Although this decade was known for its muscle cars, the auto manufacturers were also responding to a new category of urban car.
In Fall 1970, Ford Motor Company brought a new small car to market: the Pinto.
Named after a type of horse, the Pinto was a challenge from Ford chairman Lee Iacocca to create a small car to compete with the European imports such as the VW Beetle or cars made by Datsun and Toyota in Japan, weigh less than 2000 lbs and cost the consumer less than $2000.00.
The two door subcompact, which had bucket seats and an inline four cylinder engine, was priced at $1850.00. In 1971, Ford modified the design to make it a hatchback to compete with new models from Mazda and the AMC Gremlin. In 1972, the Pinto’s upgrade was to make the design a full glass hatchback.
The Little Carefree Car was a hit as a second family car, and as the price of oil skyrocketed and the gas crisis came, this little vehicle became more popular because of its fuel efficiency.
Ford modified the design to produce a Pinto station wagon in late 1972 and in the late 1970s, the Ford Pinto Cruising Wagon was released, with side bubble windows, while the Ford Squire Wagon had the faux wood panelling.
Never praised by the critics, the Pinto was alleged to have a fuel tank problem. Mother Jones Magazine reported in 1977 that a design flaw which could have been prevented and known by Ford was ignored. The Pinto Memo which outlined this possible problem was seen by the automaker as a possible problem, but they would rather not recall and just deal with individual owner problems.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was pressured to recall the Pinto by several advocacy groups, with 27 accidents of fires were attributed to the fuel tank problem. But the NHTSA ruled there was no major problem.
I remember seeing these cars all over the place – it was a popular choice for Moms and teens, and the hatchback was always the spot for the kids to hang out.
In 1977, Ford recalled the Pinto, with dealers installing a shield to prevent the fuel tank problem from occurring. But by the end of the decade, Ford decided to abandon the Pinto category.
In consequent years, the Pinto was nominated by Time Magazine one of the 50 worst cars of the past, as well as one of the ugliest cars of the past.
But for the mid ’70s, the Pinto represented the initial designs of the small car – maybe not pretty but forever a representative of the decade.