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The Carchive: 1975 Ford Pinto

Chris Haining May 19, 2017 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 16 Comments

What could be more fun than perusing a forty-two year-old brochure for a really excellent, broadly celebrated automobile of class and distinction? Why, reading a forty-two year-old brochure for a car that’s widely panned as an example of automotive mediocrity from the least lamented era of all time, of course.

It’s the Ford Pinto. This is a car that I probably wouldn’t have ever known about were it not for a trip to Florida in 1993, where many, many examples were listed in the Kissimmee Auto Trader for barely any dollars. Twelve-year old me wondered “my, what it this curious Ford of which I have never heard before”? I’ve always had a soft spot for it, in particular because it often joins my beloved Rover 800 in lazily researched lists of ‘the worst cars ever’

And I’ve often wondered whether it really deserved the rep it acquired, what, with the whole bursting into flames thing and that. Hey ho…

“The closer you look, the better we look. When you’re buying a new car, you have every right to expect outstanding quality”

The Pinto lasted for nine years, far longer than you might expect for a car with such a long list of detractors, so it can’t have been all bad, can it? And can its numerous deficiencies have been anything to do with its incredibly swift development programme?

Fortunately, a company the size of Ford, with a dealer on every intersection of every town could rely on selling its wares – irrespective of their quality or competence – through the simple expedient of simply existing. The Pinto’s sales were affected by criticism of its braking and suspension system, together with a few rumours of incidents of fiery death – but it still sold enough examples to fulfil its long production run, expiring naturally to be replaced by the first US Ford Escort.

So, what attraction did it hold?

Well, in the Pinto Wagon…

“…You get Ford Wagonmaster features and leadership with basic Pinto economy virtues”

Most importantly you could get it in a Squire version, which meant woodgrain vinyl panelling, something you really needed in a subcompact economy car. Well, you do. It was a practical machine, too, with a six foot long load deck, and, dare I say it, looked almost fetching from some angles.

And if you didn’t go wagon, there was a basic, and I mean really basic two-door Sedan and a handy three-door Runabout. Actually, with its ‘look how basic I am’ black painted wheels and dog-dish hubcaps, I really want a go in that 2-door sedan. It reminds me of those stripper-look muscle cars you got in the 60s, except without the muscle. Any of it.

“You can equip your Pinto with more convenience, comfort and good looks to spare from a wide array of quality options”

Funny thing about the Pinto was that, for a long while, I was far more familiar with its engine than the rest of the car itself. For the first part of the Pinto’s life its engines were sourced in Europe, using the 1.6-litre ‘Kent’ and a 2.0-litre that was internally dubbed the T88. That engine, which found its way under the bonnet of the Cortina, the Corsair, the Capri, the Transit, the P100, the Granada and many, many more, picked up the Pinto name through association.

It’s probably among the most famous European engines ever made, and greatly beloved for its simplicity and easy upgrade path, providing motive power for the Escort RS2000 and, with a 16v head and a nice fat turbocharger, the Sierra Cosworth. Yet few of my countrymen know that the engine was named after a car, which was named after a kind of horse.

Has anybody here any Pinto tales to tell?

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, copyright remains property of Ford Motor Company who, today, make fabulous cars like the Fiesta and Fusion. However, it also made the Mk IV Ford Escort. We all have our off periods.)

  • One of my sisters-in-law had a Pinto wagon at the time of her wedding which became the car that got decorated during the reception. We discovered that shaving cream was a bad (good?) idea, as it peeled large, irregular blotches of the fake wood right off the sides of the car. She and my brother got rid of it shortly thereafter. The marriage is still holding up quite nicely, though.

    I myself have never owned a Pinto but I do have the T-shirt:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/346a6a19947d84e0f3cb593f58bf10b23f266ce58812de577ff86edd1114d6e3.jpg

    https://store.tortmuseum.org/collections/t-shirts/products/flaming-pinto-t-shirt-organic

  • A good friend in high school drove a Pinto wagon. It served her reliably for many years.
    My college roommate had a Mercury Bobcat. Again, a very faithful car.

    I don’t get the Pinto hate.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    Patrick Bedard of Car & Driver built a successful Pinto road racer for either IMSA GTU or SCCA Production where it out ran BMW 2002s and Datsun 510s.

  • Wayward David

    We had two Pintos in our family back in the day. My brother had a Sprint runabout that served his young family reasonably well at the time. Sprint was a trim package that consisted of white paint with blue sections on the hood, rocker panels and trunk, all outlined with red pinstripes. The interior followed the same pattern. It was kinda cute when new, but the large blue blobs and red stripes were stickers and a few summers in California’s Inland Empire resulted in an… interesting patina, not to mention texture. Dad had a yellow wagon with the fake wood, shag carpet, V6 and Cruise-o-Matic (but no power steering). My brother’s Pinto was actually kind of fun to drive. The 4speed was decent and it was light enough to toss around. The wagon seemed slower even with the V6 (probably the auto trans) and the thick carpeting and added padding on the seats made the interior seem cramped. The heavier engine and no power assist made going around corners a chore. Oh yeah, and it got about 15-17 MPG. Dad didn’t keep it long. He sold it to my brother.

    • boxdin

      I think the Sprint pkg of white w red & blue trim was an continuation/extension of the “Sprit of 1976” pkgs celebrating the 200th anniversary of the USA. Every brand had white vehicles w red & blue trim during that time.

      • Wayward David

        That’s what I thought, but the Sprint package was available as early as 1972, so I guess it was in anticipation of the bicentennial

  • Lokki

    I never owned a Pinto, but a college friend did and I put in quite a few mile behind the wheel. It was probably a 74 or 75. It had the 2 Liter engine and a four-speed so it was fun to drive on our local winding mountain roads. It was small, but it seemed like a lot more car than the Civic (74, Automatic) which my parents had given me as a college car (Thanks Mom and Dad!). The Civic was an amazing package, and screwed together well, but it was tiny and not quick. The Pinto seemed like a much better choice for Americans transitioning from the roomy V8’s of the 60’s to the fuel-economy-is-everything mid-70’s. I liked the car, and I don’t remember anything rattling or falling off. Another friend’s new Chevette, on the other hand, pretty well defined ‘worthless POS’.
    Oddly I never knew anyone who owned a Vega – by 1974-75, they were pretty welled oxidized or exploded in my neck of the woods.

    Anyhow, I liked the Pinto.

  • neight428

    Pinto hate is all about shooting the messenger. It is obviously different than what came before it, though as you point out, not necessarily worse in every way. When you remember malaise, you remember your dad trading in a Pontiac Bonneville for a Pinto and you think, “F You Pinto” and remember that.

  • dukeisduke

    The whole exploding Pintos thing was, pardon the pun, overblown. The number of cars that went up was actually small, plus, when designed, the car met the Federal standard.