When the 1975 Ford Pinto went on sale on September 27, 1974, there was a lot more emphasis on the plucky little subcompact. Externally, they were almost duplicates from the previous season, despite fractional gains in wheelbase to 94.7 inches for the wagon and 94.4 inches for the others. Internally, it was a different story as the little car became even more "all-American."
Gone from the lineup was the 2.0-liter engine, replaced by the 83-horsepower 2.3-liter four. Pinto further upped the power ante with a new V-6 engine. Patterned after a similar engine produced in Italy by Lancia, Ford's version displaced 2.8 liters. Officially rated at 97 net horsepower, it used an 8.0:1 compression ratio, with a two-barrel Holley carburetor on top.
With 60-degree banking, uniform alternate firing, and high-center mounting of the camshaft that contributed to the light weight of the valvetrain, its smoothness of operation was surprising. The engine's basic design would be used in a number of Ford products for more than 25 years. The V-6 was available only in the Runabout and wagon, and required the newly redesigned SelectShift Cruise-O-Matic transmission. For the first time, Pinto buyers could opt for power steering and brakes when the V-6 engine was ordered.
By summer 1974, the national fuel emergency had come to an end. Oil was being transported to the United States at full volume, and gas prices came back down a few pennies, so Americans once again felt they were getting a bargain. Still, fuel mileage remained very important to a large number of drivers. To entice them, Ford cooked up MPG versions of the Pinto and Mustang II.
Equipped with the four-cylinder engine, manual transmission, the new catalytic converter emissions device (which allowed engines to be retuned for better efficiency), and a 3.18:1 axle ratio in place of the 3.40 gears standard in other Pintos, the MPG had a government rating of 34 mpg on the highway, 23 mpg in the city. (Swapping the four-speed stick for an automatic earned a 30/21 highway/city rating.)
Advertising for the late-arriving MPG models used huge print to tout their highway-mileage and base-price figures, both of which compared favorably -- of course -- with a list of foreign and domestic rivals. All three Pinto body styles were offered with MPG equipment.
Prices also reflected the improved models, taking the cost of Pinto up closer to, and in some cases, higher than the slightly larger Maverick. The sedan started at $2,769; the Runabout sold for $2,984 in base form; and the wagon tab began at $3,094. Those ordering the new V-6 were asked to pony up another $253 for it; the automatic transmission cost $202.
Not all of Pinto's higher prices were for former extras now becoming standard, or to cover the costs of mandated emissions and safety items. Contributing to the manufacturer's costs were the skyrocketing prices of raw materials. One Ford official told a group of writers in early 1975 that the price of steel had risen 35 percent in less than a year, rubber products were up 43 percent, aluminum by 61 percent, and plastics an average of 21 percent.
Rising prices and an economy reeling from the ripple effect of the 1973-74 fuel crisis hit the domestic automakers hard. Even the Pinto was a victim: Just 223,763 of the '75s came off the assembly lines, a whopping 59 percent drop from the previous model year! Ford built more 1974 Pinto wagons than it did all 1975 Pintos.
As a side note, 1975 saw the release in the United States of the Bobcat, Mercury's upscale version of the Pinto. Using the same basic designs as the Pinto Runabout and wagon, and originally created to fill a marketing gap for Canadian dealers, Bobcat sales were limited, but they were welcomed by Lincoln-Mercury dealers otherwise saddled with slow-selling, gas-guzzling luxury liners.
For more picture-packed articles about great cars, see: