The Ford Pinto: A Mystery For All Time

With the debut of the latest Mustang, 2014 is shaping up to be a big year for Ford. But that was not always the case. There was a time when we had to ask ourselves questions. Questions like –Why did Ford even bother to build the Pinto? That, along with, “Is there a God?” and, “What is the purpose of human existence?” Will likely remain as one of the great questions of all time.

Detroit’s Quality Problem

The Pinto was Lee Iacocca’s attempt to create a small, fuel-efficient car that Americans would love. But two problems plagued the project from the start. One was that American engineers were inexperienced at designing smaller vehicles. Another was that quality was no longer a priority to Detroit’s movers and shakers, who had switched to essentially selling disposable vehicles.

The idea was simple: make a lousy car and rely on the geniuses in marketing to get people to buy it anyway. 18 to 24 months later it gets traded in, and the company doubles or triples its sales over a three-to-five-year period.

But this strategy began to backfire right after the Pinto was introduced to the market. Road & Track wrote a blistering review in which they slammed the suspension and brakes, which they referred to as a “serious deficiency.” They did like the 1.6-liter engine. However, it was of European design, not American, which didn’t bode well for the future of the domestic auto industry.

Ford Pinto 2

No discussion of the Pinto would be complete without mentioning the exploding gas tank controversy, along with the infamous memo, which made it appear that Ford managers cared more about corporate profits than human lives. Though the details have been disputed since, the incident and lawsuits that followed left an indelible stain, both on the Pinto and the reputations of American businessmen.

A Personal Note

This post began with a mention of the big questions all of us ask from time to time. Regarding the Almighty, I have to say that my experiences with the ’74 Pinto that I owned forever answered the issue for me. The damn thing broke down so many times, and in so many ways, that the only way I could still be alive today is if guardian angels really did exist.


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