they could not repair a flat tire as the lug nuts rusted to the studs.

    My Dad had to buy a 74 Chevy Nova from the Gov’t GSA auction for them in ’79 and my Mom and maternal grandmother drove it out to them that fall. I would end up with the car in ’83.

    Like the Vega, I’ve always liked the looks of these, especially the wagons (for both). The Vega would’ve been bitchin if I’d been able to get one, in that same brown (at the time) and put the 76 quad headlight foam nosed Monza front on it and added custom wheels, such as turbo style wheels or the stock rally units and a decent tape deck and it would’ve been really cool, especially the GT version with the round windows in back.

    About 3 years or so back, saw a red Pinto wagon with the round bubble window, rally wheels, sport mirrors and the cool 70′s era orange/yellow graphics still plying the roads of Seattle and at the time, I was coming home and saw it in Rainier Ave S, right after coming off of I-90. And it had the louver shade on the rear glass too. Very cool indeed.

  • avatar
    Fastbak390

    I currently own a ’71 Pinto and I can address all of crazy stuff flying around. I’ve done everything from daily drive a bone stock ’71 2.0 in LA traffic, to slam gears in a heavily modified 2.0 turbo around a nascar track.

    It is true, the trunks in the non-hatchbacks are a joke. Half of the real estate back there is taken up by the gas tank. The other quarter consists of the spare tire. A trip to the grocery store is a game of tetris. If you didn’t opt for the fold-down rear seat, then you have even less usable space. The Pinto was in production for only a few months before they added the hatchback “Runabout” to the lineup. It was way more practical without the parcel shelf. I’ve seen a picture of an entire 427, disassembled, but fit in its entirety in the trunk of a Pinto.

    The back seat will handle two adults quite comfortably, though it’s a shame there wasn’t space for a middle seat. Ever see the episode of Rob & Big when they fit four morbidly obese guys in a Pinto? It’s not as cramped as it’s made out to be. I will admit, egress from the back seat IS a challenge, since your practically sitting with your butt on the floor.

    I only have experience with the early 2.0, but the acceleration is surprisingly snappy stock… even with the slushbox. I dealt with LA freeways and traffic and never once felt like I didn’t have enough power to handle it. It’s a great little motor with a stout bottom end, and solid aftermarket performance support. With a carbureted turbo, it’s bonkers and still dead nuts reliable. I took my turbo Pinto on a 3,000 mile road trip around the Eastern US without a single problem. The 1.6 didn’t have much power, but most people sprang for the 2.0 anyways.

    Even if it wasn’t ideal for practicality’s sake, I love the driving position. It truly feels like a scaled down Mustang, where you sit on the floor in buckets and stretch your legs out to reach the pedals. I’m 6′ and I don’t feel cramped in the least. My first car was a 69 Cougar, and I still felt right at home driving this thing. The rack & pinion is positive, tight, and provides great feedback. The interior is reflective of the price-point. Base trim was extremely cheap feeling. The deluxe interior was a slight step up, adding chrome accents and woodgrain, but it still wasn’t much of an improvement.

    Ford had a fantastic small car that sold like hotcakes, and had none of the practicality problems of the Pinto. The Cortina predates the Japanese imports by years. The problem was, it hit the market before Americans were interested in anything smaller than a Falcon, so it only sold well in Europe and Australia. My dad had an original US market, California black plate LHD Lotus Cortina and it had that all around great saloon configuration that mixed practicality and performance. It’s a shame they didn’t catch on here. Those are great cars.

    One last thought. A funny thing about owning a Pinto in this day and age… you still fit in almost everwhere. I can show up to a car meet that is mostly Honda kids, and get all sorts of interest and compliments. I show up to a muscle car meet and still get similar reactions (even if the stigma is still apparent with some). I still draw a crowd. How many cars can pull that off?

  • avatar
    84Cressida

    “year from now they’ll still be reCALLLLLLing the Pinto”

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Ah, yet another domestic tragedy that informed my youth. My dad had a forest green Pinto for a few years in the ’80s. My memories of it revolve around how much of a torture chamber the interior was in the warmer months. The vinyl seats were awful, the whole car was an oven in sunlight, and I burned my hand on the seat belt buckle one summer day. A pregnant deer sacrificed itself one morning to send that car to hell.

  • avatar
    danwat1234

    Did that Pinto happen to have an overengineered XR2200 muffler bracket?


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