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I understand that my take on the Pinto does not match the normal view of this car, but understand I’m talking about a very specific powertrain, installed into a car without the additional mass present in later model Pintos. As I said, the 2.0 liter OHC four is the desirable Pinto engine, but only if it’s mated to the four speed manual. However, if my glowing description of this fine machine has interested any readers, I’d be happy to swing by and jot down the phone number for you. This car makes me re-live high school as well, as I had two separate friends who drove twins to this car. I was more of a Ford V8 kind of guy at that time, so these didn’t really light my fire. There may be no other car (with the possible exception of the Maverick) whose personality changed so thoroughly from the early ones to the later ones. At the time, I remember the car mags started having articles almost immediately demonstrating how easy and affordable it was to improve Pinto performance. It appears the powertrains used in the Pintos were far better and more durable than those used in the Chevy Vega, and having the Pinto around much longer than the Vega appears to validate that – they were the better car all-around, no matter that I felt the Vega was nicer-looking. For some reason, those hexagonal headlight bezels makes me think of the movie “The Andromeda Strain” from 1971! While growing up, my parents’ 3 Cortinas and 1 Sierra were 2.0 Pinto engined – I learned to drive in the Sierra. I’d happily own another Pinto engine, but I think I’d draw the line at a Pinto car! Cortinas Escorts and Transit vans all came equipped with that Pinto4 as Scott says you couldnt move without falling over one here.
I forgot about the Capri – we got the MK I-III too, although the Pinto was just one of the myriad engines offered in it here. Ultimately, in the long term, the Pinto did have a better reputation than either the Vega or Gremlin.
I remember all of the ballyhooing lead-up over the very expensive Cosworth Vega, when the Pinto Pangra trumped it a year earlier… offering a high performance variation.
Laugh all you want, but if you wanted to run B-sedan SCCA autocross back in the day, and couldn’t afford a BMW 2002, this was your answer.
The car makers get blamed for malaise era cars… but I think the apathy amongst the public was pretty heavy too.
Quality issues aside, I don’t think many domestic cars at the time stood up well to neglect by owners. During the same time frame my parents (both in their seventies) were driving another car mentioned in the comments.
The Pinto had a lot of potential but like Daniel pointed out , neglectful owners did these cars no favors.
The difference IMO, is pre-early 90s domestic cars just couldn’t withstand the abuse.
Ford eventually strengthened the body and added more sound deadening, which only added to the Pinto’s sad broughamification in its later years. What amazed me was that the Pintos handled so well, yet there were only leaf springs and a live axle in the back. As I recall, the earliest hatchbacks had the same small window as the coupe, and were hard to tell apart from a distance.
And then there’s always the route of installing Mustang II underpinnings for a very fast (if front-heavy) 302 V8. How strange- I could of sworn those mags had the black stripe and factory center caps when I saw them at the car.
A classmate of mine in high school had a 1971 Pinto (high school was enough long ago that the car was actually new!).
I was in London doing graduate work, so after a year my parents visited with my little brother. Three weeks later, back in Canada, my parents needed a new car for my mother, so based on the Escort, they bought a brand new Pinto 2.0 automatic. Nine months later, I went home myself for a visit, to discover a bright green Pinto with 700 cc more, and less performance than the Escort, an interior far worse than the cheapest Escort made, and which clanked over bumps.
Meanwhile, in the UK, where a small car was normal, they built decent vehicles that weren’t penalty boxes. The Capri has enjoyed a very successful competition heritage in European road racing with drivers with the names of Stewart & Fittipaldi, at places like Le Mans and Spa, and those exploits have been written about extensively by Jeremy Walton and others. When automobile racing first started in America, like Europe, the races were run on public roads with the Vanderbilt Cup and Savannah Races being a couple primary examples. After WWII, the number of dedicated racetracks just exploded and there are currently over a thousand oval tracks all over the country.
Bill France and others founded NASCAR in 1948 and, like most stock bodied racing back then, most of the cars were souped up pre war Flathead Fords.
Nobody in the rest of the country really paid an awful lot of attention to NASCAR until 1951, when they scheduled a race at the Michigan State Fairgrounds. During the decade of the 60a€™s, the factory teams really were pouring in the $$$ and the cars went from being prepared individually by small local garages into the mega race shops like Holman Moody, where, given the right factory connections, one could buy a turnkey car ready to race.
As you can tell, good or bad, NASCAR racing had strayed far beyond what was envisioned when it was created, and as they entered the 70a€™s, with higher gas prices, a smaller size car was suddenly popular with consumers with the subcompact class.
The Baby Grand series raced on the big speedways at tracks like North Wilkesboro, Darlington, Atlanta, Charlotte, and& Texas, as well as short tracks like Bristol, Hickory, Richmond and Nashville.
While the early fields mostly consisted of Vegas, and Pintos, there were quite a few Capris as well.
Mike said they had a race at Atlanta with a whopping 68 entries, with the pole speed being 142 mph and 38th position at 108 mph, so there was quite a disparity in speed between the front and the rear of the field.
The most successful Capris were entered by David Watson of Boone, NC, and driven by drivers such as Larry and Ricky Pearson, sons of David Pearson, and later on Dale Jarrett, son of Ned Jarrett. Larrya€™s dad David Pearson is a three time NASCAR champion, and second on the all time win list, so they painted Larrya€™s Capri to match Davida€™s Wood Brothers Mercury that was so successful during that time. In preparation for this presentation, I was able to speak with David Watson about the series and more specifically, the Capris that he built and entered for Larry Pearson, brother Ricky Pearson, and Dale Jarrett. In addition, one thing that I thought was pretty cool was that even though it has been nearly 35 years since he raced the Capri, David Watson still has a passion for the cars and knows quite a bit about them.


Pontiac introduced a racing version of their Iron Duke 4 cylinder engine in the early 80a€™s, and costs quickly rose to $20K apiece for those engines. Not only was I privileged to speak with David Watson, the owner and builder of the Baby Grand National Capris, I also had the great honor to talk with driver Larry Pearson, who was so successful in Watsona€™s cars. Larry, I really appreciate you taking the time with me to discuss the Baby Grand series and the Capris.
I have a picture of one of the early Capris with your dad leaning in giving you some advice. Even though the NASCAR premier series used stock-appearing cars, the Modified stock cars were still very popular in certain parts of the country, primarily in the Midwest, New England and the Eastern Seaboard.
This one is of Ohio star Jim Cushman and in 1958 Jim was notable for introducing the first known use of a wing in racing. New England still had their Modifieds as their top class at the local tracks and it was very popular. While Pintos and Vegas became the most popular, there were a few instances of Capris hitting the track as well. While the New England area is the hotbed of NASCAR Modified racing, the cars are also popular in the Carolinaa€™s and Virginia. The last form of American racing with Capris I wanted to mention is the 4 cylinder Mini Stock or Pony Stock classes that are run at many local tracks, both asphalt and dirt. While the cars of choice were usually the Pinto, Mustang II, and Fox Body Mustang, I know that there were quite a few Capris in competition banging fenders and slinging dirt.
While the cars of choice were usually the Pinto, Mustang II, and Fox Body Mustang, there were also a few Capris in competition banging fenders and slinging dirt. Finally, the last bit of oval racing I need to mention is Banger racing, as it is called, that is popular in the UK. Special thanks to Mike Clements, David Watson, Larry Pearson, Joy Fair, Norm Murdock for his inspiration, and especially all the members of the CCNA. This 1979 Ford Pinto Cruising Wagon is not perfect, but it would be a standout at this show. Since it’s a sedan, it includes a real package shelf for 6 X 9 speakers behind the rear seats (something the Skinner hatchback lacked). German designed and built, the engine provided a good power to weight ratio, smooth power delivery, and a fat torque band. This car shares the same base vinyl interior of my Dad’s car, complete with a painted metal dash below the safety padding.
The brightwork around the windows and wheel arches are optional upgrades, making this Pinto even more desirable.
While there are structural similarities between it and the 2.0 liter, they have completely different characters.
I was a new driver then with little to compare that car to, but it was a hell of a lot faster than the Renault Alliance I learned to drive on. Only the little Japanese cars bested them, and they were not impressive to most at that time. I can only imagine how much fun the 285 HP Pinto Pangra, with suspension upgrades, must’ve been at the time.
The body structure on these early Pintos was pretty flimsy, due to trying a bit too hard to keep weight down. The hatchback did not go on sale until Jan 25, 1971 and the 72’s got the bigger window from job one. If I could find a clean Pinto driver for well less than $5K, I’d be happy to give it a home. The auto was so slow shifting, you could move the lever to 2 from D, and blip the throttle to rev match! My parents gave me the Pinto as I buzzed around, got a job 150 miles away, and needed transportation before earning money. 1300GT, which flew and would rev to nearly seven grand, the cooking 1100 of a student flatmate, and my favorite, a re-engined station wagon with a Cortina 1600GT engine and rims.
Cynical corporate games to reinforce the typical American’s idea that small cars were crap. The Capri also has raced at such storied tracks like Daytona, Darlington, and Bristol, with drivers of the names of Pearson and Jarrett, but until now, that portion of racing history has largely been unknown to Capri enthusiasts.
Columbus Motor Speedway, where we will be racing the autocross tomorrow, is one of them, and it was built in 1947. Naturally, representatives from the auto manufacturers were in attendance, and they quickly realized that the publicity from racing might very well sell a lot of cars, so they jumped into the sport big time. Here is a cool picture of the Benny Parsons restored Holman Moody 1969 Torino that a friend owns. Bill encouraged a few of the local fellows to take their small cars and race among themselves on his road course.
I recently spoke with Mike Clements, who drove a Vega in the series, and he told me that his first car was found at a junkyard, and cost him $2000 to build including the engine. He said that originally, the use of 13" race tires was required, and then over time they increased the allowable tire outer diameter, which of course required the fenders to be cut out. You can see the widened Rostyle wheels and how the rest of the car is essentially a stock Capri with the bumper over riders and fake vents still attached.
Wayne owned a drag racing team with Jack Roush and was doing some R & D work for Ford in Michigan and gave me a bunch of stuff.
She actually went to Daytona in 1947 as a spectator, decided to enter the races on a whim, and ended up destroying her car.
After I told him I had a 1973, he immediately asked me what engine I had; a 2000 or 2600, and that it should have the chrome bumpers. This was a far cry from the < $1000 that teams were spending for engines just a decade earlier. Some of those drivers you raced with like Jack Ingram, Tommy Ellis, Sam Ard, and Butch Lindley were tough! Not only were the old coupe bodies becoming scarce and difficult to obtain, some of the fans had a tough time relating to them. Here is a beautiful #14 owned by car owner Art Barry of Connecticut, and driven by both Ed Flemke Sr., and Bob Potter.


These classes were originally designed to be an entry level class for an aspiring driver, and are run at hundreds of tracks across the country. Due to the limited availability of rear wheel drive subcompact cars in recent years, many of the Mini Stock and Pony stock classes have gone to rules mandating front wheel drive, but it really depends upon the specific track and rule book. This led to some very interesting conversations with used car salesman, and resulted in the purchase of the blue Runabout (which did in fact fit in the garage per Dad’s plan).
Also offered in the imported Capri, this engine lived in the US market for a brief four years, and is relatively unknown among US car enthusiasts. This minimalist approach to overall vehicle design led to a light weight car, which also helped deliver class leading performance. In the grand tradition of seventies era emissions, the Lima engine was down on horsepower, had a lower redline, and lousy Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) brought on by an additional 300 ccs of displacement. But I remember articles at the time talking about adding Michelin or Pirelli tires, Koni shocks and sway bars. Mine were autos, but my parents’ were all manual (4-speed in the Cortinas, 5 in the Sierra).
In Europe, it went into not only the Cortina and Mk 1 Sierra, but also the Capri and the Escort RS2000. Plus Ford should be given credit for making the Pinto so easy for the owner to do their own maintenance.
I always thought the early Pinto was a decent looker – I had a six inch long toy version that I got by ordering as a breakfast cereal premium. There was some lack of structural integrity over harsh bumps and stuff, but not something a kid could car about. The drivers door had a rust hole in it by then, and the skin had rusted away from the door frame at the bottom.
ANY of them put the Pinto to shame, and had much bigger interiors, especially the back seat. They speak out of both sides of their mouths at once, and I for one remain deeply unimpressed. The cars performed very well; at the race at North Wilkesboro, the pole winning Vega set a time that would have allowed it to start 11th in the top Grand national race the same weekend with lap speeds over 130 mph!
She took the train home and told her husband that the car was totaled in a highway crash in Georgia.
He also said that there was no 1975 Capri and that the Capri II came out in 1976, so he knew his stuff. They were no longer needed on the NASCAR tracks as a support race, so other than Daytona, they raced on a variety of short tracks with little purse money, and no TV or media coverage. For that kind of money, younger drivers could go to ARCA and race actual older NASCAR Cup cars on the same tracks as the Cup cars, which made a lot more sense.
This car was raced at Columbus Motor Speedway, the site of the CCNA autocross race tomorrow. As I understand, it is may be more correctly described as a rolling demolition derby and contact is encouraged. Only problem is that it’s located in Fallbrook, California so you will need to pick it up tomorrow and drive it a little over seven hours to make it for the show. The wheels are genuine Ford, but first appeared on the 1974 Mustang II, so they aren’t original equipment. Regular readers may recall that Paul Neidermeyer wrote about driving new OHC Pintos in his biographical series, and praised the motor when matched to a four speed manual- At least as compared to the other new cars available at the Ford dealership. I’m surprised to see a club mounted on the steering wheel- Nowadays the only cars more theft proof than a Pinto are a Vega or Gremlin from the same era (V-8 Gremlins excepted, of course). The Lima motor went on to entwine itself deeply into Ford’s (American) history, but you will not see me extolling the performance virtues of a Lima equipped Pinto.
75 tracks between them racing every weekend with thousands of cars, so you can see how widespread oval track racing in this country really is. His first race at North Wilkesboro, he started 4th and finished 3rd, so you can see how economical it was for a beginner.
In addition, NASCAR never promoted the Dash series, and other than the season opener at Daytona, no one ever paid much attention to it, so they finally elected to let it die. It appears to be similar in some regards to the 24 hours of LeMons events that have been popular over here the last few years. Luckily it does have air conditioning and XM radio… We have seen plenty of Pintos, but cant say that we have ever seen a Cruising Wagon before. I once left the keys hanging in the trunk lock of a Pinto parked on the curb in downtown Denver. The engine again had low power, but a peak in the oil filler hole revealed literally squashed cam lobes, a typical problem with that engine. She raced until the mid-50a€™s or so, and here are a couple pictures from later on in her career. It is not the most attractive automobile, so maybe there is good reason there are not many around. Being a Colonnade Cutlass man at the time, that was enough for me to write off small cars and anything Pinto based as hopeless. This was several years before the factories regularly started offering performance packages. All my Fords always had Fords and My Gm had Gm Engine ( was an ok vehicle) Fords all the way, used to have Bright Orange 74 Pinto with Brown Vinyl Top, was a Great Car 0  0 Reply Joshua Calloway Aug 30, 2011 at 1:21amI remember those Pinto Cruiser wagons! Its a mini-motorhome with the Dodge van cab and chassis, with the porthole windows in the back( like the Pinto wagon’s), along with blue stripes on the sides that angle upward toward the porthole!
Only thing is that this one also has the Squire option, so the usual hockey stick tape stripes are deleted in favor on the woodgrain paneling.



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