Ford Pinto: The Explosive Story Of An Ugly '70s Subcompact Car

By | November 29, 2016

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In 1978, a Pinto owner has put a sign on the rear of the automobile stating "Keep off my rear, I'm explosive." (Source: Bettmann/Getty). Right: Cover of the 1977 issue of Mother Jones that fanned the flames of Pinto madness.

How do you remember the Ford Pinto -- as a firetrap or simply a popular, ubiquitous, fairly ugly car? The story of this affordable subcompact car, produced from 1971 to 1980, is an important on in the history of automobile safety, but also contains lessons in journalism and business ethics. Some analysis done in the years since the Pinto incident indicates that this car took the fall for the whole industry and that overblown hysteria played a part in its demise.

Robert Eidschun was the mastermind behind the classic Ford Pinto. This groovy design captured the attention of everyone in the 70s. It was in production from 71 till the end of the decade and over 3 million were produced. Everyone fell in love with its clean lines and slick hatchback, but underneath this smokin exterior there was a much more sinister and hotter truth.

Invasion Of The Subcompacts

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a smokin ride with smokin insides

The Pinto, like other cars in the "subcompact" category, became very popular during a short period of time because the country was struggling through a famous gas crisis, and smaller, more efficient cars were more appealing to consumers than the gas guzzling luxury sedans and muscle cars Detroit had been making for years

It was discovered in 1973 that the Pinto’s fuel system had a major problem, it could suddenly burst into flames if the fuel tank was punctured in low speed collisions. In many of these cases the victims could find themselves trapped in this death machine, burning up with the car. This flaw led to the recall of over 1.5 million vehicles, and numerous lawsuits filed against Ford. This recall was no laughing matter, it still sits as one of the biggest recalls in history.