“In the Hot Seat: The Story of Ford Pinto’s Explosive Reputation”

Ford Pinto Mike Sparks Smyrna


Back in the day, my stepfather, the late Dr. William ‘Bill’ Chance, was a bit clueless when it came to cars. Now, he was brilliant in the field of pharmacy world and Biblical scriptures— but throw him under the hood of a car, and he couldn’t tell the difference between a starter and a transmission. 

Here’s what was strange – he had this weird love for Ford Pintos. I mean, seriously, we had not one but two of those ugly cars parked in our driveway.Ford Pinto At one even three of them due to my sister Vickie driving one. It was a head-scratcher for me to know he was so intelligent, but he was ignorant with cars. My real father used to complain about the Pintos exploding when hit from behind. Needless to say, he really didn’t want us riding in those cars.

The Ford Pintos, with their quirky design and all, became a sort of family trademark. I guess there was some mysterious connection there that only Dr. Chance understood. It was like a car puzzle that kept me guessing and embarrassed in our neighborhood. 

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Back in ’71, Ford rolled out the Pinto to take on those imported sub-compact whippersnappers. Now, most cars back then took a leisurely 43 months to hit the streets, but not the Pinto – it was racing off the assembly line in just 25 months. Quick, right? Well, maybe too quick. Turns out, they were cutting corners left and right.

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The Pinto’s main goals were all about size, cost, and what they called “clear product superiority” – you know, things like comfort and appearance. Safety? Nah, not really on the priority list back then. Safety concerns were just for those engineers stuck reading accident reports and looking at pictures of burned folks, at least according to an anonymous Ford engineer who spilled the beans to “Mother Jones” in ’77. They kinda brushed off safety because it cost them time, money, and they were afraid people would freak out if they started talking about it.

So, they casually sold these cars, fully aware that crash tests were giving them a fire hazard thumbs-up. The Pinto’s fuel tank and rear end were a recipe for disaster, making it a fireball waiting to happen, even in minor crashes. Unfortunately, 27 people didn’t make it out alive, and many others got seriously burned.



Henry Ford II, the bigwig at Ford back then, wasn’t exactly a fan of safety regulations. He fought against them, partly because he wasn’t keen on the government telling him what to do, and partly because it would hurt Ford’s bank account. Ford’s lobbyists duked it out, even though they already knew how much it would cost to fix the Pinto’s gas tank – a cool $11 per car. But nope, that would cut into the profits too much. Sneaky move – Ford later got busted for presenting wonky data and bad math to cover up even cheaper fixes for the Pinto.

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Then, in ‘77, a Pinto somehow aced a crash test. Surprise! Turns out, this particular Pinto had a nifty plastic part that shielded the gas tank – a part Ford already knew about.Ford Pinto Mike Sparks Smyrna And get this, it was built in Canada, where crash standards were stricter, and then shipped down to Arizona. No clue why they went through all that trouble when they could’ve just fixed the darn thing.

Fast forward to today, and there are actually Pinto enthusiasts (who knew?). They’re out there fixing up the fuel tank issue themselves and keeping those vintage Pintos rollin’ on the road. The Pinto might be history, but some folks are determined to give it a second lease on life.

Ironically, I just looked on the Hemmings Classic car website and here’s a 1972 Ford Pinto for $12,000. I only wish my awesome stepfather was here so I could show him the listing. He would get a good laugh.