The Ford Pinto Turns 40
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I have always identified with the underdog, and at times have taken on the role of the apologist. But this time let’s just say I’m playing the devil’s advocate. After all, no one in their right mind would “really” defend a car that could be defined as a roadside bomb.
Popular Mechanics saddled my client with the designation of one of the “10 Cars That Deserved to Fail.” If my reference to automotive volatility is not a big enough hint, the model I’m defending was named after a horse, and of course, it’s not the Mustang. There was even a Pony option.
Yes, I dare to be in the corner of the Ford Pinto.
The Pinto was Ford’s way of addressing the blossoming subcompact market in the wake of such models as the Ford Falcon and the Mercury Comet. The company’s competitors had introduced the AMC Gremlin and the Chevy Vega and everything looked good enough to roll out. Which Ford did before, some say, testing the vehicle’s performance in rear-end collisions.
If the Pinto’s credentials are not sufficiently established by the Popular Mechanics hall of shame induction, there’s Time magazine’s ranking as number 21 in their “The 50 Worst Cars of All Time” article.
But, hey I’m supposed to be singing the praises of the Pinto.
Consider The Pinto Stampede that is coming to a city near you–Salina, Kansas May 29th; Columbia, Missouri May 30th; Indianapolis May 31st; Cambridge, Ohio June 1st; and ending up the next day at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Pinto devotees will be making their way from Denver Colorado to Carlisle for the All Ford Show. They will be celebrating the Pinto’s 40th birthday.
Norman Bagi of Milford PA will be the “trail boss” for the event, which benefits the Wounded Warrior Project. And if I might enter his statement into the record, “Unlike other rallies that celebrate ‘automotive ingenuity’ or ‘classic styling,’ the Pinto has a reputation all its own — one we feel that has been grossly over-exaggerated.”
Of course what he is referring to is the signature feature of the Ford Pinto – its unfortunate propensity to ignite when struck from the rear. It was this thing about bumper bolts piercing the fuel tank. But like JFK’s marital fidelity and Mother Teresa’s depression, history looks different after the passing of decades and such is the case with the Pinto.
In a paper published in the Rutgers Law Review in 1991 entitled “The Myth of the Ford Pinto Case,” the popularly accepted fatality figures of 500-900 deaths was scaled way back to the official figure recorded by the NHTSA, which was 27. The author then compared that frequency with other subcompacts of the time–and statistically the Pinto was no more fire-prone than its competitors.
I rest my case.