Lemon Series: The Ford Pinto

The Ford Pinto is one of the classic lemons of the automotive industry, and it’s entirely the fault of the Ford team that caused this problem.

This car was brought to the public as part of the 1971 model year as a car that would fight back against the imported subcompact cars that had become popular during the time. With a gas crisis looming and pressure coming from overseas, Ford rushed this car into production, which caused it to become one of the worst cars ever made. The Pinto never stood a chance, thanks to the pressure Ford put on it.

Too Fast to Production and a Serious Lack of Safety

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a car typically took 43 months to evolve from the design phase to hit the production line. The Pinto only took 25 months to complete this process. That seems like a marvelous improvement in the development time save for the fact that this car was seriously rushed to the production phase.

Corners were cut to make this car, and many of those corners had to do with safety. It has been reported after the Pinto was discontinued, that the only people at Ford who cared about safety for this car were the engineers because they had to study accident reports, which means they have to look at photos of burned and mutilated people.

The objectives Ford created for the Pinto were to have a compact car that was a bit larger than the foreign models that cost less and offered the product superiority and recognition that goes with the Ford name. This meant that the Pinto was going to be made with some comfort and appearance items that make this car stand up at a higher level than the competition.

The Poor Design Caused Tons of Problems

Because safety wasn’t a primary factor in building the Pinto (if it were built today, that wouldn’t be the case), this car came with design flaws that were glaring. This car brought with it a high risk of bursting into flames if in a crash, the poor design of the fuel tank and the rear end made it vulnerable, and it ended up being one of the worst cars ever made. The fuel tank wasn’t just vulnerable at high speeds either; it could catch fire at low speeds and would suffer extreme damage during slow driving.

In Pinto models, where the fuel tank did catch fire, 27 people died, and many others suffered serious burns. All of this is due to a poor design and rushed production process.

A Cheap Fix Fell to Stubbornness

Anyone that has heard some of the stories of Henry Ford II and how he ran the company in the 1960s and 1970s will know that he was a proud and stubborn man. He fought hard against safety regulations and government intervention in automaking. Keep in mind; this was a time when safety was a new quality in automating, unlike the advanced safety we see today.

The battle of replacing the gas tanks on the Ford Pinto dragged on, even though the cost to fix each mode would only amount to about $11 per car. Despite the fight against a recall, the NHTSA forced Ford to recall the Pinto in 1978 to have the gas tanks fixed so that more people would not end up trapped in a fiery inferno during a crash.

While fighting against the recall, a 1977 Ford Pinto found a way to pass the NHTSA crash test. Later, it was discovered this model was one that had been shipped from Canada to Arizona. This car had a small plastic part that was meant to protect the gas tank, which is a part that could have easily been fitted to every Pinto, and Ford could have avoided all the bad press.

This Car Pays the Price

The price of bad press, especially if that news has cost lives and the automaker refuses to fix the problem, can result in a car sitting on the dealer lot and not being sold for a long time. Unfortunately, less than ten years after making its debut, the Ford Pinto was discontinued. The reputation of crashes and flaming infernos was too much for this car to survive, and Ford had to move in a different direction to try and compete against the foreign subcompacts that had continued to gain popularity.

Although the Pinto was gone from the market in 1980, you might find one of these Ford cars out on the street driving around still today. Most of the drivers have taken the time to install the small plastic part that fixes the fuel tank issue themselves and drive around happy and safe every day.

Other than the Fires, the Pinto was Exactly what We Expected

What was the goal of building the Pinto? The goal was to sell more of these cars than the foreign subcompact cars. This means the Pinto was built to be a cheap economy car, and that’s exactly what it was. The cost-cutting went much deeper than the troubles with the fuel tank. As you might expect, the Pinto was ideal for driving around in the city, but it was awful once taken out on the highway, making it a good car for those that spend their time on crowded streets all day.

Was the Pinto the Worst Car Ever?

You can’t read this article and think that the Ford Pinto was a good car at all, but some people do like this car and have spent time and money to restore them or keep them in great shape. The Pinto is not the worst car ever made, but it was certainly one that aspired to mediocrity and fell short of that goal by several marks. The only positive thing you could say about the Pinto is that it certainly looks cool, which might be why there are still some of these lemons out on the road today.