Ford Pintos, designed with a rear fuel tank, were notoriously dubbed "the barbecue that seats four." The 1971 Ford Pinto fastback coupe is shown here.
1970, 1971 Fords, Ford Pinto and Ford Torino
Leading the 1970 line were modestly facelifted full-size Fords with "poke-through" center grille sections on LTDs and XLs, plus revamped rear ends on all models. Four series were offered: Custom, Galaxie 500, XL, and LTD. The sporty XLs were in their final year. Luxury was further emphasized with a new LTD Brougham hardtop coupe, hardtop sedan, and four-door sedan.
Broughams also featured in the 1970 Torino line, which shared new exterior panels "shaped by the wind" with a three-model Fairlane 500 series. Wheelbase grew an inch; profiles were lower and five inches longer. The Torino Cobra returned as Ford's "budget muscle car" with standard 360/375-bhp 429 V-8. It was a blistering performer and its new hardtop body with concave backlight was distinctive, but hot-car demand was fast-waning everywhere, and only 7675 were built for the model year.
Ford scored much higher 1970 sales with its new compact Maverick, a semifastback two-door on a 103-inch wheelbase. Introduced in early '69, Maverick was much like the original Falcon in size, price, performance, and simplicity; even its basic chassis and powertrain were the same. Arriving just below $2000 and backed by an aggressive but light-hearted ad campaign, this import-fighter scored an impressive 579,000 model-year sales, contributing greatly to Ford's production victory over Chevy.
Bolstering Maverick's appeal for '71 was a notchback four-door on a 109.9-inch wheelbase (almost the same as the original Falcon's), a sportier two-door called Grabber, and a newly optional 302 V-8 as an alternative to the 100-bhp 170 six. With minor changes, Maverick would carry the division's compact sales effort through 1977, which it did tolerably well, though its old-fashioned engineering looked increasingly so with time and the arrival of more-capable domestic and foreign competitors.
Of course, there was little here to interest enthusiasts. The Grabber looked snazzy but was pretty tame even with V-8. And certain requisites like decent instruments and front-disc brakes were either late in coming (the latter didn't arrive until '76) or not available.
Maverick's last gesture to the youth market was the Stallion, a 1976 trim package similar to those offered on the Pinto and Mustang II. The Maverick kit, which was strictly for two-doors, included black paint accents, twin door mirrors, styled steel wheels, raised-white-letter tires, and special badging. More popular was the Luxury Decor Option (LDO), a 1973 package available for either body style through the end of the line. It comprised upgraded interior appointments color-keyed to a special paint scheme crowned by a matching vinyl top.
Ford's major 1971 announcement was the four-cylinder Pinto, a 2000-pound, 94.2-inch-wheelbase subcompact with fastback styling in two-door and Runabout three-door hatchback models. A direct reply to Chevrolet's Vega, also new that year, it was smaller, less technically daring, less accommodating, and its performance and fuel economy were nothing special compared to that of many imports.
Yet Pinto usually outsold the trouble-prone Vega as well as many overseas contenders. Offered with 98- and 122-cid engines through 1973, then 122- and 140-cid fours, it was progressively dressed-up and civilized with nicer trim and more convenience options. Three-door wagons arrived for 1972, including a woody-look Squire (some called it "Country Squirt"). By 1976, there was also a youthful "Cruising Wagon" with blanked-off side windows and cute little rear portholes. Still, Pinto remained primarily basic transportation throughout its long 10-year life.
Though Pinto served Ford well in a difficult period, it will forever be remembered as what one wag called "the barbecue that seats four." That refers to the dangerously vulnerable fuel tank and filler-neck design of 1971-76 sedan models implicated in a rash of highly publicized (and fatal) fires following rear-end collisions.
Sadly, Ford stonewalled in a number of lawsuits all the way to federal court, which severely tarnished its public image, even if Pinto sales didn't seem to suffer much. What really put Pinto out to pasture after 1980 was not bad publicity but relative lack of change -- and the advent of a much better small Ford.
The midsize Torino proved exceptionally popular in the early '70s, then fell from favor once fuel economy became a pressing consumer concern. The 14-model 1971 lineup was basically a carryover of the previous year's. The Cobra fastback coupe remained the most-exciting of this bunch, though its standard engine was downgraded to a 285-bhp version of the ubiquitous 351 small-block first seen for 1969. High-power and big-inch engines began disappearing at Ford and throughout Detroit in 1972. By 1980, only a mildly tuned 351 remained as an option for full-size Fords.
Except for engines, the 1972 Torino was all-new -- and a big disappointment. Like GM's post-1967 intermediates, models divided along two wheelbases: 114-inch two-door hardtops and fastbacks (including semisporty GT variants) and 118-inch sedans and wagons. Body-on-frame construction appeared for the first time, and dimensions ballooned close to those of late-'60s Galaxies and LTDs.
Symbolic of most everything wrong with Detroit at the time, these Torinos were needlessly out-sized, overweight, and thirsty, with limited interior room and soggy chassis. Ford tried to make them passably economical, then gave up and simply fitted a larger fuel tank. After getting just 13.5 mpg with a '76, the auto editors of Consumer Guide® decided that "the more buyers learn about the Torino, the more reasons they will find to opt for a Granada."
Equally dismal was the tarted-up Torino bowing at mid-1974 to answer Chevy's popular Monte Carlo. Sharing a coupe bodyshell and running gear with that year's new fat-cat Mercury Cougar, this Grand Torino Elite leaned heavily on "Thunderbird tradition" with most every personal-luxury cliche of the period: overstuffed velour interior, a square "formal" grille, stand-up hood ornament, and a vinyl-covered rear half-roof with dual "opera" windows. Initially priced at $4437, the Elite didn't sell as well as the Monte, though over 366,000 were built through 1976. After that point, a downsized, downpriced T-bird rendered it redundant.