Tuesday, January 16, 2018

For them, the Pinto is no pariah

The Pintos' paint jobs screamed in their 1970s-hued glory. The owners mingled with one another between the rows of cars, set on the lawn, yards from the more beloved Mustangs, 1940s roadsters and muscle cars. One had leaned a warning sign against a white model, striped with red and blue, which read:

"Caution! Pinto owners can be dangerous! Please do not touch! Fines can be costly."

An estimated 50 Pinto owners from as far away as California and Pennsylvania came to Dearborn, Mich., showed off their prized cars amid hundreds of Ford's more popular and elegant models at the annual Ford employee car show Friday. The lovers of the often-mocked cars and station wagons were participating in the fourth annual Pinto Stampede, a three-day celebration of the vehicles, held for the first time in the state where the auto industry was born.

"They're cute. They're unique. They're sexy. They're a breed all their own. They're an attention-getter. I get stopped by people, because they have a Pinto story," said Jim Smutek, who was showing off his orange 1976 Pinto coupe, which he bought recently for $8,700.

The 48-year-old had collected 1965-1966 Mustangs, but then decided to embrace the ugly ducking of the auto world.

"It's always been in the back of my mind to get into the Pinto stuff," he said.

Cary Simmerman, 50, drove from Kalamazoo in the blue 1977 Pinto his mother bought in 1977 with 477 miles on it; it now has about 434,000 miles. He estimated that he's invested only $2,000 in the car in the 30 years since she gave it to him — and that includes oil changes.

He explained why he owns three of them now: "It's irritating, like me. Everyone hates it."

The lack of love directed to what now seems to be a Ford stepchild stems from its less-than-stellar history. The Dearborn automaker recalled 1.5 million Pintos in 1978 after more than two dozen people were killed in rear-end collisions that resulted in gas tanks behind the solid rear axles exploding.

The Pinto Stampede is the brainchild of Norm Bagi, 45, of New York City, who got the idea after noticing how gaga people got about Mustangs, the iconic car celebrating its 50th birthday this year.

He refuses to let people's Pinto ribbing get to him.

"We have a tough skin and we mostly see it as ignorance. It's people making comments who don't know a lot about the car. They know the myth of what it was.

"The car was not as dangerous as they portrayed it to be. It was a good story to sell, so it sold. Most cars of the day had a design with the gas tank (at) the rear."

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