Hatchback Survivor: 1978 Ford Pinto Runabout

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So uncool it’s cool again. That’s what you get with this 1978 Pinto Runabout Hatchback, which we learned about thanks to a tip from Gunter Kramer. It’s located in San Andreas, CA (hopefully not on the fault, or you’d better get there quickly to collect it). The price on craigslist is $9500, and the listing will be up as long as the car is available.

This one has been in the same ownership for thirty years, and the invitation is simple: “Come and see the car in person.” Were this 1987, you’d probably still remember the stories about these—wheezy engine, limited reliability, blow up when hit from behind. But that’s a long time ago, and now, it’s much easier to fetishize these second-tier collectibles precisely because so few survived of the nearly 200,000 produced for this model year.

You can’t say this one’s not a looker. The half-vinyl roof (GM put the vinyl on the back half, which makes this Ford interesting), full wheel covers, body accent spears, and green-green everywhere compel the eye. The super-large rear greenhouse hatch is probably going to bake you in the summer, but what the heck. It looks pretty cool, too. The fact that the 4-cylinder mill is backed up with a four-speed at least means you’ll be able to get all you can out of the rear-wheel-drive layout. Yes, RWD. That should be considered when you’re ranking this one as a collectible. I certainly prefer this layout to front-drivers. This car is said to run well, but note the generally sparse nature of the description and prepare a list of questions before you call the lister, who is acting on behalf of the current owner.

The paint looks good, though there’s no mention of its originality. The interior is mostly tip-top, perhaps attributed to the clock showing just 68,000 miles. Even the weatherstripping looks good, though it often dries and cracks in warm climates. The engine bay could use some cleaning up, but that’s alright—it gives the next owner some place to add value. One potential problem if you want to keep the car in state (Cali) is that it will need to be smogged every other year. The seller says it was recently done, but he knows, apparently, that there needs to be a fresh inspection that is the seller’s responsibility, which is why he promises another will be done. But you buy the car, and two years from now, it’s up to you to get it through. Might be no problem, might be an issue. You’ll find out in 2025. In the meantime, you’ll look awesome chugging up to the burger night for cruise-ins, and you’ll do it while having spent less than the five figures demanded of almost any other collector car in the market these days.

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TNMember

    Russ wrote this one up almost exactly one year ago, at that time on Craigslist for $7500. My comment from then still applies:

    “Looks like a well-kept example. Period-correct colors, inside and out. The 4-speed is a bonus with me. I’d walk past lots of cars at Cars & Coffee to take a look at this Pinto, and to talk to the owner.”

    Brian is right, not too many turnkey-ready good-condition collector cars available for less than five figures.

    And, no need to discuss the trite gas tank issue, it doesn’t apply to this example…..

    Like 24
  2. Big C

    Just a side note. Chevy trucks, back in the 70’s, also had “gas tank issues.” That never gets mentioned in their write ups.

    Like 11
    • DON

      They really didnt, it was all staged by NBC . Hit hard enough and just right, anything can catch fire in a crash, but NBC put a device in the tank to make it blow up when the truck was hit.

      Like 6
      • nlpnt

        There were documented cases of the saddlebag gas tanks exploding in actual car crashes, but no footage of it happening so some bright spark of a producer got the idea to make sure it happened. Not a good idea, and it led the entire Dateline franchise to turn even harder to all-murder stories, all the time (dragging ABC’s now long-gone 20/20 down that path with it). Still, that 1) shouldn’t absolve GM of all blame and 2) doesn’t mean saddlebag tanks are at least less-worse than putting them in the cab as had been done with pickups before, going back to the ’30s.

        Like 4
    • Yblocker

      Indeed, GMs saddle mount gas tanks were an issue, a bigger issue than the Pinto. The only thing worse than mounting a fuel tank behind a flimsy fender, would be to hang it on the tailgate. I was working at a GM dealer in 97, the issue resurfaced, and GM dodged yet another recall, instead they offered owners of those trucks a $2500 voucher towards a trade in on a new truck. Ford fixed the Pinto, GM did nothing.

      Like 1
      • Pnuts

        Actually GM made a deal with Big Brother. NHTSA took them to court and they made a deal. They showed how many lives could potentially be saved by recalling/upfitting the trucks with tank shields and said instead we’ll install daytime running lights on all our vehicles beginning with 94 model yr. That model supposedly saved many more lives. GM assumed DRL was a done deal anyway as Canada had already passed it and there was serious talk here. The law didn’t pass here but starting with the 94 model yr we had DRL as standard on GM vehicles. That’s why the trucks weren’t recalled.

        Like 0
  3. Troy

    I guess I’m still stuck in the late 80s when it comes to these things I used to buy them at abandoned car auctions at tow yards for $5-$25 dollars and I would sell the engine or transmission for $75-$125 in the little nickel paper then scrap the rest, some I would get running and sell for $500 so to see them hitting almost $10k I just can’t bring myself to pay that much. But it will be a good little car for someone

    Like 6
  4. Robert Levins

    That’s right, Chevy trucks from the 70’s&80’s had “Side Impact” gas tank explosions, because the tanks were on the outside of the frame. They fixed it after a lot of lawsuits. NOW, this Pinto is a little gem, should go to a new owner who wants to KEEP IT. Enjoy it, and if you want to add some more power, put on a turbocharger, a simple one. But leave the rest original, I would. These are fun little cars and if well maintained will give you a lot of enjoyment. Good luck to all.

    Like 8
  5. Michelle RandStaff

    Incredibly cheap transportation. Where’s all those folks complaining about new car prices?

    Oh, not to mention, it’s cute!

    Like 7
    • Pnuts

      This is over 4 times its original value. How many other late 70s vehicles are worth 4 times their value in original unrestored condition?

      Like 1
      • Yblocker

        P.O.S. Vega’s seem to be

        Like 0
  6. Grant

    The 2.3 four was a good little engine, esp with the four speed. I knew a guy who put a 302 into one. His logic was that if the Mustang II could have one, so could he. I tried to explain that the front ends were not the same, he said he didn’t need to be told how to do mechanical things by some “smug fancy engineer”. He added that I wasn’t even a mechanical engineer, but an electrical one. Fair enough, but I still told him it was going to be a handful on the road, esp around a curve. I was right, but he would never admit to it. He drove it as a daily for several years until, sure enough, a curve and he didn’t get along, and that was that. He lived to tell the tale, but spent several weeks in traction. He did admit that it was pretty painful. I had to bite my tongue as he was my wifes cousin. Nice little cars, but the MPG wasn’t all that much better then say, a slant six Dodge Dart. That was much more of a car for not all that much more money. I think people bought these out of brand loyalty and after the first gArab gas shock, people were desperate to get into something smaller.

    Like 4
  7. rosseaux

    I associate turquoise with 1958 rather than 1978 (which I recall being an avocado green period), but BF featured a Pinto wagon in this same tone not too long ago, so it must have been fairly common. I’m not sure I’d want this as a daily driver, but it would sure turn heads–in good ways and bad–at the auto show.

    Like 2
    • Pnuts

      Yea. People would turn their heads so you couldn’t see them laughing 😂 😂

      Like 0
  8. Pnuts

    Put a Coyote in it. Should outrun everything but a Roadrunner.

    Like 0
  9. PRA4SNW

    If you gotta have a Pinto Runabout, then why not this nice one?

    Like 1
  10. Mario

    I really like these cars and the all glass door is a hard-to-find accessory/ I’ve had two of these in my lifetime. A green 72 wagon 4 cylinder/Automatic when I was in the service and a dark blue 78 cruisin wagon 4 cylinder/4 speed later on. Both were great daily drivers, low maintenance and good gas mileage. I wouldn’t mind having another one. Would make a great daily that I can take to the Cars and Coffee.

    Like 0

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