Sunday, March 17, 2013

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1974 Ford Pinto Wagon

People who know me, know that I adore the Ford Pinto. It's an interest that first developed in junior high school, and it grew as I collected my first piece of Pinto memorabilia - a Pinto badge I bought at the Turlock Swap Meet for $4. It became my good luck charm; I literally brought it to school every day in my backpack. Today I do not own a Pinto, but I have some Pinto literature, an owner's manual (did you know the Pinto's optional roof rack has a higher load rating than the roof rack of a first-generation Honda CR-V?), and multiple Motormax Fresh Cherries diecast Pintos. I actually bypassed the Johnny Lightning diecast of the Pinto because the proportions were wrong. In a college book arts class I made a 1:15 scale papercraft model of a '73 Pinto Squire with an opening tailgate and corduroy-lined cargo bay. I told everyone it was a storage box.
I'm sure most of my love for Ford's 1970s compact is due to nostalgia for an era before I was born, and the irony that I 'adopt' vehicles most people detest, such as the Edsel and most AMC products. I'm not a hipster, I just like unconventional stuff. That, and the Pinto is in my opinion a rather good-looking little car.

The Pinto is, of course, remembered as "the car that blows up". Bump the rear end; gas filler tube breaks; spills fuel; metal gas tank ignites and God help the poor souls unfortunate enough to have their doors jammed shut by a kinked quarter panel. It's not funny what happened to a number of people who were killed or badly burned in Pinto accidents, nor is it excusable that Ford cut costs in such a fashion as to leave the fuel tank so vulnerable to fire. The design fault was later remedied, but the Pinto's reputation as a rolling bomb would stick with it forever. Oddly enough, the 1990s Jeep ZJ Grand Cherokees also had their fuel tanks located just behind the bumper and were prone to fires in rear-end collisions. The 1998-2011 Ford Crown Victoria also suffered fires in similar accidents unless a special shield was installed.

My favorite Pintos are the wagons. I love the Squire, with its cheesy simulated wood, and the hokey disco-machine Cruising Wagon introduced in 1977. These are silly cars, but I guess people also think that you're a bit of a risk-taker if you own one. In movies they usually are a bad-luck car that either gets destroyed or is used to represent a person who is poor or socially awkward. An orange '77 Pinto wagon featured as the bad-guy car of the bumbling Illinois Nazis in the 1980 Blues Brothers film. A tan 1979 Pinto Runabout also appeared briefly in Final Destination 2 as one of the casualties in that movie's large highway crash scene. (Spoilers!) Predictably the car exploded violently on impact, despite its crash being a frontal impact and the car being newer than the models affected by the fuel tank design flaw. But that's Hollywood for you.
My grandparents once had a dark brown Mercury Bobcat Villager wagon (the Pinto Squire's twin) which wore the fake wood on the sides and had an interior that I believe was butterscotch, but my mom called it baby-poop brown. My parents almost bought the car and actually had it for about two weeks, but hated it so much they gave it back to my grandpa, who promptly got rid of it.

The Pinto wagon probably wasn't too terrible a car compared with the other compacts available in the early-to-mid 1970s. If you ordered the wagon you could get it with a 2.3 liter four or a 2.8 liter V6. It wasn't fast at all by modern standards, but in 1974, what was fast? People's standards were starting to dip pretty low in the wake of the OPEC crisis. My dad had traded his V8 '65 Galaxie in for a '71 Super Beetle. This Pinto would probably walk all over a Beetle in every category except fuel economy and the ability to float. Nowadays if the stock power is too slow for you, a turbocharger from a 1980s Thunderbird Turbo Coupe or SVO Mustang might jazz things up. People also shoehorn V8s into these cars. If the car's pre-1975, it's smog-exempt in California.
I'd known about this '74 Pinto wagon for a while before I went out in search of it. There are still several Pintos lurking around San Francisco and I was happy to locate one sitting still long enough to photograph it. This one is a solid driver, painted a cheerful solid orange with chrome baby moon caps on its steel wheels. The owner is outspoken about his or her views, evident by the many anti-war bumper stickers which look like they date back mostly to the Bush administration. Politics aside, I could do without bumper stickers on a vintage car. The body on this car is in great shape apart from some little bumps and scrapes on the driver door and right rear corner. The passenger door is beginning to rust on the bottom corners, but that's the only worrisome rust I see on the car.
My fantasy garage contains a lot of cars, but there's a spot saved in one corner for a clean little Pinto wagon.


  1. Having grown up with '50s and '60s cars, even the coupes had lots of room inside. Then the '70s came along with compact cars with their cramped rear seats. I was not a fan of Ford's 2 door Pinto. In fact, I found them ugly and I liked the ride even less. Then they made the wagon which I really like. They are cute, have much nicer lines and they have way more room than the 2 door. This car looks good, even with it's large bumpers. I even like the color, typical of late sixties, early seventies. I've always liked wagons. They're what I grew up with. And some, like this Pinto Wagon, (to me), look better than their two and four door counterparts. And yes, add the roof rack and wood grained sides! I don't know if the wagons had the gas tank problem or not, but If I owned this car, I'd check it out and upgrade if necessary. I don't know what engines were available in '74, but you had a choice of 1600 or 2000 CCs in '72. I'm not sure if the wheels on this little wagon are original, but they look nice with the baby moons. I own a few old vehicles of different types and makes. This Pinto Wagon would be a great addition. If it were mine, I'd remove the stickers and tend to what looks like rust in the right rocker panel. One more thing, the pony on the side of this little Ford looks much happier than the one on the Mustang II you featured a while ago, and for good reason.

  2. My wife and I owned one of these. Like the car shown here, it was Orange with most of the
    wood trim gone. The gentleman I bought it from was a mechanic who rebuilt half the engine,
    which resulted in failure when the unit let go during our move to Florida. We towed it to a
    friend's house and promptly parted it out. Some of the parts were used on the Mustang II
    I bought from a buy-here-pay-here place in Elouise. This too did not end well either when
    that car burned to tbe ground on 33rd birthday. I never saw my wife run as fast as she did
    when the flames shot out the hood.