Proof that the Ford Pinto makes a capable street machine?

Staff
By Staff Writer
Jul 3, 2022 | Ford, pinto, GRM+ | Posted in Features | From the Aug. 2010 issue | Never miss an article

Photography by David S. Wallens

Story by mike Lovecchio

The Ford Pinto has been a punch line for decades, and why shouldn’t it be? Any car that’s as infamous for exploding gas tanks as it is for being photographed wearing airplane wings is bound to incite more than a few snickers. 

But like any car, the Pinto has its enthusiasts. For longtime fan Mike Streets, it was a rare and sporty Pinto—one featuring factory-installed stripes and a body kit—that drew him into a half-decade search.

Already a Ford Pinto owner and racer, Mike would occasionally see a vehicle cruising San Leandro, California, that was quite rare, even in Pinto circles: a 1972 Hot Pants edition. This one proved to be elusive. 

I’d never seen a Hot Pants Pinto before,” Mike explains. “I heard about them, but I never saw one. All of a sudden I kept seeing this one driving around town. By the time I turned around to try and catch it or see it to try and follow him home, he’d always be gone.”

Mike Streets’s restored Pinto is a rare Hot Pants model, meaning Ford outfitted it with a groovy body kit. The racing stripes came courtesy of the factory Boss option.

Hot Pants Pinto? Seriously? Yes, it was a limited-edition run that started in 1972. Essentially, it was a body kit for those wanting to add some sizzle to their Pintos. 

Looking to kick it up a notch? At the same time Ford also offered a Boss stripe package—similar to the one that graced countless Mustangs. The two options could be ordered together, although records show that few chose to do so—maybe about 500 total.

Month after month, year after year, Mike chased his white whale to no avail. After not seeing the car for a while and thinking it was either sold or sent to Pinto heaven like many before and after, Mike called off the search.

A Second Chance

Mike has been a Pinto fanatic since 1974, the year he purchased a 1973 wagon. This was not destined to be some boring grocery getter, however, as Mike upgraded the shock absorbers and a front anti-roll bar so he could go autocrossing in the Stock-class ranks. 

As he saw it, Pintos had the entire package: They looked good, handled well, and could accept more power. 

Under the hood, Mike added a pair of side-draft Weber carbs and rebuilt the engine with more cam, Venolia pistons and Crower rods.

Mike continued to compete in SCCA events across California and eventually purchased a second Pinto for road racing. From 1985 through 1999, he campaigned the car in the Improved Touring ranks. 

It wasn’t until 2001, after years of hunting, that he spied the elusive Hot Pants Pinto at rest. “I was doing some work in Castro Valley with a friend of mine. I turned down this street and there it was just sitting in this driveway,” he explains.

Mike finally had a chance to see the car up close. The chin spoiler, body cladding and rear spoiler further drew his interest—an attraction only a Pinto lover could understand. Mike says that he wanted to purchase the car on the spot, but it wasn’t for sale. Acquiring the car wasn’t going to be that easy.

“What’s It Worth?”

For two years Mike visited the Hot Pants Pinto and chatted with its owner, often inquiring about purchasing the vehicle. Then, in the summer of 2003, his phone rang.

“He called me up and said, ‘What do you think it’s worth?’” Mike recalls. “I knew it was a Hot Pants Pinto, but I didn’t know what it was worth. Finally we negotiated for $400 and I drove it home.”

It was a one-family car originally purchased by the owner’s brother and mainly used as a commuter. The Pinto had surface rust and the seats were torn, but there were no major dents or damage. Mike figured it would be a relatively smooth restoration.

The torn interior was returned to original condition.

With the car finally in his garage, Mike began what would become a yearlong restoration. The seats were reconstructed and returned to the original style—with a little more padding for comfort—while the body received plenty of sanding and paint. 

A friend who taught paint and auto body at a local Regional Occupation Program volunteered to take in the car as a project. He matched the paint and got to work. 

Along with the cosmetic fixes, Mike made some performance upgrades, too—lessons learned from his autocross and road racing days. He added stiffer springs, Carrera shock absorbers and a pair of Weber side-draft carburetors. The engine was rebuilt with high-compression Venolia pistons, Crower rods and more cam. 

I’m a Boss!

After Mike finished the restoration, he got the biggest surprise of all: His Hot Pants Pinto was also a Boss Pinto. Yes, his car was even more awesome than originally believed.

A friend of Mike’s informed him that the Boss package was responsible for the stripes on the car. “He saw the car after I restored it and was like, ‘Wow, I have one just like it,’” Mike explains. “We had always talked, but I never knew his Pinto was a Boss Pinto.”

Mike’s friend gave him some background on the Hot Pants and Boss option packages. After the cars left Ford’s San Jose plant, the ones receiving one or both of these upgrades made a stop at an old truck wash located across the street.

Not a d’Lemon

Since Mike finished the restoration, he has brought the Pinto to several California car shows, including those hosted by Goodguys and Knott’s Berry Farm.

The Pinto caught our eye at a Concours d’Lemons in Monterey, a car show for the odd and underappreciated. Despite a well-stocked field full of other unique cars—including a Pinto covered with thousands of mirrored tiles—Mike’s Pinto won the GRM award.

Mike plans to hit more shows with the car, driving to local events and towing to the ones a bit farther away. As he explains, “How many gas stations have racing fuel at the pump?”

His love for the Pinto has never wavered, and to no surprise his daily driver is another Pinto. He commutes in a ’74 Pinto wagon fitted with 15-inch wheels and an ’88 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe engine. 

Don’t expect Mike to jump ship after all these years, either. Pintos may be the subject of punch lines and jokes, but he’s devoted to these notorious Fords. “I love everything about them,” he admits. “They’re fun little cars. If you ever drive one, you’d understand.”

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Comments
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Tom1200
Tom1200 UltraDork
3/1/22 12:29 p.m.

My mother had a Pinto (79) that featured the the Starky & Hutch Stripe; we flogged that poor car down gravel roads. I drove it like I hated it because I did. Over the years I learned that the cars actually have good bones.

As for the exploding gas tanks; if I remember correctly there is a simple retro fit, and the issue was limited to only certain years. I friend once told me all you have to do is change the upper shock bolt.

In stock trim the cars are very soft (go figure) and under heavy braking have a tendency to lock the rear wheels first. Firming up the suspension cures this.

The wagon with a turbo coupe motor sounds cool.

Rons
Rons GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
3/1/22 1:10 p.m.

If one was interested in cars like a Pinto I think the best way to find them is boots on the ground. There is a Canadian TV show that covers the boots on ground approach- Lost Car Rescue if you can find it. They use the boots approach, add some intelligence, and an eye in sky to find their targets. As they fly over northern properties they often see various large collections of older cars.

alfadriver
alfadriver GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/1/22 1:47 p.m.

Ah, Pinto's and Vegas were part of my growing up- I learned to drive a stick mostly on a Vega.

A buddy of mine had a blue Pinto that he loved- it was his first car, and he would haul some of our music equipment in it.  Until he got in an accident and totaled it.  But here's the twist that people here would like- he spent some effort on the engine to be really good- and it survived.  And he somehow found a Pinto wagon (a normal one) in a field with a dead engine.  It didn't take long to track down the owner and make it change hands- and he ended up with a pretty cool Pinto Wagon with a reasonably hot motor.

Perfect to carry all of our drumming stuff from school to where ever we were performing.

These days, I would not be shocked to learn there are fewer Pintos (and even fewer Vegas) in the US than Alfa GTVs.  They were just disposable cars.  

L5wolvesf
L5wolvesf HalfDork
3/1/22 2:08 p.m.
alfadriver said:

These days, I would not be shocked to learn there are fewer Pintos (and even fewer Vegas) in the US than Alfa GTVs.  They were just disposable cars.  

Many Pintos went racing in SCCA as ITB cars and to circle tracks as 'mini stocks'.

The 2.0 motor was used in Sports 2000 cars and was prety well developed.

Tom1200
Tom1200 UltraDork
3/1/22 2:43 p.m.

In reply to alfadriver :

Your post just reminded that a high school friend had a hotted up V6 Pinto. It'd do near 130 before the oil light would start flickering. Apparently the oil wouldn't drain back into the pan fast enough.

 

My fabricator has a Pinto Wagon with the stylish Country Squire wood side decals

Ranger50
Ranger50 MegaDork
3/1/22 2:54 p.m.

Olsenkj06
Olsenkj06
3/1/22 5:28 p.m.

I have a 1973 Pinto I campaign in SCCA SOLO2 DP. I've had it since 2006 or so.  It was originally a ICSCC conference racer in the PNW from 1976 until the mid 80's, where it won its class multiple times. I read a GRM article in 2005 or 6 and thought a Pinto would make a cool autocross car. Then a month or 2 later I was talking to someone at a local autocross about it and he just happened to have one. 
I've raced it in autocross since 2009. It's been dynoed at 140 wheel HP and TQ. It has a Racer Walsh stage 2 cam, big valve head, 11:1 compression, and the 4 carb Esslinger 38mm Mikuni SD carb setup. Finding performance parts is nearly impossible any more, so I've been piecing it together slowly. Hopefully I'll make it to a West Coast National tour some day and test it out against the top dogs. 

Steven
Steven New Reader
3/1/22 8:25 p.m.

This is mine. My dad's old car I just recently resurrected. This is from Roebling Road a couple weeks ago.  Had a blast in it. It drove surprisingly well. But needs more speed!!

 

Mndsm
Mndsm MegaDork
3/1/22 11:00 p.m.

The only pinto story I have isn't performance related. My dad's second wife was a woman named Cathy. Cathy was...special. She has a blue pinto. After they broke up my dad got particularly spiteful one night and took whatever gigantic Chrysler cop car he had a the time (grand fury III maybe?) Cop bar and all, and went and knocked the pinto on its side

03Panther
03Panther UberDork
3/2/22 12:23 a.m.

So, what I got from that story, is dad was an azz hat, with anger management issues, that hid behind his big boat of a car...

You may have meant something different...

PT_SHO
PT_SHO New Reader
3/2/22 2:04 a.m.

Fun!  I knew there was performance potential in those.  There was a wagon with some modified suspension that was a terror in the hills around here. 

And there was an aftermarket kit with turbo and much more radical body called the Pinto Pangra that I liked the looks of, I think it got reviewed in C&D.  Author's cars sound like great fun, especially the turbo, as those are pretty light cars.  Nice as long as they aren't rusted out.

VolvoHeretic
VolvoHeretic GRM+ Memberand Reader
3/2/22 2:47 a.m.

I've always thought that the Pinto was a great looking little car, butt... My friend had one and after his leg got crampy from flooring it, I would have the reach my left leg over the transmission hump and floor it for him. :)

JimS
JimS Reader
3/2/22 5:20 a.m.

I had a 72 wagon, 2 liter and 4 speed. Neat little car. My brother had an scca ssc Pinto that he pulled the gear shift lever out going into turn one at Lime Rock. The DC Region of the scca ran a regional class called GT Pinto which had lots of cars and good racing. I believe Car and Driver raced a Pinto in IMSA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jharry3
jharry3 GRM+ Memberand Dork
3/2/22 11:12 a.m.

I remember a Car and Driver article on Pinto's from back in the 70's.

They upgraded the front sway bar, better shocks, and added a Z bar to the rear which stiffened the heave  motion spring rate, but didn't increase the  rear roll stiffness.   

  I can't remember why they did this other than to show what could be done to a Pinto.

Olsenkj06
Olsenkj06 New Reader
3/2/22 2:52 p.m.

In reply to JimS :

I have pulled the shift lever out of its pocket many times. I have the (old) Hurst shift lever. It has a plastic pocket with a metal retention ring that holds the pivot ball in. I put a couple small set screws in through the plastic to hold the retention ring in. So far so good. 

wlkelley3
wlkelley3 UberDork
3/2/22 7:44 p.m.

Have had a couple Pinto's. They really do drive and handle pretty well. First one was a 71 w/1600 Kent motor & 4 speed. It was the sedan model, small rear window and a trunk lid. Got it around 1977, ex-wife got it in the divorce in late 78. Ex had a 75 Pinto when we were dating. Couldn't afford it after we married so it was sold a few months before we married. Second one was a 74 hatchback w/2L & 4-speed. Bought it cheap when I married current wife in 1981. Got it for $150 and drove it home. Put tires, timing belt, clutch, starter, fuel filter and some external pieces. PO beat it to crap. Rear quarter window & R/F fender from a junkyard, swap meet radio and Kmart speakers. All in for about $500 and put about 20k miles on it in the year I owned it. Sold it for $800 when I was transferred. Only car I made money from.

Not to be morbid but to the best of my knowledge all the injuries from rear ended fires were back seat passengers that couldn't get out. Mustang II's were built on the same platform and had the same issue of fires from rear ended but significantly less injuries as the doors were longer with more back seat room, easier to get out of the back seat. If I remember right the cause was fuel tank getting pushed into the rear diff spilling gas on the muffler with fire as a result. Fix was a deflector shield that deflected the fuel tank over the rear diff to prevent puncture.

fastoldfart
fastoldfart Reader
3/3/22 12:10 a.m.

A wisecrack of the era:

"You know your having a bad day when you are sandwiched between a Pinto in front and an Audi 5000 behind you. "

(referring to the Audis' unintentional acceleration issues)

ZOO (Forum Supporter)
ZOO (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
3/3/22 7:13 a.m.

I just watched the latest "Faster With Finnegan".  They turned a 1980 Pinto wagon into a "drift missile".  Not going to lie, I want it.   Bad.

bearmtnmartin (Forum Supporter)
bearmtnmartin (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
3/3/22 11:31 a.m.

I have been enjoying the Fuzzy Dice guys resurrecting a V8 Pinto and driving it a very long way. 

Buying a Craigslist Ford Pinto and Driving it 3000 Miles Home (Plans, Purchase, Parts) (Ep.1) - YouTube

They have overheating issues the whole way, as does every V8 Pinto ever, but it is a fun journey. I do not understand why they did not just strap a great big truck radiator to the front and go but unless it happens in episode 4 it will not I guess. I am pretty sure the problem is a simple case of inadequate heat removal. They have a transmission cooler as well and I am not sure that is helping a small lightweight car that is not pulling anything. Seems like it is just adding to the work the radiator has to do. 

wspohn
wspohn SuperDork
3/3/22 1:01 p.m.

A far better car (and better looking) was the Mk 3 Cortina. Same driveline but better looks and handling. We got them for a couple of years in Canada, but sadly they never sent them to the US. I owned two of them, one of which I modded the engine on - it was great fun.

Shavarsh
Shavarsh Reader
3/3/22 3:02 p.m.

Can confirm, Pinto makes a great street car. Especially with a V8 and IRS.

The Bean

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
3/4/22 2:44 p.m.

An unexpected (but welcomed) consequence of putting stories like this on the website is that I'm intrigued by how many personal stories people have.

History has kind of made the Pinto out to be less than desirable, but it's clear a lot of people have very fond memories of a Pinto from their past.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/4/22 6:45 p.m.
L5wolvesf said:
alfadriver said:

These days, I would not be shocked to learn there are fewer Pintos (and even fewer Vegas) in the US than Alfa GTVs.  They were just disposable cars.  

Many Pintos went racing in SCCA as ITB cars and to circle tracks as 'mini stocks'.

The 2.0 motor was used in Sports 2000 cars and was prety well developed.

It was also the basis for the Cosworth Sierra/Escort Cosworth engine.

They still call it the "Pinto" engine even though it was only used in actual Pintos for like three years.

Snowdoggie (Forum Supporter)
Snowdoggie (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
3/4/22 7:10 p.m.

I can remember buying a new one for the price advertised in the paper of $2,388. They were under the Chevy dealers stripper Vega by about $100. A couple of years later I bought a '69 Mustang with a 351 for $900. The Pinto was the better autocrosser. Damn that was a long time ago.

ZOO (Forum Supporter)
ZOO (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
3/5/22 9:55 a.m.
bearmtnmartin (Forum Supporter) said:

I have been enjoying the Fuzzy Dice guys resurrecting a V8 Pinto and driving it a very long way. 

Buying a Craigslist Ford Pinto and Driving it 3000 Miles Home (Plans, Purchase, Parts) (Ep.1) - YouTube

They have overheating issues the whole way, as does every V8 Pinto ever, but it is a fun journey. I do not understand why they did not just strap a great big truck radiator to the front and go but unless it happens in episode 4 it will not I guess. I am pretty sure the problem is a simple case of inadequate heat removal. They have a transmission cooler as well and I am not sure that is helping a small lightweight car that is not pulling anything. Seems like it is just adding to the work the radiator has to do. 

I'm ridiculously invested in this adventure . . . thanks for the link.

CyberEric
CyberEric Dork
3/5/22 10:24 a.m.

My good friend had one in high school, brown and orange. It was sooo cool. 
 

I had no idea anyone liked them here, I love seeing the DP class AX one and the bean! 

Rons
Rons GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
3/5/22 11:21 a.m.
wspohn said:

A far better car (and better looking) was the Mk 3 Cortina. Same driveline but better looks and handling. We got them for a couple of years in Canada, but sadly they never sent them to the US. I owned two of them, one of which I modded the engine on - it was great fun.

And I owned one, mine had the 2 litre with a timing belt and when it snapped there was no head damage. I would love to find another- and I would be over the moon if it was Dennis Repel’s old B Sedan.

wspohn
wspohn SuperDork
3/5/22 11:52 a.m.
Rons said:
wspohn said:

A far better car (and better looking) was the Mk 3 Cortina. Same driveline but better looks and handling. We got them for a couple of years in Canada, but sadly they never sent them to the US. I owned two of them, one of which I modded the engine on - it was great fun.

And I owned one, mine had the 2 litre with a timing belt and when it snapped there was no head damage. I would love to find another- and I would be over the moon if it was Dennis Repel’s old B Sedan.

I figured that out early on - that it wasn't an 'interference' engine so didn't change the timing belt at recommended intervals. It made it more than double the suggested mileage before it finally snapped - just as I was rolling into my driveway. Picked up another belt and changed it - fairly quick job - and it was good as long as I owned it.

An under-rated car, mostly because no one on this continent except us Canadians even knew about them.

I recall Dennis from my early Westwood days - I was racing an MGA (and this as in the early 70s so they hadn't even invented 'vintage' racing yet) and he, like many others, was running a Mini.

Mc4
Mc4 GRM+ Memberand New Reader
4/27/22 2:25 p.m.

In reply to jharry3 :

I remember that article.  They did the Z-bar because adding a stiffer rear sway bar, with the open differential, just led to tire spin in a corner as the inside rear tire got light.

I had a 1971 Grabber Lime Runabout (Hatchback).  I put on Mustang II V-8 sway bars, and cut the cam keyway .070".  The cam trick was supposed to be worth 0.7 seconds off the 0-60 and 4 mpg.  I couldn't reliably measure the 0-60, but I easily got the mpg increase. 

One of the things my wife laughs at is knowing one of my "lottery winner" cars would be a 1971 Pinto.  Sure, I want a Mid-engine Corvette, a 66 GT350, a 427 Cobra and a Dino 246GTS, but the Pinto would be a surprising equal.

Oh yeah, I pulled the shift lever out of mine banging the gears leaving a toll booth late one night in Richmond, VA.  But, in the cars defense, I believe I had not put it back properly the previous time I had worked on it.

I miss that car...

MotorsportsGordon
MotorsportsGordon Dork
4/27/22 2:38 p.m.

While not a pinto but same platform ofcourse 

tuna55
tuna55 MegaDork
4/27/22 2:46 p.m.

Obviously the Pinto can be an amazing race car. Proof:

 

If it's good enough for Bob Glidden, it's good enough for me.

 

Mickey Thompson endorsing it is a whole different level:

 

 

NOHOME
NOHOME MegaDork
7/4/22 7:13 a.m.

In reply to bearmtnmartin (Forum Supporter) :

I liked that series of videos. 

My guess is that maybe the head gaskets were on backwards; easy to do on a 302 if you don't know what you are doing. Makes it so that the majority of the coolant shunts across the front of the engine.  It might be why it was parked originally. 

livinon2wheels
livinon2wheels GRM+ Memberand New Reader
7/4/22 10:40 a.m.

In reply to wspohn :I had a friend who had a cortina with the 1600 engine and it was great fun to flog it. Not very fast, definitely a momentum car, a bit too much body roll but could nonetheless be driven quickly enough to draw John laws attention. Sadly I lost track of both the car and him over the years

 

200mph
200mph Reader
7/4/22 11:39 a.m.

Jerry "Racer" Walsh in Suffern NY was a big vendor of Pinto performance parts.  His son now owns and vintages races Jerry's #93 and Pat Bedard's Car & Driver #00 Pinto from the IMSA RS series.  

In 1972 at Stafford CT Speedway, Bob Judkins' #2x Nascar Modified started the "Pinto Revolution" at eastern short tracks, where Pinto, Vega and Gremlin bodies soon replaced the old pre-war coupes and coaches.  Look up the Maynard Troyer #6, Richie Evans #61, Geoff Bodine #1 for examples of superb crafstmanship.

Ford really offered a "Pinto Squire" two-door wagon with "wood" sides.  We have one, parked next to our restored Gremlin. I can't even explain why.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
7/4/22 3:37 p.m.
200mph said:

Ford really offered a "Pinto Squire" two-door wagon with "wood" sides.  We have one, parked next to our restored Gremlin. I can't even explain why.

When I was a teenager, a local kid had a Pinto Cruisin' Wagon.  It didn't have much street cred with the local crowd who were driving around in Trans Ams, Olds 4-4-2s, Chevelle SS's and the like, but it did stand out.

Around the same time my sister had a Pinto hatchback she bought new, I think it was around a 1972 or 1973.  It was actually a pretty fun little car.

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