Looking back through the years, I am shocked at the number of cars I have owned. If I showed you the list you would think Daddy owned a used auto lot. Believe me, if Pops owned a car lot I would have had cooler cars than an ’83 Toyota Celica and an ’86 Buick Regal. Yeah sure, the ’72 VW Super beetle was a pretty cool car, just in the fact that it was all original (until I got my hands on it) and when you drove it down a flooded road it would float. Searching through the inventory , the Oldsmobile, the Escort, The little Mighty Max truck, the Ranger and even the Galaxie, there is one car that stands above all with a special place in my heart. The 1972 Pinto Station Wagon.
WHAT?…. Did I just type Pinto? Baby, you know it! I loved this car, and NO it was not the one that “Blew up” when hit it in the back. This was the pioneer, the first (dare I say it) Sport Utility Vehicle for the common man. It ran on regular gas, the back folded down so you could fit your kids, dogs and lumber in at the same time, it was small enough to maneuver through traffic yet large enough to help friends move. But most importantly, if you were a little kid on a long road trip you could snuggle up in the back with a nice cozy blanket and let the hum of the wheels on the road lull you to sleep.
My relationship with the ’72 Pinto goes back to when I was two years old. My Dad stubbornly held on to the delusion that they could fit the both of them, a toddler and a very large hound dog in the back of his beloved ’68 Mustang GT and ride comfortably from Florida to New York and back to see family. I understand it took only one round trip during a Christmas visit for my dad to begin to see the value of buying a station wagon. The only stipulation was it had to be the same Gold-Green color as the Mustang he was giving up and he would get to put wider tires on slotted aluminum wheels on it as well.
When I was Five years old, we ended up living in Spain. The trusty little Pinto proved to be the best vehicle for the narrow European roads. We traveled all over the country with that car.
Being a Navy family we moved around quite a bit, and everywhere we went the green Pinto was with us. Up and down the east coast of the United States and throughout a few European countries as well. The poor car finally met it’s end in Sicily, Italy. After fourteen years and almost 250 thousand miles, the poor little guy just died. My dad and I followed the wrecker and took all of the parts off of it that we could take and said our last goodbye.
When we finally settled in Virginia Beach, I was just about the age to get my driver’s License and there was no car in sight for me. The Pinto was to be mine, now I would be forced to share my mother’s giant Fleetwood Cadillac. There’s a fine example of young freedom, “Hey mom, can I borrow the boat”.
My world changed one day when I decided to take a shortcut to a friends house, walking on the lake side across the neighbors back yards I saw a vehicle under a tarp. I went back to my house to put my bike back and walked around to the court who’s house it was. I found the house, it belonged to “Gene Autry”. Well, that’s what we called him. He was a tall man that always wore a cowboy hat and boots, but what got him his nickname was the fact that he always wore a gun on his side. Yes, you guessed a Big Ol’ western holster with a long barreled six shooter in it.
Now I almost turned around right then and there but before I could he saw me standing there. Looking like the Marlboro Man he said, “Hey, why were you walking across my back yard?” I totally avoided that question and went straight into it, “What kind of car do you have back there?” Now the humor was lost on me then because I was a little scared of him, but looking back now I laugh when I think about the weathered old cowboy uttering the name of the car that has been put out to pasture in his back yard, “Pinto.”
He and I chatted about the car for a while and I found out that it ran a year ago when he put it back there but he gave up on it because he was having trouble getting it started. After a while I asked him how much her would be willing to take for the car and he barked, “Son, if you can get it out of my yard you can have it!” As I pushed it on it’s dry rotted tires past him down his drive way he told me he would go find the title and bring it to me.
I only had it two hours, I added gas, and brought out all of the parts from the Pinto that we had to leave behind and replaced the tires, battery, and starter motor. When Old Gene Autry popped into the garage with the title. I drove past him on the way to the DMV and slowed down enough to thank him for the car. I was the proud owner of a 1972 Pinto Station Wagon, and everything was right in the world again.