Everyone thinks they know the story of the Pinto, but what is the truth behind the myth?
The story began in 1976 when Mother Jones (popular Magazine in the 70's) reported 800-900 people died in Pinto fires every year. (Pulitzer Prize winning story "Pinto Madness" all made up, no factual basis whatsoever) It was soon followed up by a 60 Minutes television report where they increased the number to thousands per year. And a fire storm spread across the country.
Also in 1976, The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (the agency that actually keeps the records on these things), listed total number of deaths to that point contributed to fire at 27 total over the 5 years Pinto's were manufactured. So with over 2.4 million Pinto's on the road at the time, the actual numbers are comparable to other compact cars of its day like the Chevy Vega, in fact, it's rating was safer than that of the Gremlin, the Pacer and all the Japanese imports of its day like the Datsun B210. All of which had greater deaths related to fiery crashes as well as deaths per million sold.
So, if they didn't get the numbers from the NHTSA, where did Mother Jones and 60 Minutes come up with such a heinous fiery death toll?
They made it all up!
They still have not proven the numbers with any backing statistics, the exaggeration is beyond made up from 27 deaths to around 5,000 over a 6 year period. Really Pulitzer prize winning material there folks!
But what of the fiery explosion video we have all seen? 60 Minutes had to get the desired car explosion at all costs, they needed this story and purchased 10 Pinto's with which to make tests. They destroyed 9 of them and didn't get the explosion they so actively sought. So with one Pinto left they sped up the 1968 Impala test vehicle and used an external electronic ignition device to get the desired explosion effect. But it didn't stop there and, it still was no smoking gun even with an explosion. The car was sent almost 30 yards from the initial contact point by the massive impact. So, in order to make it look effective, they only show the video in ultra slow motion to give the impression the car was not hit by 4,000 lbs. traveling at crippling velocity, but was hardly touched. Thus fooling the public into believing the car was a death trap. Am I lying? Have you ever seen the video at normal speed? And the rest has gone down in history.
The truth is the design of the Pinto was the same as all other cars of its day, with the gas tank behind the rear end. Unlike the Pinto, most cars of the day had a rear gas fill nozzle which was more susceptible to a fire from a rear end collision. Some of these you know as the Camaro, Mustang, Gremlin, the list goes on. Wonder why they don't use them anymore?
The Pinto was actually a success story up until the media destroyed it. With record sale of 2.4 million in just 5 years it would end its run with selling over 3.2 million in 10 years. (sales dropped by approximately half after the 1976 firestorm ) The Pinto was truly everywhere.
So if the Pinto was so great, why the slanderous stories?
Because gas just wasn't selling like it used too! Keep in mind, most cars in the early 70's were over 4,000 lbs. and got about 8-10 miles per gallon. The Pinto was affordable and economical with over 30MPG from a carbureted motor in the early 70's. Something even great by today's standards. The mileage alone, compiled with sales in the millions sold was more than enough reason to slander the car to the point of extinction. Big Oil may have had the media do its dirty work for them, but they couldn't stop the changes the Pinto set forth. The oil crisis that soon followed changed the desire for smaller more economical cars, the Pinto led the way for the American car industry to make that change possible.
Number of Ford Pintos built and sold from 1971-1980: 3,127,322 Not bad for a 10 year run.