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ENGINEERING AND DRIVING FORD'S HORSE

1971 FORD PINTO:
ENGINEERING AND DRIVING
FORD'S HORSE
OF A DIFFERENT COLOR.

By Bill Sanders

A major breakthrough, the Pinto has finally put Ford where they should have been all along 'way back with the first Falcon, namely in the so-called sub-compact market. Because it is a totally new car from the wheels up and because Ford engineers took time to really determine what people wanted in a car of this caliber, besides just style, the Pinto has some interesting and worthwhile innovations that are relevant to today.

Pinto incorporates a unitized body-chassis construction, which seems to be the modern way to go for strength and rigidity. The body is welded to the platform-type chassis and forms an all-welded unit structure. A new feature built into the Pinto is a halo roof with thinner, one-piece construction that allows more headroom in a car with an extremely low profile. The halo roof replaces the conventional separate windshield and backlight headers, inner roof rails, and roof reinforcements. Another welcome innovation is the extra-wide door openings. Since Pinto will be a strictly two-door model, the extra space makes entry and exit, especially to the rear seat, quite easy. The entire concept of relative comparison for the Pinto is based on the VW Beetle, consequently it emerges that the Pinto has over 3 inches more clearance ahead of the front seat and almost 4 inches more clearance behind it than the Volks.

Although the Pinto suspension isn't exactly new or exotic, it does carry some improvements. It is the same as that used on the big Ford. Front coil springs are mounted on the lower control arms, like the T-bird and other large Fords. Most compact cars have their springs attached to the upper arms. Pinto's design results in two improvements: (1) By eliminating the high spring towers, there is more room in the engine compartment to work on the engine; and (2) Because it is the same design as the bigger, heavier cars, you get a smoother ride. The fully independent front suspension features ball joints and tilted upper control arms which combat nose-dive during braking, heavy-duty shocks are used and there is no front stabilizer bar. The light weight of the car doesn't require using a sway bar and handling remains good. An economy feature is the 36,000-mile lubrication interval for the front suspension components. Matched to the front, the rear suspension is Ford's familiar Hotchkiss setup with 46.5-inch three-leaf semi-elliptical springs. A feature promoted by Ford on their muscle cars for several years, staggered rear shocks, is standard on the Pinto. The right shock is mounted in front of the rear axle, and the left one behind it. This design reduces wheel hop and increases traction during acceleration and braking. Hopefully, it will prove better than the Chevy system employed on the Vega with rear coil springs, as we experienced considerable wheel hop during brake tests on one model of that car.

Rack and pinion steering is a major feature on the Pinto, as it is on the Vega. For years, European cars have used rack and pinion, as opposed to the recirculating ball and nut system used in most American cars, because it provides positive and precise response with a minimum effort. Pinto's steering ratio is 22:1, significantly less than most imports, and is easy enough so power steering isn't needed. There are four turns of the 15-inch steering wheel, lock-to-lock. Pinto has a 31.5-foot turning circle as compared to the VW, which turns in 34.5 feet, allowing the Pinto to turn in a space about 3 feet less, which presumably mean better maneuverability.

Standard tires are 6.00 x 13 and standard brakes are 9-inch self adjusting drums all around. Optional front disk brakes will be made available sometime after introduction. The disk brakes will feature a floating caliper operated by a single piston and will consist of only five major parts. Because of Pinto's light weight and the design of both steering and brakes, no power options for either steering or brakes will be available.

No wide variety of powertrain options will be available for the Pinto either, which is as it should be. Two 4-cylinder engines, 1,600cc and 2,000cc, will supply the power (see Motor Trend, July 1970 for complete engine details). The 1,600cc version is an in-line overhead valve mill, while the 2-liter model has an overhead cam. Standard Pinto transmission will be a floor-mounted, fully synchronized, four-speed manual. The standard transmission with the Vega is a three-speed. The only optional Pinto transmission is a three-speed automatic with the shift selection lever also mounted to the floor. A rear axle ratio of 3.55:1 is standard and gives consistent peppy response, yet stays within the economy objectives of the car. A 45-amp-hour battery is standard with all powertrain combinations... A 54-amp-hour heavy duty battery is optional.

Inside the Pinto, Ford men continue their comparison with the Bug. Accordingly, by Ford's own statistics, the Pinto has more interior room in every dimension, including leg, hip, and shoulder room, both front and rear, except front seat head room, which is greater in the VW. The VW is also 7.7 inches higher, which, of course, has some bearing on the relationship.

Pinto's instrument panel is an exercise in simplicity. Straight ahead, in front of the steering wheel, are two pods, one with fuel gauge, one with a speedometer/odometer. In yet another straightforward move, and we suspect, to cut cost, one read-out light covers both engine temperature and oil pressure. There is also one light for the alternator and brake system. The heater and radio controls are in the center of the dash, convenient to both passenger and driver. The Pinto also has a large ash tray, in a good location, and a glove box, which the Vega does not.

Sliding into the bucket seat behind the steering wheel, you find that it is rather easy to get in. Once behind the wheel you see the Pinto has greater visibility all around. Part of this feeling is a result of the rather rakish, 60-degree slope of the windshield, which puts a lot of glass in front of you. The feeling is probably more psychological than real. The absence of vent windows in the doors also adds to the feeling.

Newly designed; high-back buckets makes seating a comfortable proposition. Everything is well planned: the steering wheel angle is good and the tunnel mounted parking brake is easy to reach. As another simplified feature, the parking brake can be adjusted inside the car, just by turning a screw. Both the manual and automatic transmissions have the shift lever floor mounted and each is equally easy to shift. The four-speed, especially, is an excellent shifter because of the location to the tunnel. The Pinto has a short-throw shift that is firm and slides into gear with a clean motion. It feels better than the rather long, mushy stick we experienced on some models of the Vega.

Driving is interesting, because it's similar to an import, but still has all the inherent feelings of an American machine, just as the Vega does. Steering is light and responsive. Generally, the Pinto steering is close to neutral, but a shade on the understeer side. Handling is competent, all anyone, even a hot shoe driver, could want from a basic suspension. We pushed the Pinto through some hard corners and never encountered any irrational antics. Driving both the 1,600cc with four-speed manual and the 2,000cc with an automatic, we found the car with the bigger engine and automatic to be equal to the lighter version, and somewhat better in certain situations. As we learned from Howard Freers, chief engineer for the Pinto, the spring rates are slightly stiffer to accommodate the heavier 2-liter engine and heavier automatic transmission, so besides more power, that version of the car tended to hug the road better in some corners.

The biggest and most pleasant surprise of all with the Pinto was when we climbed into the back seat and sat down. There is all kinds of great rear seat legroom. Whether the front bucket seats are all the way forward or all the way back, there is still knee room, even for the tall ones.

Brakes are responsive and showed little tendency to fade, even with four-wheel drums. Stopping was straight and the cars were easy to keep under control, in line, during several panic stops from varying speeds.

It seems fashionable to compare any new American compact with the Volkswagen, or the leading import as some like to call it. AMC did it with the Gremlin, Chevy is doing it with the Vega, and Ford is doing it with the Pinto. But, as you may have noticed in this review, the most frequent and logical comparison seems to be with the Vega or the Gremlin. And, when all three cars meet head-on in the market, that's probably where the true comparison will take place. The VW will go merrily on its way.