Home » It’s Long Past Time To Stop Making Fun Of The Ford Pinto

It’s Long Past Time To Stop Making Fun Of The Ford Pinto

Pinto Top
ADVERTISEMENT

Cars, like people, have reputations. Often these reputations are earned, but this isn’t always the case. A reputation can really stick with you, to the point where it becomes so associated with you that the circumstances of its origins, whether valid or not, cease to become relevant. You’re just stuck with whatever stupid crap you got saddled with. In the automotive world, it’s hard to think of a car more laden with a terrible reputation than the Ford Pinto. Even people who don’t give a brace of BMs about cars have heard about how if you tap a Pinto on the rear, it’ll explode into a fireball the size of a small sun, and almost as hot. The truth, though, is not so simple. The Pinto really wasn’t any more dangerous than any other small ’70s-era shitbox, and so many of the other surrounding myths just don’t hold up to scrutiny. Plus, it had a fantastic engine that went on to power a lot of other interesting cars. So let’s just take a moment and offer the much-maligned Pinto some redemption.

Pintopress1

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

In case you’re skeptical about the remarkable ubiquity of the Pinto’s deathtrap reputation, here’s a fun example: Back in 1984, the Pinto was such a well-known joke that a tap-the-Pinto-on-the-rear-and-it’ll-explode joke was included in the 1984 Val Kilmer movie Top Secret:

If something is well-known enough to be in a mass-market screwball Val Kilmer-helmed comedy, I think it’s safe to say it’s pretty well-known. Note how they even linger on the “Pinto” badging there, so everybody gets it. Oh, and since we’re talking about Top Secret I need to show you my favorite gag from the movie, just because:

ADVERTISEMENT

Ah, that’s a great gag! He has the forgot-about-the-class-in-high-school anxiety dream and is relieved to just being tortured by Nazis when he wakes up! Gold!

But let’s get back to the Pinto. The original goal was for Ford to have an inexpensive, fuel-efficient car to compete with imported cars like the Volkswagen Beetle. Pinto development started in 1967, and was approved in 1969; the Beetle’s biggest sales year in America was 1968, with over 400,000 sold, so it’s pretty easy to understand why Ford saw the small, inexpensive car market as something worth pursuing. Lee Iacocca, who was president of Ford at the time, famously wanted the car to be both under 2,000 pounds in weight and cost under $2,000 (those were 1971 dollars, so that’d be about $15,000 today).

Pintosails

The Pinto had a very rapid development, and was really quite a conventional car, just scaled down a bit. It used a four-cylinder inline engine, laid out longitudinally and driving the rear wheels. Design was clean and attractive, with a fastback that could be either a trunk or an actual hatchback. A wagon was available later as well. Really, for the early 1970s, it was fine, and compared pretty well with its domestic competition, cars like the Chevy Vega and AMC Gremlin.

ADVERTISEMENT

Thethree

Pintos initially used the 75 horsepower 1.6-liter Kent engine borrowed from Ford UK, and then an engine just for the Pinto, complete with an overhead cam, was developed, at 2- and then 2.3-liter sizes. We’ll get to this engine more in a bit.

The main point I want to make here is that in terms of fundamental design, there was really nothing wrong with the Pinto. It was very conventional, and, when compared with cars like the Vega or Gremlin, I think you could easily argue that it was the best of the bunch of American subcompacts. Remember, the Vega was a disaster that would rust if you looked at it while thinking of the ocean, and the Gremlin was just a cut-down AMC Hornet, a desperate attempt by AMC to get a small car to market while spending the least amount of money possible. Maybe it was a bit of a shitbox, but at this time in the early ’70s, that was pretty much what the state-of-the-art was. Shitboxes.

The Whole Safety Thing

Of course, the biggest Pinto issue is the notion that its poor fuel tank design, located aft of the rear axle, made it a deathtrap. According to conventional wisdom, Ford cheaped out, and instead of using a saddle-type tank over the rear axle (which would have impacted luggage capacity, something that is important for a car like this, and, really, most cars) or adding plastic baffles or steel protection plates (which could have made the setup safer), Ford calculated that it would just be cheaper and easier to accept the possibility of deaths, and built the car with the less expensive setup.

Pintomadness

ADVERTISEMENT

This mode of thinking was revealed to the public, with a great deal of drama, in a Pulitzer-winning article in Mother Jones called Pinto Madness This article made a lot of claims about the dangers of the Pinto’s fuel tank design, noting the highly-publicized deaths that definitely did happen as a result of a wreck that caused a fire, but also noting a much higher number of deaths from Pinto fuel tank fires:

“By conservative estimates Pinto crashes have caused 500 burn deaths to people who would not have been seriously injured if the car had not burst into flames. The figure could be as high as 900.”

Here’s the problem, though. If we look at actual numbers of fatalities per million vehicles (from all kinds of wrecks and incidents) as recorded by NHTSA from 1975-1976, we see that the numbers of fatalities for the Pinto are not anywhere near those numbers, and, in fact, the Pinto is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to small cars sold in America:

Fatalitychart1

I’m getting these figures via Dr. Mark Rossow’s paper Ethics: An Alternative Account of the Ford Pinto Case which makes a number of excellent arguments that confront the usual narrative around the Pinto and especially the Mother Jones article. In the numbers above, the Pinto is hardly a standout deathtrap; I mean, by modern standards, sure, everything on that list is a horrible deathtrap, but the Pinto was safer than the Toyota Corolla or the Beetle or the Datsun 210, and none of those cars are as burdened with the oppressive fiery deathtrap narrative as the Pinto is. In fact, the Pinto’s overall deaths per million vehicles is better than the average!

The paper notes in more detail the actual reported figures and the numbers given in the Mother Jones article:

ADVERTISEMENT

The data do not support the characterization of the Pinto as a firetrap, a death-trap, or a lethal car. Critics of Pinto safety usually refer to fatalities caused by fires in rear-end collisions, rather than fatalities from all causes. A frequently cited finding is that for the time period 1971-1977, NHTSA identified thirty-eight rear-end collisions for Pintos that resulted in tank leakage or fire [23]. These collisions led to twenty-seven deaths (the same number of deaths allegedly caused by a Pinto transmission problem—for which no recall was issued [24]). Arguments exist for saying that the figure of twenty-seven is somewhat uncertain, [1, p. 1030] but what is certain is that the figure is nowhere near the 500 burn deaths claimed in the Mother Jones article.

None of this is to say that the Pinto was perfect; it was flawed in many ways, like all cars are, especially of that era. And yes, if you whack one in the rear hard enough, you can get fuel to spill, and that fuel can catch fire. Like a lot of cars. The publicity around the Pinto encouraged more crash testing, but even the circumstances of those tests feels like there was a specific dramatically bad outcome that, for some reason, people wanted to see.

Consider the circumstances of the NHTSA rear-impact tests, again from Rossow’s paper:

Rather than a flat moving barrier, a large and especially rigid car (a 1971 Chevrolet Impala) was selected to crash into the (stationary) test-car’s rear end. To ensure good contact with the gas tank, the nose of the Impala was loaded with weights so that it would slide under the test car. To provide an ignition source for a fire, the headlights of the impacting car and brake lights of the stationary car were left on, and the engines of both the moving and stationary vehicles were warmed up and running; tanks in both the moving and test cars were filled with gasoline rather than the nonflammable mineral spirits usually used in crash tests [3; 6, p. 88].

As you can imagine, the visuals from these tests were quite dramatic, with all of that extra nose weight and factors designed to make ignition more likely:

I mean, damn, that’s terrifying! If you set up a Gremlin in these exact same circumstances, though, what do you think would happen? I’d speculate that you could get results that looked almost just like these.

ADVERTISEMENT

And that famous “Pinto Memo,” that was supposed to be this damning indictment of Ford placing a monetary value on human life, doing the math, and deciding that making the car safer wasn’t worth it – really wasn’t that. You can read the whole memo here, and if you do, you’ll notice a few things: first, it never mentions the Pinto at all, second, it’s talking about rollover wrecks, not the rear-impact collisions at the heart of the Pinto controversy, and last, what is really going on in the memo is a cost-benefit analysis. They’re not putting a price on a human life, they’re doing what any company that makes a product has to do, evaluate desired factors with relation to cost.

Pintored

If cost were no object, we could build every car with all the safety features of an F1 car. But we can’t do that, because then all cars would cost millions of dollars and, let’s be honest, nobody wants to strap into a five-point harness or wear a HANS device to go get tacos. Every automaker has to decide which safety features to include and which to leave out, and the decision could have implications on human lives.

My point here is that while by modern standards, the Pinto isn’t a safe car, for its time and class, it was really about average, and the people at Ford weren’t some unusually horrific ghouls who sold out human lives for profits – they were exactly the same sort of horrific ghouls who craved profit just like everyone else in the auto industry.

The Engine

2 3engineHere’s another big reason why it’s time to stop looking down on the Pinto: The engine created for it proved to be excellent, and found a whole other life powering all sorts of other cars, even genuinely exciting cars, long after the Pinto was gone. The overhead cam 2.3-liter inline-four engine that came to be known as the Pinto engine was at the heart of cars as varied as the Ford Aerostar van, pickup trucks like the Ford Courier and Ranger, Ford-built Brazilian Jeep CJ-5s, the midsize Ford Fairmont, LTD, Mercury Marquis, and, in turbo form, legendary performance cars like the Merkur XR4Ti, the Thunderbird Turbo, and the Mustang SVO.

ADVERTISEMENT

That’s all pretty incredible for an engine designed for a small economy car! The robust 2.3 engine proved surprisingly flexible and able to put out significant power, culminating, in intercooled form in the Mustang SVO, with 205 hp back in 1985. That’s no joke! [Ed Note: Pinto engine swaps into Willys Jeeps are common! -DT]. 

This Cut-Out Pinto Brochure And Those Kits

Pinto Cutout

Another fun Pinto thing? These early cut-out Pinto model brochures. Look how you could option it out with a vinyl top or other wheels or “rallye” grilles and back panels – it’s like an online car configurator of today, but physical! Also, they had an admirable DIY focus for maintenance, with a number of “do-it-yourself parts kits” (see lower left column) where you’d buy like a “taillight kit” that had all the bulbs you’d need or an “electrical tune up kit” or a “windshield wiper kit” that all had the necessary parts required to do a job. Honestly, it’s a good idea that could make a comeback.

The Point

I’m by no means the first to point this out or say it or feel it, but I am happy to reiterate this idea: the Ford Pinto was not nearly as bad or deadly as its shockingly persistent reputation would make you think. It just wasn’t. There’s plenty of shitty cars out there in the world, but I’m not even sure I’d put the Pinto on such a list: it looked pretty good, it was affordable, it had a great engine, and, overall, it did the job it was designed to do.

Things got very much off the rails in the Pinto’s decade-long lifespan, but even with all of that looming mess, over three million were sold. It’s just not the horrorshow that so many people still make it out to be, and I’m just sick of hearing it. The Pinto is fine! It’s no worse than so many other cars of its era, and in fact is better than many that manage to slide under the radar of public disdain.

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s time to stop making the same tired jokes about the Pinto. The car has earned some peace in its afterlife, and I intend to defend it.

Even at the risk of being, um, flamed.

 

Relatedbar

What The Hell Is Going On With This Glass Assed Ford Pinto Convertible Project?

This 1969 Ford Rear-Engine Prototype Is A Fascinating Mystery

Let’s Try And Figure Out This Estate Sale Mystery Of ’70s Cop Car Concept Drawings

ADVERTISEMENT
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
138 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Billywa
Billywa
3 months ago

As the son of a Ford dealer, my Dad would bring home the little plastic versions of the new models that Corporate supplied. They were very detailed and about twice the size of the die cast cars you see at CVS and were nice quality pieces. Among the neighborhood kids, the Pinto (in its miniature form) made me pretty popular…

However, given that it was a compact, short wheelbase car, the Pinto rode like crap. When my parents took my Princess sister her new car, I got to ride in the back of her trade in, light blue Pinto. I felt every bump in the road on that nine hour drive home. And my parents took such a beating that my Dad decided he was done delivering cars to his kids.

Should add the Pinto wagon my oldest brother drove (also light blue) rode like crap too in spite of its slightly longer wheelbase. Highlights of a trip with him to Colorado were fishtailing off snowpacked I70 and ending up in a ditch with the rear 2-3 feet deep in mud and snow and, later (after a Good Samaritan with 4WD and a winch pulled us out), when the roads had thawed, watching my brother tailgate truckers to get spray on his windshield since the fluid in the Pinto was frozen…

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Billywa

I really don’t think the “short wheelbase compact car” part is why it rode like crap, given that there are plenty of short wheelbase compact cars that certainly don’t.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
3 months ago
Reply to  Billywa

Those dealer promo models were produced by Johan, and were 1/24 scale. Some of them were turned into kits as well, which mean Johan modelled a lot of more mainstream American cars other companies like Revell, Monogram or AMT didn’t touch. They’re long gone and of course originals are very collectible now, but I think some of the older kits are being repopped by whomever currently has the rights.

Billywa
Billywa
3 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Thank you. Knew someone on here would know the origin of those. In the back of my mind, I figured they might now be collectible. However, iirc mine were sacrificed to extensive battle damage via fireworks in my early adolescence…

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
3 months ago

Drove at least 4 different Pintos for several years. Even bought a couple used ones.
They were damn near indestructible. And can swear in court they don’t blow up if backed into a tree, building, or most other cars.
But they have the roof strength of tin foil.

And although they were very slow, one could still out run the cops if in a properly congested area with narrow streets. YMMV.

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
3 months ago

The “Pinto” motor is a stout little motor. A guy my FIL knew had a turbo 2.3 Pinto that ran 9s in the 1/4. I believe it dynoed around 550hp.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
3 months ago
Reply to  Cam.man67

What Torch neglected is the Pinto motor was used extensively in RWD Euro Fords, and the block was the basis of the engine in the Sierra and Escort Cosworth.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
3 months ago
Reply to  Cam.man67

Iron Duke vs Pinto though – what was the better power-emitting slug?

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
3 months ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

I would argue Pinto based on my experience of them, but I’ve not had much interaction with the Iron Duke. I’m the sort of of person who’d want to tune an iron duke rather than swapping it out though.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
3 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Autopian presents – pointless shootouts

Scott Morrison
Scott Morrison
3 months ago

First car was a ’80 Pinto. Compared to my friends Vega it was a Maserati. For that era, it wasn’t a bad little car that had a lot of 2.3 aftermarket support, which consumed a great deal of my income just to go a little faster less slowly.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
3 months ago

Nah, Pinto still sucks just like the Maverick, Granada, & most Fix Or Repair Daily vehicles…I’d rather have the Gremlin- “Party time! Excellent!”

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
3 months ago
Reply to  Freelivin2713

It seems you may be confusing the Gremlin with the Pacer with that ending quote.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
3 months ago
Reply to  Marc Fuhrman

Oh yeah, can’t believe I messed that up! I knew that…out of his 3 examples would still rather have a Gremlin or even a Vega (They’re all rusted out) The AMC I really want is an Eagle! (My brother had 2)

J Hyman
J Hyman
3 months ago

Uhhh…spent my teens in, or at the wheel of, the old man’s ‘75 Pinto wagon. Bought new in April, it had rusted through multiple panels by October. Then the snow and salt came. It could knock out 0-60 in a consistent 30 to 32 seconds, and that’s with a MT. By 1981, with a whopping 83k on the odo, the best we could get in trade was two used snow tires from a Datsun. Sorry, Jason, but these were complete pieces of feces.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
3 months ago
Reply to  J Hyman

It’s not the Pinto’s fault your Dad didn’t opt for the Ziebart.
Everyone’s car back then would rust out without that stuff.

Last edited 3 months ago by Urban Runabout
Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago

I liked the Pinto, especially the early, skinny bumper years, with the Runabout (and its big glass hatch) and the wagon being my favorite models.

In the 70s, I read a short story in National Lampoon magazine titled, “Pinto’s First Lay.” It was one of a series of six stories featured in National Lampoon, by Chris Miller that were the source material for the film, “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”

The editor of National Lampoon, then, was P.J. O’Rourke who went on to fame as an author, humorist, political essayist, and contributor to Car and Driver, among other publications. O’Rourke was a modern Mark Twain with a dash of Hunter S. Thompson: pithy observer and occasional smart ass. My kind of writer.

I’m often reminded of the wit and wisdom of O’Rourke’s automotive stories when I read your articles and it feels like home. Thanks for another seriously silly read. You keep writing, I’ll keep reading.

Tim Farrell
Tim Farrell
3 months ago

Torch, my first car was a 73 Ford Pinto 2 door coupe (trunk not a hatch). It had the german made 2 liter 4 cylinder that was only offered for a short while. The Kent 1.6 was a great engine and was used in Formula Ford racing. The 2 liter was a very robust engine and with headers and some tuning could put out some reasonable numbers. So much so that I was able autocross against the like of BMW 320i and Datsun 280Z among others that it was able to best often. Of course my car had a stripped interior, a racing bucket, headers and some interesting adjustments on the valve overlap which made the idle rough but it would sign at higher revs. The 2.3 liter was more stout but heavier and not as tunable but it was a good engine overall as you said it lived to power a lot of future cars in the 80s on into the 90s.

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
3 months ago

When my 1989 Camry got stolen in the late 1990’s, I bought a pumpkin colored 1972 Pinto from a neighbor for a few hundred bucks and daily drove it for about 18 months. It wasn’t a great car, but it wasn’t a terrible one either. It seemed more well built than GM’s or Mopars from the malaise era. Fairly easy to work on, but with a frustrating mix of metric and imperial fasteners. I ended up giving it away for free to a good home after my Camry was found mostly intact at a chop shop. Certainly doesn’t deserve all the hate it gets.

Last edited 3 months ago by MAX FRESH OFF
Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
3 months ago
Reply to  MAX FRESH OFF

The pinto engine was also known as the “metric engine” since it came from euro-Ford.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
3 months ago

“Klaus is a moron who knows only what he reads in the New York Post”

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
3 months ago

“…nobody wants to strap into a five-point harness or wear a HANS device to go get tacos.”

To be fair, on this particular occasion I got the French dip:

https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/53530820482_d778ba8ceb_c.jpg

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
3 months ago

Although I’m hesitant to forgive you for ending with that groaner of a pun, you’ve entirely sold me with this article and I agree your assertion 100%.

Venerable engine indeed that 2.3.

Querty
Querty
3 months ago

Sorry. I cannot stop making jokes about the Ford Pinto when “pinto” means “penis” in my native language

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Querty

Should I mention the problem in question had to do with the strap on (gas tank)?

David Smith
David Smith
3 months ago
Reply to  Querty

For some reason I thought it was even worse. I thought it was slang for small penis.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago

I’d argue the Gremlin was actually the best of the bunch, AMC had slightly better build quality than the Big Three at the time, and it was generally a stouter, more solid feeling car and with a better trimmed interior than the tinny, flimsy feeling Vega, Pinto, and Cricket. Also had the bulletproof AMC straight 6 and was the only domestic subcompact to achieve a passing score the first time the size class was crash tested in the early ’70s.

But, the Pinto was definitely in second place. Thin sheet metal and basically zero rust proofing were negatives, but the powertrain was pretty durable, and Ford actually designed the car to be easy to service, in the expectation owners would do it themselves, and also focused a lot of marketing on how cheap replacement parts were and how straightforward collision repairs were after fender benders, which are really things car companies don’t care about these days, but it shows that Ford did have expectations that Pinto buyers would be keeping their cars for a long time and made accommodations for that.

The Vega could have been a winner, it was certainly the best looking of the bunch, but that linerless aluminum engine block was just taking GM’s casting abilities too far and was just too pricey for the segment, and the last minute de-contenting program to get the car down closer to its price target left it very poorly equipped and unrefined from an NVH perspective. And it was still too expensive.

Chrysler just phoned it in, I think most people forget the Plymouth Cricket was even a thing, not that many people were even aware of it when it was new.

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
3 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Oh yeah, Chrysler really dropped the ball when it came to a subcompact car for the US market. Somehow despite having three different offerings, none of them really sold. There was the Cricket as you mentioned, which was just a rebadged British Hillman Advenger. And sold in the same showrooms there was the Simca 1204, imported from Chrysler’s French subsidiary. Neither of these sold over 30k examples and were pulled from market in a couple of years.
Then over at Dodge you had the Colt, which was a Mitsubishi. It sold a bit better than the other two and stuck around until the 80’s, but it still was a small fraction of the subcompact market.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
3 months ago

I saw a Pinto Lima engine powered Lola beat a big block Chevy powered McLaren M6b at a vintage race at at the track formerly known as Sears Point a year or two ago, so it’s not a bad engine at all. Lola guy was beside himself for beating a M6b btw. I think McLaren guy had just got the car.

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
3 months ago

I agree with most of this thesis, Torch. The Pinto was fine. It was useful and functioned well for cars of that era. My only quibble, would be that if you stack the Vega, Pinto and Gremlin side by side, the Gremlin was much better designed and built. You can tell this by how many of them are still around. Much harder to find Pintos and Vegas. The engine though…. That 2.3 has turned out to be solid gold.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
3 months ago

Ah, yeah, but to this day a friend’s ’76 Pinto that I chauffeured for her while she was recovering from a broken clavicle is still among the worst cars I’ve ever driven; at that time it was only 8 or 9 years old and had been reasonably well-maintained and I was accustomed to beater Beetles, beater Datsun 510s, and early (not so beater as they were still fairly new) K-Cars among others so I had a pretty good basis of comparison, plus I’ve driven some singularly terrible vehicles since then. That said, anecdote doesn’t necessarily equal data so this article does make a compelling argument for the Pinto’s reputation as being unfairly or overly impugned. That also said, I’ll still pass on any Pintos, even the Cruising Wagons with the porthole bubble windows and 70stastic graphics. That furthermore said, it’s good to have articles like this to provide perspective, especially if it provides an excuse to show clips from Top Secret! which is indeed up there in the upper echelons of fine cinema along with Citizen Kane, Det sjunde inseglet, and Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago

Its worth mentioning the gas tank issue only pertains to the hatchback. The shooting brake/wagon did not have this issue.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Actually applied to the original, non hatchback offering.
Not sure the hatchbacks were even part of the issue.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

They were:

On June 9, 1978, Ford Motor Company agreed to recall 1.5 million Ford Pinto and 30,000 Mercury Bobcat sedan and hatchback models for fuel tank design defects which made the vehicles susceptible to fire in the event of a moderate-speed rear end collision.

https://www.autosafety.org/ford-pinto-fuel-tank/

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Appreciate that. Mea Culpa.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

No problemo.

Honestly I never really distinguished between the “sedan” and the hatchback anyway. Our family had two wagons, a ’72 with the 2.0 and a ’73 with the 2.3. Overall we preferred the 2.0.

Last edited 3 months ago by Cheap Bastard
Box Rocket
Box Rocket
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

In fairness, the recall was more of a PR effort than an actual safety fault, even by contemporary documentation. They decided to just do all the ones that were alleged to have the issue (shorter-body models, not the wagon), using the updated design that was already in use for the 1978+ models.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Box Rocket

They didn’t need to do the wagon. The rear end was totally different.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
3 months ago

What shocked people about the “Pinto Memo” was the author’s comparing the cost of human lives lost to the cost of making a vehicle safer. It may have been the first time the American public saw a somewhat trusted American institution say, in effect, “Meh, it’s not worth it to save a small number of victims from death by fire.”

The memo is a gut-punch to everyone who’s not an engineer or accountant.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
3 months ago

They were no better or worse than everyone else. The trouble is Ford were the ones who got caught,

Last edited 3 months ago by Adrian Clarke
Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
3 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

You sound like a VW apologist, Adrian.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
3 months ago
Reply to  Doctor Nine

You should know by now I never apologise for anything.

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
3 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Rightly so.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
3 months ago

Yeah, and there was a pretty good film by Michael Apted based on that case that came out in 1991 called Class Action with Gene Hackman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Laurence Fishburne which effectively shows the, uh, reprehensibility of such bean-counting.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
3 months ago

Moral of the story: we need more engineers and accountants.

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
3 months ago

My wife had a nice copper colored 1977 to replace her copper colored Vega back in 1980. She drove it all through college as a commuter student and we kept it until we turned into adults and bought a new 1984 Honda Accord.

Sure, it was lean AF and could be tricky to drive when it was cold, but it was stone reliable, cost us poor college students nothing to drive and I could do all the maintenance myself.

My brother had a sort of pale green Pinto wagon as his first car, a friend in high school had one with the full glass hatch, too. Everybody drove them because they were cheap and plentiful.

Related, my dad put 250K on a Mustang II, which had huge amounts of parts commonality with the Pintos in our family.

The fire thing was solved in the Mustang, a 1974, in a recall, I want to say. They put a little plastic plate on the front side of the tank that kept the bolts from the pumpkin from poking holes in the tank. I think the Pinto we had came with it from the factory.

Man, that was a long time ago. I see them sometimes and think that maybe that’d be a fun thing to have as a silly car. Stone simple. Cheap to run. I wonder what parts availability is like outside of the 2.3?

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
3 months ago
Reply to  Dudeoutwest

My recollection from the time was that Ford redesigned the fuel tank and fuel system of the hatchbacks and two-door sedans for the ’77 model year. Here’s a commercial from ’78 that touts it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEGbCH4H-BM

Saul Springmind
Saul Springmind
3 months ago
Reply to  Dudeoutwest

Checked CL for pintos and DEAR LORD: https://denver.craigslist.org/ctd/d/fort-lupton-1978-ford-pinto-squire/7718117515.html

Vindications aside, that’s a lot of money for a pinto.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
3 months ago

I spent a lot of time riding shotgun during the early 90s in my father-in-law’s twenty year-old crapcan commuter Pinto. Frankly, it was no better or worse than any other small car from that era. Other than a tooth missing from the flywheel occasionally making us get out and push the car to get the flywheel to move so the starter would engage it was actually quite reliable.

I will tell, once more, my favorite Pinto story. My father-in-law and I would regularly go out to lunch at the local upscale mall. One day we pulled into a parking spot and seconds later a beautiful Porsche 930 slantnose Turbo pulls in right next to us. As the driver of the Porsche was exiting his car I called out to him “hey, make sure you don’t ding the doors of our Pinto – it’s a classic!” He was not amused…

Drew
Drew
3 months ago

You gave us an inflation-adjusted figure for the value, but didn’t make any sort of joke about adjusting the weight for inflation?

Even a Miata is around 2400 lbs these days, and a Civic is around 3000, so I think weightflation is worth a joke or two.

(Really, though, this is a good and informative article. I didn’t realize the MJ article so blatantly inflated the deaths.)

Last edited 3 months ago by Drew
Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Drew

Interestingly, the weight of an ND Miata is almost exactly the same as an NA. Miatas of any generation are fairly heavy for suck a small car, and not as light as many people think.

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
3 months ago

At the time, we called a Pinto with Firestone 500 tires a “suicide machine.” “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

So sorry, Pinto, you’ll have to keep on choking down those refried beans.

Last edited 3 months ago by Jack Beckman
Clear_prop
Clear_prop
3 months ago

I was brought home from the hospital in a Pinto, which probably explains a lot.

My dad kept that car until 1980 and 100k-ish miles which good for the time.

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
3 months ago

So was the Pinto the first major car to suffer from Cancel Culture? It seems to me that’s the kind of social movement that happened around it.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Wyman

Corvair beat it

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
3 months ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

[Edsel has entered the chat]

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Wyman

I think it was more of a media attention grab in the form of whipping up public antagonism to sell magazines and news coverage. From there, with all that public attention, it devolved into a meme of sorts.

But really, the article is correct in that the Pinto’s fuel tank configuration wasn’t particularly bad for the era. It was rather conventional. The Pinto’s — and other small cars’ — disadvantage was that it was, well, a small car. With less mass and substantial rear frame and bumper structure than larger cars. Especially when equipped with pre-5MPH bumpers, it was significantly at a disadvantage in any collision — rear-end or otherwise.

We’ve come a long way in understanding and developing better crash structures in cars. The Pinto was purely just another product of its time. One that was just the unfortunate victim of journalistic sensationalism.

1 2 3 4
138
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x