The laws of science are not absolute. However, while it could be challenged on a grand scale, the Law of Conservation of Matter (simply put: “Matter can neither be created nor destroyed”) does seem to work pretty well for everyday use. In layman’s terms, what it says is that you can’t get something from nothing. If car makers had listened to, and heeded, that rule during the Automotive Dark Ages, they would have known the pointlessness of their collective efforts to “spice up” some of their more pitiful creations. In the time when Smog Pumps and Lean Burn ruled, it was nearly impossible for any North American automaker to really create a machine that had much in the way of performance. In a, some would say cynical, attempt to reignite the imagination of the car-buying public, car makers had to turn to visual gimmicks to create excitement where out-and-out performance, quality and style could not.
Thus, the end of the 1970s saw an exponential rise in the use of increasingly gaudy “appearance packages”. These often took the shape of blacked out trim, wild striping, air dams and spoilers and special graphics, all designed to make a plain-Jane, anemic, unabashedly economy-oriented beater into something that wanted to pretend it could pretend to want to be a muscle car. Very few cars could pull this off convincingly. After all, no amount of striping and trim can really overcome poor driveability, atrocious build quality and pollution-controlled engines that, when they ran, did so only roughly and poorly.
Despite all this, though, the Big 3 (and AMC) continued down this road with blinders on, seemingly unaware of just how embarrassingly bad their creations generally looked. When Dodge and Ford tried to use their full-sized vans to get in on the “Vanner” craze, the mass of tape stripes and special paint packages rolling around skyrocketed. Vans, it turned out, could actually pull this kind of treatment off. However, not everyone could afford a van. Most, though, reasoned the folks at Ford, COULD afford a Pinto. That was the whole raison d’etre of the Pinto in the first place. It was basically a (rather incendiary) latter-day Model T: simple, cheap transportation. And so, a combination of Vannin’ street cred and poor man’s grocery getting was combined to create a new… uh… something. The spawn of this somewhat unholy union was the Pinto Cruising Wagon.
The Cruising Wagon as an impractical two-door wagon that had four seats, but no rear windows. It looked like a panel delivery sedan, but only had normal Pinto cargo capacity (more on that later). With its wild stripes and porthole windows, it pretended to be a “mini-van”, but had no room inside to pull it off. It also had standard Pinto “power” (namely, little to none) meaning that it wasn’t even trying to have pretentions of performance. So, what was it? It was all that and more. It was a total that wasn’t quite the sum of its parts on one hand, but on the other was so much more. In reality, it was a signpost; a mile marker on the long, painful and difficult transition from the Muscle Car Era to the Era of Technological Performance that followed the Dark Ages. It is essentially the early hominid of cars, an oddly-elongated semi-human skull that fits somewhere between Thag Jones (Who cooks his meat!!) and Walter P. Chrysler. You could say it’s a branch of the automotive family tree that stops abruptly. Plainly put, it’s a dead end.
Building MPC’s Pinto:
Given MPC’s propensity for turning out “annual” kits, the fact that the “Pony Express” Pinto represents one of the last of a long line of plastic ponies should come as no surprise. Taking the last facelift for Ford’s iconic (or maybe, infamous) econobeater and making it into a custom just seems natural. It seems as natural as having very little about the car model itself actually be right, while still managing to convince most modellers that the product is indeed sound. If there’s one thing you have to give MPC, it’s that they sure knew how to get the mileage from their moulds.
As a result, the 1979 Pinto Cruising Wagon that is Pony Express’ “other self” is not a model that can be accused of unscrupulous accuracy. The kit has a veritable laundry list of things that are wrong with it, both detail-wise and general construction-wise. The bulk of these have already been detailed in the following articles:
With the interior, engine and chassis done, it should be a simple thing to finish off the kit, right? I mean, there’s only primering and painting the body left, and a few decals. How hard can it be? Well, if you’re asking that question, you know you’ve never built an MPC! I sometimes think that MPC means “More Problems Coming” given the nigh-endless issues this kit seemed to have.
The colour I chose a while ago for the Pinto was white. I like the white because it gives the best contrast to the black trim and colourful decals, as well as matching the wheels. It also helps to make the model look a bit cleaner than red or yellow and especially more so than silver, I think. I’d already made up some “Car White” for doing the engine bay, so when it came time to paint I didn’t have to worry about where I was going to get the colour I needed.
I started by making sure the interior was well-masked and then I sprayed the entire car with Rustoleum White Primer. This stuff is awesome; it dries faster than the old Colourplace stuff, and it’s less tacky when dry. It also covered very well in two thin coats, which meant that I didn’t lose my re-etched drip rails or my scripts on the tailgate or hood.
Once the primer was dry, I gave it a light sand and got it pretty smooth. I baked it in a dehydrator at about 35°C for a day or so, to make sure it was good to go. Then I applied two separate coats of Testors Model Master Acrylic (MMA) “Car white” to the entire body. Normally, I use a mixture of Future and Alcohol as a thinner, but this time I tried using some Alclad Aqua Gloss as a thinner. This made the paint a bit thicker for the airbrush, but it did make it very shiny when dry.
More importantly, because it has Aqua Gloss in it, the paint on the kit dried quite quickly and very, VERY hard. I baked it again for a day or so at about 40°C. When I took a look at the final paint job, it was fairly shiny, but also quite orange-peeled. This is what I often see on cars at shows, and this is where the hard work of finishing the paint really comes in. You can see my Video for a rundown, if you want.
The first thing I did was give the car a moderately light sanding with 4000 grit sanding cloth. This took out the main high points on the kit, and then I followed up with a 6000 grit session. Neither of these was very aggressive. The point here is to get the paint knocked down and take out some of the orange peel. The smooth-looking final finish comes from the gloss coat, not the paint (in my method). Thus, once the initial sanding was done a light coat of Aqua Gloss was applied and let dry for a few minutes. This gives a spotted appearance, and a second light coat helps even things out.
Once those two coats had baked at about 42°C for about an hour or so, I applied a much heavier layer of Aqua Gloss. Once this is dry, I sanded it with a very light dusting of the 4000 grit cloth and then polished it a bit more with the 6000. At this point you can start to see that the finish is going to be good, if you can keep it under control. On this newly-sanded surface I applied second light coat. This set the stage for the decals to be applied.
Sunset Strifes, uh… Stripes:
Like so many other cars of its day, the Pinto Cruising Wagon uses the oh-so-’70s “sunset” motif for its decals. The side stripes and panel stripes all have a spectrum of yellow, orange and red. While it looks a bit kitschy now, it’s important to remember (or understand, if it’s before your time) how common a scheme this was. Thankfully, Round 2’s decals are always of excellent quality, and I was expecting a treat when it came time to apply the decals.
Well, I got something. A surprise? Yes. A treat? No. Not really.
When I enlarged and corrected the rear panels to actually make this model into a more accurate representation of a real Cruising Wagon, I forgot that Round 2 made the decals for the rear panels to fit THEIR rear panels. Thus, the decals that came with the kit were nowhere near the right size for my newly made, full height and length panels. Of course… “When MPC closes a door, it shoves you out a window.” That IS the old saying, right?
Once I stopped drumming my fingertips against my skull in chagrined rhythm to the grinding of my teeth, I got down to work fixing the problem. I scanned the decals, and the Pinto. I then used photo editing software to make an overlay of the decal on the car. This allowed me to get the sizing right. I then grew the actual decal so that it would overflow the edges of the side panel, and saved that image, and a mirror of it, in Word. I made a couple of copies and then proceeded to print them on Testors Clear Decal Paper for Inkjet Printers.
While I was doing this, I looked to see if I needed any other decals made. I did! I had found pictures of a Cruising Wagon that had super-cheesy decals that say “4000 Gross”. Now, you might be wondering why this would be on a car? From what little I could find, it at first seemed that Ford had put these on as a warning to buyers not to exceed 4000lb gross vehicle weight. Given that Ford was all about using safety decals to avoid lawsuits and recalls (see their “run you over” 3-speed automatic transmissions for details), I figured this was a similar move. As it turns out, it’s actually a local (Seattle, it seems) requirement to register the car as a light commercial vehicle. At some point, long ago, such ratings had to be displayed prominently.
I didn’t find this out until afterwards, but it’s such a ‘70s thing to do that I wanted to have those decals on there anyway. Regardless of whether their Ford mandated or local government aftermarket, they seem to be very unique and so well-suited as to be a shame to leave off. I mean, it’s not a lot of gross weight (Faust is about that heavy, and that’s Curb Weight!) for a “mini-van”. It’s like the whole car – a mini-version of something that’s so cheesy that you have to love it. The 4,000 gross sticker is like walking around with a shirt pointing to your nether regions that says “stumpy wiener” or “I’m with shorty”.
Once the decals were dry, I applied two light coats of Decal bonder and got ready to go to town on the finish, in preparation for decalling.
Decalling – Free Disaster Inside!
Like everything else on the Pinto, the decalling didn’t go smoothly. The first application of my new “sunset panel” decals went on fine. They looked good, and really made the car match the photos I’d seen. Once the decals were on, they were Futured over and let dry. The second application on one side went very well. The colours intensified each other properly, the black became quite black, and all was well. The decal on the other side, though…. Not so much. I still don’t know what happened, but it sort of “melted” during application, and it was a total disaster. I had to not only pull it off, but sand off the decal under it so that I could start over. This was neither fun nor easy…
Thankfully, the Aqua Gloss shell I’d put on the body allowed me to go to down on the decal during the removal process, and I encountered no paint burn through or other severe issue. I reprinted the decals just for the affected side, and then reapplied them. This time, it was smooth sailing, and the decals looked good. The 4,000 Gross decals went on without a hitch, and even two layers of them barely show any decal film.
As for the kit decals, they were fantastic. They were strong, solidly coloured and easy to apply. They also went around and over curves and detail quite well. The main stripe on the tailgate covered the “Pinto” writing, which was already smudged by layers of paint and gloss, but the decal still allowed enough of it to show through such that I could chrome the emblem later. I really do wish that the “sunset plate” decals had been Round 2 as well… it would have saved time. However, I was just glad I didn’t have to make the entire set of stripes!
Finishing the Finishing:
Once the decals were on, another coat of Aqua Gloss was applied to the car. Once it was dry, I gave the car one more, quite thick coat. Given a few days to dry in the dehydrator it resulted in a fairly mediocre shine. However, even though it wasn’t super-glossy, I knew I had all I needed to polish down, even with the fragile decals on the side panels, without worry. The real strength of the Aqua Gloss though is its toughness; it’s very, very hard to burn through it unless you’re being a bull in a china shoppe.
I sanded the paint with a 6000 grit polishing cloth, numerous times, always in the same direction. Once I got the high spots out, I went at the body with Tamiya Fine and Finish rubbing compounds. I applied them with wet scraps of old flannel pyjamas, and buffed them off once dry; always in one direction (the direction of “airflow” or “travel” when the car is driving). I DID NOT SWIRL any of the compounds. I then applied several passes of Novus 1 plastic polish, applied in the same manner, all in one direction. The Novus 1 really brings up the shine and helps work out tiny imperfections. At the end, I did a couple of passes with the Novus 1, swirling it this time. This really seems to work.
I painted the grille and headlight bezels Aircraft Interior Black (AIB) and used Light Grey for the headlights. I hand-vinyled all the surfaces to give them a bit of a sheen. For the tail and marker lights, I used Bare Metal Foil and covered the applicable areas with Tamiya Clear Red or Orange, using white for the backup lights. I shined the tires with some Turtle Wax Ice Wax liquid – the old clear kind. It’s a perfect scale tire shine, and these new Round 2 pad printed tires respond very well indeed to it!
Anyone who’s built a car kit with chrome trim knows the pain of either painting or foiling the trim. Thankfully, the Pinto is all “Euro spec” with black trim. However, that doesn’t help with bumpers, the roof rack or other, smaller trim bits. For these, I turned to the Molotow Chrome Markers I’d seen and heard about. I decided to give them a shot, despite their rather high cost. For the hood and liftgate lettering, door handles and key cylinders, the markers worked great, just as they had for the small bits of chrome in the interior.
As for bumpers, however, I wasn’t sure what to do. My brother and I disagree strongly on bumpers. He feels you should always use the kit chrome where possible, and if small touch-ups are needed, the Molotows and/or foil will do the job. Given the brilliant builds he does, and how good his chrome looks, I can’t argue on merit. However, I do it differently. I find the chrome pieces always need work on the kits I build, so I have to sand anyway. Better to strip, sand and rechrome, I say, so it all looks consistent. However, rechroming is a huge pain, and rarely works well.
Alclad Chrome is only okay, and even with Aqua Gloss not dulling it much, it’s not super-chromy. The need for black primer is also annoying, as is the fact it’s so fragile that looking at it kills it. I thus decided to shoot the Molotow refill paint as a chrome paint. It worked AMAZINGLY!!! It thins with 99% alcohol, as it says it is alcohol-based right on the pens/refills. The key is to thin it enough to shoot well, but not overthin it. If you overthin it, it just goes on like silver paint. BUT… if you make sure you don’t have it too thin, it goes on like spraying mercury. In fact, if the paint sloshes in the airbrush paint cup like mercury, and looks like mercury, you’re good to go.
I recoated the bumpers and roof rack this way, and while not as bright as kit chrome, they were very chromy. However, I need to be able to handle them (as I found from the Volare), so I had to Aqua Gloss them when they were dry. This did knock the chrominess down. It was disappointing, I’ll admit, but still, it was a lot better than most Alclad jobs I’ve done, and far, far easier.
I painted on the black parts of the bumpers (There are a lot of rubber bits on a Pinto’s large bumpers) and then hand-vinyled them to get the right sickly sheen.
I always find the final assembly work on car kits to be highly vexing. Well, that’s not quite true. Japanese car kits, by and large, have figured out the way to make very positive, simple location for the chassis, interior and body. Of course, they have largely proven unable to mould full engines or have backs on their seats, so I guess it’s a tie. Regardless, like with most other American car kits, the MPC Pinto promised to be challenging, if not outright bloody awful.
I was not disappointed. Well, I was, but it was as I expected. I started by gluing in the front and rear windows. I used Tacky Glue for this, and as my brother always insists, it was perfect for the job. I took a long time to dry, but with the dehydrator running, they were in and locked in a few hours. On the conventional Pinto wagon, the side windows help locate the long interior bucket. No such luck here, though, since the side windows are gone. Thankfully, and to my surprise, the location of the interior to the body was actually quite good.
Even more surprising was the fact that the location of the chassis was just as good! For once, all the pre-fitting and wheedling I’d done in the early stages paid off, and the chassis fit quite well into place. It and the interior were all held in with Tacky Glue as well. The only major problem in the final assembly was… get ready for it… the bumpers!! F my life. Of COURSE the bumpers are a pain. The front bumpers were not as bad, thanks to the supports I’d made, but there was still a bit of an issue making everything line up. There should be a big gap below the headlights, but for whatever reason, it’s not there. The bumper’s a bit too high, as you can see from the decal, but there’s nothing I could do about it.
The rear bumper, and that sofa-cum-shelf that joins it so crudely and thoughtlessly to the body was a nightmare. The first problem was that the shelf didn’t fit right. It did on test fit, but it turns out it’s not quite centered, and there was an up and down to it. Thus, I had it glued in place, and then the bumper glued (with Tacky Glue) to it. Nothing would sit right, or centre itself… Grrrrrr…. Eventually, I ripped the whole thing out and had to try again. I solved the centering problem by chopping the “alignment” tabs way down on the shelf, thus allowing it to float to the right position. I then glued it INTO the bumper first. Once the assembly was dry, I glued the whole thing on with Alpha Abrasives Plast-i-Weld. I still maintain this is the best model glue ever. Buy lots, use lots. You’ll never be disappointed. Thankfully, this approach worked, and while the fit’s only “meh”, it’s better than it was before.
I glued the roof rack and louvres on with Tacky Glue too. The darned mirrors would NOT stay on, so I decided to just spare the frustration and not even bother. Sure, it’s not quite right, but compared to the other corrections I’ve made, I’ll swallow that one.
By the time I was all done, and had a fully completed Pinto Cruising Wagon sitting in front of me, I was, to be honest, pretty exhausted by the kit. It had been a long build, and it was a TONNE of work. Still, the Pinto is an iconic car from a dark time, and having one so happy and shiny to go and sit on my shelf gave me a big feeling of satisfaction. I will admit, it looks so funny and dorky beside Gold Rush… just like it would in real life!
Even though a lot of people wanted to see the Pinto reissued, I haven’t seen it built that often; neither on the internet nor in real life. Now I know why. This kit is not for the faint-hearted. If there’s one thing I learned from this kit it’s this: MPC kits are rarely right, and you’d better be ready to throw down with them to get a good result. I love MPCs dearly, but man, they do NOT go down without a fight. If you don’t love, and I mean LOVE the subject, you will likely give up on some of these kits, and the Pinto is a perfect contender for abandonment (just like in real life).
Like so many MPCs (and American car kits in general), this model is a true black-and-white type of kit. It’s great for a beginner if they don’t care about all the fit issues, and general kit inaccuracies. It could be a fun project for a learner, and a neat project to mentor on. It’s got all the boxes for practicing the basics ticked off; sanding, test fitting, some painting, gluing, shaping… it’s not a snap-fit or “shake ‘n’ bake” kit. It’s also good for someone with a lot of tools, experience and patience. If you’re willing to put in the work, it will reward you. However, if you’re only moderately experienced, or don’t have the stomach for a long, hard fight, then don’t pick this, or any other ex-MPC kit up.
In the end, though, I have to rate this kit and experience by how it looks done. I love it. It’s not my best work, maybe; it has some little issues even still, and I wish I’d done one or two things differently. That, however, is what modelling’s all about. Would I build it again to correct those mistakes? Not a chance. One of these in a lifetime is enough.
This is a model I was ecstatic to find, eager to build, and ready to tackle. I’m glad I did it, and that I worked hard to fix the most obvious issues. I’m thrilled to have it my shelf and here at the Lagoon, and I’m very glad Round 2 reissued it. However, it’s not one I can recommend lightly, and would caution “Wimps and posers… leave the hall!” as Man-o-War would put it. If you need a Pinto to help complete your Automotive Dark Ages museum (who DOESN’T want that?), this is the only game in town, and it’s a competent kit when bashed on. But, just like the real Pinto, its cuteness and quirkiness hide serious flaws that you have to work hard to ameliorate or ignore. In that way, this kit captures the essence of the Pinto Cruising Wagon perfectly!