Ford Pinto

Ford Pinto
Ford Pinto
September 1970–1980
Model years
Edison, New Jersey
Milpitas, California
St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Body and chassis
Subcompact car
Body style
2-door coupe
2-door sedan delivery
2-door station wagon
3-door hatchback
FR layout
Mercury Bobcat
Ford Mustang II
1.6L Kent I4
2.0L EAO I4
2.3L OHC I4
2.8L Cologne V6
4-speed manual
3-speed C3/"Selectshift/Cruise-O-Matic" automatic
4,100 mm (163 in)
1,760 mm (69.4 in)
1,300 mm (50 in)
Curb weight
914–1,030 kg (2,015–2,270 lb) (1971)
Cortina (captive import)
Ford Escort
The Ford Pinto is a subcompact that was manufactured and marketed by Ford for model years (MY) 1971–1980. The 1971 two-door sedan was followed by hatchback and wagon models for MY 1972. With over 3 million sold over a 10-year production run, the Pinto competed in the U.S. market against the AMC Gremlin and Chevrolet Vega as well as imported cars from Volkswagen, Datsun, and Toyota.
A rebadged variant, the Mercury Bobcat, debuted in 1974 in Canada and in March 1975 in the US. The Pinto/Bobcat and the smaller, imported Ford Fiesta were ultimately replaced by the front-wheel-drive Ford Escort and Mercury Lynx. Pintos were manufactured in St. Thomas, Ontario at St. Thomas Assembly; Edison, New Jersey at Edison Assembly; and in Milpitas, California at San Jose Assembly.
The Pinto's legacy was affected by media controversy and legal cases surrounding the safety of its fuel tank design, a recall of the car in 1978, and a later study examining actual incident data that concluded the Pinto was as safe as, or safer than, other cars in its class. The Pinto has been cited as a noted business ethics case.
The nameplate "Pinto" derives from the distinctive white and solid pattern of coloration common in horses.


First-generation U.S. sub compacts, left to right: AMC Gremlin, Ford Pinto, Chevrolet Vega
U.S. automakers had first countered imports such as the Volkswagen Beetle with compact cars including the Ford Falcon, Chevrolet Corvair and Plymouth Valiant, although these cars featured six-cylinder engines and comprised a larger vehicle class. As the popularity of smaller Japanese imports from Toyota and Datsun increased throughout the 1960s, Ford North America responded by introducing the Ford Cortina from Ford of Europe as a captive import. U.S. automakers would soon introduce their own subcompacts. The Pinto was in compliance with Japanese regulations concerning vehicle length and engine displacement, but exceeded width dimensions by 60 mm (2.4 in).
The Pinto was introduced on September 11, 1970. The AMC Gremlin was the first to arrive on the market six months before the Pinto, and the Chevrolet Vegawas introduced the day before the Pinto. Both the Pinto and the Vega were new, but the Pinto used powertrains proven in Europe from the European Ford Escort, 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.


1973 Ford Pinto Runabout
Ford President Lee Iacocca wanted a 1971 model that weighed less than 2,000 pounds and that would be priced at less than $2,000. A team of stylists at Ford was assigned to design the Pinto's exterior and interior instead of using the European Ford Escort. Robert Eidschun's design of the exterior theme was eventually chosen in its entirety. The clay models of the Pinto were finalized in December 1968 after which Eidschun left Ford to join Chrysler, as a studio Design Manager.
Ford North America's decision to create an all-new vehicle instead of integrating a design from international corporate resources paralleled GM North America's approach when creating the Chevrolet Vega — opting not to use the established Vauxhall Viva or Opel Kadett marketed at the time at GM dealerships in Canada, and USA Buick dealerships from 1967. Designers working on products intended for North America had more freedom with exterior dimensions and engine sizes in relation to Japanese counterparts, where those criteria were dictated by Japanese government regulations. Typically, Detroit manufacturers created products that emulated import aspects with market-driven improvements.
While the previously introduced Ford Maverick offered either straight-6 or V8 engine and a front bench seat, the Pinto offered an inline-4 engine, and bucket seats – more in keeping with small imports such as the Volkswagen Beetle, available since 1949, the Toyota Corolla, introduced to North America March 1968, and the newly introduced Datsun 1200 which appeared in 1970.
Compared with imports, seating was low to the floor. Styling somewhat resembled the larger Ford Maverick in grille and tail light themes, but with a fastback profile.
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 front coil springs; the live rear axle was suspended on leaf springs. The rack and pinion steering had optional power assist, as did the brakes.

Production history

After only 22 months from concept to production, Ford introduced the Pinto under the tagline The Little Carefree Car.
After structural work on alternate body styles encountered obstacles, Ford offered the Pinto as a two-door sedan, with entry level models priced at around $1850, undercutting GM's Chevrolet Vega and directly targeting imported models — which included such new competitors as the Mazda 1200 in 1971, the Subaru DL in 1972, and the Honda Civic in 1973.
By January 1971, the Pinto had sold over 100,000 units and 352,402 for the entire 1971 production run. 1974 saw the most Pintos produced in a single model year with 544,209 units.


1973 Pinto Runabout, noting view of rear hatch

The Ford Pinto went on sale on September 11, 1970. Initially, the only bodystyle available was a trunked fastback sedan. A hatchback became available on February 20, 1971, debuting at the Chicago Auto Show (also, in 1971, the Pinto brochure came with a paper cutout Pinto that one could fold together to make a 3D model). Marketed as the Runabout, the hatchback went on sale five days later, priced at $2,062. The hatch itself featured exposed chrome hinges for the liftgate and five decorative chrome strips, pneumatic struts to assist in opening the hatch, a rear window approximately as large as the sedan's, and a fold down seat — a feature which became simultaneously an option on the sedan. The hatchback model matched the sedan in all other dimensions and offered 38.1 cubic feet (1.08 m3) of cargo space with its seat folded. By 1972, Ford redesigned the hatch itself, with the glass portion of the hatch enlarged to almost the entire size of the hatch itself, ultimately to be replaced with a rear hatch that was entirely glass.
On February 24, 1972, the Pinto station wagon debuted with an overall length of 172.7 in (4,390 mm) and 60.5 cubic feet (1.71 m3) of cargo volume. The first 2-door Ford station wagon since 1961, the Pinto wagon offered flip-open rear-seat windows as an option. Along with front disc brakes, the 2.0L engine was standard equipment. A Pinto Squire wagon featured faux wood side paneling similar to the full-size Country Squire.


1977 Ford Pinto Cruising Wagon
In 1974, to meet federal regulations, 5 mph bumpers were added to both the front and rear. Unlike the majority of 1970s cars, the addition of larger bumpers to the Pinto would not necessitate major changes to the bodywork. While the underpowered Kent engine was dropped, the optional OHC engine was expanded to 2.3L. In various forms, this engine would go on to power a variety of Ford vehicles for 23 years. Mercury begins selling the Bobcat as a Canada-only model. With 544,209 units sold, 1974 would be the most popular model year for the Pinto.
In 1975, in a move to better compete with the AMC Gremlin, Ford introduced the 2.8L V6; while far less powerful than the Gremlin, the V6 gave the Pinto a feature unavailable in the Chevrolet Vega. Sales of the Mercury Bobcat are expanded to Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the United States; it is sold as a hatchback and wagon.
For the 1977 model year, Pinto wagons received a new option package. Dubbed the Pinto Cruising Wagon, it was the sedan delivery version of the Pinto styled to resemble a small conversion van, complete with round side panel "bubble windows".
Other appearance packages offered by Ford were similar to the Cosworth Vega and the 304 V8 Gremlin X; these were strictly appearance upgrades, not a factory performance package.
In 1978, the Pinto became the second-smallest Ford sold in the U.S., as the company introduced the Fiesta. Nearly two feet shorter than the Pinto, the German-designed Fiesta was the first front-wheel drive car sold by Ford in the USA.

Mercury Bobcat (1974–1980)

Mercury Bobcat
Lincoln-Mercury dealers marketed a rebadged variant of the Pinto, as the Mercury Bobcat, beginning with model year 1974 in Canada and 1975 in the United States. The Bobcat was marketed as a hatchback and as a station wagon, under the Villager nameplate, and both featured a modified grill. The hatchback featured modified tail lights.
In total, 224,026 Bobcats were produced from 1975 to 1980.


1979-1980 Ford Pinto coupe
For the 1979 model year, the Pinto saw its first significant styling update. Taking on square headlights, the Pinto shed its styling borrowed from the Maverick. Wearing larger taillights, the Pinto now wore a square, sloping grille.
1980 marked the end of the Pinto's production run. For 1980, the V6 engine was discontinued, leaving the 2.3L as the sole engine.
Production figures
Calendar year
Total production = 3,173,491
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 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.
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.
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.
Revised SAE standards in 1972 dropped the Pinto's 1.6 l (98 cu in) engine to 54 bhp (40 kW) — and the 2.0 l (120 cu in) engine to 86 hp (64 kW).
Engine Name
Years Available
Inline-four engine
Ford Kent I4
98 cu in (1.6 L)
75 hp (56 kW; 76 PS) (1971)
54 hp (40 kW; 55 PS) (1972-1973)
130 Nm (96 lbft) (1971)
Ford EAO I4
122 cu in (2.0 L)
100 hp (75 kW; 101 PS) (1971)
86 hp (64 kW; 87 PS) (1972-1974)
Ford OHC I4
140 cu in (2.3 L)
90 hp (67 kW; 91 PS) (1974)
83 hp (62 kW; 84 PS) (1975)
92 hp (69 kW; 93 PS) (1976)
89 hp (66 kW; 90 PS) (1977)
88 hp (66 kW; 89 PS) (1978-1980)
164Nm (121 lbft) (1976)
160 Nm (120 lbft) (1977)
160 Nm (118 lbft) (1978-1979)
161 Nm (119 lbft) (1980)
V6 engine
Ford Cologne V6
170 cu in (2.8 L)
97 hp (72 kW; 98 PS) (1975)
103 hp (77 kW; 104 PS) (1976)
93 hp (69 kW; 94 PS) (1977)
90 hp (67 kW; 91 PS) (1978)
102 hp (76 kW; 103 PS) (1979)
202 Nm (149 lbft) (1976)
190 Nm (140 lbft) (1977)
194 Nm (143 lbft) (1978)
187 Nm (138 lbft) (1979)
*Horsepower and torque ratings are net output after 1971 model year.

Reception and criticism

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.
In 2004, Forbes named the Pinto in its list of Worst Cars of All Time.
Citing the Pinto's engineering and safety problems, Time magazine and Dan Neil named the Pinto in their 2008 list of the Fifty Worst Cars of All Time.
In 2009, Business Week named the Pinto in their list of the Ugliest Cars of the Past 50 Years.
In the 1983 film Cujo, the protagonist is trapped inside a Ford Pinto with a failed carburetor.

Fuel tank controversy

Controversy followed the Pinto after 1977 allegations that the Pinto's structural design allowed its fuel tank filler neck to break off and the fuel tank to be punctured in a rear-end collision, resulting in deadly fires from spilled fuel.

Design flaws and ensuing lawsuits

The Pinto's design positioned its fuel tank between the rear axle and the rear bumper. In a crash, the filler neck could tear away from the tank, spilling fuel beneath the car. The tank itself could also be punctured by the protruding bolts of the differential.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated complaints about the Pinto's fuel tank safety as early as 1974, taking action in 1977 — after an article in Mother Jones. The article said that Ford was aware of the design flaw, was unwilling to pay for a redesign, and decided it would be cheaper to pay off possible lawsuits. The magazine obtained a cost-benefit analysis that it said Ford had used to compare the cost of repairs (Ford estimated the cost to be $11 per car) against the cost of settlements for deaths, injuries, and vehicle burnouts . The document became known as the Ford Pinto Memo.
An example of a Pinto rear-end accident that led to a lawsuit was the 1972 accident resulted in the court case Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co., 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 began but had decided against changing the design. The incident, and the Ford Pinto Memo in particular, has continued to be cited and debated as a major case in the study of business ethics.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ultimately directed Ford to recall the Pinto. Initially, the NHTSA did not feel there was sufficient evidence to demand a recall due to incidents of fire. 27 deaths were attributed to Pinto fires (the same number of deaths attributed to a Pinto transmission problem) and in 1974 the NHTSA ruled that the Pinto had no "recallable" problem.
In 1978, Ford initiated a recall providing a plastic protective shield to be dealer-installed between the fuel tank and the differential bolts, another to deflect contact with the right-rear shock absorber, and a new fuel-tank filler neck that extended deeper into the tank and was more resistant to breaking off in a rear-end collision.

Schwartz paper

In a 1991 paper, "The Myth of the Ford Pinto Case", for the Rutgers Law Review, Gary Schwartz said the case against the Pinto was not clear-cut.
According to his study, the number who died in Pinto rear-impact fires was well below the hundreds cited in contemporary news reports and closer to the 27 recorded by a limited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database. Given the Pinto's production figures (over 3 million built), this was not substantially worse than typical for the time. Schwartz said 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 said demonstrated 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.
Schwartz's study said:
  • The Pinto Memo wasn't used or consulted internally by Ford, but rather was attached to a letter written to NHTSA about proposed regulation. When plaintiffs tried to use the memo in support of punitive damages, the trial judge ruled it inadmissible for that purpose (p. 1021, Schwartz study).
  • The Pinto's fuel tank location behind the axle, ostensibly its design defect, was "commonplace at the time in American cars" (p. 1027).
  • The precedent of the California Supreme Court at the time not only tolerated manufacturers trading off safety for cost, but apparently encouraged manufacturers to consider such trade-offs (p. 1037).


1972 Ford Pinto Wagon
1979 Pinto
1976 Mercury Bobcat Villager (poor condition)
1979 Pinto Panel Wagon


The Pinto was entered in the Trans Am Series during the 1972 season. After suffering several problems throughout the season, and finishing only one race, it was withdrawn from the series. The Pinto had also been entered in one race in the 1971 season.

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Last updated on 18 September 2015 at 19:38.

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