Mr. & Mrs. Glidden Test the '78 Pinto

Two Average Americans and Their Typical 160-MPH Stocker

Article as written in April 1978 issue of Car Craft Magazine

The Ford Pinto arrived late in 1970, long before small cars became both fashionable and necessary. Glidden arrived somewhat later, making his professional racing debut in a Pinto Pro Stock at the '72 Supernationals. The passing years have treated both well: the Pinto became the premier domestic subcompact, and Bob Glidden became the scourge of Pro Stock. From its humble beginnings as a $2000, 2000lb. mini-car, the Pinto has grown plusher, heavier and more expensive with the passage of time. Glidden's rides have become leaner, lighter, faster--and also more expensive.

In the beginning, Pro cars and their street-bound counterparts shared a common ancestry on the assembly lines. It was not unheard of for a future race car to be driven home from a dealership before its transformation. But like gas wars and free love, that is buried in the past. The only parts which interchange between Glidden's racer and the Ford Public Relations' Pinto are a few sheet metal panels, some safety glass and the parking lamp bezels. The new wave of Pro cars are single thickness panels draped over a prefabricated tube frame. If you are an aspiring Pro Stock star, you call Don Hardy Race Cars down in Floydada, Texas, and he hangs the panels of your choice on one of his tube chassis. Vega, Monza, Mustang II, Pinto -- take your choice. If your heart is set on a Camaro, Don will splice a few extra inches into the wheelbase.

With a curb weight of 2602 pounds, the '78 production Pinto is nearly a quarter of a ton heavier than the original models. Increases in engine displacement have helped offset the added burden of mandated bumpers, air conditioning and a catalogful of options. The original English-built 1600cc four gave way to a 2000cc German-made four, which in turn has been replaced by a 2300cc American inline four-cylinder engine. It was this last powerplant, with its single overhead cam and crossflow cylinder head, which we subjected to Glidden's onslaught. (A 2800cc V-6 is available, but only with an automatic trans. Since Glidden doesn't get to shift his Lenco-equipped Pro car anymore we figured the least we could do was provide a proper four-speed for his driving pleasure.)

While FoMoCo adopted larger engine displacements to keep the Pinto's performance level up, Glidden's motors are going down in size to achieve the same end. Instead of the 366 and 355ci engines which once filled the Pro Pinto's engine bay, Bob arrived at our test session with a 343ci Boss Ford. The automakers know that there's no substitute for cubic inches to provide a little more torque for on ramps and custody fights over the fast lane. No substitute, that is, but one: volumetric efficiency. That, coupled with money, hard work, and more money, is why Bob Glidden is running 8.50's. Cylinder heads which flow enough air for a 355ci engine are too much for a 343. And in the world of Pro Stock racers, too much is just about right.

The Pinto was conceived as a "basic car." It's a little hard to find the original concept under all the accouterments of our '78 sports package: tape stripes, blacked-out trim, dual sport mirrors and a chin spoiler. There are enough upgraded underpinnings to warrant ordering the "sports handling group" including a front sway bar and a 3.18:1 rear axle (in place of the standard 2.73:1). A readable, responsive gauge cluster incorporating a tachometer, temperature gauge and ammeter provides a wealth of operating information, and a leather wrapped steering wheel helps dispel the economy car image. Coupled with Ford's excellent two speaker Aeroneutronic FM multiplex radio, these options transfrom a standard Pinto into a spirited mini-GT.

Look to Glidden's racer to take the low-level approach to interior appointments. The dashboard is a fraud, with a painted speedometer and replica radio, mere shadows of the genuine articles. A few shards of vinyl preserve the memory of the factory appointments. A sound system would be a superfluous addition; the sewer-sized header collectore terminating under the floorboards provide all the noise that is endurable. Although Glidden's Pinto lacks the leather-covered shift knob of the street car, it does have four shifter levers, which should count for something.

Crawling around under the two cars is both instructive and dirty. The factory's regard for simplicity and light weight is as apparent as Glidden's need for unadorned strength. The stock Pinto relies on five-leaf rear springs rated at 112 lb-in to locate and control a 6 3/4-inch rearend. The racer's 9 1/4-inch rearend is suspended by coilover shocks and 36-inch-long ladder bars. In this Age of the Ultra-Adjustable Pro Car, Glidden's traction system is staggeringly simple: there is exactly one front pivot point per side. Glidden is not one to squander his time on chassis tuning.

In fact, Glidden is not one to waste his time on anything, save an occasional basketball game to keep himself in fighting trim. And so it was with some trepidation that we approached him about this drag test business. But Glidden is a racer, which means that the hint of competition is lure enough. And after years of racing a Pinto, Glidden was curious about how a "real" Pinto drove. "Shoot, I don't even have a car," he admitted. "All I get to drive is the shop truck."

The driver we wanted to pit against Glidden had to be a man of consummate skill, total dedication, and photon-quick reflexes. We chose Competition Editor Jon Asher instead, figuring that he would at least turn the stock car over and provide some good photo material. But Asher rose to the occasion, surprising all in attendance by recording a top speed at 73.05 mph. He complained of blurred vision and headaches at such terminal velocities, but these adverse effects were eliminated by loosening his helmet strap.

Predictably, Glidden coaxed low e.t. out of the car. With a time of 18.27, the ride was a tidy 10 seconds longer than a Pro car pass. The 17-second barrier could have fallen before the two drivers' onslaught. "That thing would have run if we'd messed with it," Glidden reported, "but Jon was afraid he'd have to walk home." It was general consensus that a long walk wouldn't have hurt him, but we didn't relish returning a broken car. The warranty adjustment would have been a classic: "Vehicle examination reveals flagrant driver abuse, including clutchless shifting, disregard for engine redline and accelerated wear of rear tires." But that's all standard equipment when you order the Pro Stock option.

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