cancel
Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Meet the fix that kept the Ford Pinto from exploding

Let's be clear on one thing: I come not to bury the Ford Pinto (or Mercury Bobcat), only to explain how it outlasted its competition from General Motors, AMC, and maybe even an import or two that weren't up to speed with American car preferences.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/meet-the-fix-that-kept-the-ford-pinto-from-explodin...
126 REPLIES 126
Series1Tom
New Driver

My take away - You could get a Pinto with dual exhausts!? Now I WANT one!!!!!
Sajeev
Community Manager

Yeah I am still blown away by the fact I found that in the documentation! 

SteelyDan
Pit Crew

'75 and later Pintos you could opt up to the Cologne V-6, a damn nice little motor. There is where the opportunity for legit duals shows up, but it will take a Pintohead to tidy up which years had the 'twice pipes'.
61Rampy
Advanced Driver

I don't recall looking closely at dual exhaust Pintos, but they were the basis for the Mustang II. Mustangs with V6 or V8 had dual exhaust all the way back to behind the axle, where the left pipe curved over to the right side, and then into a 2 in- 2out muffler, with two short downswept tail pipes. So that heat shield probably went between the tank and the left side pipe as it crossed over in front of the tank. Useless side note: 75 Mustangs with 302 were the only 1975 cars (excluding Mazdas, which used thermal reactors) with no cat converters on them. 76 and newer did, and also had a single exhaust tailpipe.
MysticCtDon
New Driver

I was a true Pintoholic. I loved the several I owned. The 71s 2000cc motor had 100 HP and was easy and cheap to modify to smoke most any stock v8. Somewhere I still have a 100-105 ticket through radar. The 71 1600cc had a great close ratio gearbox. They were cheap and plentiful and didnt burn oil like the vega's did.
RJ
Intermediate Driver

IIRC - Pintos did okay in early SCCA Showroom Stock.
Scottch
Pit Crew

We had a 71 1600. Really reliable motor. We also had the kit installed and never thought about it again. The fix made sense and not more issues.
bradtiffany
New Driver

i remember a contemporary letter to the editor of a popular car magazine that said "Bad luck is being in a toll booth line with a Ford Pinto in front of you and an Audi 5000 behind you!" Only those of us of a certain age can appreciate the humor.
61Rampy
Advanced Driver

The Audi was just as overblown as the Pinto, and the Toyotas of the 2000s. Remember car drivers NEVER make errors, so the "Unintended Acceleration" issues were, in the public eyes, Audi's and Toyota's fault, when in fact drivers were pressing the gas instead of the brake, or floor mats were wedged under the gas pedal. The mat problem was real, it happened to my Escort ZX2 several times. Each time, I calmly pulled the mat back and it was fixed. Zip tying the mats fixed it for good. How about blaming the real culprit- idiot drivers who panic over everything.
DougL
Detailer

I believe the real issue with the Pinto is not that it was prone to fire, but that it was determined that Ford knew that the crash performance was less than great, and Ford executives decided that it was cheaper to pay for lawsuits. The attitude was the real issue, not the actual crash performance.
Tim
Instructor

The "decided that it was cheaper to pay for lawsuits" is also urban legend. It is cited and explained in "The Myth of the Ford Pinto Case" included in the main article.
mbr2000
Detailer

Amazing how disinformation is spread so quickly and consumed by folks who are already biased against corporations. And it's even worse these days with social media. "I read it on Facebook so it must be true!"
Will
Intermediate Driver

I had a wreck in our Pinto. It was totaled. It went round and round in a rainstorm, smashing all four corners on the concrete guardrail. It had the retrofit, and no fire. I really hate that it was totaled. It was a fun car to drive. Slow, but still fun. I've always thought it fire thing was overblown.
Patrician
Intermediate Driver

I worked for Ford when the Pinto came out in 1971. Originally they came with a 1.6 or a 2.0. The 1.6 had no power. The 2.0 was fast revving motor that was indestructible except they used oil. I don't remember the Pinto having any other inherent problems. Then in 1974 they introduced the 2.3. This to me made the Pinto a perfect car. Great fuel economy and power. Easy to work on and service was breeze. I bought a beat up 1974 Pinto MPG on trade. No power steering or brakes. No air and a 4speed stick. I will say one thing. It got over 30 miles to the gallon and gave me no problems. I just can't understand where the Pinto got a bad reputation compared to the Plymouth Cricket, Chevy Vega and Dodge Colt. They were real junk. Ford is a huge manufacturer in Europe and the Pinto was basically the same as a European Ford. Millions of miles of tried and true testing.
Rick2
Advanced Driver

My 2.0 never burned oil but was quick with the intake and 4-barrel Holly
Gary_Bechtold
Gearhead

I always felt the story was a bit "overblown" (sorry for the pun) by the media. The Pinto didn't seem that different from other Fords or other cars of it's day in the gas tank area. Very interesting read.

Obligatory Pinto Gif...
https://gifer.com/en/7G5y

LesFender
Intermediate Driver

I'll never forget following a Pinto down Philadelphia's infamous Schuylkill Expressway, that had the following message spelled out on its trunk lid, in the type of stick-on letters you'd use on a mailbox post: "DANGER, PINTO, KEEP BACK 500 FEET"
miata93
Detailer

Right, the Surekill expressway.

okfoz
Detailer

Like so many things, similar to the 1984 Fiero Fires, The media over exxagerated the fires, one is too many, to a leaking oil issue that would drip on the exhaust, and even a report of the Iron Duke throwing a rod, which put a hole in the block causing a fire. The Fire problem was exclusive to the I4 engines, but not the V6 engines, and I have read that the issue was resolved for 1985, even though they did a recall in 1987, the recall was apparently for the 1984 only Model year according the the WSJ.
There are reports of a total of 135 total fires to 260 fires in 1987 alone, So what the real numbers are seems to be an enigma.
Sounds like the Pinto had a similar exaggeration of fires, much like the problem with the Corvair swing axle which was actually fixed by the time it got the axe...
CT-car-guy
Intermediate Driver

I had a 1971 Pinto that I bought used. I loved the car. It reminded me of a more spacious MG. It was quite a sporty car for the time, with bucket seats, 4 on the floor, and rack and pinion steering. That was radical for American cars at the time. The 2.5 L engine was really powerful for a little car like that. My car had the purely non-functional flimsy bumpers that would not help in the even of a collision. The bumper was so flimsy that the bumper acted like a torsion bar when I attached my bike rack to the rear bumper.
My car was recalled and the longer filler neck, and shield were installed. The idea was that if the car was rear-ended, the wedge shaped gas tank shield would direct the tank downward, and not into the differential. The longer fuel neck could still be long enough to stay connected to the tank when this happened.
As I understand it, there was no federal safety mandate for rear collisions. There was however a mandate for not ejecting the windshield in an accident. A last minute change to fix the popping out windshield supposedly caused the fuel tank problem to be worse.
The biggest cause was the fact that the entire development cycle took only 24 months which was a record for the time. Details can get missed with a rapid development cycle.
wmbcal1941
New Driver

I had a muffler shop in Ontario Calif and was installing dual exhaust with glasspacks on so many ford Pintos for the Ford dealership back in the early 70ths, I never ever had one come back at me for any reason
Meporsche
Pit Crew

I LOVED my 72 Pinto Woody Wagon. It was exactly what a kid in his early 20s in 1983 making peanuts needed. I was my everyday trans to work plus night school, weekend trips trips to the building supply stores and dates. 30mpg 4 speed. It was so inexpensive to acquire and operate that I saved enough money to buy my first sports car, a 68 Spitfire Mk III with lots of tinworm. And when it was totally worn out with lifters sounding like a high school drum line, I sold it for $400, $300 less than I paid 3 years prior. 100 busk a year for transportation. And I never had to do a damn thing to it. Viva La Pintos!
janedon
Detailer

I have to say--Accidents are rare--Crashes are Not- & when something Larger hits you--(Think 6 ft 3 300 lb man) of course your going to take the worst of it-
JackVan
Intermediate Driver

I thought the station wagons were the ones throwing fuel onto the passengers. Fastback Vettes got hit with the same problem, open floor behind the passengers. The other problem with the cars was that the engine had two major faults. First, the cam lobes were too narrow and SAE oil grade had to be drastically improved to stop the camshaft from wiping itself to zero lift. The second was that the Canadian engine plant awarded a cost saving proposal to eliminate drilling the small hole in the large end of the connecting rod that threw oil on the cylinder walls. The rings would seize at less than 30k miles and leave clouds of mosquito treatment in the car's wake. I think that also got caught sooner or later, but both problems helped kill the car's reputation..
janedon
Detailer

Do tell--what care of any age is Perfect--I'd like to buy one-

Tim
Instructor

I'm not counted among the Pinto aficionados, but I would think that if Pintos essentially self-destructed by 30K miles, there would have been no need for a Pinto recall. Ford could simply have let them all die on the road.
Action
New Driver

From another point of view - I was hired by the Company in 1979 to work in the Parts and Service Division in the Seattle District office. The focus was so great for the resolution that the recall completions were monitored weekly. Certain large volume dealers has to report the Pinto/Bobcat recalls completed on a weekly basis to the District office. That number was communicated to the Region, (San Jose) And the regions reported to Dearborn. I assume Dearborn sent the data to NHTSA. After about 6 months from initial hiring I was given a zone and sent out into the field. Some time later I discovered that some Pintos/Bobcats were getting the recall done in paper only. There was a dealership in Oregon that would send a tech with a kits to the local wrecking yards, get VINS and odometer readings and leave the kits inside the vehicle. The vehicles would likely get crushed anyway, but that dealership did get a lot of recalls completed. And were paid to do the recall.
Scoutdude
New Driver

In the early 80's I was going to college in Bellingham and working at an independent shop. On of the other guys there was an older guy who had worked at the Ford dealer in town around the time the campaign was in full swing. He told me of the story of one of the guys he worked with at the dealer had decided that instead of installing the kits he would take a nap. Apparently the boss found him sleeping in a car and when they did a little looking they found a stack of like 20 of the shields he had stashed. What I don't get is how he managed to get away with it for so long. I had been there for parts and it was the common open shop arrangement so you think people would notice that nothing was happening in that bay/he wasn't around much. Of course the guy was fired.

No, I don't think it was the guy I work with that was doing it, as he was an honest, good person.
dd1
Detailer

Interestingly enough, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I think about some of the modern-day anecdotal stories of EVs catching fire in the owner's garage while being charged or the batteries exploding in an accident. Somehow when I compare the risk of a tank of gas in a Pinto to a modern EV with a large battery capable of producing hundreds of volts, I think I'd rather take my chances with the amiable little Pinto!:)
Action
New Driver

Yeah the common piece - humans. As a group humans tend to act/behave the same no matter what century.  As a Post Script to the above, the Oregon dealership mentioned above is no longer in business. 

janedon
Detailer

Arn't a lot of Korean (Gas) cars bursting into flame (even when turned off- right now?? People have been advised not to park near other vehicles or in garages --

RG440
Advanced Driver

Yes!,….Indeed, man made fire hazards…Let’s not forget the horse/auto debate a couple of centuries ago and alas Mrs O’Leary’s Cow
RG440
Advanced Driver

*Breaking Today* LG to Pay Up to $1.9 Billion to General Motors Over Bolt EV Battery Fires. Electric Pinto in Fords Future?
Jagbee
New Driver

Hey just reading the comments here and am amazed that there are so many “experts” who read the internet and suddenly have engineering doctorates, Journalism degrees and can judge the reporting and engineering so well after decades just by telling us what’s what. People died in these cars because they were cheaply built. Doesn’t matter if it was 1,5 or 100. If there was a fix Ford had an obligation to remedy it. Good companies do this all the time. As for the McDonalds Coffee case what few people take the time to research is that McDonalds had been sued about this issue before, promised to fix it and didn’t. They continued to serve coffee that was undrinkably and dangerously hot in flimsy containers because they felt their customers wanted hot coffee when they got where they we going. In the final “famous” case the jury was informed that McDonalds had been told that there was a problem, ignored it and were urged to send a message. They did. McDonalds still serves hot coffee but in sturdier more insulated cups, and a much lower temperature. Not a myth. Just the facts.
Tim
Instructor

I don't think flimsy cups was the issue in the McDonald's case. The coffee spilled when the plaintiff had the cup between her legs during the act of removing the lid. Had the lid been easy to remove, coffee wouldn't have splashed all over her. The other option could be that in holding the coffee between her legs, she allowed her legs to crush and deform the cup.

Regardless, as I mentioned in another post, there's no temperature at which a consumer would be willing to be served coffee that doesn't pose an inherent risk of severe burn. Even at 140 degrees, only 5 seconds is required to severely burn skin and it's been well-established by multiple studies that coffee consumers want their coffee served well above that temperature.
mbr2000
Detailer

Don't know about the rest of you on this forum, but I've decided to stay inside and hide under my bed to be safe from those evil companies!
RG440
Advanced Driver

Great article to get the opinion juices flowing !!! Big issue with what appears to be a very thoughtful fix to make the consumer’s feel safe along with the manufacturer’s. I had a lot of good times in a Pinto BUT A LOT BETTER TIMES IN MUSCLE MOPARS ! HOWEVER, would not give away those Pinto days for anything ! It just always amazes me that there was never major FIRE issues as the Pinto had with the “In Cab Fuel Tank Pick-Up Trucks” that graced the years of the “Marlboro Man” and smoking! Hippies, Farmers, Ranchers, Pick Up Truck Men, Grannies and all those Lassie owners! I saw more than once the arm out the window with a smoke in it and no gas cap (probably left at the station) on the truck with the cig within three foot of the fumes. YIKES ! Thanks for the read !
CT-car-guy
Intermediate Driver

I had a '70 Chevy pickup with a tank behind the seat. On a hot day, you could really smell gas fumes in the cab. I determined that the kid I bought the truck from had plugged the tank's vent pipe that must have gone to a charcoal canister and then to the carb. Because the tank was in the cab the heat on a summer day would cause the gas in the tank to expand and build up pressure. An explosion waiting to happen. I ran a vent pipe out of the cab to solve it.
Rick2
Advanced Driver

OK, back in the a local dealer sold a Pinto hatchback they called the Boss 2000. It came with the stripes across the hood/cowl and down the side like a Boss 302 Mustang, Aluminum slotted wheels with wide oval tires, an Offenhauser intake and a 390cfm Holly four barrel carb. Was it real fast? No but there wasn't any other small car in the area that could touch it. I especially liked embarrassing Vegas! But it could go in the snow with a plug nichol.
Tim
Instructor

Thanks, Sajeev, for leading me down that rabbit hole that was "The Myth of the Ford Pinto Case." It is interesting to note that the Pinto myth is not something that existed and was propagated during its heyday, but survives even to this day, 40+ years later.

I recently learned about the myth of "thousands" of deaths by fire from the Pinto when it was cited by someone in another online auto-enthusiast forum. That number didn't seem logical to me, given a basic understanding of the total number of vehicle deaths and the Pinto's share of vehicles on the road at the time. Surely if the numbers had been that bad, the Pinto would have been forced out of production.

Fortunately, the internet allows a level of research and fact-checking that would not have been available in 1980 to refute such claims and I was able to find real data that blatantly contradicted those outlandish claims.

I had already long ago been the recipient of the urban legend about Ford's alleged cost-benefit analysis regarding the decision not to implement a safer design. Until reading "The Myth," I did not know that this information was factually incorrect and not at all related to the matter of the Pinto's fuel tank. The more information that comes to light, the more we see the Pinto as a "death trap" is really just more of an urban legend than truth.
Les65
New Driver

My new Ford Pinto turned out to be the worst car i ever owned!! Ford dealership tried to fix drive line bivration 3 times and failed. I see no point in bragging about a peace of junk!
Hill1057
New Driver

1973 Pinto station wagon was the worst car I have ever owned. Distributor shaft worn to excess after 6,000 miles. So underpowered it was dangerous to try and enter any freeway. Pinhole rust in the doors after one year. Muffler needed replacement (in the middle of a trip) after two years. Timing belt broke around 8,000 miles, stranding wife. Good idea badly executed.
RodneyRacer
Pit Crew

Ambulance chasers and guys like Nader are always big news. No one ever complained about cars like the Opel Cadet that had the gas tank INSIDE the passenger compartment behind a cardboard cover on the right side. I saw a fatal fire collision from a rear end crash that I will never forget. Just imagine, raw gas plashing all over the occupants, then it ignites.
And then the other one that is not mentioned here is the side impact on GM pickups with the external tanks and for many years, the gas tanks behind the seat in most all make pickups.
Now we have these little Smart Cars that will squash like a bug, maybe not resulting in a fire, but who wants to become a pancake?
Tim
Instructor

Actually, the smart car achieved a 5-star crash rating because the entire frame around the car is one complete safety cage: front, reinforced sides, rear and roof supports. While laws of physics dictate the object with less mass will encounter greater forces, cars such as the smart car that are built to modern vehicle safety standards are far safer than cars with twice the mass built 40, 50 or more years ago.
Les65
New Driver

My new ford Pento turned out to be the worst car I ever owned! Had a drive line bibration the dealer did not fix after 3 visits! Sold as is! I see no point bragging about a peace of junk or the ford dealer that did not fix it.
DD2
New Driver

THE PINTO WAS AN AWESOME CAR
TimK
Detailer

In 1993 NBC claimed the GM pickup trucks were prone to fires in side impact crashes so rigged the crash test of a Chevrolet pickup to explode using a bottle rocket. In 2003 a lawsuit was filed by the Dallas PD about Crown Victoria police cruisers exploding in rear end collisions and conducted a test proving their point. However in an article by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse it is revealed: "In the crash test, the car’s trunk contained an ammunition box with sand and other items that were welded together, so when another vehicle struck the back of the police car the crowbar went through the rear wall of the trunk and pierced the fuel tank. Why would anyone aim the sharp end of a crowbar directly at the fuel tank? The City of Dallas never revealed this following their 75 mph crash test." To me the Dallas PD looked a little dirty.
Historian
Detailer

A Missouri state trooper was burned to death when he stopped a car on the highway, and another car hit his Crown Vic in the rear. That was no myth.
Tim
Instructor

Interestingly, the Crown Vic was considered one of the safest vehicles on the road during its time. I'm not sure anyone would reasonably expect that a stopped vehicle being rear-ended by a vehicle traveling at highway speeds should be exempt from potential outcomes such as that. Given how much equipment police vehicles tend to carry in the trunk, it's more plausible that something that was added after the vehicle was delivered from the factory was the primary cause. When you have to rig a test to create an outcome that speaks volumes.
61Rampy
Advanced Driver

An Arizona state policeman (Jody Scheckterle) was hit in his CV cop car in western AZ on I10. He was rear ended by a cab going at least 100mph. Yes, the car caught fire, but the doors were jammed closed, so he suffered major burns because he couldnt get out quickly. He did live, but required multiple skin grafts. I think if you hit any older car in the rear at 100, something BAD is gonna happen.