Curbside Classic: 1978 Ford Pinto V6 – The Car I Didn’t Buy

1978 Ford Pinto 1

(First Posted October 23, 2013)  I’ve owned a lot of cars. The total is up to a slightly embarrassing forty two (edit – its more than now). Most of them are of the low end variety with little chance of losing too much money even with the worse case scenario. That said when I shop for cars I tend to view them with heavily rose tinted glasses that see potential rather than pitfall. For better or worse here is one of the rare cases when I passed on a car.

1978 Ford Pinto


I’d seen this Ford Pinto a few years ago in a back alley. It had obviously seen better days but featured a nice period color and overall it had an appealing mini muscle car vibe. Or maybe a budget race car vibe if you squint hard enough. I made a casual mental note of it as something I would not mind having and left content with just my photograph. Fast forward a few years and I came across an ad for a Ford Pinto of unknown year and condition with an asking price of just $250. I emailed the seller who had inherited ownership of the car when he moved into the house. He was not a car guy and wanted it gone but to his credit he did not merely call the scrapyard to have it towed away. He gave me the address and said I could poke around as much as I wanted.

1978 Ford Pinto V6 engine

Peeking at the VIN I quickly discovered it was a 1978 model with the 2.8L V6. The Cologne V6 has a sixty degree angle between the cylinder banks would have produced 102hp and more importantly 138lb-ft of torque when new. It had obviously been sitting a while with some cobwebs here and there. More worryingly there were random parts missing like spark plug wires and air filter housing. Obviously I could not count on the engine being a runner but I reasoned that a Ranger 2.9L or 4.0L V6 could be reasonably close to bolt in with a nice increase in horsepower as a bonus. Even retaining the automatic gearbox a 4.0L V6 powered Pinto would be a hoot and handle much better than a nose heavy V8 swapped example.

1978 Ford Pinto V6 interior

If the engine condition was worrying then the interior could only be described as alarming. The list of missing components started to add up; steering wheel, keys, front seats, door cards and radio. On the plus side the grill was where the passenger seat should have been but sadly it was cracked in half. My optimistic nature reasoned that I could glue the grill back together as well as find a set of second hand bucket  seats to bolt in and fabricate some flat door cards. A closer look turned up a jammed hand brake and broken transmission shifter.

1978 Ford Pinto V6 rear interior

The rear portion of the interior was full of all sorts of treasures. The missing 15″ alloy wheel was back there bringing the car to a full set. The drive-shaft had been removed, probably for towing, and looked in good shape. The back seat appeared to be complete but disassembled. Although the photos do not show it well but quite a few of the interior panels had been painted either a light or dark metallic purple color. While my optimistic side was starting to feel a little backed into a corner it desperately tried to make a case for an auto-x car. It was partially gutted already!

1978 Ford Pinto V6 badge

The body and chrome was in remarkably good shape with only a few rust bubbles at the rear. This Pinto badge complete with tail was almost worth the price of admission by itself.

1978 Ford Pinto V6 rear

Around the back the rear bumper was missing as well. I was starting to get an inkling that someone had used it as their parts car at some point. My photo from a few years ago confirmed that this Pinto had at least lost its seats recently. As I was mentally creating a replacement parts list then adding it up I finally figured this car would be too expensive to resuscitate. Reluctantly I decided to walk away but it haunted me. I wanted to save it. An email a few days later from the frustrated seller stated he was tired of time wasters and would take the first $150 for the car. Would a hundred bucks change my mind? It was down at scrap value so I went back to take a second look. This time I even took along my spare Mercedes-Benz 220D rear bumper to test my theory that it could be adapted. Surprisingly it would have fit beautifully with some work on rear brackets. Still my internal optimist was drowning from the flood of components needed to get this Pinto drivable again; keys, steering wheel, shifter, hand brake lever, seats, tires and that is even with the best case scenario of the motor being fine. While I could have parted out the car for a tidy profit it would have been sad to cut up such a solid shell so I walked away with my $150 still in my pocket. My wife sighed in relief that another junker was not coming home … this time.