By on June 1, 2020

You’d think that examples of the Ford Pinto and its Mercury-badged twin, the Bobcat, would have disappeared from the American junkyard ecosystem by now, given the cheapness of these cars and the decades of exploding-Pinto punchlines since “Pinto Madness” came out in 1977. No doubt due to the huge quantities sold during the Pinto/Bobcat’s 10-year production run (well over three million), such is not the case; I continue to find Pintos and Bobcats in junkyards to this day.

Here’s a light blue ’77 three-door Bobcat in a Northern California self-serve yard.

1977 Mercury Bobcat in California junkyard, pinstriping - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Bobcat didn’t differ much from the Pinto at any point during its 1975-1980 production run. When you bought the Bobcat, you got some standard features that were optional on the Pinto, plus the bragging rights that came with ownership of the more upscale marque. In 1977, the Bobcat three-door started at $3,338, while the cheapest Pinto went for $3,099 (that’s about $14,630 and $13,580 in 2020 dollars, respectively).

1977 Mercury Bobcat in California junkyard, interior - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Bobcat came with cloth-and-vinyl bucket seats as standard equipment, though you still had to pay extra for a scratchy AM radio.

1977 Mercury Bobcat in California junkyard, trim repair - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis one lived a hard life, at least in its later years. This spray-foam-and-tape trim repair speaks volumes.

1977 Mercury Bobcat in California junkyard, rust - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsCalifornia cars will rust, given enough time.

1977 Mercury Bobcat in California junkyard, El Cerrito parking sticker - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis one was on the street as recently as 2008, on the bayous mean streets of El Cerrito (home of Creedence Clearwater Revival).

1977 Mercury Bobcat in California junkyard, automatic gearshift lever - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsA four-speed manual came as the base transmission in the ’77 Bobcat, but most Mercury shoppers insisted on automatics by that time.

1977 Mercury Bobcat in California junkyard, stickers - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThese stickers look faded enough to have been installed by the original owner.

1977 Mercury Bobcat in California junkyard, engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIn 1977, Bobcat shoppers had the option of buying the same 2.8-liter V6 that went into the Capri, resulting in 90 horsepower at the driver’s command. This car got the base 2.3-liter four-cylinder, rated at 89 horses (but 20 fewer pound-feet of torque).

1977 Mercury Bobcat in California junkyard, gauges - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsBobcat and Pinto sales dropped quite a bit after 1977, partly due to the perceived risk of explosion during rear-end collisions and partly due to the increasing obsolescence of the late-1960s design.

1977 Mercury Bobcat in California junkyard, stickers - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsPintos really weren’t much more likely to explode than other cars with the fuel tank mounted between the rear bumper and rear axle. Unfortunately, most Detroit cars of the era used that layout, and so the danger went well beyond just the Pinto.

Watch out for intruding elephant trunks in your Bobcat!

Bobcat marketing focused on cheapness. Note the amazing Sports Accent Group Bobcat in this final-model-year TV commercial.

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33 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1977 Mercury Bobcat 3-Door...”

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    A ’76 Bobcat was my first car. Dad bought it for me. I wish he hadn’t.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve S.

      The worst ride is better than the best walk.

      • 0 avatar

        Ohhhhhh you say that now, but never say never. :D

        I agree, I’m just having fun with your comment. When I fly standby and it’s not yet a sure thing that I’m going to get a seat, one of my go-to jokes to create rapport with the gate agent is to say I’d be happy if I could ride with the cargo if it weren’t against regulations… although I’m not being completely facetious when I say it. (Pro tip: treat airline gate agents the way you treat people who handle your food, i.e. with respect and a sincere smile, and remember that nobody’s perfect.)

  • avatar

    “cheapness of these cars”

    Cheap? No, these were the upscale version of the Pinto. Lol, Lincoln should have done a rebadge like Cimarron

    As awful as they were looks like some people got an awful lot of use out of this one

  • avatar

    I prefer something about the trim on these cars over the Pinto….it looks better put-together, to my eye. A ’77 Bobcat with a 302 and some stickers and tape stripes would be a fun little runner.

  • avatar

    Let’s see, first comment was around 30 minutes ago and no one has said it yet so I guess I will…

    Trim being held up with tape and foam, scattered rust and dented panels, nothing lined up, parts scattered everywhere, and a shredded interior. Are we all sure it didn’t arrive at the dealership like this, new?

    Thank you, I’m here all night…(drops mic).

    One of my earliest memories from the 70s was my Dad’s Pinto, and the massive rust holes that Ohio and Indiana’s very heavy salt usage put in that thing. I still shudder when I think of that car.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    The gas tank in the Land Ark (’67 Impala) is protected by the steel bumper and the 1.5″ square frame rail. I don’t understand how more people weren’t burned up in accidents.
    The lap belts, the absence of B pillars, the lightly padded steel dashboard, plus the risk of fire – my car is basically a death trap.

  • avatar

    Thank you for noting that the exploding gas tank thing was a bit of an exaggeration (as compared to many contemporary cars of similar contemporary construction).

    Now for the fun part, I bet this car could be fixed up into a real sleeper- purchase the title and the wreck, put in a 302 with lots of race parts, but leave the rusty body panels as is… hehehe (probably want to look at a frame stiffening kit though!).

    * as @mechimike already commented, beat me to it by an hour too!

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I knew a guy that drag raced one of these. Over his ownership it had a 2.3 Turbo, Built 302, and I believe a 351.

      There was no probably with respect to the frame stiffening. A Cage is a solid plan to if you like living. His ran well in the 1/4, but he ended up needing the cage one day and as a result ended up with a Fox Body Mustang.

      • 0 avatar

        I wasn’t thinking of frame stiffening so much in terms of crash protection (important point though!) as the drivetrain destroying the car within the first couple of seconds off the line- given the appearance of this particular car in the photos, I don’t think there’s much of a choice there either :D

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      I had a neighbor who had a Pinto with 302. He did the full build with a revised rear end, flared fenders and 67-8 Cougar taillights. I notice the hood on the Bobcat had a raised peak making it usable for a V8 conversion with a taller carb/manifold.

  • avatar

    The biggest thing I remember about the Pintos/Bobcats is that my Dad bought one for my Mom, who was in her late 50s and had never driven. She had no desire to drive his Detroit land cruiser (think he had a Buick Electra 225 at the time) but he thought a Pinto would be a easy, maneuverable car for her to learn on. After he bought it, they went to a large deserted parking lot for her first driving lesson, and they both quickly concluded this was a bad idea. She was terrified of driving even in a small country town, let alone a larger city or (perish the thought) an interstate highway. So the car eventually got sold to a friend, who actually got a number of good years out of it, surprisingly.

    The other thing I remember is that, for some reason, Dad was really intrigued with the large hatchback window. Pintos originally had a smaller rear window, but upgraded it a few years in to a windshield that covered nearly all of the hatch. He would look at it and say, “look at that awesome windshield. Great visibility.” I guess even an ugly warthog has one or two redeeming characteristics in the eyes of some.

  • avatar
    Firestorm 500

    Better to see how big the vehicle is that is fixing to ram you from behind.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My 1st car was a 71 Pinto, 3rd car was a 76 Pinto, and later we had an 80 Bobcat alongside the 76.

    All were fitted with the ‘blast shield’, which was a large piece of ~1/4″ thick plastic intended to cushion the squeeze between the metal gas tank and the differential during a rear impact.

    All were rusty hulks. I only kept the 71 for a year, but the 76 and 80 for 5 years each. The 80 was a horrible car, given to us by a friend trying to help a young couple like us. It drank fuel like a V8, the hatch always leaked, and I poured money into rebuilding the engine and transmission.

    The only one I miss is the 71; I feel like the Pinto/Bobcat line got worse with age, not better.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The Pinto and the Vega were major reasons why buyers switched to Japanese cars. Really hard to choose which one was the worst, both had many negatives. Now Detroit has for the most part stopped making cars which is not entirely a bad thing.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Yes, and the Gremlin showed up with 6- and 8-cylinder engines, which was a miss on fuel economy when that was all the rage.

      • 0 avatar

        I’d read somewhere that the Gremlin was supposed to have a four by cutting out two cylinders on the 232 straight six, but AMC couldn’t afford to do it. The Pacer was originally supposed to have a rotary Wankel from GM, but that engine was never made. It’s amazing what AMC was able to do on a tight budget.

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          For the 77-78 model years the Gremlin was offered with the Audi/VW 2.0 four banger. The Pacer was supposed to get the GM rotary until the program was dropped. They managed to wedge the straight 6 in it by extending the center firewall for the back two cylinders into the car.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    In the late 1970’s we were running a Type III and a Type IV squareback. Replaced the Type III with a ‘fully equipped’ Pinto Wagon which had originally been a grocery getter for one of my aunts.

    The Type IV was light years ahead of the Pinto in regards to engineering, ride, seat comfort, ergonomics, standard features, driveability and even build quality. Also at least subjectively in performance. Unfortunately it exhibited the electrical gremlins that came to be associated with VW.

    The Pinto was in comparison a ‘penalty box’. But it required, and received minimal maintenance and ran for years, badly but reliably.

    The Type III in retrospect was not as ‘advanced’ as the Type IV, but was probably the most reliable of the 3 vehicles mentioned.

  • avatar

    My friend had a 77 or 78 Pinto at the same time I had an 81 Dodge Colt. Both were basically stripper models. I think mine had power brakes, his didn’t. Both were 4-cyl. with sticks. The differences in the two cars were dramatic.
    We were going on a short road trip (2+ hours each way) and he asked me to drive his car. Working the clutch was a major exercise. My left leg was sore by the time the trip was over. The manual steering made me feel like I was going to have “Popeye” arms by the time I was done. Although the Pinto’s engine was almost a liter larger (2.3L vs. 1.4L) my car felt faster.
    When I finally got back into me Colt to drive home, I almost put my foot through the floor engaging the clutch. It was soo much lighter. The Colt’s steering felt so light by comparison I thought somebody snuck in and installed power steering while I was gone. I was never so happy to back in my own little rattle-trap.

  • avatar

    I take back everything said about ‘Tesla shouldn’t pay to advertise’ – but only if they can match the production values of the two advertisements included in this post.


    • 0 avatar

      Those two ads were slick for the time. You wouldn’t believe the ads from the 1960s, and especially the 1950s, when they were inventing TV advertising from scratch. We should avoid judging the past by today’s standards.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Dad was a wheeler dealer trading cars on the side. One of his friends kept bugging him about my MG. Dad threw out an outrageous price one day. The red MG with wire rims got traded for a red Pinto with a Starsky and Hutch stripe, slotted rims, and enough cash el scotto didn’t have to tell you what tonight’s special was for a semester. The buyers complete lack of sense, besides the extra cash, got me a vehicle that could haul kegs back to the Teke house. Win Win!

  • avatar

    I didn’t like these when new but time has shown that as basic transportation they lasted very well, as long as you didn’t mind the Soviet tractor like motoring feeling (I don’t) .

    I’ve never owned one but remember many that lasted close to 200,000 miles on the original engine, clutch and tranny .

    No fair comparing the rust issues, everything rusted horribly at that time .


    • 0 avatar

      Not everything rusted like that. Ford invented a rustproofing system that was very effective, and even Toyota paid royalties to use it. It was expensive, so Ford used it sparingly, until zinc-coated steel became commonplace. But even Z-C steel can’t hold up to what they put on the roads in the snow zone.

    • 0 avatar

      Soviet tractors were slightly restyled badge engineered battle tanks. They naturally lacked turrets an guns but otherwise were made on same plants from same parts.

  • avatar

    At 23 seconds into the first ad that’s Sgt. Lucy Bates (aka Betty Thomas) dealing with the elephant trunk. I’m sure that got her prepared for the likes of Renko and LaRue on The Hill.

    I may be a bit of a masochist, but I liked these cars, particularly the three-door wagons. But then again, I was only 11 when this particular car was built so I didn’t need to worry about the repairs.

  • avatar

    What yard is this in? I need the door panels.

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