September 11: The Ford Pinto arrives

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September 11: The Ford Pinto arrives on this date in 1970

By Justin Hyde for Motorama 

It was this week in 1970 when Detroit began to fight back against Japanese imports in earnest, rolling out their own compact models designed from scratch rather than adapting European cars. The Ford Pinto’s unveiling today was a watershed moment for the company; at $1,830, it was the cheapest car Ford had built in 20 years. While it wouldn’t get great reviews, the Pinto’s real problems didn’t emerge until a couple of years later, when a string of high-profile accidents and a Mother Jones investigation revealed flaws in Ford’s engineering that left the Pinto prone to fires in rear-end accidents — something Michigan owner Patty Ramge addressed in her own way in 1978 when her Ford dealer proved unresponsive.

Ford eventually recalled the Pinto to lessen the risk that bolts in the rear axle would puncture the gas tank upon impact, but the debate over the case raged for decades after, with a 1991 paper arguing Ford was railroaded and that the Pinto was no more dangerous than other cars of its era. That’s not a high bar, and Ford’s mistakes in dealing with the Pinto would change auto safety laws and lawsuits for decades to come.

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