Ford Pinto: cheap is expensive

Ford Pinto brochure
ER Classics Desktop

In the late XNUMXs, the Big Three from Detroit, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, were the players who ruled the international car market in which the trend towards 'bigger & more expensive' gave way to just another cheap car. Ford invented the Ford Pinto.

A serious market volume was therefore estimated

Ford thought so too. And the filler of that hole had to be cheap. The Ford Pinto was made as cheaply as possible ... without reservation. Lee Iacocca, then vice-president at Ford, convincingly brought that production and sales model to Henry Ford II. The newcomer could be made for less than $ 2.000 and could be put on the market cheaply with a nice margin. De Pinto did indeed well in terms of sales. But there were some adders under the sheet metal.

Ford played the wrong economy with the Ford Pinto

For example, the fuel tank was mounted behind the rear axle to make the trunk space as large as possible. In addition, the rubber tank cover to prevent leakage from a broken tank - a part of $ 5,28 - was cut back. 

The plastic protection cap, which was meant to protect the tank against the bolts of the differential housing, was also removed by the calculation department. That was a part of $ 1. 

And the rear bumper was only an optical part. That didn't do the crash resistance any good either. 

The result was that the Ford Pinto often got a pierced tank in collisions above the 30 kilometers per hour. This caused the tank to leak. And that often resulted in a fire.

For example, Ford ran into a number of lawsuits in which victims and relatives claimed money in connection with car fires. Those things were bought off smoothly to keep the Ford Pinto issues from the press - there were no social media yet. 

But in 1972 there was an accident in which a woman died and her 13 year-old child suffered serious burns. In 1977, that accident ended in a sensational lawsuit.

Poor publicity

During the term of that process there was an article in the magazine "Mother Jones Magazine". That article was rewarded with the Pullitzer prize. The Ford Pinto was portrayed in that story as a mobile crematorium or as a four-person barbecue. 

In the article 'Pinto Madness' by Mark Dowie, all design / austerity errors of the Pinto were listed and they were mentioned as the cause of hundreds of deaths by Pintos that went on fire after collisions. 

Dowie then filed a complaint against Ford for neglecting the safety of Ford Pinto's occupants. The basis of the story was that Ford had tampered with all the safety aspects to keep the production of the Pinto as cheap as possible. 

While Ford was publicly involved in 'damage control', the lawyers of the surviving relatives of the dead woman and the burned daughter filed a claim of $ 2.500.000. The jury also imposed a fine on 125 million dollars for Ford. That sentence was later reduced by the court to 3,5 million dollars.

Ford's damage control failed

Despite Ford's denials and attempts to curb image damage, the press caught fire. In 1978, an 60 minute-long documentary brought even higher casualty rates. And the reputation damage to the Ford Pinto became greater than the reality. Ford felt obliged to recall 500.000 Pintos (and 30.000 comparable Mercury Bobcats). That promotion cost $ 40.000.000. In 1978, Ford was indicted in Indiana for premeditated manslaughter. That case was bought.

But for the Ford Pinto, the story was over

Sales collapsed and in 1980 the curtain fell on the Ford Pinto. Lee Iococca, Detroits Wonderkind, lost his job due to the Pinto scandal.

Yet the Ford Pinto had been a good idea. The Americans wanted good, cheap cars ... no tinder boxes. And that idea had meanwhile also been picked up in Japan. Where they could make good cars for little money.

Next step?

Now Ford Pintos are occasionally offered here. For less. Or for top prizes. We saw one with a cheery positive story at an American classic dealer. He's asking $ 19.500 for the Ford. The prices mentioned are asking prices. 

A Ford Pinto is not a flexible revenue model for the classic trade. But a Pinto is historically quite an interesting classic. A nice car. For something of max. 5.000 euros maybe? You just don't have to have a collision with it.

Ford Pinto

Ford Pinto

Ford Pinto


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  1. I once read that Ford has also put the Pinto on the market in the Central and South American countries and that Ford initially did not understand why sales there lagged so far behind forecasts. After some research it was discovered that “Pinto” in Spanish means something like… little penis. Well, then as a Ford salesman you had to come up with very good arguments to sell those cars! Similar unfavorable naming has also taken place here in the Netherlands with a certain large Fiat in the eighties.

  2. Well it was true that all major Americans, including the Cadillac Coupe deVille, also had the tank behind the rear axle. All cars, with the filling opening behind the license plate holder (or rear light) actually. There was nothing strange about it, only the bumper was seriously (whiplash guaranteed).

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