I’m sure that the words “Pinto” and “Fundamentally Flawed” are already permanently linked in the psyches of anyone who follows automotive history or grew up in the ‘70s. Ford’s “explosive” issues with the Pinto runabout/hatchback/Pacer-wannabe-whatever-it-was are well known and oft-mocked, even today. Thankfully, the wagon versions of Ford’s desperate econobeater were a bit better, at least in the flammability department. I’m sure the same issues of dreadful metallurgy and abhorrent quality control were still present in the wagons, but at least they were less likely to mimic an atomic test in traffic.
That having been said, of course, doesn’t mean that there aren’t some significant issues with the MPC version of the Pinto wagon. There are, of course, many issues with the Pinto kit, one of them being “age drift”. As I described in Update 1, the original kit was much older than the Pony Express version, based on the 1980 Pinto. This not only leads to gross inaccuracies with the engine (and likely a bit wrong with the interior, too), but also caused MPC some serious, serious problems when they went to create the custom version.
Cruisin’ Through History:
At the core of it, the Pony Express Pinto kit is the earlier ‘77 Pinto Wagon. As Pinto styling kept changing, though, MPC was forced to keep updating the moulds. By the time the last Pintos came around in ’79 and ’80, they front end had changed a lot. However, the back end had not, and so any version of the wagon was essentially the same. In fact, you can still build a stock wagon using the Round 2 Pony Express kit, too. For those, like my brother, who love the base-model beaters, this is a great feature.
For me, though, I wanted to build the Pinto Cruising Wagon. I do love horrible loser cars with pretentions to performance (EXPs, Volare “Road Runners” and Citation X-11s); I think they show even more just how far things sank during the Automotive Dark Ages, and show just how low the expectations were in the “era of lowered expectations”. Thus, having the chance to do a kit of a final-model Cruising Wagon was something not to be missed.
One thing Round 2 did really well was to give the Pony Express not only it’s oddly homoerotic “sweaty man horse” decals, but also do a full decal set for a Cruising Wagon. Whoever decides this stuff at Round 2 is a genius, and is my kind of people. Thanks! Of course, it wasn’t a totally new idea, since MPC first made a Cruising Wagon kit, called “Ford Mini Van” in ’77. Don’t get excited, they didn’t mean an Aerostar. (Where’s my kit of THAT?) Don’t forget that the Cruising Wagons were Ford’s budget attempt to cash in on the Street Van craze; they wanted Vanner-wannabes and those without the financial power to buy a van to still have a product to purchase, and so the flamboyantly decorated Cruising Wagon was born.
Cheap and Cheaper – Panel Problems:
When MPC first made the “Ford Mini Van” kit in the mid ‘70s, the box used only artwork and photos of a real Cruising Wagon on it. This meant that the box was an accurate representation of the car. However, for whatever reason, it is not an accurate representation of what’s actually IN THE BOX. The problem is with how Ford made the Cruising Wagon, vs. how MPC did, and this would go on to haunt all MPC Cruising Wagon kits from that moment forward.
The real car is just basically a Pinto Wagon turned into a panel delivery van. The windows were either removed or just boarded over on the inside by an insert, and a sheet of metal (I assume; it could be plastic… never seen a real one) was put over the rear windows to create the “Van” look. Of course, there was an obligatory porthole, but that’s about it for the fanciness. Throw on some jazzy “Sunset Stripes” and black out the trim and Bob’s your Scottish/Dutch uncle; about as cheap as it can get.
(Note: I rarely use pics that aren’t mine in my articles. However, I needed to this time in order to make my point. This isn’t my picture. If it’s yours, I am hereby retroactively asking your permission to use it. Hopefully, you’re okay with it, but if not, well, let me know. Just so you know, your photo HAS been a massive help, and I thank you for it.)
Or, so it seemed. MPC took the cheapness one step further. To make the Pinto Cruising Wagon option, MPC just gave you an insert with a porthole in it, and you cut out the rear window pillar and then glue it onto the existing window piece. It thus fills in the rear windows, and you are given a domed porthole piece to go in the round hole, so all is good, right? It was literally four pieces of plastic that MPC had to splurge on to create a cool new kit that would resonate with the kids and their kooky customs.
It sounds like a solid plan. However, if you look on the Pony Express box, you might notice that something doesn’t look quite right (other than the weird horse, but I’ve beaten that to death, as he has himself, I’m sure). At first, I didn’t pick up on it. I was too excited to have the chance to build a late Cruising Wagon with proper stripes! It only hit me when I was doing research on the cars and looking between pics of the real thing and the kit. However, once it hit me, my blood ran cold… The MPC Cruising Wagon is totally wrong. Dead wrong. Not even in the ballpark. It just doesn’t look at all like the real thing.
The problem is the insert that MPC gives you. It sits IN the window frame. That’s NOT AT ALL what a real Pinto Cruising Wagon looks like. That’s not what the “Ford Mini Van” kit shows on the box. In real life, as mentioned previously, the rear panel is a full length, full height bolt ON; not bolt IN. On a real car, you don’t see the rear window frames; the “cruising panel” goes from fender top to drip rail. On the MPC, it just sits inside the frame…
This is a MAJOR difference. Since this kit seems to be a bit hard to find now, and since it’s the only one I have, I wasn’t willing to half-arse it. I wanted to build as accurate a Cruising Wagon as I could. That meant only one thing – time for war. I would have to redesign the entire panel from scratch. Then it hit me that MPC was still going to be of some use – the panel they provide for the EXTERIOR is actually perfect to replicate the INTERIOR panel seen on the real car! I could also use it to help with porthole location. Steeling myself, I prepared to do what is, for me, quite a bit of kitbashing.
Before tackling the panel, I needed to modify the kit, as per the instructions, and insert MPC’s bastardized abortion of the Cruising Panel (CP). This was simple; you just cut out the rear window pillar and the thing fits right in. I was actually amazed at what a good (for MPC) fit this was! I didn’t need location tabs or anything else. I just glued around the edges, gave a squeeze, and then let it all dry. Of course, I had to sand it on the inside of the car, where it will be seen. I also re-scribed the line around it, since it really is an insert on the real car. While I was at it, I filled in the cut lines for the “Skylight” dome cover in the rear roof. This is a “custom option” only in MPC’s mind, and I wanted to make sure the interior looked right.
Next, I needed to do was to see if I had any sheet styrene around that was approximately the right thickness. Looking at the few pictures of real cars I could find on the internet, I saw that the CP basically stuck out about the same as the “shoulders” on the body. The other issue was to determine how to place the porthole. I could measure, mark, measure again… but that’s not my style. Cutting the hole would be tough too. Then I hit on a rather good idea. I’d make the CP clear, and then I could tape it in place and just Dremel out the hole using the inner panel as a guide! It would guarantee porthole alignment, and make life easy. Well, easier…
I had two choices of clear styrene at my disposal; one was very thin, but the other was just right. Of course, the tag on the baggie in which the styrene was purchased was long gone, and I don’t have calipers on my modelling table, so I don’t actually know how thick the plastic is. Sorry about that. That’s how I kitbash, though; make use of what’s around, because I’m only going to do it once! Thankfully, I had a whole sheet of the clear that I needed – as it turns out, I would need a couple of tries to get this right.
It was important to figure out how big to make the piece. The easiest way was to scan the entire side of the kit on my scanner, then just cut out the “picture” of the kit, and trace it onto the clear sheet. This actually worked a lot better than I thought it might, although the first attempt was a bit off, and the second one I ruined when I tried to cut the hole in it by hand. It turned out I was right on my first thought of using the Dremel. When I cut a third piece, I had the dimensions almost perfect and using the Dremel with a conical milling bit, I was able to nicely, and nearly roundly, cut out the porthole.
This, then, gave me my master part. I trace it two more times, and then taping each side to the car, I went about cutting the portholes and shaping the front end, where it would meet up with the front door frame. I didn’t bother about the back end, since it would get sanded later. I found there was considerable fiddling to get the edges to conform to the slight curve of the Pinto’s drip rails, but little by little I worked the two pieces into the proper shape.
Once that was done, I glued the parts in place and found it took more force to get the slight curve/angle on the panel than I’d thought it would. This resulted in some “styrene squish” at the edges, so once the glue was dry there was some cleanup. Once I had the back edge of the CP contoured to the car’s back pillar, I was able to rescribe the panel line (which is savagely and cheaply visible on the real thing) and tidy up the interface above the shoulder. Looking at it, I think the styrene was a shade too thick, but better that than the super thin stuff I had, which just didn’t look right at all. Of course, I also had to cut off the rear windows, since they are not present in the Cruising Wagon and shouldn’t be seen inside the car. Thus, I separated the front windscreen and the rear window, tossing the rest to the spares box. You never know when you need some nice, clear window plastic!
Sadly, this lack of rear windows wreaks havoc with the already horrible fit of the interior bucket into the car. There are huge gaps between the bucket and the sides of the car up front, by the doors. I don’t know how to fix it, and to be honest, I gave up caring. The Pinto has already proven to be a lot more work than I thought it would be, and there are limits to what I can fix. I figured that it was better just to leave it alone, focus on the other fit issues that I could fix, and let this issue take care of itself. No one else will have a better fit anyway, but at least my Pinto will be correct in appearance!
All of this rebuilding work might sound pretty simple, but it took me a good couple of sessions to get it all worked out. I was pleased with the results, though. The MPC “quick and dirty” method of creating a Cruising Wagon is actually more involved than it should have been; they’d have been better just to make a new, correct external panel, I’d have thought. Of course, one could say that Round 2 could have done the same thing to correct what is an obvious deficiency, but that’s not fair. Round 2’s job is to risk its financial future by reissuing these MPC loser machines the way they were, and hope that somebody cares enough about them to buy them at all. Thus, I’m a bit cheesed I had to do all this work, but I’d have been more cheesed at having incorrect decals or having to pay supremely inflated evil-bay prices for the kit in the first place!
Radiator Junction, What’s your Function? Seriously…
Another part of the Pinto kit which is a.) wrong and b.) a terrible fit is the radiator shell/front bulkhead. The instructions show this being installed in the car once the engine is in, and the chassis is together, just before the body goes on. In a wonderful dose of MPC vagueness-induced hilarity, the instructions technically show it going ONTO the bumper, on the outside of the car! Now, we all know that’s wrong, but it IS funny. We also know that they mean to put it inside the body, but that’s no less amusing. “Why? What’s funny about that?” you ask. “MPC fit.” is the answer. You knew it in your heart-of-hearts, but you couldn’t admit it to yourself could you? Now it’s time to face the truth, cold and ugly.
And UGLY is the word. The radiator shell/bulkhead doesn’t fit worth a tinker’s darn (whatever they’re worth?). Not only does it not fit inside the body very well due to contouring issues, but it doesn’t meet up with the chassis supports coming from the subframe. I had to fight with this thing over and over and over again just to find out how bad the fit was! If I was doing that to a finished car body, I’d have wrecked it for sure. Just the thought of that turns my stomach. So, as always, the credo with any old car kit, but especially MPCs is:
TEST FIT, TEST FIT, TEST FIT!!!
Just like your shop teacher used to tell you: “Measure once, cut twice”… no wait, that’s not it… Well, regardless, for this kit, it’s really “Fit 5 times, fit again, sand, fit 2 more times, and keep working on it.” This may actually be one of the more brutal MPCs I’ve worked on, but I’m sure there are others out there that are just as bad. The key here is to get the radiator shell in place and glued into the body BEFORE any painting on the body takes place. Yes, it will make painting it harder, but you WILL be better in the long run, I feel. I hope. God, I hope so. Well, it couldn’t be worse, at least. On top of recontouring the sides a bit, I also had to expand the notches so that the chassis could snug up properly. Once done, though, everything seemed to fit okay.
Thinking I was done, I went back to perusing my Pinto images from the net. Crud. I thought something seemed wrong. Most late Pintos have a weird rounded-square piece of tin sticking off the radiator. This barest-of-nods-to-safety is, I believe, Ford’s horribly libelous attempt at a cut-rate fan shroud. Seriously? If I look at my Trans Am, it’s massive, clutch-equipped meat chopper is hidden behind a full-length shroud, the better to prevent accidental dismemberment. On the Pintos, you got what would make a sad excuse for a child’s TV tray. (In all honesty, I have a cool Transformers TV Tray that looks way, way tougher than this thing…)
I figured, since I wanted to display my extensively reworked engine and I’d have the hood up, I had better fix this. It was pretty easy. I took the thinnest styrene I had (no label on it either, but it’s almost translucently thin), roughed in a square, and trimmed it out with safety scissors. Yes, safety scissors. Why? Irony. I love irony, and it was just too easy. I laid it on the crossbrace and yet another wave of disquiet assailed me. It still looked wrong somehow. Then it hit me – there was no bloody radiator! Now, it’s true that the front bulkhead has a rad “built into” it. However, on the real car the rad sticks back from the crossbrace formed by the front bulk head. “Frag. Where am I going to get a rad for this thing?” ran my thoughts.
The answer was surprising. Almost as if they knew their kit was deficient, MPC did include a separate-piece radiator. It’s the right size, shape and fits right up to the bulkhead. I can’t adequately describe how I felt that I had deciphered a secret of the ancients, hidden through time, and only revealed once all the pieces were in place. Why was the radiator in the kit in the first place? It’s not called out as being used in the instructions. Did Round 2 omit this part of the instructions, or did MPC? Why would either of them do that? There are no answers, although I suspect that Ancient Astronaut Theorists say “Yes”, regardless.
Finding the rad meant I had to cut a new shroud, but it was pretty easy work, and in 5 minutes I was done. I will admit I have not tried to see if the new rad will clear the fan on the engine. It had better, or there will be hell to pay. However, the engine was already done, and I wasn’t risking it on a test fit. So, cross your fingers out there!
Bump(er) and Grind:
Unsurprisingly, there are a few more little things that have to be done to the Pinto to make life easier or more correct. The first of these is just to make life simple, and deals with the grossly inaccurate and (Shock!) poorly-fitting plate that supports the grille. I have no idea why there is a full width support for the grille, but it doesn’t match the contours of the piece. I suspect it’s an artifact of the moulding process for the new front end of the car, and MPC just decided it would make a nifty support. It doesn’t. To allow the grille to fit in nicely, I simply cut down most of the support, leaving two small tabs for grille location. This has the added advantage of allowing easy paint access to the front of the rad/bulkhead, so it’s a double win. I suggest you do the same if you build the kit.
The next issue, working down, is the bumper. As with so many American car kits, the bumpers are just supposed to somehow “go on”. There are no supports, no positive location… they just “go on”. Go on… oh wait, that’s all? Yeah. That doesn’t work for me. I found out the very hard way with the Volare what happens when you don’t pre-support your bumpers. Hint: It’s bad – like walking off a moving bus bad. This time, I vowed not to let it happen, so I built supports for the front bumper with little bits of sheet styrene I had left from my Cruising Panel escapades.
One thing to note. You will be surprised to learn that the bumpers fill poorly, but they do. On the real Pinto, and in fact on the box-build, the bumper sits below a sizeable gap below the headlights. This even shows on the side of the car! However, I could not get the bumper to stay there, and still fit the “chin strap” part of the roll pan under the bumper. So, I had to mount the bumpers up, flush to the headlights, so I could get the roll pan on. I set the supports under the headlights to allow for this, leaving a bit of a gap so the bumper could “slot in” properly.
For the roll pan, I had no choice but to glue it in at this stage. There’s absolutely no support for it, and the fit is predictably un-good. In fact, to get it to stick at all, I actually built up supports for it after the fact. There was no room for a locating tab of sufficient mass, so I melted down some styrene in my Plast-i-weld and then applied this chemically “hot” liquid plastic over the joint between body and roll pan, on both the inside and outside. This formed “scabs” that also melted into the plastic, giving the part far superior rigidity to the original gluing. Again, I suggest you do the same, since the contact area without the “scabs” is insufficient, and the fit is so bad that sanding is definitely required.
The rear bumper, amazingly, fit fine. Well, almost. I had to do a bit of adjustment on the inter-bumper panel (that “lip” that all late ‘70’s cars have to cover the extended crash bumpers), but that was it. However, I did have to glue some alignment blocks to the body, just above the “holes” for the lip panel. There are two cut-outs in the chassis, and, of course, there’s some <cough> slight alignment issues with the body and interior, as I mentioned earlier. These small blocks seemed to at least ameliorate this problem and without the rear side windows, a bit of extra location goes a long way.
Just like a real Pinto, this kit is a pretty big mess of QC issues. It takes a lot to set even the smaller issues right. If you intend to recreate a fairly accurate representation of the last of Ford’s pint-sized pony cruising-palace using this, or indeed any MPC, kit, you’re in for a long, painful journey. However, it can be done, and I won’t lie, I’ve had fun finding and fixing all the crud that’s wrong with this little guy. That having been said, I’m at my wit’s end, and I’m now done (I hope) with major mods. For those out there who want a simple kit of a quirky late-‘70s kitsch-mobile, this may not be your best choice. Maybe find a Pacer or Gremlin (although the AMT Gremlin kits are utter crap), because this one is going to cost you in terms of time and patience. Making this kit right is a war, and unless you’re committed 100%, you’ll lose.
Time to mess around in the front office! I love interiors, and on this kit, the interior and the chassis are the same piece. Yay… Tune in then!