Polluting Pony: 1978 Ford Pinto Wagon

By Nathan Avots-Smith

Just because the color is minty fresh doesn’t mean this Pinto wagon is clean! Its Fort Collins, Colorado-based seller is letting it go because it won’t pass local emissions tests; guess I won’t be picking it up and bringing it home to California, either. If you live somewhere with looser smog rules, you can find this pint-size grocery getter on Hemmings for $3,950.

Here’s the dirty little bugger in question, a 2.3-liter inline four good for 88 galloping ponies in ’78. In case you’re upset that this car doesn’t have the optional V6, don’t be—the upgrade was good for a gain of all of two horsepower (although it also boosted torque by a not-as-insignificant 25 lb-ft). The cause for the emissions failure is unclear; the seller notes that all original equipment is intact, although they state that the idle seems a little fast. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a four-speed stick.

Inside, things look very clean, with the color-coordinated turquoise vinyl-and-nylon interior exhibiting remarkably little wear and tear. The odometer shows just under 50K, and while it comes with a mileage exempt title and the seller can’t verify that it’s never rolled over, the condition of this interior tells me it hasn’t.

This is a really cute little wagon, and I bet it wouldn’t take much to get it running just right once more. Failing that, you could go the swap route—the 2.3-liter four was long-lived, even seeing turbo duty in such cult collectibles as the Mustang SVO, Merkur XR4TI, and Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. That would really leave a fresh aftertaste!

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  1. John M.

    Here in Massachusetts, when cars turns 15 years old, they become exempt from the smog checks but are still mandated to under go the annual safety inspection. For a Liberal state, the smog rules here are pretty lenient. The little Pinto Wagon would have no problem finding a home here.

    • Big Mike

      In Missouri if the car or truck is older than 20 years or made before 1990, the emission test is not required, and in certain counties are they required, usually the counties in the rural area are not required.
      So all of my classic cars don’t require emission testing.
      What an ugly color!!!!!

      • Brakeservo

        Hey BIg Mike – that’s an interesting rule, older than 20 years or made before 1990 you say. Were there any cars built before 1990 that aren’t older than 20? I’d like to see that!

    • John T

      I am also in Massachusetts and can verify that John M. is absolutely right about the 15-year smog rule. Any vehicle that is 15 years or older is exempt from the emissions test so for 2017, model years 2002 and older are exempt. On January 1, 2018 model years 2003 and older will be exempt. From what I can see, the rear wheel drive could be a problem in the snowy winters that we have in Massachusetts. The other problem is that the price seems quite a bit steep but I wonder if that is negotiable?

  2. Mike

    When I was a kid, the doctor’s examination room was painted that color. Since I went to the doctor because I was sick or queasy, this brings back bad memories.

  3. geomechs

    When my brother was posted at Littleton, he had to take his late 70s VW Rabbit for a smog check. It passed easily but failed because it didn’t have all the smog equipment the manual said it was supposed to have. He showed the inspection certificate and report from California but that didn’t matter; he did NOT have the perscribed equipment. After a year and a half of bantering back and forth they decided to allow it and gave the green light. A month later he moved to Las Cruses NM.

    Fast idle? This is telling me that the motor has a vacuum leak, quite likely the EGR. A full tuneup and engine analysis should help them find the problem…

    • King Al

      Spray some carb cleaner at carb base, and at intake gaskets. If RPM picks up momentarily, you’ve found your vacuum leak.

      • GP Member

        I use water in a spray bottle and listen for the suction noise. I did use carb. cleaner for years until that spark came out of nowhere and PUFF. I got the fire out before the car and shop went, That was the last time.

    • Brakeservo

      What an interesting statement “passed easily but failed.” Hmmm, sounds like too many high school graduates today!

      • geomechs

        It does sound a little strange doesn’t it? But that’s the way it was; my brother’s car passed the exhaust emission test but still failed because the equipment wasn’t in place. Truth be known, the car was bought new off the lot and no tampering was ever done. It just happened to be one of those cars that was actually built in Germany and not in America. But California gave it the green light because the exhaust was clean; CARB didn’t seem to care about the equipment; it just wanted the exhaust to be within spec.

  4. stumptowngeo

    It’s a great looking little wagon. I would use it to go get the mint chocolate chip, or pistachio ice cream that it makes me crave every time i see it. …On second thought, i think the color would have to change or i would end up being as big as it is.

  5. dm

    Clean little car. It would be nice to have more info on the inspection failure. This could be something as easy as an air filter that was overdue for maintenance or a stuck PCV valve. Maybe a vacuum hose is leaking or has come off. There are far fewer things on pre-1980 cars that can mess up.

  6. Charlie

    Whoever buys this needs to refer to it as a Minto

    • Eric Hare

      I would, but I don’t want to move to Minto ND.

      • Neil

        I have a cousin that lives in Minto. Grafton still has a Piggly Wiggly !

  7. Ed P

    This is a pre-computerized car. Tracking down the cause of the failure would be time consuming unless you are lucky.

    • wuzjeepnowsaab

      Not really that tough at all. I’m speaking as someone who lives in Colorado and has taken a great many carburetor equipped Full Size Jeeps through emissions…if you’ve ever tried to smogtest one of those elephants you know what that’s like.

      I bet a read of the etest results and a few hours max would get this Pinto to pass

  8. George B

    I would assume that in high altitude Colorado, air pollution is a significant issue, and this is why they have more stringent standards.

  9. gaspumpchas

    Tuneup, a tank of premium gas and a can of sea foam- I bet it will pass emissions. daughter lived in Fort Collins,and I got her Nissan to pass….could also be a sticking EGR Valve. Good Luck.

  10. LAB3

    If the price where a bit lower you could drop a Windsor under the hood, paint a catchy name like Snot Blossom on it and take it to the drag strip!

  11. Paul

    Unfortunately I know these cars too well……It is my belief that all Pinto’s are junk, they were junk when they were brand new and they are still junk now. The only other car that I have had that was as poor as the pinto was a 78 mustang ll. There are so many other cool fords that you can buy for the same $3950.

  12. Rodney

    My mother had a big General Electric refrigerator this exact same color. If I bought this car, every time I opened the door and the light came on, I would expect a glass of milk…..

  13. Rob from Texas

    Seems like cars, trucks and vans in the Sears service/corporate fleet were this color. Maybe even GTE had cars this color at one point as well.

  14. Tim

    Smog inspections on a 1978 is ridiculous. In my home state of Louisiana if the vehicle is more than 20 years old a smog inspection is no longer required. I currently live in Texas and the regulation here is any vehicle over 24 years of age. The only thing checked in both of these states is just the basic functions.

  15. grant

    So you’ve said before. I think we all understand where you stand on Mexican immigration, now can we let this be about cars and keep politics out of it? Please n thanks. With that said, almost 4k for a PINTO that won’t pass smog? Really? SMH…

  16. Chris Kennedy

    I am liking it! I have fond memories of driving a Pinto through a raging snow storm from Lewiston / Auburn Maine to Calais! It got us there with a lot of concentration on our part!

  17. MSG Bob

    Every time I see all these comments about smog tests, I thank my lucky stars I live in Indiana. Not only are there no emissions requirements (or at least no testing for same), but we no longer have state inspection of any kind! Of course, the down side of this is that there are some cars out there that are actually deadly to their owners and others… Call it Darwinism in action.

  18. Neal

    I love the color. One of my favorite stock colors for International Scouts was the mint green available in ’79.

  19. duaney Member

    A strong possibility on the emissions failure is simply bad valve guide seals from old age. The OHC design pumps a ton of oil up there to lubricate the cam, so the seals have to be top notch.

  20. Brakeservo

    You raise a concern about people from Mexico without any emissions requirements – gee, what do you want to do? Keep people from eating beans?? Oh, my wife is from Mexico and she’s had no emissions problems either that I’m aware of!

  21. Scott Brown

    I had a Pinto “coupe” in this color: Medium Jade, if I recall.

  22. Howard A Member

    Wisconsin also. In the 4 adjacent counties of Milwaukee, and Milwaukee County) need emission testing until 20 years. Crooked as heck, don’t get me started on it, please. This a great car. I’m sorry Paul has such a negative feeling about these, it’s just the same old thing, one person likes something, the other hates it. My old man used to buy these wrecked in the 80’s and 90’s, and have them rebuilt. I’ve dealt with many Pinto’s, and, for what they were intended, they were good cars. Have to be an automatic for me, rowing thru the gears at every stop in an under powered car, is a PITA. I mean, it’s not a 396 Chevelle 4 speed. Great car, tho, I like it a lot.

  23. Double R car

    Very strict smog regulations in California indeed. Any car built after 1973 requires a smog check, and must pass or it can’t be registered. Tough for us shade tree collectors!

  24. CaptShindig

    I live in RI. Any car over 25 yrs old is exempt from any inspection if registered as an Antique. My 65 Fairlane hasn’t been inspected since I bought it back in 1987!
    And only $5 per year to register, it’s the best bargain around!

  25. George

    my mom had on of these with a 302 in it…dark green.


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