The Ford Pinto was Ford’s first domestic subcompact car. It was marketed in 1970 with competitors being the AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega and imports from Volkswagen, Datsun and Toyota. It was a very popular car with 100,000 units delivered by January 1971. A version produced under the Lincoln Mercury name was called the Bobcat.
The Pinto used powertrains proven in Europe but the Vega had an innovative aluminum engine that caused problems. Robert Eidschun’s design of the exterior of the Pinto was chosen which was unusual because most cars consist of style elements from many designers. The Ford Pinto offered an inline 4 engine and bucket seats. And entry level Pinto was $1,850 which made it the cheapest Ford since 1958.
Seating in the Pinto was low to the floor compared to the imports. Body styles were the two door coupe, a hatchback called the Runabout and a two door station wagon. A top of the line Pinto Squire had faux wood sides. Road & Track magazine did not the suspension and standard drum brakes but loved the 1.6 L Kent engine. The Pinto was available with a choice of two engines and Ford changed the power ratings practically every year. The Ford Pinto Pangra is a modified sporting Pinto produced by Huntington Ford in California and only 55 were sold in 1973.
The Ford Pinto is most well known for it’s design problem that allowed the fuel tank to be easily damaged in a rear end collision. Deadly fires and explosions were common occurrences in rear end collisions. The Pinto had no real bumper or reinforcing structure between the rear panel and gas tank. In some collisions the gas tank would be thrust forward into the differential which had protruding bolts that could puncture the tank. Also the doors could jam during an accident due to poor reinforcement. This led to the Pinto’s nickname as a barbeque that seats four.
The Ford Pinto memo is the cost benefit analysis that Mother Jones magazine obtained that they claimed Ford used to compare the cost of an $11 repair to the monetary value of a human life. This characterization of Ford’s decision as a disregard for human life led to lawsuits though Ford was acquitted of criminal charges. The NHTSA ruled in 1974 that the Pinto had no recallable problem but in 1978 Ford initiated a recall providing a dealer installable safety kit that put protective plastic material over the sharp objects thereby removing the risk of a gas tank puncture.
The Ford Pinto has the dubious honor of being on Time magazine’s list of the fifty worst cars of all time.