I have owned a lot of cars over the years. I just replaced my very reliable Toyota Prius with a newer car last week. As I was driving to work this morning, I was enjoying the newness of the Lexus ES 350 and still learning how to use the toys scattered throughout the car. I began to reflect upon my numerous cars over the years. By far, the most memorable was also the worst that I ever owned, a 1973 Ford Pinto.
I got the Pinto in very used condition in 1983. I was desperate to buy and the seller was even more desperate to sell. It had about 30,000 miles on it and the body was in good shape (come to think of it, so was mine!). The car had few redeeming features other than keeping down the mosquito population due to the unrelenting blue smoke being expelled from the rusted tail pipe. It also had a rear window defroster that kept your hands warm as you were pushing it in the cold weather.
Soon after I got the car, it began to fall apart as the spit and baling wire that was holding the undercarriage together began to uncoil. The side mirror fell off and there was no way short of superglue to reattach it. Early 80s superglue is worthy of its own rant, but maybe later. The rearview mirror also fell off and it was replaced with an off the shelf mirror from Walmart. The replacement mirror had a digital clock on it and that was the only instrument that worked on the entire car. The speedometer was in a permanently fixed position of 85 mph, or in Pinto-speak, Fantasyland.
Once I got the car up over 60 MPH and the front hub caps flew off due to the centrifugal force on the unbalanced wheels. At an underwhelming 63 horsepower, getting the car up to that speed for any sustained time was quite a feat. It was a bone jarring, teeth chattering, filling falling out type of ride. Of course, you had to be going down a steep hill for this to happen.
The brakes on the car gave a new definition to the phrase “not working.” You had to press them all the way to the floor as the master cylinders did not work and the fluid leaked out with the transmission and oil to form a rather interesting puddle wherever you parked.
The starter went out. They had a choice of either pulling the motor or the transmission to replace the starter. They pulled the transmission, but in the process, it put too much pressure on the motor and the motor mounts broke.
The horn went out and it would not pass inspection. I went to a junk yard and pulled a horn of a rusting Pinto and put it on my rusting Pinto. The button for the horn would not work so I replaced it with the plastic lid of a tennis ball canister and a doorbell that I got from Walmart. When I pressed the button, I half expected it to go “Ding Dong! Avon Calling!” Instead, it merely moaned like a heroine addict wallowing in his own vomit.
The tires were only tires in the academic sense of the word. They were round, had been made out of rubber, and occasionally held air. It is amazing how much thread can show through a tire before it finally collapses.
The fuel line sprung a leak once and I replaced it with a plastic tube held in place with a “c” clamp and duct tape.
The handles that let you roll down the windows (necessary because the AC and long ago given up the ghost) were broken and I replaced them with a cheap pair of vice grips. You had to move them from one door to another, depending on which window you wanted down or up.
The windshield wipers were about as reliable as your basic street corner meth addict. The wipers made the cycle from up and back down about once a minute; with a shimmy reminiscent of a puppy that I once saw that had cerebral palsy. Both were sad images. The wipers would move up and down, shaking all the way.
The door locks did not work. The caps that screwed onto the mechanism had long since gone missing. If you were on the inside of the car, you could not get them down. If you were outside the car, you had better hoped that no one accidentally pressed the bolt down because the key did not work the lock. I never locked the car, but then, anyone desperate to steal a Pinto deserves what he gets.
The handle to open the door broke on the inside of the door so to open the driver’s side door, you had to use the vice grips to roll down the window and reach out and use the outside door handle to get the door open.
At about 45,000 miles, the motor began spewing west Texas crude like a John Wayne movie (The Hellfighters) and the transmission leaked almost as fast as you pour it in. I only put a gallon of gas at a time in the car. I did this for several reasons: If you put in more than 2 gallons, the fuel would leak and the extra weight of the gas was not good for the suspension. I could not afford much more than a gallon at a time and in case the Pinto had one of its exploding episodes (as the were wont to do) I wanted a fighting chance since it took time to use the vice grips to roll down the window and reach around for the door handle outside the car. However, for each gallon of gas in the tank, the car went up exponentially in value.
The radio – never worked. Never figured out why. The car made so much noise that you would never have been able to hear it anyway. The motor was so underpowered that to turn on the radio would have slowed the car from a brisk walk to a crawl.
The signal lights would work providing you moved the signal stalk up and down as you were turning the non-powered steering wheel. Mostly it was easier to get a ticket!
I don’t recall ever getting a ticket in the car, although I was stopped numerous times, although never for speeding. I think the cops just felt sorry for me and let me go, knowing that I was destined to perish in flames since it was a Pinto.
I finally sold the car a year or so after I got it. I made a deal with a car lot on Garland Road in Garland, Texas sight unseen for $500. The car died for the last time about 20 feet from the dealer’s lot. I pushed it onto the lot to claim my $500 prize. At first the car lot dealer did not want to fulfill the deal but after hearing about the number of times that the car had left me stranded, he relented and I was able to drive off the lot with my second worst car that I ever owned, a 1979 Ford Fairmont.