Expectations for the Pinto

One of the most important demands for the Ford Pinto was that it provide superior handling, and here again Ford engineers worked miracles to meet the expectations for the Pinto.

Steering was by rack and pinion. While this was still a relatively new feature for most U.S. drivers, it had become the standard of production overseas. Using a ratio of 22:1, a compact steering wheel of just 15 inches in diameter provided a sports-car feel. Com­bined with the light weight of the car, there would be no need for power assist.

To smooth out the ride, a combination of short and long A-arms were employed in an independent suspension that was effectively a downsized replica of those used in other domestic Ford products. Coil springs were mounted between the lower A-arm and spring-pocket projections in the upper cross member. Double-acting shock absorbers were mounted inside the coil springs and were easily accessible for replacement, which met another design goal.

The rear axle and suspension were very contemporary, starting with the use of 46.5-inch-long multileaf semielliptical springs mounted to rubber-insulated anchors that helped reduce vibration and road noise. Stag­gered shock absorbers were used to counteract wheel hop, plus assist with acceleration and braking. Braking was accomplished via a quartet of nine-inch drums equipped with self-adjusters. Optionally available were front disc brakes, a requirement when the larger engine was ordered.

Initial plans called for the Pinto to be issued in three distinctive body styles: a two-door sedan, a "three-door" hatchback, and a two-door station wagon. However, as production neared, and continuing problems with body rigidity plagued the design and engineering teams, it was decided that all efforts to correct the problems for launch would be concentrated on the base sedan.

Sitting on a 94.2-inch wheelbase, overall length was just 163 inches. The car's basic design featured a proportionately longer hood with a fastback rear design featuring a short decklid that started at the base of the rear window. Pinto came standard with 6.00X13 black-sidewall bias-ply tires, though optional selections included whitewalls and radials. Extra-cost flipper-type rear-quarter windows provided better ventilation, and comfort, for rear-seat passengers.

The front-end design featured a simple chrome-plated plastic grille filled with vertical slats. At the far ends were combination park and turn-signal lights. Keeping costs at a minimum, only two headlights were used, mounted on the leading edge of the front fenders. A simple chrome-plated blade bumper capped off Pinto's face. Rear-end styling was simple, too: a flat panel with taillight assemblies straight out of the 1970 Maverick catalog.

Many within Ford, including Henry Ford II, made references to the Pinto being the rebirth of the car that had really made a name for the company. It was for that reason that "Model T Black" was selected as the name for one of the Pinto's available colors.

However, if basic black was not to your liking, there were 14 other colors, including some rather wild selections. Vivid "Grabber" colors were borrowed from the Maverick and Mustang lines. They underwent a name change for the subcompact, though; for example, Grabber Blue became Pinto Blue.

Pintos were painted in a six-step process that began by dipping entire bodies in a primer solution. An electrostatic charge allowed application of paint with better adhesion, finish, and durability. Color-keyed all-vinyl seat trim covered the two front bucket seats and the rear bench seat.

In autumn 1970, Pinto was one of several new subcompacts on the market in the U.S. AMC released the Gremlin a few months earlier as a 1970 model. Chevrolet unveiled its new Vega just a day before the Pinto made its debut. Chrysler, meanwhile, was relying on so-called captive imports, the Mitsubishi-built Dodge Colt and Hillman-derived Ply­mouth Cricket.

Still, the Pinto appeared to be right on the mark, making creative force Lee Iacocca a proud father. Shortly after the Pinto's stellar release, Henry Ford II made this papa of horsepower and sales the company president.

On September 11, 1970, one week before the rest of the '71 Fords were released, the public got its first look at Dearborn's little foal. Showrooms weren't exactly mobbed by crowds just to see the new Pinto, but sales did take off at a brisk pace, considering just one model was available. By the end of 1970, a total of 86,680 Pintos had already rolled off the assembly lines. By comparison, only 24,295 Vegas made it off the line by December 31.

However, in all fairness, one has to remember that there was a 67-day strike that crippled all General Motors plants starting on September 15, just before the new models went on sale.

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