Home » It’s Not Easy Being Green: 1978 Plymouth Volaré vs 1976 Ford Pinto

It’s Not Easy Being Green: 1978 Plymouth Volaré vs 1976 Ford Pinto

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Good morning! I feel like I was too easy on you yesterday, choosing one truly desirable car and another that would probably win a Showdown against most other vehicles. But I don’t want you all going soft on me, so today, there are no good choices. But there are some good colors. So first we’ll state the obvious:

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As expected. The SHO won in a landslide. That really is a good price on that car. But I’ve been thinking about it, and I can honestly say that I’d choose the Pontiac. Why? I don’t drive fast, so there’s no point in me having a fast car, and dealing with the higher maintenance, more specialized parts, exponentially higher insurance rates, and all the hassle that would go along with a rare high-performance car like that. You can all fight over it; I’d be more than happy to putter around in that Grand Am.

Now, I want to talk about a subject that seems to scare most automakers, and a majority of buyers too, from the look of most parking lots: color. I will admit the situation is starting to get better, especially in terms of “fun” cars – Stellantis especially has some great color choices for the Charger, Challenger, and Wrangler – but they’re overwhelmed by the sea of black, white, silver, and beige that make up most of the automotive landscape.

But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the days of tailfins, Detroit’s color choices were so good that guitar companies stole them to brighten up their instruments. As late as the 1970s, when nearly everything else about cars was just awful, the color palette remained strong, and the interiors usually matched.

Which brings us to these two. Even as choked down by smog controls as they are, you can’t really call either of these cars “green,” but you can’t deny that they are, in fact, green. Everywhere. Inside and out. So very, very green.

1978 Plymouth Volaré – $1,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 225 cubic inch inline 6, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Vancouver, WA

Odometer reading: 122,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but has been sitting, needs brake work

The Plymouth Volaré, and its Dodge Aspen twin, were introduced in 1976 to replace the celebrated but aging Valiant and Dart. Unfortunately, this was tantamount to replacing Wolfgang Puck with that kid who gave you the wrong order at Burger King last week. Or replacing David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar. (Just kidding, Red; you know I love ya.) It had some big shoes to fill, and wasn’t exactly up to the task. The Aspen and Volaré were plagued with recalls for everything from suspension problems to seat belt failures to rust-through on the front fenders after as little as one year.

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Luckily, Chrysler had the good sense to carry over the Dart/Valiant’s main attraction: the legendary “Leaning Tower of Power,” the Slant Six engine. Even swathed in a Medusa-like tangle of vacuum lines and strangled by pollution controls, this engine chugged dutifully along under the Aspen/Volaré hood, backed by an equally stout Torqueflite automatic transmission. And this one is even the two-barrel “Super Six,” with twenty whole extra horsepower.

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As bad as these cars were, and they were truly appalling, you do still see them around from time to time. I bought a two-door Volaré for a winter beater in 1996 for $175, assuming it was one of the last ones left. But now that I live on the West Coast, I see them around here and there still, chugging along out of what seems like pure stubbornness. But I have not seen one with an intact grille since the mid-1980s. I think those grilles are made out of hard candy or something.

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Overall, this car doesn’t look half bad, for what it is. The paint is probably permanently dull, and the interior has a few popped seams, but it’s remarkably rust-free for a car that was known to rust if you breathed on it hard. The seller says it runs well, and was daily driven only a couple years ago, but now is in need of a brake job. But if that’s really the only thing wrong with it, you could probably put it back into daily service without much trouble.

[Editor’s Note: Look at that rare and early example of amber rear indicators on an American car! – JT]

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I mean, you’d have to be the right sort of person to want to daily a barf-green Volaré, but I, for one, would salute you for it.

 

1976 Ford Pinto – $2,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter inline 4, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Sultan, WA

Odometer reading: unknown

Runs/drives? Sorta?

This is a car that needs no introduction. The “Barbecue That Seats Four,” Ford’s notorious Pinto was a sales success despite the lawsuits and the controversy. Ford sold more than three million of these things over its ten-year run. It was “the car nobody loved, but everybody bought.” My family had one when I was little, a Pinto “Squire” wagon with fake woodgrain sides and a bright blue vinyl interior. We didn’t love it either, and, ironically, replaced it with a Dodge Aspen.

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Despite its legacy, the Pinto wasn’t a terrible car. It wasn’t good, but in terms of build quality and sturdiness it was a Rolls-Royce compared to Chevrolet’s competitor the Vega. The “Runabout” hatchback models like this were decent little stuff-haulers, and the 2.3 liter four-cylinder engine was a good enough design to outlive the Pinto by 17 years, powering millions of Mustangs and Rangers well into the Clinton administration.

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That engine, sadly, is stuck in front of a three-speed automatic in this instance, sapping what power it has and making for a rather sluggish little car. The good news, I suppose, is that the transmission will live forever with so little torque running through it. According to the seller, the engine starts and runs, but leaks (I’m assuming) coolant after it warms up. And I do think I see a puddle of something under the car in some of the photos. If it’s that bad of a leak, it shouldn’t be too hard to find. It sounds like it might need an alternator as well.

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Apart from the mechanical woes, this looks like a reasonably solid little car. The green plaid upholstery is, unfortunately, in awful shape, with mysterious stains on the driver’s seat and rear seat, though the passenger side looks all right. But it doesn’t have much rust at all, and it looks remarkably original and intact.

Yes, I know these are both horrible choices. No, I don’t feel bad at all. Studying the history of cars means studying the dark chapters as well, and this was a pretty dark time for the American auto industry. But hey, at least the cars weren’t all beige or silver. Which one will it be?

 

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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58 Responses

  1. This was a truly entertaining Shitbox Showdown, goes right to the core of what it’s all about. Two of the shittiest specimens of the shittiest time in automotive history. And I really had to think about it! I was inclined at first to maybe pick the Volare because who’d pick a Pinto over anything? Mechanically I wouldn’t be afraid of either of these; I grew up wrenching on similar shitboxery. But… man, I think the Volare did a vehicular manthingslaughter on some hapless Swamp Thing who picked the wrong crosswalk at the wrong time, and you know that Thing will be out for revenge. And man, that Volare is just too ugly. Not entertainingly ugly (although the interior is a scream), but just four-door Uncle Howard’s old POS ugly. And I briefly owned a ’77 Mustang II (another with them amber rear turn signals!) that had the same engine as this Pinto, and though it was objectively the worst engine I’ve owned, it never actually broke on me, and I am familiar with all its sins. So it’s the Pinto in a squeaker.

  2. When I was in high school, they had three Volares, including one the same color green as this one, as range cars. They wouldn’t dare take us out on the road with them, but we got to play with them in the parking lot, learning how to maneuver, park, etc. It made a lot of bizarre groaning noises and if you cranked the wheel to lock, it would cut off.

    I just feel like the Pinto would be fun. Really, really slow fun.

  3. There’s a guy tooling around near where I live in a hopped up special edition Aspen. Its a solid example of what a bad car looks like when done well.

    But give me the Pinto

  4. Can’t not vote for plaid interior, even in that condition. Like the silhouette of the pinto better, too. If it’s gotta be a shitty death trap, may as well pick the one with (relative) style

  5. I used to hate “baby shit green” cars back in the day. Now that they don’t come in any colors at all, I’d totally rock one.

    Between these two, neither I would want, I choose the Pinto. Sure, it might blow me up, but if I had to drive a Volare, I’d probably blow MYSELF up. Besides, that Pinto is only a junkyard 5.0/T5 swap away from being gobs of cheap fun.

  6. In the spirit of “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all”, I’m picking the Volare only because I like that green just a little bit better.

    Maybe we should buy both and have the Volare rear end the Pinto and put them both out of our misery.

  7. It has finally happened. Both cars were part of the menagerie of vehicles from my childhood. Neither car was great, but they both got you to where you needed to go, at least for a while. And yes, we had an Aspen with that color, both exterior and vinyl, but we did have a Volare at one point too.

  8. Okay now that I got to vote… Volare all day. I’ve never liked how the Pinto looks and the slant 6 the Volare uses is ridiculously reliable and can be fixed in your backyard with enough duct tape and beer.

  9. Both have some nostalgic memories for me. I learned to drive in a ’77 Aspen wagon with the leaning tower of power. But the price on both of those, yikes! These should be no more than $1000, maybe $1500 cars at most. As a result I can’t make a choice.

  10. Apparently the Pinto is the minority choice today. I managed to avoid both the,Aspen ant the Pinto so I’m more influenced by the Pinto’s racing history and how utterly shite the Aspen was.
    The slushbox is disappointing but a Pinto is RWD so the Mazda 5 speed out of a Ranger would bolt in easily and there’s plenty of handling upgrades. Also once once you ditch originality a couple of aftermarket buckets solves the upholstery issues and as for the 2.3 engine, it was turbocharged by Ford. I’d avoid a,302 swap for weight reasons but would entertain a Cologne V6 since those were factory too.

  11. Pinto all the way. I’ve always like the looks and this one is before they really started mucking around with it. Get it home, drive the nuts off it, autocross it even for the hilarity factor, then start swapping. As others have mentioned there are a ton of options from later Fords for manuals and upgraded engines so I would aim for a 5 speed V6 out of of a boneyard doner and have at it.

  12. Pinto all the way. I’ve always liked the looks and this one is before they really started mucking around with it. Get it home, drive the nuts off it, autocross it even for the hilarity factor, then start swapping. As others have mentioned there are a ton of options from later Fords for manuals and upgraded engines so I would aim for a 5 speed V6 out of of a boneyard doner and have at it.

  13. MOPAR. The super slant wins, the Plymouth interior wins, the Volare suspension wins, the trunk between the bumper and fuel tank wins, the looks win, the Dodge differential wins, the stupid grill: we broke a neighbors grill playing football in the street. With a nerf ball. He saw it happen and was mad. At the grill. “AGAIN?! I’M NOT FIXING IT AGAIN! P.O.S.! Broke it opening the hood looking for the latch last time! A G.D. Nerf! FFS!”

  14. They’re both terrible and overpriced, but the mom of a friend of mine in elementary school owned a red Pinto that we rode around in quite frequently, so Pinto for nostalgia’s sake.

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