40 Years Later: Collectors Keyed Up Over Ford Pinto

May 31, 2011

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

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 Bagi, "It's almost like the Brady Bunch threw up in that car, its wonderful!"

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

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 Bagi: "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. Bagi says people will beep and wave on the road.

"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," says Bagi.

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 Bagi 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, Penn. on Thursday. Organizers are using the drive to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project.

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