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.

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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

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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

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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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Mike S
Mike S
1 year ago

Volare for me. Too bad it’s the 4-door, because both of these choices are pretty dowdy. But people pay big money for that “Super Six” intake/exhaust/carb setup to replace the 1-barrel from earlier Slants. Drive it till you’re tired of all the green then sell the Super Six setup to get half or more of your money back.

Douglas Lain
Douglas Lain
1 year ago

I’ll take the Plymouth, put on a green feed cap, and pretend I’m Oscar Leroy. If you take the Pinto, you’re a JACKASS!

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
1 year ago

Yeah, these are both terrible choices. I chose the Pinto for the plaid interior.

Cyko9
Cyko9
1 year ago

If the Volaré were a coupe or wagon, it’d have a little more draw. The Pinto has a little more character, and I like the darker green, but since it’s so rough, I voted Plymouth. Seems pretty high for an awful car though, even if it does run.

ChefCJ
ChefCJ
1 year ago

Man, nothing you could do to that Plymouth would make it worth owning. It was a terrible looking car then, it still would be regardless of what you sunk into it. At least with the Pinto you could pass it off to your kids by telling them “It’s Joyce’s car from Stranger Things”.

Of course, she owns it because it tells you exactly how broke she is. But still, it’s at least less terrible looking.

Erik Hancock
Erik Hancock
1 year ago

In my imagination, the hubcaps on both of these cars were designed to detach automatically upon arriving at their destination, in order to roll away and wub-wub to a comical stop somewhere out of sight. On that basis alone shall I choose between these terrible vehicles, and the winner is: Plymouth Volare. Something about those turbine-like covers has more inherent comedy than the Pinto caps.

David Smith
David Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Erik Hancock

This is as good a reason to choose one of these over the other of two cars that not one rational person would buy. If they were priced at $800 I think the discussion would be more robust.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
1 year ago

Mark, if your insurance company is quoting an SHO higher than a regular Taurus, you might want to get a new insurance company. At that age, even a soft tap will total it.

Matt Woods
Matt Woods
1 year ago

I owned a Pinto once, and my parents owned a Volare wagon. They are both unredeemable pieces of $#it. Since my Pinto lasted longer than their Volare, I would take the Pinto. But, that one looks as though a haz-mat suit should be worn, so the vinyl top gets my vote.

Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
1 year ago

I chose the Pinto. I don’t think they were great cars, but the certainly got more hate than they deserved. The Volare on the other hand, deserved much more hate than it received.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 year ago

Pinto. I kinda want a small old domestic, and they are allegedly fairly easy to make handle decently. It would get a 4-speed before I even cleaned the interior, though.

I have love for the Aspen/Volare due to my Grandparents’ white one, and one day I will have a slant six. My friend’s father’s Dart went some 240k before the evening we heard him coming home from blocks away: the rear gave in to rust & dropped on the ground. Left scrapes for a good 1/2 mile. From then on it was forever known as the drag-ass car

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
1 year ago

Volaré all the way. I owned a two-door ’79 Volaré with the slant 6 in high school, complete with hot-rod T-shirt seat covers, and what an amazing shitbox it was. There was a laundry list of issues at any given time with that car, but it never left me stranded. Plus, it was the only car I’ve ever been airborne in and was the car I taught myself dry-pavement J-turns in. It could take a beating.

As to this one, I’d like to heavily clear-coat over that bumper moss for a new take on the patina-look.

My grandpa had one of the last years of the Pinto hatchback in robin’s egg blue. It managed not to catch Fire On Regular Drives.

Swirl Of Embers
Swirl Of Embers
1 year ago

Also had one. Along with a girlfriend (redneck but sweet) who would lay down across that flat bench seat and hoover me while I drove. She was actually more insistent about doing that than I was. Given the memories, I’m voting accordingly.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
1 year ago

Bench seats FTW (again)!

Tommy Helios
Tommy Helios
1 year ago

When I was growing up my old man had a Aspen coupe in the same shade of green. You wouldn’t have known it as it was a Cleveland car it’s whole life and by 87 was mostly rust and some duct tape holding it together. Cool part was when it wasn’t raining or snowing he left the windows down and let me dukes of Hazzard jump in through the open window. It was his idgaf beater so no loss to him and great childhood memories for me. Would buy the voltare and hop through windows with similar abandon now but my fat ass would have a helluva time getting in through the four door windows.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
1 year ago

Don’t forget that the 2.3 also made its way into the SVO Mustang and the Turbo Coupe T-Bird (and the woeful Merkur XR4Ti). Some performance cred there….a turbo 2.3 in a Pinto would be a rocket.

When I was a kid, one of my friend’s parents had an Aspen wagon. When it was filled with gas and the pump kicked off, it would spit back some gas, usually all over the person pumping the gas. His parents always went to full serve stations, I assume because they knew about the issue.

We’d sit in the back seat staring intently at the poor gas attendant who would be standing there staring off into space as the car filled, oblivious to their impending doom. When the nozzle would click off and the pump jockey would get doused in gas, we’d all cheer.

Irv Warden
Irv Warden
1 year ago

Neither. I bought a 1976 Volare new and it was the single worst automobile ever produced. The only redeeming feature this vehicle has is the automatic transmission, my Volare went through two manual transmissions in 4.5 years.

The only Pinto I would consider would be the wagon with a manual transmission, my Mom had one and it was a good car. Also, the wagon was less likely to catch fire.

Questionable cars in questionable condition. The best thing that I would probably get from purchasing either of these to vehicles in a chance to test the quality of my health insurance policy’s mental health coverage.

CatMan
CatMan
1 year ago

Is that mold on the Volare? Has it been sitting because it was in a flood? I vote for yesterday’s Grand Am

CatMan
CatMan
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Good Grief! I’m from Houston, where the first thought of anything green is Mold

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago

I’m not convinced that the Volare is actually green. With all that moss(?) on the front end, it could very well be white under there! Kidding aside, I am thinking that either could be an amusing drag car with the right engine. To that end, I’m taking the Volare, dropping a hotter Chrysler V8 in there, and painting “Swamp Thing” on the side, moss and all.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
1 year ago

“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.”

The grille on a car like this is made of indifference. Almost nobody who owned a Volare or Aspen was going to bother with replacing a broken grille.

For this showdown, I’ll take the Mopar edition of peak malaise. The rust inside and outside of the Pinto makes it DOA for me. I’m also not a fan of cars that only run well below 35 MPH with a cold engine. The brakes on the Volare shouldn’t take much time or money to fix.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
1 year ago

My 540i6 had a green interior, which was a rarity for some reason (possibly ugliness), and now I associate green interiors with pain and financial ruin.

I voted Pinto before I realized that it, too had greener innards than Kermit the Frog.

Both of these cars make me exceptionally unhappy, and I am ashamed to have chosen one.

BigOldAndy
BigOldAndy
1 year ago

We had a few Pintos in my family back in the day; my dad desperately wanted a fun little car that had to be American and not a GM. The Pintos had a wonderful combination of being small and slow and bad on gas. Living in Minnesota, rear-wheel drive was an extra bonus. Perhaps the Gremlin would have been the better choice…

JDE
JDE
1 year ago
Reply to  BigOldAndy

and a 302/351W fits in the engine bay with only a little elbow grease. Or maybe even an 86/87 turbo 2.3.

Anthony Henderson
Anthony Henderson
1 year ago

The Plymouth reminds me of the girl I dated in H.S. who owned what she called the “Nasty Ass-pen”.
I’ll have the Pinto, though. I recently owned a ’78 Cruising Wagon with the same powertrain. It was stone-cold reliable, although the car was in better shape overall. Even took me on an inter-state “Pinto Stampede” rally (during which, it’s worth mentioning, none of the other cars had any breakdowns). We ruined a lot of other people’s trips to the Tail of the Dragon that day!

Acrimonious Mofo
Acrimonious Mofo
1 year ago

I kind of like Pintos. Always have. I have no good or reasonable explanation for this.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago

I don’t mind the looks of it, either. I also like the Vega’s styling – like a mini Camaro.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
1 year ago

The Pinto design was pretty good for the time! Look at any other American attempts at small cars for the era. Is there anything better?

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
1 year ago
Reply to  SlowCarFast

I prefer the Gremlin

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 year ago

This is as tough as yesterdays SS, but for a different reason. I can usually justify a bad car, but these are just both so awful. And grossly overpriced to boot. Woof. Anywho…

Ah…Plymouth. I want to love you, but you make it so hard. We have some beginnings of rust down low, a whiskey dent, and a busted radiator grille. The interior looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since 1982, and although I actually like the design of the interior (the color of those vinyl seats, mmm) more between the two, that weak lime green doesn’t work. Coupled with the Brougham top in an equally unflattering shade of green and I’m thinking pass.

I bought and sold a 1974 Ford Maverick about a year ago, and looking at the pictures of the Pinto, it appears to utilize a lot of the same materials. They might have been fine new, but at this point, all they need is a strong with or a hard sneeze to crumble in front of you. That seat upholstery is great, by the way, if you’ve never had the chance to experience it. But the actual weave of the cloth likes to separate apart, leaving you to sit on wads and bunches of threads. That said, I’ve always loved the deep shade of green Ford used in the 70s, and this is no exception. The sad thing is, this only has 12 fewer horses (on paper anyway) than the Leaning Tower of Power.

Ford. Ford? Ford, twice in a week…what’s going on here?

James Mitchell
James Mitchell
1 year ago

It’s dumb, but I’ve always wanted one of those shitty 70s American hatches. I don’t like the look of the Pinto as much as the others, but it’s a Ford. The degree of difficulty for wrenching isn’t going to be bad.

Stephen Reed
Stephen Reed
1 year ago

I click on the link for the quiz and it asks me to make one. Am I doing something wrong?

Richard O
Richard O
1 year ago

I’d have to go with the Volare. Why? Because none wasn’t a choice and decided 4 doors might be more useful. With that said, I think we might be able to fit a 302/5.0 in that Pinto for giggles.

Bomber
Bomber
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard O

Pretty much where I went too. But you can easily put a modern hemi in the Volare if you wanted too. Plenty of kits now to make the electronics work. Decent sleeper/hot rod that way either way. The Pinto would likely end up more fun to have but the Volare would be more reasonable to have with or without tinkering.

Richard O
Richard O
1 year ago
Reply to  Bomber

I always kind of liked the Pinto. I had an older sister who bought one new and a brother who had a beat up wagon. They were nice for what they were, but not my preference. Now if the Volare had been the previous gen Dart/Valiant/Duster, I’d have been all over that instead.

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