Ford's Pinto Travesty

Ford's Pinto Travesty

Arrogance and Disaster

The heir to the automobile empire, Henry Ford 11 was at the helm of the company when perhaps the most devastating design flaw in automotive history was allowed to go into production. This design flaw was actually visible to the naked eye, although its limits were also tested extensively at Ford’s Testing Facility.

An aluminum gas tank hung down between the rear wheels of the Pinto like a giant set of testicles. These “testicles” were fully exposed. Imagine getting kicked in the balls and instead of simply being driven to your knees, you burst into flame. Well, that’s what happens when a pinto is struck in the gas tank by another car driven at more than 31 miles per hour; the tank breaks apart, floods the passenger cabin with fumes and the ruptured aluminum tank is ignited by friction with the car’s steel under-frame, causing it to go up like a firebomb. And, oh yeah, the car doors immediately jam.

By many estimates more than 500 people died agonized deaths trapped in these burning cars.

Lee Ioccoca, Vice-President and Head of Production set the design parameters for a new sub-compact car to compete with Volkswagen and other car manufacturers. “Lee’s car” as it became known inside the Ford Plant had what boiled down to three design parameters:

  1. Total weight: Not 1 ounce over 2000 lbs.
  2. Total Retail:  Not 1 cent over $2000
  3. Amenities:    The exact same as every other competitor

In other words—Give me the best and charge me the least. Obviously, shortcuts have to be taken to deliver on that mandate.

To add another confounding and contributing issue to this formula for disaster, the engineers were told the car—from the first day of design to the first day of production—had to be finished in a shorter period of time than any car in automotive history; in one-half the time of a standard ford automobile. The overseas compact car manufacturers were eating too deeply into Ford automobile sales to wait any longer.

Once the Pinto was in production and people began dying while bathed in flames, Ford tested numerous fixes and alterations but discarded them all because the cost might add several dollars to a car or diminish the appeal of the amenities, such as creating a smaller trunk in favor of a stronger gas tank.

Sure, Ford was sued well and soundly, but with untold riches in their coffers to pay off lawsuits, they stayed true to the Pinto’s original design even after setting another record; the largest recall in history up until 1978 of one and one-half million cars.