Last Updated 17 May 2021

Ford Motor Company: Pinto Fires

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Automobile crashes are always in the centre of public attention. It is a well-known fact that automobile is the most dangerous kind of transport. Surely, this statistics depends on driver’s feel, road and car conditions, weather, speed, drivers’ rules completion and a plenty of other factors, but, nevertheless this sad statistics confirms again and again. Especially it can be said about cheap, “budget” autos because of poor safety conditions provided in such automobiles. This writing is about one of such “budget” cars – Ford Pinto by Ford Motor Company, which is famous for its crash fires.

This car has been a reason of a lot of deaths because of its specific construction, but, nevertheless it was one of the most popular cheap automobiles on the time of its production. Ford Motor Company: Pinto Fires A model “Pinto” produced by Ford Corporation in 1971 was an example of cheap, subcompact, popular but dangerous and law-quality auto. Li Iaccoca (1984) in his “An Autobiography” has mentioned that “Pinto” in 1971 was the best car to buy up to two thousands of US dollars and Ford sold about 400 thousands of Pintos during the first year. The total amount of sold cars of Ford Pinto is about of 3 million vehicles.

This model is famous for its fires in crashes which resulted from two well-known for Ford Management problems:

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  • First problem is a petrol tank which was disposed next to a back bridge. That is why this car could fire from the hit behind. Actually, this problem was common for all small and cheap cars of that time and all of them could catch fire as a result of the hit behind.
  • The second problem is a Pinto’s problem only. Pinto’s petrol tank had a specific mouth construction – its cover shot out at a collision. When it happened, petrol had flowed out and, quite often, flashed.

Pinto was a reason of more than 500 fatalities occurred, but, in spite of great number of courts claims against Pinto’s fires resulted from crashes, nobody knows why the Ford Management renounced to make requested changes in this model construction. To make this car safer it was necessary to add one detail to petrol tank mouth which had a cost of about $11. Nevertheless, Ford Management decided not to include this detail in the model arguing that adding of such detail would be a superfluous charge comparing to the estimation of low probability of people deaths resulted from the above-mentioned reasons.

Maybe, in these words is some logic. But, on the other hand, Ford Motor Company has sold about 3 million Pintos. Increasing the prime price of the vehicle on $11, they would waste 33 million of US Dollars. But, in this situation, they could save the time of their lawyers who have been busy with hundreds of court claims as well as court payments. Nobody knows how much has Ford Motors paid to Pinto’s victims due to courts awards, but “evidence also included a confidential Ford memo saying the company could save $20. 9 million by delaying installation of the device by four years” (Herald, 1983).

In "Talking Straight" Lee Iacocca (1988) has shown Ford’s positions regarding all of Pinto’s fires: That's we did at Ford in the late 70s when we were bombarded with suits over the Pinto, which was involved in a lot of gas tank fires. The suits might have bankrupted the company, so we kept our mouths shut for fear of saying anything that just one jury might have construed as an admission of guilt. Winning in court was our top priority; nothing else mattered. And of course, our silence added to all the suspicions people had about us and the car.

The most famous and large court process against Ford Motor Company was in Indiana in 1978 when three young women died in car accident with Pinto. Ford Motor was charged with murder because of indifference. This case differed from others because of its criminal nature, but, nevertheless a court found Ford not guilty because of Ford’s lawyers which were able to prove “the crash was not, in fact, a low-speed one, and hence the deaths did not result from Ford's having kept a lethal vehicle in production in spite of an obvious fatal flaw” (Bookrags).

Another famous case of suffering from Ford Pinto’s fire is also called as “Grimshaw case”, 1972. Miami Herald (1983) describes this case about Richard Grimshaw, who was 13 when this case happened and he suffered from Pinto fire and got burns over 90 percent of his body. He had about 70 operations during several years and all these years his situation was a subject of court dispute between his family and Ford Motor Company’s lawyers. In 1978 a jury awarded Grimshaw $127. 8 million. He has got money compensation from Ford Motors Company just in 1981 ($6.

6 million plus interest instead of awarded $127. 8 million in 1978). The Grimshaw case gained national attention and was a start of federal pressure on Ford Motors Company with compliance that their Ford Pinto model did not meet the standard requirement and with demand to recall their vehicles for modifying. In June 1978 Ford recalled about 1. 5 million of Pintos produced in 1971-1976 for their modification and fuel system upgrade. Starting from 1977, Ford Motors Company became to sell updated and safer models of Ford Pinto.

In spite of modification of fuel system in Pinto models produces in 1971-1976 years and new models production started from 1977, the production of Pinto model was stopped by Ford management after 1980. And, despite of good sales of this model, it was one more confirmation that Pinto model was: Not safe;Without strong economical background (spending $11 for Pinto modification could be much more effective than further courts payments); Not successful model In addition, there is an opinion that Pinto’s safety problem was not the only problem with safety of Ford vehicles.

It is a well-known fact that Henry Ford II lobbied against Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 301 which was developed to regulate and control completion of safety requirements in vehicle engineering by automobile companies. Surely, this condition was not really advantageous for vehicle producers thus in 1965 Henry Ford II was against the regulation regarding safety design of vehicles. Mark Dowie has mentioned in his “Pinto Madness” article: He spent weeks in Washington calling on members of Congress, holding press conferences and recruiting business cronies like W. B. Murphy of Campbell's Soup to join the anti-regulation battle.

The target of their wrath in this instance was the Motor Vehicle Safety Bills introduced in both houses of Congress. Nevertheless, the Safety Act passed the House and Senate unanimously, and was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson in 1966. Remembering that this writing is about Pinto Fires, let’s to understand what are they – an engineering mistake or cold prices in the Ford Management’s heads? First of all, Pinto fires and deaths resulted from them are more ethical and legal than engineering issue of Ford Motors Company.

Like the management of any other business and company, Ford Management had an opinion that Pinto fuel system problem solution which had a cost in $11 per vehicle only, was not worthy of taking it into account and trying to realizing for people’s safety comparatively with Company’s income and people’s deaths probability.


  1. Iaccoca L. , Novak W. (1986). An Autobiography. Bantam Books Iaccoca L. (1988). Talking Straight. Bantam Books
  2. Gioia D. (1992). Pinto fires and personal ethics: A script analysis of missed opportunities. Journal of Business Ethics. Springer Netherlands, volume 11, numbers 5-6/May, pp. 379-389
  3. Ford Pinto Fires, available from ;http://www. savive. com/casestudy/fordpinto. html; [17 January 2009] Ford Pinto Case, available from ;http://www. bookrags. com/research/ford-pinto-case-este- 0001_0002_0/; [17 January 2009]
  4. Herald, M (1983). Settlement gives him a new life. Associated press, available from ;http://www. cdrb-productsliability. com/ford-pinto. htm; [17 January 2009]
  5. Dowie M. Pinto Madness, available from ;http://www. fordpinto. com/smf/index. php? ;tpstart=28; [17 January 2009]

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