The Most Famous Car of the '70s: The Pinto - Cool History Facts

The Most Famous Car of the ’70s: The Pinto

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The mastermind behind the classic Ford Pinto was Robert Eidschu. This groovy design captured the attention of everyone in the 70s. It started production in 1971 and continued till the end of the decade with over 3 million cars being produced. Although people were mesmerized by its gorgeous streamlined curves and hatchback, they were not aware about the hideous truth that stayed hidden underneath its elegant exterior outlook and charm.

In 1973, it was revealed that the Pinto’s fuel system had a major technical issues, as the vehicle would suddenly explode if the fuel tank was punctured in a collision even while driving at low speeds. In many of these cases the victims could potentially get trapped in the vehicle and get caught in the explosion. Over 1.5 million vehicles were recalled due to this very flaw, and numerous lawsuits were filed against Ford and this recall was not a trivial one as it is still considered to be one of the biggest recalls in automotive history.

Ford’s business ethics was severely put under questioning after they passed over a cost-benefit analysis paper called “Fatalities Associated with Crash Induced Fuel Leakage and Fires” to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As it turned out, the report indicated that the Environmental and Safety Engineering division at Ford came to the conclusion that Ford did not want to invest the $11million it had to in order to reduce the risk of the fuel tank explosion on all the cars, and instead decided to pay for the injuries caused during car accidents.

Seeing such Ford committing such a crime, Mother Jones brought this issue to the spotlight of attention through their hit piece “Pinto Madness.” Although the writer had no bad intentions, it elaborated more on the emotional impact of this problem and overestimated injury count by over 2 folds. According to Mother Jones it was estimated that there would be between 500-900 deaths due to Ford’s negligence, while the actual figure turned out to be 180. Due to  a heated dispute, Mother Jones continued to label the Pinto as a “firetrap” and even stated that Ford was “callously trading lives for profits.”

This controversy doesn’t take into account the fact that cars from other manufacturers were made just as poorly. According to a study done after the “Pinto Madness,” the fire risks posed by Pinto cars was the same to that of car of other models. Ford Pinto only served as a scapegoat for other companies to cover up their truth. Another study on the fatality rates of the Pinto as well as other cars of the 70s showed that fires, and rear-end fires in particular, were a small portion of the overall fatalities. It was discovered that only 1% of automobile collisions would result in a fire and among that only 4% of them could be considered to be fatal. What this meant was that the probability of such a calamity occurring was 1 out of 25000.

Although it might have been unethical for Mother Jones to oppose Pinto in such a manner, the public outcry it caused did eventually bring about positive changes. Due to the poor design of the Pinto, the NHTSA was obliged to do a historic recall and ensure all future models were properly tested. Fortunately the example that was made of Ford, now ensures much higher safety standards in all vehicles produced today.

Photo by Joe Haupt / CC by

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