Transitions can be awkward, especially if you don’ really have that much of a say in the circumstances that caused it in the first place. For further proof of this, one need look no further than the myriad of upheavals that literally upended and reformed the American automotive industry throughout the 1970s. At the start of the decade, horsepower was king, bigger was better, if you won on Sunday you sold on Monday and there was nobody that could sell cars to Americans like the Big 3 (and AMC… kinda…). At the time, no one could foresee the havoc that the oil crises, the push for pollution control and the arrival in force of the Japanese makers would have. Or could they?
While the above outlook of the American auto industry may seem correct, it’s not entirely fair. Those involved did see the coming demand for smaller, cheaper cars, and may or may not have anticipated some competition on this front from Japan. The first generation of American “compacts” were getting long in the tooth, and the design departments were already working on the first of a new generation of smaller cars, the “subcompacts”. In fact, both Ford and GM introduced their respective subcompacts at about the same time. For the first time, in 1971, American buyers were offered a choice of the Ford Pinto or the Chevy Vega to satisfy their needs for a small, cheap car. Oh, ironically AMC beat them all with the Gremlin in 1970.
Now, anyone who knows automotive history will immediately cringe. This is something of a “Devil’s Choice” and a definite case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” when it comes to car buying options. Why? Well, none of those nameplates have particularly strong cachet in automotive circles. Indeed, the names of Pinto and Vega do not resonate loudly in the halls of automotive history. Well, actually, they do, but not in a good way. These two cars proved that making a small car didn’t mean making a car in the same way as a big car, but smaller. They proved that small cars had to be approached differently, but it was a “learn by doing”-type of lesson. They also proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Americans weren’t going to stay loyal to the Big 3 when they offered inferior products with less content and poorer fit and finish that foreign makes. That was a harsh lesson, and one that can still be said to have not been completely learned and digested.
These two cars, born into a changing automotive landscape and hampered by excessive government pollution and collision requirements never stood a chance at being great cars. However, they could have been “good” cars. Sadly, in so many ways, they weren’t. They were cheap to buy for a reason; they weren’t heavily built and were not overly durable. Given ‘70s metallurgy (which sucked), the lifespan of many of these “throwaway” cars was tragically short. In addition, there was little in the way of standard features, despite what the brochures of the day would say. Powered by anemic, smog-control-choked power plants (the name being somewhat cruelly ironic), the new subcompacts really had the odds stacked against them. However, they were also their own worst enemies in more significant and telling ways.
The Vega had a tendency to melt down; its innovative, light-weight aluminum engine literally couldn’t take the heat, resulting in all kinds of issues. The Pinto… well, it apparently had the unfortunate habit of exploding when poked it in the back end. (Insert rude joke here. It really does write itself, so I leave that to you…) Similar to how its namesake (and in fact all horses) has a tendency to startle easily and kick back when surprised from behind, the Pinto gained a reputation as a firetrap.
There were several well-publicised cases of Pintos catching fire in rear-end collisions. With time and objective analysis, it has been show that Pintos really weren’t any worse-off than their small-statured contemporaries in this regard. However, at the time, the harsh light of the media fell on these instances and the Ford Motor Company’s questionable ethics in dealing with recalls, leading to the eternal association of infernal death with the name “Pinto”. Even with Pinto jokes as thick as Bob Ross’s signature hairstyle, the little Ford managed to sell a lot of units, and it was a success in many ways.
Not only did the Pinto sell well, it was also a favourite with racers of all stripes. There are many Pintos that were converted to drag racers and track racers. However, the Pinto was also popular with model kit makers. Both AMT and MPC got in on the Pinto action early and stuck with it. In fact, MPC rode it right to the end (and beyond) with its Pony Express wagon. MPC stuck with the little Ford pony until at the restyle in 1977, although after that it was only Pinto-based drag cars for AMT.
The Pinto had two basic forms for kit makers (and prospective buyers) to choose from: a two-door “sedan” and a wagon. The “sedan” could also be had as a three-door, i.e. hatchback, and the wagon was eventually offered as a “mini-van” known as the Cruising Wagon. While not a great car, and certainly never a performer in any way, shape or form, the Pinto was at least a somewhat handsome car. It shared the same dorky, somewhat truncated appearance of all early hatchbacks, but wasn’t has “halved” looking as the Gremlin. With its podded headlights and “hair comb” grille, it looked competent enough. However, nothing can stay the same forever, and with the car’s original looks spoiled by the 5mph crash bumpers mandated by the Federal Government, Ford looked to 1977 to refresh the Pinto for the years to come.
Despite the many variations of Pinto model kits that were made, the non-race versions have been out of circulation for decades. No one has seen the MPC or AMT annuals since 1980 and 1977 respectively. That means that for anyone, like me, who wants to build a comprehensive loser-car museum in styrene is out of luck unless you have deep pockets to purchase some of these models on the second hand market. Thank goodness for Round 2, who stepped up to the plane a few years ago with their reissue of the Pony Express, giving diehard Pinto fans something to get excited about. At least, it seemed, we could get ourselves a Pinto wagon. “But imagine” we thought “how great it would be to get a hatchback too.” Coming back down to reality amid relentless releases and reissues of tri-Chevies and other muscle cars, we gave up, content with one Ford pony in our stable.
However, in 2019, the prayers of the Pinto faithful have been answered. Now, for the first time in over 40 years, we can once again lay our hands on a newly-produced 1977 Pinto three-door hatchback! What’s next, you ask? Who knows? I’m sure the devil is digging out his parka, toque and snow shovels, though, that’s for sure! So, how is this newest surprise from dustbin of car modelling history? Let’s strap in and find out. There’s no need to hold on though, after all, it is a Pinto!
In 1977, AMT had a certain style to their “annuals”. This consisted of a single colour background panel upon which a similarly coloured car was drawn, usually from the front three-quarters view. To the left was “the margin”; a box outlined in a complimentary colour containing the year. The boxes aren’t particularly dynamic; there’s none of the MPC craziness with wild fonts and kinetic custom decalling. In fact, the boxes are rather sedate, and almost “respectful” for lack of a better term.
The Round 2 reissue captures this perfectly, as they did on their ’77 Pacer and ’77 Ford Cruising Van. Just like the original, the box’s theme is “green”, and there’s a lightish lime green square for the majority of the background. On this is a front three-quarters shot of a predictably green Pinto. While the illustration is not particularly dynamic, is its oh-so-period, and looks like a piece of promotional art that was just superimposed on the box. There’s a lot of odd shine on the Pinto, likely the shiniest any Pinto actually ever was, and what little is shown of the interior is very generic and uninformative.
There are some interesting features on the outside of the Pinto, though! First, and most obvious, is the new nose. For ’77, Ford decided that it was time to give the Pinto a whole new look, without really having to do much. This was typical Big 3 thinking in the ‘70s, so they’re forgiven, in so far as they can be, for thinking that a new nose cap and tail lights would a new car make. (Heck, it was good enough to turn the rather uncomfortable styling of the ’76 T/A into the classic Smokey and the Bandit ‘77/78!) Thus, the ’77 Pinto’s biggest selling point was its new sporty visage! This consisted of extended, angled headlight pockets, twin parking lights and a smaller, less comb-like grille.
A lot of people don’t like that nose. It’s certainly clunkier and less clean than the original. However, it does do a better job of hiding the ridiculous 5 mph crash bumpers, and it does add some aerodynamic slope. To my eyes, it’s always looked like a mid-‘70s Camaro; podded headlights with small parking lamps inboard, and a V-shaped grille. Of course, I’m sure Camaro guys won’t agree, but it’s a disturbing similarity. When you consider it also somewhat mirrors the style of later Vegas, it’s even more bizarre. Still, that was the “new thing”, and it is right up in your face on the box.
You can also see the Styled Steel Wheels, which are proclaimed by the brochure as being “Very sporty”. Uh huh. Well, they’re different from the slot mags like the MPC had, although those would be just as legitimate. It’s also worth noting the “Runabout” script on the rear pillar. This means the model is an upmarket Pinto (such as it is) with the standard “third door”, i.e. Hatchback. Of course, the question is clearly “Does it have the amazing all-glass third door?” I guess we’ll have to wait and see…
There’s the usual “Retro Deluxe” badge that highlights some of the kit’s features, too. However, in a bit of foreshadowing, these aren’t all that impressive. It says the kit hasn’t been available since ’77 (okay, fine, that’s not really a feature…), that it includes all new decals, and it has vintage packaging. No kidding on the last one. Glad they pointed it out, because the design screams “I’m modern!”. Retreads… Basically, reading between the lines, it warns me that there’s less extensive work done on this kit than others. For instance, no mention is made of mould restoration or pad printed tires, sadly.
The one side of the box is typical AMT with a rear three-quarters shot of the Pinto, showing that it, sadly, doesn’t have the all-encompassing, much-hyped “all-glass third door”. It has the normal (nearly all-glass) hatchback instead. Not surprisingly, this is also how ‘75s and ’76 came. I know, right… who could have possibly guessed! Around the almost “pencil crayon-y” artwork are some standard features of the kit, like “Opening Hood”, “Authentic Interior”, “Complete Chassis Detailing” and “Realistic Tires”. It also says that the kit has “Famous AMT Quality and Detail from Bumper to Bumper”. Oh. Dear. Well… too late now, I’ve purchased it and opened it, so I can’t take it back. Seriously. That’s no less hilarious than Ford’s attempts at selling the Pinto to youthful buyers as exciting and sporty. There’s stretching the truth, then there’s out and out lying. The two examples I cite are much closer to the latter than the former.
The other side of the box, though, is only half retro. There’s a piece of art depicting the “Pony Power!” of the 4 cylinder engine. Given that you could actually get a V6 in ’77, you’d think they’d hype that up. Still, if the Overhead Cam engine, turning out 89 hp and a brutal 118 lb.ft of torque is your version of power, then the box copy doesn’t lie! Also on this side is a look at the new decal sheet. It’s very colourful, but I don’t really get it. There’s more to be said on this later, too. Finally, there’s a cross sell for the last ’77 AMT that the folks at Round 2 put out, the Cruising Van. I was hoping that the Pinto wouldn’t be quite as disappointing as that one. Well… hope springs eternal…
So, after all this, it’s time to see what’s in the box! Cracking open the brand new box and lifting off the top I found… less than I thought. In fact, the box was decidedly on the empty side. It reminded me of a potato chip bag. I guess the Pinto’s contents settled during shipping, and it must be packed by weight and not volume… Note that I didn’t cheat and look at the parts layout on the back of the box. I was going to buy this no matter what. However, I will admit that I was very, very underwhelmed. The ’77 Pacer had a lot of extra stuff in it because it was a customizing kit, I get that. However, I also have the AMT ’77 Monza, and it had a LOT more in the box, and it is the straight annual. This box, though… it feels like something was forgotten. There is a bag with the body, interior bucket and chassis all together, as well as two bags containing a few sprues of parts, as well as a chrome rack, the glass and a small bag of tires and tail lights (separated, but attached). There’s also a bag with the decals in it. Round 2 surely knows how to package decals!
Taking a look at everything, though, you can see why my reaction was one of mild anticlimax. Here’s a Pinto runabout after decades, but this is all we get? It’s like getting the Red Ryder only to shoot your own eye out a few minutes later! I guess we did, like Black Bart, get ours… A few things, though; the detail is not bad, but the kit is pretty simple. There are a lot of composite assemblies; for example, the exhaust and rear suspension and differential are all one piece. Mind you, the clearly new-after-’75 catalytic converter is a separate piece. Also, there are no custom pieces to make gassers or dragsters or street machines of any kind. That will disappoint some people for sure, although I personally don’t care, since I’m going to build it stock regardless.
There’s also Sweet FA in terms of underhood details; you get a battery and a rad. That’s it. There are not bottles or wires, and there’s not even a master cylinder for crying out loud! Of course, that’s not the worst of it: there aren’t even proper side walls/fender wells, for God’s sake! (You can insert the name of your deity of choice here. They should all know about this and bring their respective divine judgments down on AMT’s staff as required anyway.) I can’t help but think this was based on a promo, and the engine was an afterthought. It would sure make a lot of sense that way.
What blew me away, though, was how nice the engine looked! In the instructions, it shows it as being a very well detailed (but not quite correct) affair with numerous separate parts. It looks far better than MPC’s offering, as it at least looks like it is roughly right for the year it’s purporting to be! It seems a shame to put such a good engine, which has nice casting “texture” and all-separate accessories in such a bleakly underdetailed pit of an engine bay. You could put it on display beside the Pinto, I guess, and build the car as a curbsider. That’s a good idea. You could also chop off the transmission and throw it in the back seat, like many a junked example!
The chrome rack is very nice, and includes five wheel centres. Four are the up-market styled steel wheels. One is the super-base full wheel cover. I assume there’s one because originally the AMT Pintos of other years came with four, but the ’77 didn’t need that other section of the rack. I would really like to get my hands on a couple more so my brother could do one with the base wheels. Anybody want to throw me your spare hubcap/wheel?
Of course, it wouldn’t be an AMT kit (or an MPC, in a lot of cases) if there wasn’t a veritable litany of detail errors, omissions or over-inclusions. Thankfully (?) the ’77 Pinto is a typical paragon of annual-model cost-efficiency and gun-jumping/poor research! Here’s a rundown on at least what I already know is wrong.
- The bumpers are wrong. On the box lid, the front bumper is shown with a rubber strip, indicating it has the bumper group option. However, this only came with bumper guards, too, which aren’t shown. The back bumper is shown the same way. However, when you look at the plastic, it’s a different story. There are no bumper guards on the front, and hardly any noticeable “rubber” part. This is fine. Sadly, the rear bumper clearly has bumper guards. You can’t have it both ways! Thus, either you make guards for the front, or file of the ones at the back. Either way, you’re into a lot of work.
- The grille texture is a bit off. On the box top, it shows what appears to be a number of horizontally-oriented lines. The real grille is less pointed, and has a fine mesh. The kit part is actually close, but it has one too few rows of teeth, and is thus a bit coarse.
- The “runabout” script itself is a problem. I’ve not been able to find a picture of a ’77 with it. It’s not shown in the brochures, and it’s not on the few I’ve seen to be stock online. However, it was stock on the ’75 and ’76 bodies. Oh AMT! Your cheapness and lack of research is showing! I’m glad that’s a mistake; it would liekly have died sanding the seam right above it anyway…
- There could be some quibbling about the floor shifter, too. It looks like the T-handle for the automatic, but that could only be had with the 2.8L V6, according to the brochures. However, this is AMT moulding we’re talking about, so it might not be what it’s masquerading as!
Clearly, this is just the earlier annual reboxed and modded for the ’77 model year. Really, it’s annoying that it seems that they didn’t even try to get it right. But since they were basically doing the same thing Ford was (warming over last year’s leftovers), can you be too upset? There’s passable texturing on the seating’s cloth surface, and the carpet, too. The odd cover for the “spare well” is clearly reproduced. It’s not a surprise that there are also significantly large injector pin marks on the interior floor.
The tires were an acceptable disappointment. The tires on the ’77 Monza are the unacceptably arse-tastic plastic catastrophes that AMT liked to include in the ‘70s. They are half tires made from “that-which-can’t-be-glued”-ium, a rare element that seems, mercifully, to have been exhausted by the early ‘80s! These tires are vinyl, and the do have very, very faint letters on them. They are not pad printed however. This is a bit of a disappointment, as you could get white lettered tires on a Pinto. However, it would have been really nice to see the thin whitewalls that you could also have gotten. Now, if you look closely, you can see where there is a raised line close to the centre. This is legit for Pinto whitewalls, so I can at least give partial credit for that. While there’s nothing wrong with the tires, I feel they’re a bit of a wasted opportunity.
The glass is, of course, very clear, and oddly, there are two side windows for the door glass. This is very unusual for an American car kit – I can’t think of any other that has side windows as an option. The rear window is quite interesting, as it’s part of the single-piece glass installation, and I can’t help but foresee issues with it fitting. Let’s face it, this is an AMT, and alignment is NOT going to be perfect. It might be a good idea to cut the rear glass free and install it separately. Barring this, a good final dry fit with the rear hatch in place is recommended!
Instructions and Decals:
Old car model instructions are generally clear, except when they’re not. AMT and MPC both have this same problem. The Pinto’s instructions are very small, consisting of only 6 steps and being on a quarter-folded sheet. They are clearly based on the old annual instructions, although there are some good additions in the Paint Colors section; in particular, the list of exterior and interior colours is handy. I’m sure this is not part of the original kit; it’s too detailed. Except, of course, that it doesn’t tell what colour combos (interiors with exteriors) were available. Of course, none of the Pinto brochures I’ve found on line do either.
The instructions are clear and well rendered, but they are a bit odd. For one thing, they show the wheels being put together, but never actually being put on the car. They just show up in the final step. There’s no real indication of where or how they attach, other than in Step 2 where two axles are shown and there’s a note to “Locate Assembled Wheels”. The axels aren’t numbered, either. If you’re thinking they’re metal, think again. Oddly, they’re plastic. Seems cheap, and if you’ve got metal that will do, maybe swap it in.
Nowhere in the final assembly instructions does it give any indication of how the chassis is going to locate to the body. However, there’s no question the interior will locate to the chassis, since there are MASSIVE attachment posts. It really seems like something a promo would have, so I’m assuming that’s where they come from.
Now, if you’ve built a Round 2 Retro Deluxe reissue, you know one of the best parts is the reissued decal sheet. Normally, the decals have been improved or added too; the Pinto Cruising Wagon had a nice new sheet, and the ‘77 Ford Cruising Van sheet was redone to include the prototype striping scheme. So if, like me, you were excited to see if any of the Rallye graphics, or the “Starsky and Hutch” type stripe for the “Accent Stripe Group” had been included, then you’ll share my disappointment at the decals.
Many of the new decals are for “working” Pintos. There are lots of signs, including ones for brush sales, pizza delivery, vacuum sales/service and a record store. There are also some bold stripes in white and black, and some thinner ones in red. However, there are no instrumentation decals, no period-correct striping sets and not even tape stripes for the body. There IS a massively weird rainbow-ish coloured band, though.
This, I will admit, more than all the other failings of the kit, makes me disappointed in this model. There was such a great opportunity here, to really go to town on the Pinto and offer some never-before-had decals. There are a few of us who want to do up the Pintos like they were, in all their lame, stripey excess. There were packages that no one even remembers today that could have been immortalized. They could have done it like they did on their AMT ’76 Gremlin, with multiple colours of striping to allow a wide variety of period schemes to be represented.
Instead, we got pepperonis and brushes. Really? I’m sure someone thought that was a good idea, and I hate to rain on someone’s parade, but that is not what I expect from Round 2. The BRAT got all new, fancy striping and correct scripts, badges and instruments. I would have liked to have seen some of that energy and effort applied to the Pinto. On the box, it says “Bonus: All New Decals”. Well, that’s half right. They’re all new, but I don’t know that said newness is a bonus in this case. I’d trade it all for one legitimate stripe set. To matters worse, there’s no indication anywhere in the instructions as to how to use some of the striping, especially the rainbow one. That’s really a letdown.
The Pinto was Ford’s answer to a question that a lot of people started asking in the early ‘70s. However, it was a transitional car that had a lot of flaws. That being said, it was popular enough to survive until 1980, and a lot of the little rusting incendiary bombs choked the streets of North America for a good amount of the ‘80s, until they burned away or rusted to dust.
Given the importance of the Pinto, it’s not a surprise that so many kits of it were made. What’s surprising is how long they’ve been out of print! With this issue of the AMT Pinto, Round 2 has done what it can to get Pintos out there into the hands of those who want them. I’m generally a great fan of Round 2 and their efforts to repop old, esoteric and long-demanded (and even longer-ignored) subjects. I commend their efforts and encourage everyone who loves this stuff to support them. However, I have to say that in this instance, the model I got was far from the exciting homerun I was hoping for.
Despite the fact that this kit is simple and has a few parts, it is by no means for anyone of any less than moderate experience. I would not use this as a training aid or a “buddy project” for a new and more experienced modeller. I would not give this to someone who’s only been modelling for a short time, either. Being an old AMT I’m sure the fit will be dodgy, and even though the piece count is low, there’s a lot of work to be done to clean up the parts (and the body) to get them looking good. There’s a lot of flash and the ability to carefully handle small parts while trimming them is going to be important. Given that new modellers might not care about the Pinto, my fears of legions of new modellers being turned off of the hobby by this kit are likely unfounded, but still…
While I am excited to get a Pinto hatchback, I still feel that, overall, this kit is a disappointment. For one thing, it is very expensive for what you get. The part count is low, and the kit looks commensurately cheap when you open the box. I really got a feeling of being let down by the model, despite being eager to get it. It’s not Round 2’s fault, that’s just how the kit is. However, that doesn’t make the “value per dollar” any better. When you consider how many things are blatantly wrong with this model (again that’s AMT’s fault) and the work that will be needed to fix some of it, it makes the Pinto something of a daunting proposition. For the same money, you can get two Silhouette Formula Gundam kits, and they’re lightyears better kits. You can also get a Tamiya or a Revell Germany, and while their subject matter CAN’T be better than a Pinto, they will be far, far superior kits.
What really frustrates me about this kit is how much of a missed opportunity it represents – and that IS all Round 2’s fault. The odd choice of decals adds nothing, to my mind, and really drags the kit down. With a bit of work, we could have had a full set of basic hubcaps, some whitewall tires or even some printed letters. None of the great hallmarks of Round 2’s previous efforts are on display here. It’s like they just rushed it to market and didn’t take the time or effort to make it something special, or really realize the kit’s potential.
Overall, I can’t recommend this kit to anyone who isn’t (like me) a big fan of loser cars or has a personal connection to Ford’s flaming little pony. Sure, it’s nostalgic, but you pay a price, and all you get is a reminder of how far we’ve come in modelling technology, and nothing really to offset that initial disappointment. If you’ve got the money, time and Pinto-lust, go grab one. If you’re on the fence, then consider what I’ve said carefully; are you up for the challenge of making this kit what it can be?
Like the real Pinto, this kit is something of a transitional piece. It’s not horrible, but it’s not everything you might reasonably expect. Sadly, unlike the real Pinto it’s neither cheap nor plentiful, and that really kinda hurts.