40 Years Later: Collectors Keyed Up Over Ford Pinto

May 31, 2011
Originally published on May 31, 2011 6:21 pm

This year, the Ford Pinto turns 40, and fans of the much-maligned economy car are celebrating with a drive from Denver to an auto show in Carlisle, Pa.

Leading the caravan this week are Norman and Louise Bagi. Louise will be behind the wheel of her 1976 Pinto Runabout. It has a V-6 engine and air conditioning, making it a top-of-the-line Pinto.

"The seats have the upgraded blue and orange plaid," says Norman. "It's almost like the Brady Bunch threw up in that car. It's wonderful!"

Between the seats there's a red fire extinguisher, "just in case," says Louise.

It's impossible to talk about the Pinto without mentioning the one thing probably everyone knows about the car: A 1977 Mother Jones expose revealed problems with its fuel system.

The detailed story was shortened into a popular understanding of the Pinto, according to Norman: "You hit 'em in the butt and they blow up."

Norman says the problem was exaggerated and now there's a simple retrofit that fixes the issue. He's a big fan of Pinto retrofits, in general. His 1977 powder-blue Pinto coupe has a V-8 engine in it.

"It's a handful in the turns and you got to really know how to drive it," he says. "If you punch it or let off the gas hard going into the turns you're going to find yourself sideways real quick."

Norman says he started out a Mustang fan, but now he's all about the Pinto. One reason is the nostalgic reaction to the car today. People will beep and wave on the road, he says.

"They'll follow you to the gas station and get out and talk about the Pinto they had or their sister had, or the first car they had in college," he says.

The Bagis are leading their caravan of Pinto drivers from Denver to the Carlisle Ford Nationals in Pennsylvania this week — that's about 1,600 miles. But Louise says she's not worried about her Pinto making it.

"I'm more worried about the tornadoes in the Midwest!" Bagi says, laughing.

The Pinto Stampede is scheduled to arrive in Carlisle on Thursday. Organizers are using the drive to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Ford Pinto. And this week, fans of the much-maligned economy car are celebrating with a drive from Colorado to Pennsylvania. NPR's Jeff Brady met up with the husband and wife who are leading the trip.

LOUISE BAGI: My name is Louise Bagi. I live in Mildford, Pennsylvania. This is my 1976 Pinto with a V-6 and air conditioning, which is a rare breed.

JEFF BRADY: Bagi's husband Norman says the upholstery inside this hatchback is a sight to behold.

NORMAN BAGI: The seats have the upgraded blue and orange plaid, which you've seen, just fabulous to look at. You know, it's almost like "The Brady Bunch" threw up in that car. It's wonderful.

BRADY: And right in the middle, between the seats there, you have a fire extinguisher.

BAGI: Yes, yes we do. That actually is at my request because, just in case...

BRADY: It's impossible to talk about the Pinto without mentioning the one thing probably everyone knows about the car.

BAGI: Yeah, if you hit them in the butt, and they blow up. Well, you know, there was a lot of hype about that.

BRADY: Bagi is totally into the retrofits. Just listen to his 1977 powder blue Pinto coupe.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE)

BRADY: That doesn't sound like any Pinto I've ever heard before.

BAGI: No, they never came with a V-8, but a lot of people did that to them.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE)

BRADY: Bagi says he started out a Mustang fan, but now he's all about the Pinto.

BAGI: They'll follow you to the gas station and get out and talk about the Pinto they had or their sister had or the first car they had in college. You know, they lost their virginity in a car like this. You know, you would be surprised the stories that you hear.

BRADY: How far are you going to be driving then?

BAGI: I think we're driving about 1,600 miles.

BRADY: Wow. I don't want to be indelicate or offend you, but do you have any concern about getting there?

BAGI: In my Pinto? Never. Not in a million years. I'm more worried about the tornadoes that are in the Midwest than I am about my Pinto.

BRADY: Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.