I have never been much of a Ford fan, my affiliations leaning more towards the GM stable. I drive two Chevrolet Corvairs (the early model having been slated by Ralph Nader as being "unsafe at any speed") amongst a collection of French, German and Japanese cars.
A owned a Ford once for three months. It was a Cortina 1.6 Mk 4 and I hated it with such passion that I did much to try and destroy what was in effect a brand new car. Anyway sanity prevailed and I traded it in at the first opportunity on a Volkswagen Passat.
Anything negative about a Ford product was read and gloated upon and when the Pinto story hit the press, the negative publicity was saved for prosterity and I have here before my eyes those original press cuttings.
"$128m award against Ford"
"Pinto, Vega Fire danger"
"Ford on trial for reckless homicide"
"In dem USA wurde Ford wegen fahrlässiger Tötung angeklagt"
On January 7, 1980 The Ford Motor Company went on trial on one of the most serious charges brought against an American corporation - reckless homicide - after being indicted by an Indiana Grand Jury two years earlier on charges of building the Pinto with a dangerously faulty fuel tank "in reckless disregard" of the passengers safety. The company was charged with "reckless homicide" and "criminal recklessness".
The charges were brought in connection with a fatal car accident in August 1978, when three young women in a Pinto were burnt to death after their vehicle was struck from behind by a van.
The prosecution maintained that the company and its employees were aware that the Pinto's petrol tank posed a hazard to life when the vehicle was struck from behind, but did nothing to correct the situation. The law-suit argued that Ford documents showed that the rear end of the Pinto had failed five crash-tests before being sold to the public.
In years of debate over the safety of the Pinto's fuel system Ford vigorously defended itself against charges from consumer groups, the Government and lawyers who represented victims of accidents involving Pinto fuel-tank explosions. The fiery deaths of 32 people had been attributed to the Pinto fuel tank problem by September 1978.
Ford said that the fuel systems under attack were as safe as those of its competitors and always complied with United States law.
The company lost many of the civil cases brought against it in connection with Pinto fire deaths and faced about 40 more such cases at the time. The outcome of the trial was expected to have far-reaching implications on the company's future.
Clearly, they survived the ordeal.
In an earlier case The Ford Motor Company was ordered to pay $128 million in damages to a boy who was badly burned in a controversial Ford Pinto explosion in 1972 which also killed the driver. Investigation showed that the fuel tank had a faulty weld which could have caused the tank to rupture. The court was told that the company sold Pintos with the faulty tanks even after their own tests had revealed what was wrong. A second jury reduced the damages to $6.3m following an appeal.
I don't hate current Fords - I know that they build much better cars now than twenty or thirty years ago. Having said that I do find a '62 - '65 Thunderbird quite appealing. As for the Pinto - it's styling was good and probably had a lot to do with sales in excess of 1½ million, although the original stock wheels looked awful. The check interiors on some models was equally awful. The car certainly lent itself to being customised and Ford eventually offered jazzed up models with stripes and fancy wheels.
It served its purpose as a cheap reliable runabout and occasionally in history lessons had to be learnt. The Pinto was one of them.