Rare Rides: The 1979 Ford Pinto European Sports Sedan Is None of Those Things
In an interesting case of historical marketing, this very yellow Rare Ride seems to have adjectives applied to it which are, in fact, false. Today we have a look at a 1979 Ford Pinto European Sports Sedan.
The late Sixties was a tough time for American OEMs. An onslaught of small, economical, and affordable Japanese cars put a lot of pressure on domestic manufacturers to compete. By the latter part of the decade, boardrooms at the Big Three (and AMC) hummed with compact car ideas.
Ford began development of the Pinto in 1967, under the overall direction of then president Lee Iacocca. Lee wanted a lightweight entry into the market (under 2,000 pounds) that cost less than $2,000. Engineers at Ford jumped to the task, creating a new platform that also served double duty under everyone’s favorite Mustang, the II. From start to finish, Pinto’s development took 25 months — an impressive timeline in an era when new car development typically took 43 months.
Ford introduced the Pinto in September of 1970 for the 1971 model year. New competitors to the Pinto included the Chevrolet Vega and AMC Gremlin from America, plus the Mazda 1200 (later GLC) from Japan.
As was typical of economy cars in the Seventies, multiple body styles greeted Pinto customers. There were two-door sedan, sedan delivery, and station wagon styles, as well as a three-door hatchback. Engines ranged from 1.6 and 2.8 liters in displacement, with the range topped by the Cologne V6.
The Pinto was a very successful car for Ford, but things took a turn in the middle of the decade. Some Pintos caught fire here and there, which led to an NHTSA investigation in 1974 and the eventual publication (in 1977) of Ford’s Pinto Memo. Some 117 lawsuits impacted Ford by the time everyone was said and done. It’s a long, complex story which can’t be covered here.
Ford applied a styling update to the Pinto for 1979, signalling that the company’s smallest offering was not long for this world. Front and rear exterior revisions made it look more like a Fairmont, while the interior underwent its own modernization. The refresh brought with it the ESS package. Available on sedan and hatchback Pintos, ESS added a black grille and trim, wider moldings, sports wheels, and classy ESS badging. The package was around for just two model years, as ESS died with the Pinto in 1980.
Americans prepared themselves to revel in an all-new Escort for 1981.
Today’s Rare Ride was for sale on eBay recently, in shockingly clean condition for a lifelong Michigan vehicle. With a 2.3-liter inline-four and 23,000 miles, this ESS asked $7,995.
Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Writing things for TTAC since late 2016 from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find me on Twitter @CoreyLewis86, and I also contribute at Forbes Wheels.
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