Friday, August 28, 2015

Riding Across the Country In the Back of a Pinto Station Wagon

The Ford Pinto is widely regarded as one of the worst cars ever made. According to Wikipedia (which is correct more than 64.8% of the time) the Pinto made the list of "The 50 Worst Cars of All Time," and "The Ugliest Cars of the Past 50 Years." Not a lot of love there.

The Pinto had a reputation for exploding if it got in a rear end collision. That's not a feature most people want in an automobile.

And, just in case the regular Pinto wasn't ugly enough, Ford decided to make a station wagon version of the Pinto. (For those of you too young to remember what a station wagon looks like, think of a Subaru Outback, except three feet lower to the ground and 17 times uglier.)

For some unknown reason, my grandparents bought a Ford Pinto station wagon. (Did Grandpa buy it on a dare? Did he win it at a poker game? Was his bank giving them away as a prize for opening a new savings account? I really don't know.)

What I do know is that, after owning it for a short time, Grandpa decided he didn't want to own it anymore. Unfortunately, my Mom decided that she did want to own it. I'm not sure if Grandpa sold the car to Mom or if he just gave it to her. Either way, we were getting a Pinto station wagon! (I was very enthusiastic in my indifference.)

There was one big problem with this proposed change in Pinto station wagon ownership: Grandpa lived in Virginia, and we lived in Idaho. So, Grandpa came out to Idaho for a visit in his van. (He could have saved a lot of hassle if he had brought the Pinto with him when he came. But, he had no desire to drive that car across the country.)

When his visit was over, Grandpa loaded up our family and took us back to Virginia with him in his van. (It was a nice 1970's van, with a bed, several seats, and a rockin' 8-track stereo!) We spent some time vacationing in Virginia. But, when the vacation was over, we would have to drive back across America to Idaho in the Pinto station wagon.

There were five of us that needed to make the trip back to Idaho, me, my Mom, my brother John, my sister Lynette, and a high school friend of my sister who, for some unfathomable reason, made the trip with us.

The Pinto station wagon had four seats. Let's do the math here. That's five people and four seats. Something's got to give. That would be me. As the youngest of the five of us, it was left to me to ride in the very back of the station wagon. (I wasn't the shortest of the five of us. That would have been my Mom. But, since she was the adult and I was 12 years old, she assumed that she should drive.)

Here's a picture of my family from around the time of this trip.
From left: Dad, John, Lynette, me, and Mom.
(My Dad didn't go with us; he stayed to work on the farm.)
I was surprised I couldn't find any pictures from our vacation to Virginia.
I was not surprised I couldn't find any pictures of the Pinto station wagon. (No one liked that car.)

Just to be clear, when I say "the very back of the station wagon," I don't mean the back seat. I mean the section between the back seat and the hatchback door.

Now, before you go thinking about how much room there was in the back of a station wagon, let me remind you that the Pinto was considered a compact car, and the Pinto station wagon was much more compact than most station wagons. (In this case, "compact" is another word for "small.") The "very back" section that I was relegated to was wider than it was deep. That is to say there was more room from the driver side to the passenger side than there was from back seat to back door.

Obviously, there were no seat belts in the back of the Pinto station wagon. Back in 1978 the laws and attitudes toward seat belt use weren't as strict as they are today. (If a child were to be seen riding in the back of a station wagon like that today, chances are someone would call the police.)

I had two ways to get into the back of the Pinto station wagon. Usually I would get in the car and climb over the back seat in order to wedge myself into my riding spot. But, sometimes someone would open the back hatch so I could climb in that way.

To get out of the car I had to wait. I either had to wait for someone to open the back hatch to let me out, or I had to wait for my sister and her friend to get out of the back seat so I could climb over it to escape. It was a bit claustrophobic.

My Mom was in the driver seat, my sister and her friend were in the back seats, and my brother was in the front passenger seat. He sat there as the navigator, which is a good thing because if he hadn't been there my Mom may have driven us to Nova Scotia in her attempt to get us to Idaho. (At one point she actually got Indianapolis and Cheyenne mixed up.) It's a good thing John was in the front seat with her.

At one point, though, my brother John felt sorry for me, took pity, and took a turn in the back of the Pinto station wagon. It only lasted for a couple of hours. John was 16 years old and much taller than me. It was very difficult for him to fold himself into that small space at the back of the car. So, he spent the rest of the trip up front and I spent the rest of the trip in the back. (Near the end of the trip John fell asleep and Mom used that opportunity to get turned around and drive back toward Virginia for an hour. He really was needed in the front.)

It was a long drive, well over 2,000 miles. I squished myself in the back of that Pinto station wagon over and over and over again. I wasn't back there by myself, either. Most of the luggage was on the luggage rack on top of the car, but some of it was in the back with me. It was a long, strange trip.

Eventually we made it to Idaho, and I was able to forever escape from the back of the Pinto station wagon. I'm not sure what, if anything, Mom paid for that stupid car, but it wasn't worth it. We drove it around for a couple of years until one day, as my brother was driving the car in our small hometown, the engine burst into flames.

It was a fitting end for one of "The 50 Worst, Ugliest Cars Ever Made."

1 comment:

  1. I remember the back seats feeling like you were sitting on a "Toilet Seat". It didn't have much leg room but if I remember right I did sit behind Mom. She had the seat pushed closer to the dash board because of her short legs...