Home » The 1970s Ford Pinto Had An Amazing ‘Tool Kit’ Key Could Loosen Screws And Set Spark Plug Gaps. Let’s Get Today’s Boring Key Fobs To That Level

The 1970s Ford Pinto Had An Amazing ‘Tool Kit’ Key Could Loosen Screws And Set Spark Plug Gaps. Let’s Get Today’s Boring Key Fobs To That Level

Topshot Key
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What’s the best thing about The Autopian? There’s plenty I could list, but one of the greatest is that the site never, ever has those slideshows of things like “Ten Worst Cars” that make you scroll through pictures of the same damn Yugos and AMC Pacers while also reading male enhancement pill advertisements every third slide. Those devoid-of-imagination countdowns are enough to make me look for another website, but it doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to lists themselves. As long as they aren’t slideshows, I’m all for rundowns of truly interesting tidbits.

How about “Top-10 Cool Features Of The Top-10 Most-Maligned Cars”? No car is all-bad, and precious few are even mostly- or half-bad, and there’s plenty of positive thinking that went into the machines that most frequently land on worst-car lists.

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Aztek 2 25
Cars & Bids, General Motors, David Tracy

Some examples? Well, the much-lampooned Pontiac Aztek is packed with clever touches, one of my favorites being the center console box that’s actually a cooler that you can lift out of the car and take it with you. Our own David Tracy snagged one from a junked Aztek and even figured out how to get twelve cans into it.

What about the Chevrolet Vega? Sure, it had disastrous build quality, engine issues and inadequate rust protection, but the Vega used a clever shipping system to cut per-car transportation costs by 40 percent. Dubbed Vert-A-Pack, the setup looks like a fanciful solution a Fisher-Price toy might use, but GM really shipped Vegas this way. [Ed note: I hereby propose the plural of Vega should be Vega.]

Vega 2 23
General Motors

The Vert-A-Pack system allowed for nearly twice as many cars to be transported in one train car. Forklifts would raise the cars into upright position, and up to 30 Vega [Ed note: See? It works] could fit in a single car as opposed to the mere 18 that a “standard” horizontal transporter could hold. Back in 1970, the average cost to transport a car was over $300 in that era’s dollars; not a figure to be sneezed at when it’s on top of the Vega’s around-$2000 asking price. That works out to about $2,500 added to a $16,300 car in today’s money.

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Also incredible: the cars were fully filled with fluids during their trip. How did General Motors tip a car on its nose without having a liquid mess greet recipients of a trainload of Vega? Take a look at the shapely sculpture below: that’s the washer bottle from a Vega. See how the top is at a 45 degree angle? That’s just one trick to how GM compensated for transporting cars perpendicular to the ground.

Vega 2 2 25a
General Motors, Ebay

Considering the benefits, I do wonder if we’ll ever see this kind of system again someday. That’s a bit of a tall order, but there’s a feature on Ford’s famous “Worst Car” contender that’s pure genius and could be able to make a quick comeback if The People saw the value it offered.

Get Ready For More Pinto Adulation

Last week Jason pointed out some unknown facts about the misjudged Pinto; like the other cars on the common worst-car lists, it wasn’t a stellar car overall but it was hardly worse than the cars it was up against in the market at the time, if it was worse at all.

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Mecum

Jason’s outstanding defense of the bad-but-not-worse-than-the-competition Pinto showed us some obscure and exciting details, extending right down to the marketing materials. The first-year Pinto’s brochure included a flattened model that you could cut out and assemble Pepakura-style (or Steak-and-Shake style, if you prefer). After folding the sheet-paper sheetmetal, you could add options including stripes and vinyl roof trim:

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Ford promotional material

Ah, but before we grab the scissors and glue and cut the thing up, let’s read some of the type on this sell-sheet. Jason already pointed out the list of those maintenance and tool kits that Ford conveniently offered, but there’s a detail in the top corner that’s even more interesting. Let’s take a look (excuse the resolution):

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Whoa, is that for real? The ignition key is actually a multi tool! Not one but two kinds of screwdrivers, bottle opener, ruler, and even gap-setting guides for spark plugs (remember, this was when Ford happily offered do-it-yourself maintenance kits). These key-integrated tools were certainly not as effective as the dedicated implements they were meant to serve as, but they beat having nothing at all. Best of all, the tools were with you anytime you drove the car, yet added no bulk or weight.

Ford provided these keys to new Pinto owners in a silly plastic “tool box” that I reluctantly admit is one of the coolest things I’ve seen this week.

Pinto Key 2 25
Ebay

It’s amazing how much Ford was able to get onto this tiny thing, and reminds me just how small the object needed to operate a car used to be. Today, most cars offer keyless locking and trunk opening, but the sacrifice is having to carry around a relatively large and chunky fob-device (by comparison to old keys).

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amazon, amazon and car and truck remotes

Despite their extra size, the fobs above offer nothing in the way of tools, leaving you to other keyring-ready tool solutions. Swiss Army keyring knives are a popular option:

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Swiss Knife 2 22
Victorinox

There are also aftermarket “key tools” available seemingly inspired by the old Pinto idea with far more “tools,” though most of them seem like a bit of a stretch to get a big number in there. Consider this “24 in 1” example. Number 18 is the hang hole, really?

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Temu

Here’s a very sketchy looking knife that swings out of a fake key; I can see getting you to miss your flight if you forgot about it going through security:

Key Knife 2 23
WalMart

Useful, but why do I need to carry even more on my keyring when my transmitter is already so large? You’ll have this big ball you have to carry in your pocket or purse or hang it on your belt like you’re some kind of building superintendent or jailkeeper. I can’t help but think that there could be a better way.

The Key To A Better Key

Let’s look at the transmitter I have as an example. This one is for my Torchinsky Motor Werks Hyena Coupe (pronounced HOO-yeah-nah) imported from the island nation of Jasonia. It’s one of these CLS-style four door sedans where they’ve chopped the roof down so that anyone over about five foot ten can’t fit and anyone under that height can fit but can’t see out. Like most of this ilk, it really isn’t a coupe but it has the “sporty looks” of one without the annoying practicality of a Saab 900 or Rover SD1-style hatchback. It’s great.

Anyway, as with most of these things, it’s rather large; honestly, if it weren’t (as with some examples) you have a hard time finding and pushing the buttons, like those dinky calculator watch buttons from the eighties.

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Key 2

On this one for my TMW there’s a “normal” key inside that slides out for times when the car (or remote) battery shoots craps out. However, a quick look at the back of this thing tells you there’s almost certainly dead space adjacent to the space where the key goes – there’s no way the printed circuit board or battery fills this entire area. I could try to break the fob open but if I can’t get it back together then I’ll need to get another key imported from Jasonia at great expense, plus they typically put parts in barrels and just float them to America so it could take months.

Could we not add some fold-out pieces of steel that incorporated some tools? No, not the absurd number of things that one key-shaped thing provides; I don’t need a bicycle spoke tool or a 1/4 inch hex wrench or a wire stripper. Just a few basic things I might find essential.

Below, you see the idea: two separate “wings” would fold out of the sides with different functions for each. The actual physical key could be part of one of these, since the whole process of removing the key from the back of the fob is a bit of a pain, and the tiny tabs on the back are not much to give you leverage if you’re trying to open a frozen door lock.

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So you’re essentially getting a six-in-one tool if you count the two rulers (millimeters and inches on opposite sides); you might even call it seven in one if you count the physical key, which I wouldn’t do unless I’m desperate to run up the numbers.

You wouldn’t really be adding much weight to the key, and the size increase (if any) would be negligible. Why not give it a try?

Key Takeaways

Look, you might laugh at the idea but you’re talking to a person who in the last month has used a rental car key twice to open packages at a client meeting and even used said key to try to do some quick manipulation of prototypes without the real tools that the TSA would frown upon in my briefcase. The fact that a lambasted compact car from half a century ago intentionally provided additional uses for a key a fraction of the size of today’s fobs should be some kind of lesson for us, don’t you think?

If nothing else, the Autopian is giving you Ford Pinto coverage second to none this month. I told you I love this site, right?

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Mike Dt
Mike Dt
1 month ago

Given how big my Ford key fob is, it really should have swiss army knife capabilities. Which begs the question, why has every car I bought over the last 30 years come with bigger and bigger key fobs??

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
1 month ago
Reply to  The Bishop

I epoxied my is200’s key back together 3 times before it completely disintegrated. I miss having a proper key to start my car :/

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
1 month ago

Not seeing the bottle opener on the Pinto key, but let’s go with it:

Multi-tool–you’ll be fixing it a lot.
Bottle opener–when you want a drink badly enough, anything is a bottle opener, and you’ll definitely want a drink.
Ruler–you’ll want to rap yourself on the knuckles for buying this car.

Last edited 1 month ago by Flyingstitch
Dennis Birtcher
Dennis Birtcher
1 month ago

I think this is the first time in my 38 years on this Earth that I’ve seen the Pinto logo, so I’m just now noticing the Mustang-like tail hanging off the end of the “o”. Nice touch, 1970’s Ford Motor Company.

Anyway, Jasonia! It’s been too long, but worth the wait as always. Another fine idea from that industrious nation.

Lotsofchops
Lotsofchops
1 month ago

My favorite features on the 24-in-1 tool are the Bottie opener and the Bort drver.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
1 month ago

This is good, nay, great Autopian. I also found the Pinto key quite fascinating.

Also, I like the comment below about doubling the key fob as an OBDII reader device.

Tony D
Tony D
1 month ago

My parents had two Pintos at one time. A 2 tone 72 runabout with burnt orange carpet, and a 73 white sedan with an avocado green interior. Sooo 70’s. I remember assembling the do-it-yourself pinto as a kid. Both were manual and they used to push start the runabout with the sedan to get it going on cold Ohio mornings. Not ramming speed, so no fiery deaths occured.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 month ago

Well, they have those micro soldering torches: since it’s Torch Motor Werks, how about incorporating one of those in there? I guess you actually would then need to have a wire stripper in it too. But it could also maybe unfreeze a frozen lock once or twice.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 month ago

One major problem with the Vert-A-Pack was that, while they figured out the washer bottle, GM, trying to keep the price below the magic $2 figure, didn’t want to do the same for the coolant overflow. With an engine that easily overheated, this meant early death for many a Vega as the coolant spewed directly on the ground instead of into a bottle where it could do it’s sworn duty again next drive cycle.

A damn shame, as I really like the clean design of that yellow one posted up there: I even think it looks better without a chrome headlight surround. OTOH, it did mean a fair few got forced early sbc transplants 🙂

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 month ago

I think a more useful thing would be a multi-car universal key fob so you could use a single device for two or three cars. I think something like a cell phone SIM card per car and a selector switch.

Erik McCullough
Erik McCullough
1 month ago

key takeaways….. i like what you did there.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 month ago

I’d go ahead and count the emergency key as a tool. Keys are great for removing earwax. That gives you seven tools and you can call your tool-fangled fob – wait for it – the Locky Seven. I know, awesome, right?

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
1 month ago

I think the tools added to the Porsche fob here may be suboptimal. They add mechanical complexity with the flip-out feature, and since the Pinto key has routine maintenance bits, here’s what I would add to a modern key for a modern car’s maintenance:

1. The same key tip you included, with rulers and a screwdriver on the end, but the more common pull-out type you see today since these wouldn’t be used that often and pull-out is stronger and more compact than flip-out.

2. A usb-C plug that lets you connect a phone. This would be hidden behind the handle of the pull-out tool, sealed by a dust-proof o-ring. Once connected, the corresponding iOS or Android app uses the key as a key to wirelessly connect to the CANBUS and read OBDII data. That right there is enough to sort out 90% of your modern roadside situations.

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
1 month ago
Reply to  Ricardo Mercio

Especially since real tools come with the car.

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
1 month ago
Reply to  Ricardo Mercio

If automakers wanted to make it easier to read codes, they’d just put the damn code on the screen instead of “see dealer”

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
1 month ago

Fair point, kinda forgot new cars all have their own embedded screens already.

It amuses me to think of what will happen in 30 years when carplay support is discontinued, everyone’s using greentooth and USB-G, and used cars from the 10s through the 20s all have infotainment screens integrated into the CANBUS that can’t be upgraded and/or need some rare discontinued bespoke retrofit kit, so everyone’s back to using those cigarette lighter dongles to convert signal to old-school bluetooth, while the really ANCIENT 2005 cars have the latest holographic-projector double DIN retrofit unit with brain-chip interface and the new experimental micro-edging driver awareness system (MEDAS, it keeps you awake on long drives across our 20-lane interstates). I feel like I’m digressing.

Ben
Ben
1 month ago

There’s a Konami code you can punch in on the C5 Corvette where it will list all stored codes on the dash display. Sadly, my understanding is that they removed this feature from all subsequent generations.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
1 month ago

That open space on your Hyena key fob? It needs to be filled with gasoline or other flammable substance, and there be a small igniter on the non-key end, turning it into a mini flamethrower for close combat.

You could also make it so yanking the key out of the fob lights a fuse, so it can also be a hand grenade, if the enemy is further away. You’ll still have your key, though, for a quick escape!

It’s getting confiscated at every airport, but that’s just how things are done in Jasonia.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
1 month ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

The pull ring on the hand grenade is a regular split ring keychain ring, so you still have to frustratingly wedge it apart with a thumbnail while you work it twice around the circumference, cursing and moving it millimeters at time. Hopefully they remember to lengthen the fuse in consideration of this.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
1 month ago

I’d never know where my keys were if you turned them into tools. I’m constantly losing the tool I had in my hand just 30 seconds ago. Half my life would be spent trying to find keys hiding next to a pile of 10 mm sockets somewhere.

Steve Lee
Steve Lee
1 month ago

Drive to the airport for a flight…car key gets confiscated at TSA due to the hidden knife blade. Nice!

But also, the philips screwdriver on the tip seems like a great way to snap a key in half while attempting to unstick a stubborn screw.

Phuzz
Phuzz
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Lee

I’ve got a little key-shaped multi-tool with a blade, and so far it’s never been a problem on international flights, because it looks so much like a normal key it doesn’t get looked at.
Of course, the sensible thing to do would be to leave it at home, but I always forget until I’m already in-line for security.
The Phillips head screwdriver is surprisingly useful too, and the metal is hard enough that it seems robust.

Tbird
Tbird
1 month ago

In high school and college I always had at least the small Victorinox Swiss Army knife in my pocket. Now I never carry one because metal detectors everywhere and just not worth the hassle. I do keep a good multitool in each car as well as a box cutter.

Ben
Ben
1 month ago
Reply to  Tbird

I regularly carry a Swiss Army knife with me and I don’t think it’s ever tripped a metal detector. It probably contains less metal than my physical keys.

The one time it became any issue at all was when a security person actually saw the knife, and even then he let me through as long as I kept it put away.

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
1 month ago

Man, it sucks that the Vega sucked so hard. Cause I think it’s damn good looking.

As for the key, I’d be worried that anything that has to fold into the fob will only somehow make the fob even larger than it already is. It has to hold a battery, after all.

I wouldn’t mind a built in bottle opener though. Anything to make the keyring less bulky is appreciated.

Jac Camara
Jac Camara
1 month ago

Nah, they have a coin battery, there’s a flat circuit board n there, it’s like 1/4″ thick, it’s just air and plastic.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 month ago

Number 18 is the hang hole, really?

Heh – hanger 18.

The hang hole is apparently the same as “2) Stippng tool” [sic] which I assume is the wire stripper you mentioned. #2, indeed.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 month ago
Reply to  The Bishop

And conversely, outside of a MacGyver episode, how often does one come across an emergency situation where stripping wires is the key to success?

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

When you realize that a useful electrical connection had been hanging on by a single strand of copper wire which finally snapped and caused the connected thing to stop being useful.

To choose a, uh, completely random example. 😐

(The better answer would be to retrieve actual wire strippers from the handy kit, assuming the tool bag behind the wheel put them in the tool bag in the car)

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 month ago
Reply to  A. Barth

See, as soon as I wrote that, I kinda figured this was the wrong crowd for that sort of assumption. 😉

Chronometric
Chronometric
1 month ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Not to mention that the “stipping” tool cutter might sever the strap use to hang the key.

Aaron Headly
Aaron Headly
1 month ago

They had to re-engineer a bunch of stuff to keep Vega from being attacked by various fluids when Vert-A-Pak’ed. The battery fillers (remember those?) had to be relocated to the rear edge of the battery, for example. The float bowl had a special drain out the top.

Of course, everything turned out fine and all cars are now delivered by Vert-A-Pak. I guess.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 month ago

Kia key fobs need to come with a foldout USB stick for, you know, emergencies.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rad Barchetta
Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 month ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Came here for this. Well played.

And isn’t the forthcoming Dodge Charger supposed to have a button to remotely rev it, so you can I dunno scare people in the McDonald’s parking lot? Or am I thinking of the Mustang?

Suss6052
Suss6052
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

That’s the 2024 Ford Mustang, not the charger with the remote rev feature

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 month ago

This is just wonderful. Tell me Jeep fobs wouldn’t contain a tiny compass b/c Jeep and Honda fobs a valve stem cap wrench for ease of installing colored/skull/alien ones…

In real life, I do love my Swiss+Tech utili-key. It’s exactly the size of a regular key and contains just enough of the stuff you’d need to do whatever you’d do normally while just having your keys on you. Open a box, sure; start a fire in the rain, no.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jack Trade
Phuzz
Phuzz
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Another happy owner of a utilikey here too. It’s only as big as a small key, and barely adds any bulk to my keyring.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
1 month ago

So, I own a 1976 Pinto Wagon, (it was my dad’s) the ignition key is just a regular Ford key, I also bought one of the tool keys, it’s NOT a key, just a little multi-tool that’s shaped like the key.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
1 month ago
Reply to  The Bishop

The dimensions are just all wrong to work as a key, and cutting into a key would destroy the screwdriver tip and ruler.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
1 month ago
Reply to  The Bishop

It’s at my parents house, but I can take a look this weekend

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 month ago

Never bought the tool kit. But as a long time Pinto owner, I learned to always carry a small box of essential type tools in the trunk.

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