A Plethora of Parading Pintos

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber

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Would you miss a parade of 50 Ford Pintos (well, 47 at least)? The cute little subcompact, oft demeaned as a fiery death trap due to lawsuits and controversy over how and where it mounted the fuel tank, does have its enthusiasts and for the past three years they’ve gathered for the Pinto Stampede, a car meet and fund raiser for the Wounded Warrior Project. This year the Stampede was held in Dearborn, Michigan and the proud Pinto pilots (alliteration is my friend) were reserved a special place of honor at the Ford Product Development Center employees’ annual car show on the lawn in front of the PDC.

Full gallery here

Not only was the Pinto club specifically invited by the Ford Motor Company to participate, notwithstanding the car’s reputation, the city of Dearborn provided police cruisers to escort dozens of Pintos and handful of Mercury Bobcats (the Pinto’s now very rare badge engineered cousin) as they paraded from the historic Dearborn Inn hotel to Ford’s engineering complex on the south side of Oakwood Blvd, just across from the Henry Ford Museum.

Full gallery here

Conceived by Lee Iacocca as Ford’s response to the sales of inexpensive imported cars, particularly the VW Beetle. By the early 1970s, Toyota and Datsun had established beachheads on the U.S. west coast and Honda was getting ready to introduce its first car that wasn’t a microcar, the Civic. Though over 3 million Pintos were sold, it’s regarded as one of Iacocca’s failures and the model name itself has become a bit of a punchline, a perennial “worst cars of all times” candidate.

Full gallery here

The Pinto was in production from 1971 to 1980 and nearly every iteration in the decade long run was represented at the PDC show, including a couple of very 1970s looking Pinto wagon version of the custom van craze, complete with porthole bubble window. By 1972 the 5 mph bumper standards started ruining the original runabout’s trim and attractive styling, but that didn’t seem to affect sales that much, which peaked at almost 480,000 units in 1973. What did affect Pinto sales were lawsuits and the attending controversy over deaths attributed to gas tank punctures in collisions. A 1977 article in the left wing Mother Jones magazine charged that Ford knew about the fuel tank issue early on and decided, supposedly based on a cost/benefit analysis that calculated the cost of wrongful death lawsuits, that it would be cheaper to not fix the car and just pay off the survivors.

Full gallery here

Over 100 lawsuits and even criminal homicide charges filed against Ford Motor Company by the state of Indiana in 1979 permanently tainted the Pinto’s reputation. However, in 1991, law professor Gary Schwartz published a 46 page analysis of the Pinto and the lawsuits in the Rutgers Law Review and concluded that Ford wasn’t as negligent (or worse) as is generally thought and that the Pinto wasn’t, at least statistically, a fire trap. You can read Schwartz’s paper here. A look at the case from a business ethics standpoint can be seen here. An overall look at the Pinto and it’s troubled history can be seen at the Automotive News.

Mercury Bobcats have got to be very rare these days. Full gallery here.

Perhaps appropriate for a car associated with fire, part of the Pinto Stampede actually included a drive to hell and back. Hell, Michigan that is, a small town about 50 miles west of Detroit.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

Ronnie Schreiber
Ronnie Schreiber

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.

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  • Turf3 Turf3 on Dec 15, 2014

    Well, all the early 70s US cars were pretty uniformly dreadful. I'm not sure what kind of garbage Chrysler had then, maybe someone can refresh my memory. At least the Pinto didn't rust away into nothingness in a couple of years, like the Vega, and its underpowered engine was at least made of cast iron, so the cylinders didn't grow 1/8" per year. The people I knew who had Pintos uniformly hated them, but they were pretty reliable by the standards of the time. The Japanese cars were just on the verge of establishing their reliability reputation, but in the early 70s they were still underbuilt rust buckets. The VW Rabbit (not sure when this came to the US) was a pretty good car for the time: not much build quality, wore out quickly, but kept running (at some level of awfulness) pretty well despite mistreatment. By the late 70s the Vega was dead, the Pinto nearly so, Chevy had the Monza which was a small improvement, but the Japanese cars and the Rabbit were really taking over except among the buy-American die-hards. Somewhere in there the Chevette came in, maybe around 1978? And it was a big improvement over the Vega, which, for those of you who remember the 'Vette, will give you an idea just how truly awful the Vega was. In conclusion, the Pinto really wasn't a bad little car by the standards of what was available in the US in 1971; by 1980 it was grossly out of date.

    • See 2 previous
    • CJinSD CJinSD on Dec 15, 2014

      @Arthur Dailey Plymouth marketed the Duster as a more sensible alternative to the Pinto and Vega. The ad campaign was called, "Don't sell yourself short."

  • Superdessucke Superdessucke on Dec 15, 2014

    From now on, your Delta Tau Kai name is Pinto, LOL!

  • James Hendricks The depreciation on the Turbo S is going to be epic!
  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.