We’re up to the fall of 1975. It was time for a big, big change in my life.
I’d graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Economics and History. Since Dad was a professor of economics at UW, we both felt if I were to pursue graduate studies in economics I’d need to go to another school. I applied and was accepted at Berkeley and at Yale. Yale gave me a scholarship for tuition; Berkeley didn’t, so that was that. I sold my Datsun 1600 to the little brother of a friend—I knew I’d be living in a dorm at Yale, and figured I wouldn’t need a car. It was the first time in six years I didn’t have a car.
It was a difficult first year for me. I went from being top-of-my-class at UW to being just another bright, overly-educated student. Some of my classmates looked down on me for being from a state school rather than Harvard or Princeton. I also was terribly homesick, since I’d never been away from home before. Still, I made friends easily and found a wonderful group of people I’m still friends with decades later.
At the end of the academic year, I moved back to Seattle. Dad had gotten me a job as an intern with the Army Corps of Engineers for the summer. Since the office was 14 miles away from our house, Dad fronted me $1,000 to buy a car. I checked the local Ford dealership owned by the man across the street and found (almost) exactly what I wanted: A green 1972 Pinto hatchback. The only drawback was it was an automatic rather than a stick shift, but that was OK with me. It came in a rather ugly shade of green, but it met my needs. It had a nice, well-kept interior and the hatchback was very practical. Here’s a shot of a similar interior from the web:
The Pinto was intended to be Ford’s answer to the VW Beetle and, along with the Vega and the Gremlin, the first domestic subcompact model. Take that, you pesky imports. The engineering was rather unoriginal: a plodding, 56-hp 98.6 c.i. four, or an optional 122 c.i. four with all of 83 hp. I think mine had the 98 inches…yes, it was the 2.0 (122), as the 1600 was not available with the automatic. That, plus the slushbox, made for, um, leisurely driving. Mine had no A/C, which back then you didn’t need in Seattle. On the few days it got hot that summer, I flipped open the rear quarter windows and let the breeze cool things off. Other than automatic transmission and AM radio it had no extras—just basic transportation. Which was fine with me.
During that time I lived with my parents, so I can add another couple of family cars.
Dad remarried to a nice woman in the fall of 1975. She had a red Maverick four door with the most gawdawful black-and-red checkerboard interior upholstery. I drove it a few time while on vacation from Yale, and it was quite speedy since it had a V8. It also handled like a willowy barge. She said she bought it to replace a Vega she’d previously owned, which died a quick a painful death after the engine overheated and everything kind of melted away.
Dad, on the other hand, had traded his 1967 Electra for a 1969 Riviera. When I first saw it I was wowed: imagine my practical Dad owning a car with hidden headlights! My joy went away when I got inside. It had a rather ordinary vinyl interior with no luxuries, and it just felt cheap. Not like the gorgeous Electra he used to drive.
At the end of the summer of ’76, I headed back to school for my second year in the Ph.D. program. I gave the Pinto to my brother to replace his car—that was the condition Dad had put on his purchase of my Pinto. The last I’d heard of it, he’d driven into the ground due to lack of maintenance. At least he didn’t get rear ended and burst into flames.
In May 1977, I came back to Seattle again for the summer. This time Dad lent me the money to buy another car, to be repaid at $50/month. I again selected Bill Pierre Ford as my source, and got a 1973 Pinto wagon. I didn’t fancy a wagon, but the stick shift won me over.
I found this identical car on barnfinds.com. Someone is asking $8,000 for it. Seems a tad pricey for me, but to each their own.
Remember, this was the 1970s, so 96-way power adjusting seats weren’t generally available—certainly not on econoboxes like this. I’m six feet tall and slender, but even so I felt like I was sitting in a bathtub in this car; the seats were very low. The back seat was horrible for someone of my size! A few times during the years I had this car I had to sit back there, and it was torture. Still, “Darren” (as I named the car) was very practical. With the larger engine and stick shift, I remember it being fairly peppy. If you put the back seats down you could haul a decent amount of stuff.
It only had a cheap AM radio, but I bought a do-it-yourself FM kit that I jury-rigged so I could get better music. That became important when in the fall of 1977 I convinced Dad that I needed the car back at school. Yale allowed only two years in the graduate dorms, and I knew I’d be living off campus. He was not at all thrilled about my driving across the country, but I was young and stupid, so I talked him into it. I found a guy on a ride sharing service at the University of Washington to go with me, so off we headed from Seattle to New Haven. It took us four days, and having FM radio was a blessing in the middle of the country: Driving along we could have rock and roll (rider) or Motown music (me) instead of the farm report and country music (which neither of us cared for). The next year I made another round trip between Yale and Seattle for summer jobs. Darren did good by me.
In May 1979, I moved back yet again to Seattle, this time for an extended stay. I was driving by myself, so it took five days rather than four. I got a job with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Part of my job was to complete my Ph.D. dissertation, since the topic was in their mission area. I also moved in my with my partner Rick, with whom I’d been in a long-distance relationship since 1976. That, in and of itself, was something of an achievement. We could only afford to call once a week between New Haven and Seattle, and we actually wrote letters. In cursive script. On paper. No Skype, no text messaging, no email. Darren the Pinto did well for us the next year and a half. We drove all over Seattle, and took a few road trips to Mt. Rainer (pic above) and Vancouver, BC. We had only one issue: a clutch bearing had to be replaced. Rick didn’t own a car, so we used it for shopping and road trips and for my commute to work. It was a fun time for us.
As I mentioned earlier, I’d bought Darren the Pinto from Bill Pierre Ford in north Seattle. This was because Bill Pierre lived across the street from my parent’s house and was a family friend. When I was living there I’d park on our side of the street by the front door so I wouldn’t block my folk’s cars in the driveway. One morning I came out and found my car’s rear fender smashed to smithereens. And a note from Mr. Pierre: “Call the dealership to get this fixed. I’ll give you a loaner”. When I took the car in they said “Oh, Mrs. Pierre had another accident?” Apparently this happened a lot. They gave me a 1978 Ford Thunderbird to drive for a week. It was sybaritic luxury with every option included. Alas, it handled like my dad’s boat with no engine running. And it guzzled gas, about 8 MPG on my daily commute. I was glad to turn it back after my car was repaired.
By the summer of 1980, my dissertation was complete and I had my Ph.D. in hand. I got a job at the University of Rhode Island as an Assistant Professor. Rick agreed to come with me, so we loaded up everything we owned in a U-Haul van and trailered the Pinto behind us. I put the car on ramps and disconnected the driveshaft prior to the trip. We made the trip without incident, and ended up in Kingston, RI, where the University is located. We found a charming cottage to rent nearby, unloaded the van, reconnected the driveshaft, and moved in.
Rick had trouble finding work, so he enrolled in URI to get his nursing degree. Living on one income was tough, so we kept the Pinto going as long as we could. Finally, in 1983, the clutch went out again as he was driving to his first job in Providence. We got it fixed, but decided it was time to shop for a new car. On the way to Providence to go to to the auto show the timing belt let go. I guess Darren knew we were looking to replace him. I sold the car to a colleague for $300, and we then purchased our first new car! More about that in my next installment.
COAL № 1: Buicks Aplenty; a Fiat, and a Pontiac • The Early Years.
COAL № 2: 1958 Plymouth Custom Suburban • Dad’s Biggest regret
COAL № 3: 1965 Buick Sportwagon • My first car
COAL № 4: 1967 Datsun 1600 • The first car that was legally mine
David Skinner’s post on the Fastest Pinto Ever Built
CC on the 1973 Pinto Wagon
” It came in a rather ugly shade of green, …”
One of the most popular, and hardest to get colors, in today’s car market (I’m thinking of recent Toyota model years) is very similar to the green of your first Pinto. On top of that, I’m not sure the interior is a matching color as it was in your Pinto.
What’s Old Is New Again.
The photos you got online remind me how monochromatic car paint and interior combinations often were in the 70s – It was possible to mix things up, but it was really easy to have a sea of blue or green everywhere you looked, inside or out. It was great to have color choices, but I never liked the color palette of 1970s interiors as much as I had liked those of 50s and 60s cars.
And I am right there with you – GM interiors of the late 60s were really grim. A real cheapfest. Of course, GM had plenty of company from Chrysler and to a (slightly) lesser extent, Ford. It was a much lower price point, but when my grandma traded a 64 Catalina for a 69, the interior was a horrible downgrade.
Same story in our family. 1967 Wildcat replaced with a 1972 Le Sabre. I expected the Le Sabre to have a bit plainer interior but what it had was shockingly cheap.
J P: It really was striking. Dad’s 67 Electra felt plush, classy, comforting, and luxurious. The 69 Riv, however, just felt cheap. It was hard to figure out just why exactly, but I think it was the hard plastic, and cheaper vinyl on the seats.
Good point on the colours! Green/green, blue/blue, brown/brown, red/red… It was such a change when a friend’s dad bought a white car (rare then) with a tan interior!
Excellent post, Steve; I’m looking forward to your next installment.
Even though Pinto’s were smaller and cheaper cost wise than Maverick’s, I find that most people have good memories of their Pinto’s as opposed to the Maverick. At least the Pinto had a glove box!
I have great memories of my ’70 & ’71 Mavericks. Wish I still had them
Dont get me wrong. I also like the Mavericks. My grandmother had a green one from 1970 and I always liked it, at least the styling.
“… It came in a rather ugly shade of green … ”
What’s wrong with that colour ? Like it. And the matching green interior is “the dot on the i” (if you know what I mean).
Would be glad to find something like that on the lists today.
The photo doesn’t really capture the true color of the 72 I owned. Or maybe the car in the pic is a different shade of green. Here’s one in “Dark Green Poly”, which is what I remember as my car’s color. It’s darker than the one in the opening picture. Rick called it “Artichoke Green”.
Great write up!
I was just thinking recently that those 70’s subcompacts were not terrible cars, but they could have been far better than they were. I drove a 74 Vega with the paint shaker engine at idle. The body was somewhat durable, surviving 2 accidents. I later had a 74 Toyota Corolla that idled so smoothly, you would think it was turned off at lights. When I experienced that, I was more attracted to the Japanese makes.
One really important question: Pepe’s or Sally’s?
Pepe’s, of course! My third year at Yale the dining hall staff went on strike so we had no meal service. I survived on a diet of “pizza by the slice” and hot tuna subs from Yorktown Pizza. It’s a wonder I didn’t gain 50 pounds.
The backseat of the 73 wagon was torture? I’m guessing you never had an opportunity to ride in the backseat of the 72 hatchback. One pretty much exactly like yours figured among the cars that various friends would drive in HS (mostly cars owned by their parents). On those occasions where it was necessary to ride in the Pinto, I hoped and prayed for shotgun vs. backseat. There’s something about wedging oneself into that cramped, confined, green plastic space – with no actually opening window – that allows me to conjure up car sickness just thinking about it.
The only thing I liked about that car was the color. Although it did have kind of a National Park Service vibe about it.
I only had the 72 hatchback for three months, so I don’t think I ever rode in the back seat.
In 1983 Rick and I drove from Rhode Island to Frederick, MD to visit our friends Elise and Peter (she’s in the graduation pic). A friend of Elise’s was also visiting, so we drove from Frederick to DC for the day (about 50 miles). Poor woman was short but also, uh, calorically challenged. She got stuck in the middle of the back seat wedged between Rick (who is 5’7″) and Elise (who is 5’5″). I drove, and her husband Peter (6’2″) got the front seat. Poor Margery was BITTERLY complaining the whole way.
Am I the only one to see a certain relationship ? I think, by comparison you can even see why they inatially intended to name the Euro-Capri the “Colt”.
RE the hiking trip picture: East Rock in New Haven! On a VERY clear day with binoculars you can see the tops of the Manhattan skyscrapers. I go up there every time I’m home to visit (2x year); it’s a beautiful visage overlooking New Haven and the Sound. My grandparents lived for decades on the street right below where the ‘giant steps’ started for the climb up, and my other grandma lived in the senior high rise near your left ear.
New Haven’s a great place….
Pinto’s if not rear ended were decent ba$ic transportation for the time. My first Pinto was a new ’74 2.3L/4 spd wagon. After being rammed by a jerk who ran a stop sign, I sold it after it was repaired. A used ’69 Nova 230 ci 6 replaced it until we moved back to L.A. in 1976.
Out there I purchased a used ’71 Pinto HB, 1.6L/4 spd. It got all around the L.A. basin quite nicely. That drivetrain was quite reliable and actually somewhat fun to drive, once I put radials on the lil HB. It was the same mid/dk metallic green shown above. Fortunately a good heater was not really needed out in L.A.! Our ’74 wagon had proven to have a strong heat deficit in the Wisconsin Winter! 🙁 DFO
Help me out here, I’ve been unable to determine what “DFO” stands for.
My friend’s mother had a brand-new 1972 Runabout with the dark green interior and a light metallic green exterior. Their Pinto was well-equipped with deluxe interior and air conditioning.
She must have liked it, because it was traded on a loaded 1977 Runabout in dark blue with the optional V-6. That one had the all-glass hatch and plaid upholstery.
As for GM interiors – the elimination of interior brightwork, removed in response to safety concerns (and no doubt supported by the accountants), cheapened the interiors. The 1969-70 Cadillacs, in particular, seemed less luxurious than their mid-1960s counterparts.
Great COAL! Although I had other adventures, my sister had a 1974 Pinto Runabout in the same pea green as yours. And your interior photo reminds me of just how monochromatic the interiors were in that time period. It really was a different time for automobiles, and it seems that even the smallest cars in the US have more back seat room than than Pinto’s did back then.
Which reminds me, weren’t the backseats of Pintos eventually outlawed by the Geneva Convention? Something about inhumane or cruel and unusual punishment…
My family had a 1973 AMC Gremlin. The Pinto back seat felt like a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham in comparison. The back seat of the VW Beetle was also very cramped.
Pretty much identical to me brother’s 71 Pinto hatchback he got after turning 16. Same color only a stick shift. Less than a year later he had the engine out, turned it into an 11.0:1 compression car and started to blow the doors off of a lot of unsuspecting others. It was scary fast as while he improved the engine the suspension was somewhat primitive for all the power.
Steve-excellent series! Since I grew up and still live in western Washington, I really enjoy the local references you toss in.
I have this mental picture of Mrs. Pierre driving by braille everywhere she goes, and a whole fleet of loaners at Pierre Ford ready for the hapless recipients of her less-than-stellar driving ability.
Your diet of Pintos reminds me of all the Northwest Ford Dealers ads hawking various special edition Pintos,
Keep the COALs coming!
Mr. and Mrs. Pierre were, uh, challenging neighbors. Not only did Mrs. Pierre back into my Pinto, she backed into my stepmother’s Maverick. I think she had an alcohol problem: Dad told me one time she got into her cups, rang the doorbell, and castigated my family for not keeping the garden and lawn looking tidy.
They lived on Lake Washington. Both sons bought houses on that side of the street, tore down the mid-century modern homes that dated from the 1940s, and replaced them with huge, ugly Mega Mansions. The original one-story Pierre home was torn down in the 2000s and replaced by a McMansion. We lost our view of Lake Washington because of that. I now live in Dad’s old home, and ours is just about the only original 1940’s home left in Sheridan Beach. So sad.
Aww, man-perfectly good (and cool) mid-century modern homes razed for a McEgo-Boost McMansion. I’d hate to have to stare at one of those instead of the lake.
Is there anyone here over the age of 60 who didn’t either own a Pinto (I didn’t, it was a Vega for me) or know lots of people who did? I rode in and drove a lot of friends’ Pinto’s, all 2 liter with 4 speed. The packaging wasn’t great, even the hatch or wagon, but for the time the engine, rack and pinion steering and (usually) front disc brakes were pretty good. It was not until the fuel tank thing and the increasing popularity of higher quality and higher spec Japanese cars that the Pinto got its negative reputation.
My rule-of-thumb on Pinto ownership (at least when I was in high school) was that the more friends you had, the more likely you were to own a Pinto. Of course, everybody had to pile into the Pinto to go cruising/concerts/the kegger because (inexplicably) it was the only reliably running car in the group of friends. I spent many times with my tall & skinny frame (6′, 145lb) wedged & folded up in the back seat because I didn’t yell “Shotgun” quick enough.
Me? I drove a 1970 Plymouth Fury III back then-no complaints about room in that (when it was running…)
> Is there anyone here over the age of 60 who didn’t either own a Pinto (I didn’t, it was a Vega for me) or know lots of people who did?
My brother had several of them in 1980s Vancouver – they were cheap to buy second-hand, and he said he’d learned how to fix them when necessary. We named them in retrospect: Pinto, Son of Pinto, Pinto the Third, Pinto’s Revenge…
Rebuttal from my brother:
“I had three pintos, white, yellow, and blue with brush strokes, and YOU called them son of pinto, etc, not me.
“They were like little tanks, I had to cross screwdrivers on the solenoid of one in order to start it, scared people to see me waiting to jump it while ferries were landing.”