SOLD: 1972 Ford Pinto
White/Blue Exterior with Black/Gray Interior, Former Car and Driver Project Racecar From 1973-74; Restored, Sorted/Upgraded, Ready to Race. Featured in the March 1975 and April 2007 Issue of Car and Driver Magazine. 4 IMSA Sanctioned Races in 1974: 2 Pole Positions, 1 Win (Charlotte Motor Speedway).
This Pinto was built by Car and Driver in the 1970s as an exercise to prove that brains and a common sense approach to motor racing could result in a winning car without resorting to huge talent or an unlimited budget. Pat Bedard, employed by Car and Driver at the time, muscled up to the challenge and proved in a short, four race career that Bedard and his assistants had enough ‘brains’, ‘engineering sense’ and ‘lack of personal obligations’ to pull it off. They did. The Pinto scored a win at Charlotte Motor Speedway in only its second race.
The Pinto raced in the Goodrich Radial Challenge, a road racing series for small sedans sanctioned by the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). Why a Pinto? The Pinto was settled upon as the contender to modify by a series of logical choices made from comparing the frontal area, weight, piston displacement, handling, wheel width, and horsepower to other available cars of the day that would meet the entry criteria. A further decision was made to add IMSA’s 200lb weight penalty to the 2.0-liter model in order to use the new 2.3-liter engine and gain a little power for the super speedways. “It was the 2.3-liter engine that finally tipped the scales in favor of the Pinto”, said Bedard. “So we went out and bought a solid, 30,000-mile 1972 Pinto two-door.”
Bedard and fabricator (and co-driver) Ron Nash weren’t running ahead blindly. They had learned from the previous year competing with a rotary-powered Mazda RX-2 sponsored by Car and Driver. Quoting Bedard from the March 1975 issue, “We went into the 1974 Goodrich series with an excellent backlog of information. Car and Driver’s Mazda Wankel race car had been a first-class observation platform during the 1973 races.”
The Pinto engines were farmed out to Doug Fraser Racing Engines in Marblehead, Massachusetts. “Fraser pronounced the 2.3-liter ports substantially better than the 2.0 and predicted that the 2.3 would not only make more power than the 2.0 but would produce more power-per-cubic-inch as well.” He was right. Bedard continues,”…we wanted to optimize every detail right from the start. And the only way to have complete control, to make sure no short cuts were taken, was to do the work in our own shop. Fortunately, C/D is equipped to do this.”
“Sometimes other teams (or engineers) will even give away a tip or two. Bob Negstad (a Ford chassis engineer)…suggested that we use the 1974 Pinto steering gear because it was stronger…He also showed us how to adapt the larger 1974 disc brakes to the 1972 car.”
Other mods included a larger Corvette radiator, a Hurst shifter, 4.10 and 4.30 axle ratios (based upon what track they were running), Koni shock absorbers up front and Bilsteins in back, not to mention an extensive roll-cage carefully tying in all of the suspension points and creating a very stiff foundation.
“The Pinto required only half a day on the skidpad and half a day testing at Lime Rock to iron out its problems. With no more proving than that, it finished at Talladega and then went on to win at Charlotte a week later…the first for a Pinto in 2 years of Goodrich racing.”
After its short season on the racetrack Pat Bedard followed up with feedback in the same issue from March of 1975. “Given a relatively tight course — Lime Rock or, to a lesser degree, Charlotte — I could qualify it on the pole with a reasonable margin over the enemy.” Gremlins and BMWs made up the closest competition. Bedard continues, “The Pintos advantage was cornering ability; I don’t think there was another car in the B. F. Goodrich series that was quicker through the turns on a dry track.”
Bedard comments on the drivability - “It’s a great car to drive, this Pinto. The steering is light and quick, and the suspension is direct and predictable in a way that street cars never can be. It never darts over bumps, the axle is perfectly controlled and the suspension doesn’t bottom.” — A statement that is still true today.
Pat Bedard would go on to race at Le Mans and in the Indianapolis 500 in different makes and models of cars all within a 10-year time span, quite a feat from such humble showroom stock beginnings.
The Pinto then led a life of obscurity. After 1974, the car was sold to a privateer, Bob Leier, who raced it a few times in 1975 (various IMSA and Canadian races) and stored the car after its final race at Daytona. Picking up the story is Aaron Robinson in the April 2007 issue of Car and Driver. “It began as a phone call to Don Sherman (former editor-in-chief, technical editor of Car and Driver Magazine at the time of the build, and current technical editor at Automobile Magazine) in 2005 by Robert Leier, who claimed to own Car and Driver’s Pinto. As Leier explained to Sherman, the Pinto ran a handful of races in 1975 and then was parked for 30 years, eventually landing in a rented garage in Leesburg, Virginia. Sherman bought the car, brought it back to his home near Ann Arbor, and revived (restored) it from the dead in a nine-month fury of bead blasting, painting, wrenching, and wiring.”
Two years later, September 2007, the Pinto made its way into the collection at Fox Motorsports after a meeting with Sherman. After an initial shake down at Grattan Raceway in Belding, Michigan, we found the car’s only weakness throughout its history; its inability to make enough power to stay ahead of the pack on the straights. An upgrade was needed.
The engine has been completely gone through and updated with flat-topped pistons, an aluminum Ford Racing head, full roller cam with 0.620 inches of lift, and the latest connecting rod set-up—all coming together to produce a much more powerful engine than originally came with the car. Since then, the Pinto has only had one track day outing (in 2009) to test and tune the final engine configuration. It performed flawlessly.
The current condition of the car is excellent and still as fresh as when Don Sherman restored the car in 2005. The upgraded engine (2009), radiator, suspension components and new wiring (2005) all add to this. The stock German transmission shifts smoothly and quickly and has been gone through. The fire suppression system has been replaced/upgraded, along with a new fuel cell and components (2005). The original seat (designed by famed racer/engineer Mark Donohue) and steering wheel remain and are in excellent condition.
Many spares come with the car including some of the components removed from the original street-duty Pinto. Items of specific interest are a spare engine block (original Doug Fraser) with good pistons, two cylinder heads, a spare transmission, and the original steel wheels that were replaced with the BWA wheels (pictured) by Sherman. There are boxes of small spare parts, and extensive records and photos from the restoration. Of other note, there are numerous notes Sherman made during the development of the car and later track-timing comparisons hand written during testing. E-Mail correspondence between Sherman and Bob Leire are also in the file. The original magazine articles on the car are included as well. The Pinto is also featured in Tom Cotters book The Hemi in the Barn (Motorbooks; 2007) as well as Auto Restorer Magazine installments.