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Ford Pinto
Ford Pinto
Manufacturer Ford Motor Company
Also called Mercury Bobcat
Production 1970–1980
Assembly St. Thomas, Ontario
Edison, New Jersey
Richmond, California
Successor Ford Escort
Class Subcompact car
Body style(s) 2-door coupé
2-door sedan delivery
2-door station wagon
3-door hatchback
Layout FR layout
Engine(s) 1.6L I4
2.3L I4
2.0L I4
2.8L V6
Wheelbase 94.0 in (2,388 mm)[1]
Length 163 in (4,140 mm)
Width 69.4 in (1,763 mm)
Height 50 in (1,270 mm)
Curb weight 2,015–2,270 lb (914–1,030 kg) (1970)
Related Mustang II
Designer Robert Eidschun (b. 1938)

The Ford Pinto was Ford Motor Company's first domestic North American subcompact automobile. Marketed beginning on September 11, 1970, it competed with the AMC Gremlin and Chevrolet Vega, along with imports from makes including Volkswagen, Datsun and Toyota. Offered as a coupe, wagon, and Runabout hatchback, the Pinto was popular in sales, with 100,000 units delivered by January 1971 alone[2]. Its reputation suffered over time, however, especially from a controversy surrounding the safety of its gas tank.

A rebadged Lincoln-Mercury version, the Bobcat, debuted in 1974 as a Canadian-market model, and in March 1975 began selling in the U.S., also.[3] (The Pinto Special and Bobcat Special would remain exclusive to Canada into the new model year.)[4]

The Pinto’s 10-year production run outlasted the Vega through the 1980 model year, when 68,179 were built.[5] It and the smaller Ford Fiesta were replaced by the front-wheel-drive Ford Escort.



1973 Ford Pinto Runabout

US automakers had first countered imports such as the Volkwagen with compact cars such as the Falcon, Corvair and Dart. These cars had six cylinder engines, but actually defined a larger class of vehicles. As the popularity of smaller imports such as the Volkswagen and Japanese makes such as Toyota and Datsun increased throughout the 1960s, Ford first responded by the Ford Cortina from its British line as a captive import. But US automakers soon developed their own new class of "subcompacts", though many of them would be classified as "compact" today.

The AMC Gremlin was the first to arrive on the market on April 1, 1970, six months before the Pinto. The Chevrolet Vega was introduced the day before the Pinto, September 10, 1970. Both the Pinto and the Vega were new, but the Pinto used powertrains proven in Europe, while the Vega's innovative aluminum engine would prove troublesome. The Gremlin was designed around a six-cylinder engine, and was derived largely by truncating the rear body from the compact-class AMC Hornet to achieve its short length.

The first retail delivery in North America of the 1971 Pinto was made to Charles J. Pinto who lived in Pinto, MD. On hand to deliver the Pinto was Arthur Kowell, president of Kowell Ford Inc. As verified in The Cumberland Times, Sunday, Sept. 13, 1970.

A team of stylists at Ford was assigned to design the Pinto's exterior and interior. However, Robert Eidschun's design of the exterior was eventually chosen, in its entirety. This was unusual, as most cars consist of several elements, each designed by a different stylist. The clay models of the Pinto were finalized in December 1968, which is when Eidschun left Ford to join Chrysler, where he went on to design elements of the successful Dodge Charger and Plymouth Duster.

While the previously introduced Ford Maverick offered either straight-6 or V8 engine and twin bench seats, the Pinto offered an inline-4 engine, and bucket seats – more in keeping with small imports such as the Volkswagen Beetle and Toyota Corolla. Entry level Pintos were priced on launch at around $1850, which made the Pinto the cheapest Ford since the "Six" of 1958, undercutting GM's Chevrolet Vega and directly targeting imported models.[6] Pintos were manufactured in St. Thomas, Ontario; Edison, New Jersey; and in Richmond, California.[7]

Compared with imports, seating was very low to the floor. Styling somewhat resembled the larger Ford Maverick in grille and tail light themes, but had a smooth fastback profile. Body styles included a two-door coupé with a conventional trunk, a three-door hatchback called the Runabout, a two-door station wagon, and the Ford Pinto Cruising Wagon, produced from 1977 to 1980 and styled to resemble a small conversion van or sedan delivery, complete with a round "bubble window" in the side panels. There was even a top-of-the-line Pinto Squire, which had faux wood sides like the flagship Ford Country Squire. There were appearance packages, but never a factory performance package similar to the Cosworth Vega or the 304 V8 Gremlin X.

The car's mechanical design was conventional, with unibody construction, a longitudinally-mounted engine in front driving the rear wheels through either a manual or automatic transmission and live axle rear end. Suspension was by unequal length control arms with coil springs at the front and the live axle rear was suspended on leaf springs. The rack and pinion steering had optional power assist, as did the brakes.

Road & Track faulted the suspension and standard drum brakes, calling the latter a "serious deficiency," but praised the proven 1.6 L Kent engine, adapted from European Fords. The larger 2300 inline-4 found in the Chevrolet Vega was an innovative, brand new design using an aluminum alloy block and iron head, but needed more development work as initially released. Consumer Reports rated the 1971 Pinto below the Vega but above the Gremlin.

The Pinto would be later complemented by the German built, smaller front-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta, and formally replaced by the Escort for the 1981 model year.


Except for 1973 and 1980, the Pinto was available with a choice of two engines. For the first five years of production, only four cylinder inline engines were offered. Ford changed the power ratings almost every year.[8]

Of particular note is the introduction in 1974 of the 2.3 litres (140 cu in) OHC I4 engine. This engine would be updated and modified several times allowing it to remain in production into 1997. Among other Ford vehicles, a turbocharged version of this engine would later power the performance based Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, Mustang SVO, and the European-built Merkur XR4Ti.[8]

Initial Pinto deliveries in the early years used the English (1,600 cc/98 cu in) and German (2,000 cc/120 cu in) engines tuned for performance (see below). The 2,000 cc engine used a two barrel carburetor where just one bore was bigger than that used on the Maverick. With the low weight (not much above 2,000 lb/910 kg) and the SOHC engine it rated a 10.8 second 0-60 time. With the advent of emission control requirements, Ford moved from the European sourced to domestically sourced engines, using new or modified designs. New safety legislation impacted bumpers and other parts adding to the weight of the car, reducing performance.

One major change to hit the industry in 1972 was in the method used to measure horsepower. Using a net figure based on engine power received at the rear wheels rather than the gross number generated untethered on a test stand (incorrect, net hp is measured at the flywheel, but with the engine fully dressed with accessories), the 75 bhp (56 kW) rating of Pinto's 1.6 litres (98 cu in) engine dropped to 54 bhp (40 kW) for 1972, while the bigger 2.0 litres (120 cu in) four went from 100 horsepower (75 kW) in 1971 to 86 hp (64 kW) in '72.[9]

  • 1.6 L Kent - 54 hp (40 kW)
  • 2.0 L EAO - 86 hp (64 kW)
  • 2.0 L EAO - 86 hp (64 kW)
  • 2.0 L EAO - 86 hp (64 kW)
  • 2.3 L (140 CID) OHC - 90 hp (67 kW)
  • 2.3 L OHC - 83 hp (62 kW)
  • 2.8 L (170 CID) Cologne V6 - 97 hp (72 kW)
  • 2.3 L OHC - 92 hp (69 kW) and 121 ft·lbf (164 N·m)
  • 2.8 L Cologne - 103 hp (77 kW) and 149 ft·lbf (202 N·m)
  • 2.3 L OHC - 89 hp (66 kW) and 120 ft·lbf (160 N·m)
  • 2.8 L Cologne - 93 hp (69 kW) and 140 ft·lbf (190 N·m)
  • 2.3 L OHC - 88 hp (66 kW) and 118 ft·lbf (160 N·m)
  • 2.8 L Cologne - 90 hp (67 kW) and 143 ft·lbf (194 N·m)
  • 2.3 L OHC - 88 hp (66 kW) and 118 ft·lbf (160 N·m)
  • 2.8 L Cologne - 102 hp (76 kW) and 138 ft·lbf (187 N·m)
  • 2.3 L OHC - 88 hp (66 kW) and 119 ft·lbf (161 N·m)

Pinto Pangra

A Pinto Pangra.

The Pinto Pangra is a modified sporting Pinto produced in limited numbers by a Ford dealer, Huntington Ford in Arcadia, California. Approximately 55 were sold during 1973 and (to a limited degree) 1974, and in addition the components were sold in kit form. A Pangra cost approximately $5,000 (~$24500 today).

The most visible modification was a slanted fiberglass nose with pop-up headlights. Internally, the stock 2 liter engine was fitted with an AK Miller turbocharger; a "Can-Am" suspension package with Koni dampers lowered the car and improved the handling; aluminum wheels with wider tires were fitted, as were Recaro seats, a revised dash with a new center console, full instrumentation, and a digital tachometer.


1975 Pinto  
1979 Pinto  
1980 Pinto  
Pinto Panel Wagon  
Pinto Interior  

Safety problems and scandal

The model became a focus of a major scandal when it was alleged that the car's design allowed its fuel tank to be easily damaged in a rear-end collision which sometimes resulted in deadly fires and explosions. Critics argued that the vehicle's lack of a true rear bumper as well as any reinforcing structure between the rear panel and the tank meant that in certain collisions, the tank would be thrust forward into the differential, which had a number of protruding bolts that could puncture the tank. This, and the fact that the doors could potentially jam during an accident (due to poor reinforcement)[citation needed] allegedly made the car less safe than its contemporaries.

Ford allegedly was aware of this design flaw but refused to pay for a redesign. Instead, it was argued, Ford decided it would be cheaper to pay off possible lawsuits for resulting deaths. Mother Jones magazine obtained the cost-benefit analysis that it said Ford had used to compare the cost of an $11 repair against the monetary value of a human life, in what became known as the Ford Pinto memo.[10][11][12] The characterization of Ford's design decision as gross disregard for human lives in favor of profits led to significant lawsuits. While Ford was acquitted of criminal charges, it lost several million dollars and gained a reputation for manufacturing "the barbecue that seats four."[13]

The NHTSA put pressure on Ford to recall the Pinto, motivated by public outcry and pressure from groups such as Ralph Nader's Center for Auto Safety. Initially the NHTSA did not feel there was sufficient evidence to demand a recall due to incidents of fire. The 27 deaths attributed to Pinto fires is the same number of deaths attributed to a transmission problem in the Pinto, which resulted in 180 total deaths in all Ford vehicles, and in 1974 the NHTSA ruled that the Pinto had no "recallable" problem.[14]

Nevertheless, in 1978 Ford initiated a recall providing a dealer installable "safety kit" that installed plastic protective material over the offending sharp objects, negating the risk of tank puncture.[15]

In 1981, an automobile accident that killed Lilly Gray and badly burned 13-year old Richard Grimshaw resulted in the court case Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co.,[16] in which the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District upheld compensatory damages of $2.5 million and punitive damages of $3.5 million against Ford, partially because Ford had been aware of the design defects before production but had decided against changing the design.

Due to the alleged engineering, safety, and reliability problems, Time magazine included the Pinto on its list of the fifty worst cars of all time.[12]

However, a 1991 law review paper by Gary Schwartz[17] claimed the case against the Pinto was less clear-cut than commonly supposed. The number who died in Pinto rear-impact fires, according to Schwartz, was well below the hundreds cited in contemporary news reports and closer to the twenty-seven recorded by a limited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database. Given the Pinto's production figures (over 2 million built), this was not substantially worse than typical for the time. Schwartz argued that the car was no more fire-prone than other cars of the time, that its fatality rates were lower than comparably sized imported automobiles, and that the supposed "smoking gun" document that plaintiffs claimed showed Ford's callousness in designing the Pinto was actually a document based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulations about the value of a human life rather than a document containing an assessment of Ford's potential tort liability.

See also


  1. ^ Carfolio 1970 Pinto
  2. ^ How Stuff Works Pinto
  3. ^ Mays, James C. Ford and Canada: 100 Years Together (Montréal: Syam Publishing, 2003), p.116.
  4. ^ Mays, p.117.
  5. ^ "building just 68,179 Pintos that year"
  6. ^ "Quart in a Pinto". The Motor (magazine) 3558: pages 26–27. 1970-08-26. 
  7. ^ Lofty ambition / Developer revs up former Ford factory in Richmond for real live-work spaces
  8. ^ a b Gunnell, John A. and Lenzke, James T. (1995). Standard Catalog of Ford Cars, 1903-1990. Krause Publications. ISBN 0-87341-140-4. 
  9. ^ HowStuffWorks "The Birth of the Ford Pinto"
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ Ford's Pinto Memo
  12. ^ a b The 50 Worst Cars of All Time
  13. ^ 1972 Ford Pinto information
  14. ^ Pinto "Madness," a Flawed Landmark Narrative: An Organizational and Network Analysis, M T Lee and M D Ermann, Social Problems, Vol 46, No 1 Feb 1999
  15. ^ NHTSA Recalls for the 1975 Ford Pinto
  16. ^ Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co.
  17. ^ (3.94 MB)

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