By on December 13, 2014


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Would you miss a parade of 50 Ford Pintos (well, 47 at least)? The cute little subcompact, oft demeaned as a fiery death trap due to lawsuits and controversy over how and where it mounted the fuel tank, does have its enthusiasts and for the past three years they’ve gathered for the Pinto Stampede, a car meet and fund raiser for the Wounded Warrior Project. This year the Stampede was held in Dearborn, Michigan and the proud Pinto pilots (alliteration is my friend) were reserved a special place of honor at the Ford Product Development Center employees’ annual car show on the lawn in front of the PDC.

Not only was the Pinto club specifically invited by the Ford Motor Company to participate, notwithstanding the car’s reputation, the city of Dearborn provided police cruisers to escort dozens of Pintos and handful of Mercury Bobcats (the Pinto’s now very rare badge engineered cousin) as they paraded from the historic Dearborn Inn hotel to Ford’s engineering complex on the south side of Oakwood Blvd, just across from the Henry Ford Museum.

Conceived by Lee Iacocca as Ford’s response to the sales of inexpensive imported cars, particularly the VW Beetle. By the early 1970s, Toyota and Datsun had established beachheads on the U.S. west coast and Honda was getting ready to introduce its first car that wasn’t a microcar, the Civic. Though over 3 million Pintos were sold, it’s regarded as one of Iacocca’s failures and the model name itself has become a bit of a punchline, a perennial “worst cars of all times” candidate.

The Pinto was in production from 1971 to 1980 and nearly every iteration in the decade long run was represented at the PDC show, including a couple of very 1970s looking Pinto wagon version of the custom van craze, complete with porthole bubble window. By 1972 the 5 mph bumper standards started ruining the original runabout’s trim and attractive styling, but that didn’t seem to affect sales that much, which peaked at almost 480,000 units in 1973. What did affect Pinto sales were lawsuits and the attending controversy over deaths attributed to gas tank punctures in collisions. A 1977 article in the left wing Mother Jones magazine charged that Ford knew about the fuel tank issue early on and decided, supposedly based on a cost/benefit analysis that calculated the cost of wrongful death lawsuits, that it would be cheaper to not fix the car and just pay off the survivors.

Over 100 lawsuits and even criminal homicide charges filed against Ford Motor Company by the state of Indiana in 1979 permanently tainted the Pinto’s reputation. However, in 1991, law professor Gary Schwartz published a 46 page analysis of the Pinto and the lawsuits in the Rutgers Law Review and concluded that Ford wasn’t as negligent (or worse) as is generally thought and that the Pinto wasn’t, at least statistically, a fire trap. You can read Schwartz’s paper here. A look at the case from a business ethics standpoint can be seen here. An overall look at the Pinto and it’s troubled history can be seen at the Automotive News.

Mercury Bobcats have got to be very rare these days. Full gallery here.

Mercury Bobcats have got to be very rare these days. Full gallery here.

Perhaps appropriate for a car associated with fire, part of the Pinto Stampede actually included a drive to hell and back. Hell, Michigan that is, a small town about 50 miles west of Detroit.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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29 Comments on “A Plethora of Parading Pintos...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    True or not the exploding Pinto has taken it’s place in history, right next to “it’s the tire’s fault” rollover Explorer

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    Owned a 76 for 3 years (bought used in 82), had the 140ci motor and auto trans.

    Thing was slowwww!

    Replaced a timing belt in my driveway and that was the only repair.Cheap transportation , traded it in for almost what I paid for it on a POS Subaru.

  • avatar
    pragmatic

    A coworker owned the wagon version and would use it to move full 4 X 8 sheets of plywood when he was building his house.

    For comparisons see
    http://www.fordpinto.com/pdfs/PintoWagonBrochure.pdf

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      4X8′ sheet of plywood would have been a tight squeeze according to those specs, but I guess on an angle with the liftgate open it could be possible

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatic

        This go deleted so I’m trying again.

        That’s why I looked up the specifications. According to the comparison sheets the wheel wells were 42.5 inches apart and the hatch opening was 48.8 inches wide, length was 69.2. I’m assuming that the width is slightly wider than the hatch opening. So the plywood would rest on the wheel wells and extend 27 inches past the hatch. Compared to a Tacoma’s bed (41.5 between the wheel wels, 57 inches wide and 73 inches long) its not too bad.

  • avatar
    raph

    Great hot rod material either with a small Ford V8 or 2.3 OHC motor.

    Until the local roundy round track retired them for newer iron they were pretty popular as circle track cars.

    I had a buddy who put a 289 in one and promptly torqued the car out of shape and another buday of mine had a friend that had a bat guano insane 460 powered pinto which he said due to the heavy front eND bias and short wheel bade made for an incredible donut machine.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Ran a used 76 wagon for about a year. Got it cheap and sold it for about the same. Possibly the worst car that I have ever had as far as ride quality, NVH, etc. The standard ‘bunch of bolts and sheet metal moving in a semi-formation’. However it was reliable and very cheap to run.

    At one point the Pinto wagon had the same stigma as the mini-van, ‘the standard suburban housewife’s mode of child transportation’.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Forgot to mention that prior to the Pinto we ran first a Type 3 VW ‘shooting brake’ and then a Type 4 VW shooting brake.

      Both were light years ahead of the Pinto in terms of engineering, NVH, interior details, handling, etc.

      The Type 3 was reliable. The Type 4 had enough electronic glitches and problems with its brakes that it turned us off VW’s (along with the terrible attitude we got from the now defunct dealership).

  • avatar
    jhefner

    Dearborn provided police cruisers to escort dozens of Pintos and a handful of Mercury Bobcats…to keep them from being rammed from behind!

    Thank you, thank you, I will be here all week…

    Seriously, thank you Ronnie. I have no personal experience with Pintos, though I saw lots of them growing up. I have not seen one in years; though now that you mentioned it; I will probably see one this week.

    MotorMax mades a great 1:64 scale diecast of the Pinto in their Fresh Cherries line; you can still find them on e-bay. I have an orange one in my lineup, and just a few days ago purchased a Maverick and Mustang II, also from the Fresh Cherries line. They all look great.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I’m assuming this story was delayed a bit for publication, because the grass don’t look like that this time of year.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I had a red one with a Starsky and Hutch white stripe and the 6 cyl engine. It got replaced by a red MG Midget.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I always kinda liked the redesigned Sportabout wagon…the “sugar scoop” headlights actually worked kinda well on the Pinto, though not as well as the 1974 Camaro of course.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    47? Wow, that’s an explosion of Pintos!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I would love to have seen that parade.

    I had an early 71 with the 1600 engine (quite rare now) – my first car. Had it only a year, but I have very fond memories of it.

    Later I had a 76 with the 2300 engine for 4 years – rebuilt almost everything on it and loved it. Took it on our honeymoon.

    Then we got my wife an 80 Bobcat identical to the one in the photo (two-tone blue with an automatic) – what a horrible car. The romantic notion of having a ‘his’ and ‘hers’ Pinto & Bobcat at the same time (both blue) was lost once the Bobcat started acting up. An elderly friend sold it to us for $1 (doing a favor for a young couple), but it turned out to be one of the most expensive cars I ever owned.

    I would seriously consider getting a 71 1600 as a project car. But most of the extant 71s have been pimped with a 302, or they have the more popular 2000 engine.

    Pintos became more complex and less reliable over the course of their production, in my experience. By 1980 they looked like every other malaise-era car under the hood.

    GM saddle-tank pickups killed far more people than Pintos. All of my Pintos were fitted with the thick plastic blast shield, which prevented the differential from spearing the fuel tank. Probably the worst risk of a rear-end collision was being trapped by doors which would no longer open.

    But for me, the worst part of Pinto ownership (though I still recall those times fondly) was their eagerness to rust. To actually assemble 50 Pintos together is quite a feat, especially in the Rust Belt.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    I still dream about a pinto sedan, with a V8/ 5spd swap from a ’88-’93 mustang, and all the 70’s era suspension modifications that were popular for better handling.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I would love to have seen that parade.

    I had an early 71 with the 1600 engine (quite rare now) – my first car. Had it only a year, but I have very fond memories of it.

    Later I had a 76 with the 2300 engine for 4 years – rebuilt almost everything on it and loved it. Took it on our honeymoon.

    Then we got my wife an 80 Bobcat identical to the one in the photo (two-tone blue with an automatic) – what a horrible car. The romantic notion of having a ‘his’ and ‘hers’ Pinto & Bobcat at the same time (both blue) was lost once the Bobcat started acting up. An elderly friend sold it to us for $1 (doing a favor for a young couple), but it turned out to be one of the most expensive cars I ever owned.

    I would seriously consider getting a 71 1600 as a project car. But most of the extant 71s have been pimped with a 302, or they have the more popular 2000 engine. If I had been there, I might have tried to buy one of those cars.

    Pintos became more complex and less reliable over the course of their production, in my experience. By 1980 they looked like every other malaise-era car under the hood.

    GM saddle-tank pickups killed far more people than Pintos. All of my Pintos were fitted with the thick plastic blast shield, which prevented the differential from spearing the fuel tank. Probably the worst risk of a rear-end collision was being trapped by doors which would no longer open.

    But for me, the worst part of Pinto ownership (though I still recall those times fondly) was their eagerness to rust. To actually assemble 50 Pintos together is quite a feat, especially in the Rust Belt.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I would love to have seen that parade.

    I had an early 71 with the 1600 engine (quite rare now) – my first car. Had it only a year, but I have very fond memories of it.

    Later I had a 76 with the 2300 engine for 4 years – rebuilt almost everything on it and loved it. Took it on our honeymoon.

    Then we got my wife an 80 Bobcat identical to the one in the photo (two-tone blue with an automatic) – what a horrible car. The romantic notion of having a ‘his’ and ‘hers’ Pinto & Bobcat at the same time (both blue) was lost once the Bobcat started acting up. An elderly friend sold it to us for $1 (doing a favor for a young couple), but it turned out to be one of the most expensive cars I ever owned.

    I would seriously consider getting a 71 1600 as a project car. But most of the extant 71s have been pimped with a 302, or they have the more popular 2000 engine. If I had been there, I might have tried to buy one of those cars.

    Pintos became more complex and less reliable over the course of their production, in my experience. By 1980 they looked like every other malaise-era car under the hood, but the 71s were very simple.

    GM saddle-tank pickups killed far more people than Pintos. All of my Pintos were fitted with the thick plastic blast shield, which prevented the differential from spearing the fuel tank. Probably the worst risk of a rear-end collision was being trapped by doors which would no longer open.

    But for me, the worst part of Pinto ownership (though I still recall those times fondly) was their eagerness to rust. To actually assemble 50 Pintos together is quite a feat, especially in the Rust Belt.

  • avatar
    baconator

    When I was growing up it seemed like every single mom had a Pinto. I learned how to drive stick in one, taught by a babysitter who was likely not a good adult to be modeling good choices for my young and impressionable self. They seemed somewhat less likely to perforate from rust than the Chevettes or ubiquitous Monte Carlos / Malibus / Grand Prix that were the common stock in those days. Even Cadillacs quickly turned to hills of oxide in the mid-70s.

    Eventually all the single moms got Escorts, Tempos, and Pontiac Sunfires. The Escorts were an improvement, the Sunfires not. In 1983 a family member came to visit with a W126 Mercedes 380SEL, which drove and was built to such a different standard that it may have been a spaceship instead of a car. It took me two decades before I considered buying an American car.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I wonder how many early (1971-3) Chevrolet Vegas still exist with their original drivetrains. I know many (of those that didn’t find their way to a crusher) had their engines swapped out for drag racing duty, but I doubt that this many ORIGINAL Vegas exist today.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    At the beginning of the video that was me standing at the light pole trying to take a video.

  • avatar
    turf3

    Well, all the early 70s US cars were pretty uniformly dreadful. I’m not sure what kind of garbage Chrysler had then, maybe someone can refresh my memory. At least the Pinto didn’t rust away into nothingness in a couple of years, like the Vega, and its underpowered engine was at least made of cast iron, so the cylinders didn’t grow 1/8″ per year. The people I knew who had Pintos uniformly hated them, but they were pretty reliable by the standards of the time.

    The Japanese cars were just on the verge of establishing their reliability reputation, but in the early 70s they were still underbuilt rust buckets.

    The VW Rabbit (not sure when this came to the US) was a pretty good car for the time: not much build quality, wore out quickly, but kept running (at some level of awfulness) pretty well despite mistreatment.

    By the late 70s the Vega was dead, the Pinto nearly so, Chevy had the Monza which was a small improvement, but the Japanese cars and the Rabbit were really taking over except among the buy-American die-hards. Somewhere in there the Chevette came in, maybe around 1978? And it was a big improvement over the Vega, which, for those of you who remember the ‘Vette, will give you an idea just how truly awful the Vega was.

    In conclusion, the Pinto really wasn’t a bad little car by the standards of what was available in the US in 1971; by 1980 it was grossly out of date.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      However, pre ’73 if you were smart you could get a Dodge Dart with the 225 slant six without all the plumbing required for ‘smog control’.

      A Dart was a far better vehicle, reasonably priced and could sit six (and as many as 11 in the pre seat belt legislation days).

      20 years later there were still quite a few Darts of this era still being used as daily drivers in Southern Ontario.

      Just remember to keep a spare ballast resistor on board.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        Pre ’73 vehicles had plenty of smog plumbing, they just lacked catalytic converters. Maybe the Dart was an exception, but I doubt it. I logged plenty of miles in both, and the Dart was a better people mover, but the Pinto was much more fun to drive. Not so much fun for passengers. Gutless, but the little car handled well.

        I had a girlfriend who had one exactly like the brown hatchback pictured above.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Plymouth marketed the Duster as a more sensible alternative to the Pinto and Vega. The ad campaign was called, “Don’t sell yourself short.”

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    From now on, your Delta Tau Kai name is Pinto, LOL!

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