Ford Pinto Wagon – my first car

My folks owned a Ford Pinto wagon that eventually came to me. The story about how I got it and what happened to it are lost to my late teen/early 20s memory gaps. The picture in this post is the closest I could find. I don’t even remember what year the car was or what year I got rid of it.

But that Pinto broke in a way that I very much remember.

I was driving this car in the late 70s and early 80s. At that time, the Pinto had a bad reputation. There was a lot of press about how they would explode if rear ended and Ford was portrayed a company choosing profits over people’s lives. In 1978, Ford had recalled over a million Ford Pinto’s and Ford’s CEO had been fired. (Note: the Pinto’s reputation as an example of the evil of business has been disputed.) But at the time, people only knew the sensational news reports and everyone asked about it. I would mumble something about this being the Pinto WAGON model and they didn’t have any problems.

I didn’t care. I had a car that was my own. And it never blew up so, you know, that’s good.

When I went off to college and my folks moved to Texas, I had the car full time. The summer between sophomore and junior year, I was back in my hometown. And my parents weren’t. It was a great summer. No arrests or permanently regrettable actions where taken. A buddy and I lived above a local deli in a converted carriage house.

But there was some extra thrill-riding with that car as the Pinto had the same part break twice. The failure and how I handled it, looking back as a parent and old person, make me shake my head in astonishment that my friends and I are still alive.

To move the front seats to adjust for the driver’s height, there was a mechanical lever. There was a bracket fastened to the floor and the lever moved a solid metal prong into one of the adjustment points in the bracket. There is a video at the bottom of this post that shows how this works.

That prong broke off the driver’s seat. Meaning the front seat slid freely forward and backward as physics demanded. After driving it like this for a couple of weeks (what was I thinking?), I decided to pull the seat and see what I could do. My still teenage brain decided that swapping the broken piece with the passenger seat would be fine. I, as the driver, needed the seat that would stay in one place.

The end results was that my friends had to ride with one foot up on the dash to hold the seat back. When the broken piece was on the driver side, I knew when I was going to brake and could brace myself and the seat. But my passengers didn’t know. I don’t remember how many times, when I hit the brakes, my passengers went hurtling forward as if in an astronaut g-force test seat.. They all learned quickly to keep that foot up on the dash. For the record, there were no serious injuries.

About a month later, the driver seat broke again. Now I had two broken adjustment mechanisms. And I, finally!, decided to get replacements and fix both seats.

My friends were very happy about this.

My Pinto mechanism worked like this. Except that it only had the mechanism on one side and there wasn’t three teeth, there was only one. In other words, no redundancy. The above video is about a Subaru. Note that my memory could be faulty so Ford Pinto fans, please educate me.

One response to “Ford Pinto Wagon – my first car”

  1. Back in those days, I hated Ford Pintos-boring, slow, uncool cars for uncool people. (No offense, John. I drove a Chevy Chevette!) Today, I’d relish the site of a rare Pinto cruising past, especially a Pinto wagon with (fake) wood grain!

    Great story, John.


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