(first posted 11/20/2013) There it sits, the Mighty Blue Pinto. I drove a medium blue ’72 Pinto Runabout (hatchback) back in high school, and still recall it with fondness. When Dad went car shopping for a third car, he looked for one critical factor- Overall length. Dad already owned a Toyota Corolla, and calculated he could park two cars on one side of our exceptionally deep garage, IF he kept the second car’s overall length below 165″. This led to some very interesting conversations with used car salesman, and resulted in the purchase of the blue Runabout (and yes, per Dad’s plan both cars fit in the garage ).
While the Mighty Blue Pinto met Dad’s single requirement, it also came with a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder, 4 speed manual, and 3.82 rear axle ratio. As I subsequently discovered, this combination added up to the most potent Pinto ever produced.
I understand that my take on the Pinto does not match the normal view of this car, but understand I’m talking about a very specific powertrain, installed into a car without the additional mass present in later model Pintos.
Having said all that, let’s check out this Curbside Classic before we continue my trip down memory lane. Based on the visual cues (primarily the bumpers), this car is a 1971 or ’72. Since it’s a sedan, it includes a real package shelf for 6 X 9 speakers behind the rear seats (something the Skinner hatchback lacked). Looking inside, an automatic transmission lever identifies the engine as a 2.0 liter OHC four- The base 1.6 pushrod motor only mated to a four speed manual transmission. The wheels mimic genuine Ford wheels that first appeared on the 1974 Mustang II, so they aren’t original equipment. Still, overall this Pinto appears quite stock.
As I said, the 2.0 liter OHC four is the desirable Pinto engine, but only if it’s mated to the four speed manual. German designed and built, the engine provided a good power to weight ratio, smooth power delivery, and a fat torque band. Also offered in the imported Capri, this engine lived in the US market for a brief four years, and is relatively unknown among US car enthusiasts. Regular readers may recall that Paul Niedermeyer wrote about driving new OHC Pintos in his biographical series, and praised the motor when matched to a four speed manual- At least as compared to the other new cars available at the Ford dealership.
Perhaps most surprising, Car and Driver had this to say about driving a Pinto (from a 1971 long term road test):
“The Pinto is exceptionally satisfying, even amusing, as a city traffic car. It’s highly maneuverable, visibility is extremely good in every direction except toward the rear corners, and it has the sharp-edged, go-stop-turn feel of a sports car. With this in mind, there are two bargains on the Pinto’s option list: the 2.0-liter engine for $50, and the disc brakes, which will set you back $32. Without those two extras the Pinto is just another low-dollar transit capsule—with them it’s a real urban flogger’s car. The “big” engine is relatively smooth and quiet and very powerful. It also revs like a dentist’s drill. The 4-speed transmission which backs it up is right for the task with short, quick throws and a solid, stubby lever.”
Surprised? Having lived with one for four years, I know the 2.0 Pinto delivered, at least when compared to the contemporary competition.
Looking into the interior of this Pinto I once again see very familiar territory. This car shares the same base vinyl interior of my Dad’s car, complete with a painted metal dash below the safety padding. Ford offered interior upgrades (things like cloth seating surfaces, “plusher” steering wheels and plastic wood grain accents), but this one left the factory with the cheapest skinny spoke steering wheel, and large expanses of vinyl on the door panels. I’m surprised to see a club mounted on the steering wheel- Nowadays the only cars more theft proof than a Pinto are a Vega or Gremlin from the same era (V-8 Gremlins excepted, of course). I once left the keys hanging in the trunk lock of a Pinto parked on the curb in downtown Denver. Five hours later, the keys were where I left them, hanging in plain sight.
Here’s a shot of an interior taken from the internet. It better highlights that cheap steering wheel and broad expanses of painted metal dash. This minimalist approach to overall vehicle design led to a light weight car, which also helped deliver class leading performance.
I do see a couple of features in this final shot that my Pinto lacked. The brightwork around the windows and wheel arches are optional upgrades, making this Pinto even more desirable. Speaking of desirable, sharp eyed readers may have noticed this car wears a “For Sale” sign. Am I tempted to buy it and relive my youth? Let me answer that by making three critical points:
1) It’s an automatic. I’ve got no interest in an automatic with only three gears, nor any slush box mated to an engine displacing less than 3.0 liters.
2) It’s forty years old. I said the Pinto performed well compared to the competition from its day. Now? Not so much.
3) The asking price is $5,000. That’s about $4,000 more than I’m willing to pay.
However, if my glowing description of this fine machine has interested any readers, I’d be happy to swing by and jot down the phone number for you. Christmas is just around the corner!
A Final Note- Starting in 1974, Ford installed the 2.3 liter “Lima” four in the Pinto. While there are structural similarities between it and the 2.0 liter, they have completely different characters. In the grand tradition of seventies era emissions, the Lima engine was down on horsepower, had a lower redline, and lousy Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) brought on by an additional 300 ccs of displacement. The Lima motor went on to entwine itself deeply into Ford’s (American) history, but you will not see me extolling the performance virtues of a Lima equipped Pinto. I would, however, still extol its reliability and toughness. D/S