Car and Driver Increase Pinto Fuel Economy with $11 of Ecomods

 

EcoModded Ford Pinto

Recently Darin at EcoModder dug up a Car and Driver article from the middle of the US gas crisis in 1974. It may be a little dated, but considering recent gas price increases these kinds of DIY hacks are becoming relevant once again.

The material prices may be a little different, the cars may be a lot different, but surprisingly little has changed in terms of fuel economy and gas prices. The Car and Driver article is interesting because not only is it old, but it’s still relevant today.

As someone who has been around ecomodding for a while, I can vouch for the efficacy of many of these modifications, and have done some of them myself. So, if you’re really interested, I encourage you to get out there and do some yourself. None of them are engine modifications, or particularly difficult, so don’t feel intimidated by them. Some of the biggest fuel economy gains can come through aerodynamics and rolling resistance modifications.

Read about the modifications after the break.





Car and Driver made a total of six modifications to their Ford Pinto, increasing highway cruising fuel economy a whopping 25%. Here is a quick run down on the mods and the theory behind them:

  1. Front air dam: You can see this hanging down from the bumper in the first picture. The purpose of an air dam is to divert air from going under the car, which is generally very unaerodynamic. This modification reduces drag and is very commonly employed by people whose cars have “dirty” undercarriages.
  2. Grill block: The radiator creates a surprising amount of aerodynamic drag, and covering it up is usually okay as long as you monitor your engine temperature so that the car doesn’t overheat. Most people can do either a full or a partial block without running into trouble.
  3. Rear spoiler: Spoilers come in all shapes and sizes. Usually they exist for show or to increase traction, but in certain circumstances they can be used to improve airflow behind the vehicle, which accounts for a surprising amount of aerodynamic drag. It will take a bit of knowledge and engineering, but in this case the spoiler improved fuel economy 7%.
  4. Smoother front end: As you might guess, the front of the car, being the first part to come in contact with the air that’s being pushing out of the way, is very important to good aerodynamics. Usually cars are designed with style in mind and not aerodynamics, so changing your car’s nose to a more aerodynamic shape will help it cut through the air more easily.
  5. Reduce engine load: Back in the day everything was belt driven, meaning the engine had to do quite a bit of extra work to power things like the radiator fan. Nowadays, with things like electric radiator fans, power steering, and A/C, this isn’t such a problem. However, it is important to keep in mind that the A/C will kill your fuel economy if you use it too much come summertime.
  6. Lower rolling resistance tires: This can actually get to be pretty expensive, but it is one of the things that vehicles like the Honda Insight employ to help deliver fantastic fuel economy. Manufacturers and legislators are even trying to make LRRs standard in order to affect an across the board increase in fuel economy in one place most people wouldn’t look.

All these modifications came together to give increases that looked something like this:

Pretty impressive for not too much work, eh? There are a lot more simple things you can do to increase fuel economy, but this article was certainly one blast from the past that is still applicable today.

Related Posts:

Get 120 MPG Out of Your Prius (Plug It In)

Sick of Gas?: Convert Your Car To Run On Electricity

376.59 MPG Car Found In Museum (It Was Built In 1959)





About the Author

Benjamin Jones is a student of Dartmouth College and co-founder of EcoModder.com and writer at CollegeVegan.com. He is double majoring in Japanese and Linguistics, and is most interested in Sociolinguistics and Anthropology in Japan.

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  • JinnRikki

    The front of that pinto looks to have the aerodynamic qualities of a barn door, I’m unconvinced. Also, blocking the radiator? Please that’s just ludicrous. Unless you put a wedge shaped apparatus to the front of the vehicle I don’t see the point, unless your rich and enjoy melting engines.

    Spoilers and air dams are used almost exclusively to enhance traction, anything that sticks up into the air stream causes drag. I think NASCAR will back me on that.

  • JinnRikki

    The front of that pinto looks to have the aerodynamic qualities of a barn door, I’m unconvinced. Also, blocking the radiator? Please that’s just ludicrous. Unless you put a wedge shaped apparatus to the front of the vehicle I don’t see the point, unless your rich and enjoy melting engines.

    Spoilers and air dams are used almost exclusively to enhance traction, anything that sticks up into the air stream causes drag. I think NASCAR will back me on that.

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  • coolermaster

    With extremely high gas prices straining consumers pockets in recent months, it is only natural for people to wonder where all the money they pay at the pump goes..Source:

    FUEL SAVER MAGNETIC

  • coolermaster

    With extremely high gas prices straining consumers pockets in recent months, it is only natural for people to wonder where all the money they pay at the pump goes..Source:

    FUEL SAVER MAGNETIC

  • BHock

    Spoilers and air dams and not “used almost exclusively to enhance traction…”. A more correct statement would be that they are “used almost exclusively by fools to make their cars uglier” While they can do both, there are plenty of spoilers out there that are designed to decrease turbulence at the tailend of your car, which is just as important as decreasing it from the front. Some of them don’t even stick up into the airstream, but follow the natural line of the car (usually from the roof) to prevent pockets of turbulent air from developing.

  • BHock

    Spoilers and air dams and not “used almost exclusively to enhance traction…”. A more correct statement would be that they are “used almost exclusively by fools to make their cars uglier” While they can do both, there are plenty of spoilers out there that are designed to decrease turbulence at the tailend of your car, which is just as important as decreasing it from the front. Some of them don’t even stick up into the airstream, but follow the natural line of the car (usually from the roof) to prevent pockets of turbulent air from developing.

  • Jim

    The air dam and partial radiator blocks do work. That is why NASCAR uses it, it is in addition to the increased downforce for handling. As for ugly, who cares as long as the fuel econonmy increases. The turbulence that gets under the car increasing drag is huge. They even used this cheap technology for semi trucks but it is utilized little these days.

    I plan to add the air dam to my 2002 Ford Focus. Gets 29 MPG now. Will try to get back to you with an update after implementation.

  • Jim

    The air dam and partial radiator blocks do work. That is why NASCAR uses it, it is in addition to the increased downforce for handling. As for ugly, who cares as long as the fuel econonmy increases. The turbulence that gets under the car increasing drag is huge. They even used this cheap technology for semi trucks but it is utilized little these days.

    I plan to add the air dam to my 2002 Ford Focus. Gets 29 MPG now. Will try to get back to you with an update after implementation.

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  • LonnieB

    Hmmm…I drive a 2003 Mustang Mach 1, which already has all of this. So I guess the engine and drivetrain, as well as power-to-weight ratio are the only areas for improvement. (Well, having a lead-free right foot would help too, but…)

    FYI- Some of the basic “mods” I’ve made are extremely simple. I use a very good quality synthetic motor oil called Royal Purple, K&N oil and air filters, upgraded coil packs (Ford’s really suck) and will be putting capacitor-type pulse plugs in soon, as well as change the stock performance exhaust manifold for headers.

    As far as weight goes, I am installing a rear seat delete kit (I never carry passengers, anyway), relocating my battery to the trunk and replacing some of the heavy factory suspension parts to reduce the unsprung weight and the overall weight.

    Did I mention that I get 21 mpg (city) and 26 mpg (highway)? From a great looking, award winning (3 show trophies, so far) high performance modern muscle car, at that.

    In the not-to-distant future, I hope to be able to convert to ethanol, but I’ll have to bump the compression ratio from 10:1 to 13.5:1 or 14:1, though. But if it will get me off of the Big Oil tit, it’s worth it!

    For what it’s worth, I am currently putting a business plan together to produce alternative fuel powered crate engines for car buffs.

    Who says you have to give up power, style and fun just because OPEC’s greed or tree hugger’s smugness?

  • LonnieB

    Hmmm…I drive a 2003 Mustang Mach 1, which already has all of this. So I guess the engine and drivetrain, as well as power-to-weight ratio are the only areas for improvement. (Well, having a lead-free right foot would help too, but…)

    FYI- Some of the basic “mods” I’ve made are extremely simple. I use a very good quality synthetic motor oil called Royal Purple, K&N oil and air filters, upgraded coil packs (Ford’s really suck) and will be putting capacitor-type pulse plugs in soon, as well as change the stock performance exhaust manifold for headers.

    As far as weight goes, I am installing a rear seat delete kit (I never carry passengers, anyway), relocating my battery to the trunk and replacing some of the heavy factory suspension parts to reduce the unsprung weight and the overall weight.

    Did I mention that I get 21 mpg (city) and 26 mpg (highway)? From a great looking, award winning (3 show trophies, so far) high performance modern muscle car, at that.

    In the not-to-distant future, I hope to be able to convert to ethanol, but I’ll have to bump the compression ratio from 10:1 to 13.5:1 or 14:1, though. But if it will get me off of the Big Oil tit, it’s worth it!

    For what it’s worth, I am currently putting a business plan together to produce alternative fuel powered crate engines for car buffs.

    Who says you have to give up power, style and fun just because OPEC’s greed or tree hugger’s smugness?

  • Frosted Flake

    Fer cryin out loud!

    I had a ’72 Capri. Same motor and trans as the Pinto. At 70 MPH, your mileage figures are 10 low.

    Suggestion. Get a tune-up. And try not to break the gas pedal.