33 Guests, 1 User
Last 12 Shouts:


July 15, 2016, 08:52:05 PM
Sounds like a winner, moonman! ;D


July 15, 2016, 01:26:59 PM
Hi all just looking over my new toy a 76 model trunk model . trunk back it,s siting on a set of centerline's and has the stainless at the top of  the wheel arch's


July 07, 2016, 12:13:22 PM
Yes Virginia, there is a Dictator in the White House, and his gestapo are in the EPA :(


July 05, 2016, 03:43:49 PM
That took a while


July 04, 2016, 09:25:02 PM
Thanks, Dwayne.
Safe is easy. Happy, not so much.  :(


July 04, 2016, 03:58:34 AM
Have a safe and happy Fourth of July, Pinto Peeps! ;D


June 06, 2016, 08:44:01 PM
It's a little late in the year now, but has anyone thought about a calendar for the rest of 2016 or for 2017?


June 06, 2016, 10:52:48 AM
DINK 1980's, (Double Income No Kids) SINK !1990's (Single Income No Kids),NOMH 2000 (No Mortgage Here) UTTG (Under The Taxation Gun) U64US (Well, If you must know.. Ground Hog Day for US) Happy Electoral thoughts to U ;)


June 03, 2016, 03:11:48 PM
Hmm, NOS, NLA, Found on Ebay? It's a Motorhead Universe, and you can warp out anytime you please! ;)


June 03, 2016, 11:42:52 AM
NLA means that you have to look in another corporate parts database... Just pay more, and the problems evaporate :o


May 30, 2016, 12:35:49 AM
Not yet but I will soon. Gotta get some more pictures and make sure what I'm doing is going to work  ;)


May 28, 2016, 05:46:00 AM
Tinson - you have a topic in "Projects" going ? Pictures ? You should....love seeing topics like this !

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The Myth of the Ford Pinto Case


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Pinto Gas Tank- FALSE2


"The Most Dangerous Vehicle On the Road"
By Walter Olson
Wall Street Journal, February 9, 1993

Jury interviews suggest that last month's $ 105 million verdict in Moseley v. General Motors was based in part on anger at GM's unrepentance: Despite lawsuits and press reports fingering its 1973-87 trucks as unsafe, the company has refused to concede they are flawed at all. Soon after the verdict GM continued its defiance by counterattacking, charging that crash tests done for an NBC expose' in November were rigged by attaching incendiary devices to the trucks. Serious though these charges might seem, some have already dismissed them as GM damage control.

Are the trucks, in fact, unsafe? Try to identify from this list the GM truck that Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, told NBC was a "rolling firebomb" and that NBC, summing up his charges, described as the "most dangerous vehicle out there on the road."

Fatal Crash Rate (per 10,000 registered vehicle years)
(National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

The correct answer is C, the GM full-size vehicle in the Moseley case. (Seventeen-year old Shannon Moseley died in the fire after his GM truck was hit by a drunken driver.) Of the entries on the list with worse records, D represents passenger cars as a general average; E, F, G, and H, light pickup trucks from various makers (Ford, Nissan, Toyota, Chrysler). Of course, one must approach numbers of this sort with caution: For example, models bought by younger and more aggressive drivers may show higher crash rates through no fault of their design. Still, anyone who imagines the GM truck (1.514) an unconscionable death trap would also be wise to avoid the large majority of other vehicles on the road (1.652 to 2.455).

Many analysts cry foul at comparing full-size pickups to smaller vehicles, since bigger is known to be safer as a general rule. In the litigation context, that's a strange cavil: If auto makers may freely offer small trucks to the public, why punish them for offering a large truck with a much better safety rating? But in any case, consider B, the full-size Ford entry, which was in fact the market's closest competitor to the GM model. (A, Dodge's full-size entry, did not score a hit with consumers, whatever its safety virtues.)

Ford's very thin edge over the GM model may or may not represent anything more than statistical noise, driver bias, and so forth. Anyone who chooses to live in a wood rather than a brick house accepts a far wider adverse safety differential.

One policy, of course, would be to punish any firm that fell behind in safety competition, as determined years later in statistical retrospect. That would ensure litigators a steady supply of provender, much as if, out on the veld, they were entitled to munch on whichever gazelles were at the rear of the pack. (The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has acknowledged, by the way, that the current safety scare is unlikely to add materially to the premiums that GM truck owners pay; the accidents in question are far too rare.)

When trial lawyers took their case to the general public through the media, they stressed intuition rather than statistics. It seems that GM, alone among auto makers, had gone about hanging gas tanks on the side of its trucks like dartboards, outside the protective frame rail. The tanks "were placed in about as stupid a place as they can possibly be placed," one of the plaintiff's lawyers informed "NBC Dateline." In a "side impact or a sideswipe impact, " plaintiff s expert Byron Bloch explained to a rapt NBC reporter, "the fuel tank gets crushed ... There is an immediate holocaust." So the overall numbers didn't matter. GM's design choice had invited specific, avoidable deaths, and the company must be punished.

As it turns out, neither NBC nor most other news outlets bothered to report that the GM trucks have actually scored better over the years in avoiding fatal crashes when it comes to side-impact collisions, their presumed weak point. Specifically, the full-size GM trucks did slightly better (.196 fatal side-impact crashes per 10,000 registered vehicle years) than the comparable Fords (.200) and almost as well as the Dodges (.190), though the three are bunched so closely together that the numbers hardly matter.

How on earth could these trucks have done better in side crashes, given that GM itself chose to move the tanks inboard in a 1988 redesign? Maybe the numbers are a fluke. Or maybe it's that the trade-offs in car safety are not well understood even by experts. Any possible placement of the fuel tank "causes" some accidents and averts others. Respectable designers have tried every gas-tank location at one time or another: front (as in old Volkswagen Beetles), rear (the Ford Pinto and many others), inside the passenger compartment (older trucks), or underneath (now usual, despite the hazards of flying gravel, sparks, ground-slams, and broken axles). All have been rejected at other times as unsafe.

Maybe the distinctive narrow frame of GM trucks--popular with customers, but damned by the plaintiff's lawyers because it required the gas tanks to be placed outboard--offers some sort of obscure advantage in side crashes. It's hard to know. We do know that although you are apparently no more likely to have a fatal side-impact crash in your GM truck, if you do have one it is somewhat more likely to involve a fire. To that extent, intuition--but not the trial lawyers' case--is vindicated.

We also know that in GM trucks, as in all other kinds, you are much more likely to die in a front-end than in a side crash, and vastly more likely to die in a crash without a fire than in one with. When fire is present in a fatal crash, it's often in the sort of high-force collisions that would have been lethal in any case--though the jury viewed the Moseley case as an exception.

And--hardly a surprise given the statistics--it turns out that GM gas tanks are not exactly as fragile or exposed as DDT eggshells, as viewers might have concluded from watching the NBC video or trial lawyer's summations. The tanks not only complied with but far exceeded the U.S. government's safety standards, which specifically address the danger of gas-tank breakage in side crashes. (Fully obeying this kind of law, it turns out, will not keep you from getting sued.) In fact it takes about 4,000 side-impact crashes in a GM pickup to get one fire with a major injury or fatality, which means the supposed "rolling fire-bombs" may compare favorably with haystacks or mounds of feathers as objects to crash into.

The more data we see on the safety record of existing cars, the more dubious the safety scares of the past begin to look. The Audi 5000 affair, in which one of the safest cars on the road was wrongly accused of "sudden acceleration," is only the best known of a whole series of lawsuit-driven campaigns that have collapsed in disgrace and refutation.

Remarkably, even the affair of the "exploding" Ford Pinto--universally hailed as the acme of product liability success--is starting to look like hype. In a summer 1991 Rutgers Law Review article Gary Schwartz demolishes "the myth of the Pinto case." Actual deaths in Pinto fires have come in at a known 27, not the expected thousand or more. More startling, Schwartz shows that everyone's received ideas about the fabled "smoking gun" memo are false. The actual memo did not pertain to Pintos, or even Ford products, but to American cars in general; it dealt with rollovers, not rear-end collisions; it did not contemplate the matter of tort liability at all, let alone accept it as cheaper than a design change; it assigned a value to human life because federal regulators, for whose eyes it was meant, themselves employed that concept in their deliberations; and the value it used was one that they, the regulators, had set forth in documents.

In retrospect, Schwartz writes, the Pinto's safety record appears to have been very typical of its time and class.

Ford, like GM, lost a $ 100 million verdict, although not much of that survived appeal. The scandal of punitive damages is that they're handed down with none of the due-process protections we'd accord targets charged with genuine criminal wrongdoing: strong screening of unreliable evidence, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, prosecution by independent professionals rather than interested parties, and so forth. Until we furnish such protection, punitive damages--as in the Moseley case--will threaten to make a travesty of justice.


Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, is the author of The Litigation Explosion.

Related Olson pieces on GM/Dateline episode: Wash. Post 2/28/93 / National Review 6/21/93

Overlawyered.com (frequently updated links and commentary on the U.S. legal system) / resources on auto safety litigation / on product liability

More Olson writings on product liability / more media criticism

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Pinto Gas Tank- FALSE


It Didn't Start With Dateline NBC
By Walter Olson
National Review, June 21, 1993

* * *

An "electronic Titanic"--as Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times called it---"an unprecedented disaster in the annals of network news, and perhaps the biggest TV scam since the Quiz Scandals." To many, NBC's Dateline fiasco seemed a freak, a bizarre departure from accepted network standards. Would any half-awake news organization have helped stage a crash test that was rigged to get a particular outcome? Or concealed from the public key elements--the hidden rockets, the over-filled tank, the loose gas cap? Or entrusted its judgment to axe-grinding "experts" who were deeply involved in litigating against the expose's target? Or, after questions came up, refused to apologize no matter how strong the evidence grew?

NBC was a latecomer to the safety-expose game, and had come under cost-cutting pressure. Maybe it lacked the high-minded public spirit and adequate research budget that was said to typify perennial Emmy-bait series like 60 Minutes (CBS) and 20/20 (ABC). And indeed, both CBS and ABC put out word that "their standards forbid the sort of staging that got NBC into trouble," to quote a second L.A. Times reporter.

If you think so, read on. An investigation of past network auto-safety coverage reveals that both CBS and ABC have run the same sorts of grossly misleading crash videos and simulations, withheld the same sorts of material facts about the tests, and relied on the same dubious experts with the same ties to the plaintiffs bar. In at least one documented case -- another is rumored--viewers were shown a crash fire and explosion without being told it had been started by an incendiary device. Dateline committed many journalistic sins. But not least was that it couldn't even manage to be original.

* * *

IN JUNE 1978, at the height of the Ford Pinto outcry, ABC's 20/20 reported "startling new developments": evidence that full-size Fords, not just the subcompact Pinto, could explode when hit from behind. The show's visual highlight was dramatic. Newly aired film from tests done at UCLA in 1967 by researchers under contract with the automaker showed a Ford sedan being rear-ended at 55 mph and bursting into a fireball.

"ABC News has analyzed a great many of Ford's secret rear-end crash tests," confided correspondent Sylvia Chase. And they showed that if you owned a Ford--not just a Pinto, but many other models--what happened to the car in the film could happen to you. The tone was unrelentingly damning, and by the show's end popular anchorman Hugh Downs felt constrained to add his own personal confession. "You know, I've advertised Ford products a few years back, Sylvia, and at the time, of course, I didn't know and I don't think that anybody else did that this kind of ruckus was going to unfold." You got the idea that he would certainly think twice before repeating a mistake like that.

If ABC really analyzed those UCLA test reports, it had every reason to know why the Ford in the crash film burst into flame: there was an incendiary device under it. The UCLA testers explained their methods in a 1968 report published by the Society of Automotive Engineers, fully ten years before the 20/20 episode. As they explained, one of their goals was to study how a crash fire affected the passenger compartment of a car, and to do that they needed a crash fire. But crash fires occur very seldom; in fact, the testers had tried to produce a fire in an earlier test run without an igniter but had failed. Hence their use of the incendiary device (which they clearly and fully described in their write-up) in the only test run that produced a fire.

The "Beyond the Pinto" coverage gives plenty of credit to the show's on-and off-screen expert, who "worked as a consultant with ABC News on this story, and provided us with many of the Ford crash-test records." His name was Byron Bloch, and his role as an ABC News consultant was to prove a longstanding one; over the years he brought the network seven different exposes on auto safety, two of which won Emmys.

If the name is familiar, it's because the very same Byron Bloch starred as NBC's on-screen expert in the ill-fated Dateline episode. Bloch was present at the Indiana crash scene, and defended the tests afterward. ("There was nothing wrong with what happened in Indianapolis," he told Reuters. "The so-called devices underneath the pickup truck are really a lot of smoke that GM is blowing to divert you away from the punitive damages in the Moseley case.") And he played a key role in assuring NBC the truck fire had been set off by a headlight filament, providing a crucial excuse for not mentioning the igniters. (A later analysis for GM found the fire had started near the igniters, not the headlights.)

In 1978, as in 1992, Bloch wore two hats. One was as paid or unpaid network consultant, advisor, and onscreen explainer. The other was as the single best-known expert witness hired by trial lawyers in high-stakes injury lawsuits against automakers.

After NBC's downfall, 60 Minutes executive producer Don Hewitt was all over the media proclaiming that such things were unheard of at _his_ show. "If that had happened at "60 Minutes ," he said of NBC's failure to disclose the rocket use, "I'd be looking for a job tomorrow." Hewitt claimed not even to know why NBC might have wanted to plant the rockets. "I can't for the life of me figure out why anybody would do that," he said on Crossfire. "It's not something anybody at 60 Minutes would do."

Which, in context, can be read as a sort of Gary Hart Memorial Dare. Shall we take it up?

In December 1980, 60 Minutes reported that the small army-style "CJ" Jeep was dangerously apt to roll over--not only in emergencies but "even in routine road circumstances at relatively low speeds." A Jeep is shown crashing. "We'll get to precisely what the conditions were that made that single-car accident happen in a moment," promises Morley Safer.

The footage, it seems, is of tests run by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and was produced in collaboration with a CBS film crew. It shows Jeeps going through what appear from a distance to be standard maneuvers. Safer describes the first. "It is something called a J-turn: a fairly gentle right-hand turn that a driver might make if he was going into a parking lot." The Jeep flips over. Safer concedes that "it does not happen every time," and a good thing too, since if it did the nation's parking lots would be cluttered with overturned Jeeps spinning their wheels helplessly like so many ladybugs.

The camera then shows a second test run, "an evasive maneuver, as if the driver is trying to avoid something on the road." An unwanted object is shown obstructing a roadway, lending a you-are-there touch. "The driver would pull out of his lane to the left, go around the obstacle, then pull back to the right into his lane," explains Safer. The Jeep flips over again. Dummy occupants, outfitted in plaid shirts and farmer caps, tumble out to their doom.

Now by this point even trusting viewers might have felt a gnawing canker of doubt. Jeeps may be awkward, hard-to-control vehicles, but do they really do that? After all, skillful stunt drivers can tip over many sorts of vehicles on purpose. Chrysler/AMC, which makes the Jeep, sends out a tape in which this trick is performed on various stock cars and trucks, including a Toyota Corolla, a Ford Bronco, and a Datsun 4 x 4 pickup.

Tantalizingly, Safer seems to share or at least foresee these same doubts. He chats with two guests from the Insurance Institute. "I'm trying to think of some of the things that AMC would accuse you of doing if they were here watching these tests along with us. For example, putting the vehicle through the sort of turns and the sort of stresses that it just would never be put through in normal real-world driving on the road." The guests are reassuring, if that is the right word: yes, the test conditions "do occur in the real world," at least "in panic situations." AMC, for its part, is quoted as saying it suspects the tests of being "contrived to make the Jeep turn over." But the detail stops there.

Too bad. Viewers might have profited by knowing, for example, that testers had to put the Jeeps through 435 runs to get 8 rollovers. A single vehicle was put through 201 runs and accounted for 4 of the rollovers. Make a car skid repeatedly, Chrysler says, and you predictably degrade tire tread and other key safety margins.

Was the J-turn, or for that matter the evasive maneuver, "fairly gentle"? The Jeep was occupied by robot drivers that were twisting the steering wheel through more than 580 degrees of arc, well over one and a half full turns of the steering wheel. (Do not, repeat _not_, try this cruising in your own vehicle.) More striking yet was how fast and hard they jerked the steering wheel: in one case, at a rate in excess of five full turns a second. A study for GM, apparently unrelated to the Jeep affair, found that average drivers' maximum steer rate in emergencies reaches 520 degrees/second, while expert drivers can reach 800; rates above 1,000 degrees/second seem to happen mostly when drivers lose control. The robots used rates of from 1,100 to 1,805 degrees/second in the obstacle-avoidance maneuver. They were also gunning the accelerator-- not what you or I might do if a crate of hens suddenly fell in front of us on the highway. (An Insurance Institute internal memo had proposed arranging variables "to ensure rollover.")

An investigative engineer at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration later wrote that the tests' validity was "questionable" given their apparently "abnormal test conditions and unrealistic maneuvers," and also found signs that the vehicles' loading had been "manipulated in combination with other vehicle conditions to generate worst-case conditions" for stability. The "vehicle loading" issue was clarified by the testers' own internal report, which was not disclosed at the time but emerged later in litigation. In their report, the testers say that at the request of Insurance Institute personnel, they had taken the step of _hanging weights in the vehicle's corners_ -- inside the body, where they were not apparent to the camera.

An isolated lapse? Consider the Emmy-winning 60 Minutes segment in March 1981 revealing how the most common type of tire rim used on heavy trucks can fly off, killing or maiming tire mechanics and other bystanders. Again CBS relied on film from the Insurance Institute, this time showing an exploding rim shredding two luckless dummies, an adult and a child. Such footage, said Mike Wallace, "shows graphically what can happen when a wheel rim explodes." Insurance Institute spokesman Ben Kelley (who had also appeared on the Jeep segment) explains that a truck tire is under enormous pressure. "And if that metal, for any reason, dislodges, it fires off like a shell out of a cannon."

Again, 60 Minutes did not see fit to tell viewers exactly why the metal happened to dislodge in the film clip. It turned out that, according to the Insurance Institute, the rims had been "modified" to get them to explode for the demonstration.

Well, actually, the rims' locking mechanism had been deliberately shaved off for the test. Under questioning in a later deposition, an Insurance Institute employee acknowledged that the testers had to go back and shave off more and more of the metal in stages before finally getting off enough of it--an estimated 70 percent-that the rims would explode.

Should 60 Minutes have to give back its Emmy? Nah. Maybe they can just take the statuette to a machine shop and have 70 per cent of it filed off. Then they can keep the rest.

Ben Kelley's name comes up often in these stories. Kelley worked at the Insurance Institute, supervising such functions as publicity and film-making, at the time of both the tire-rim and Jeep episodes. By the mid 1980s he had left the Institute and emerged, like Bloch, as a very busy combination of hired plaintiffs expert and perennial network source. He, too, turned up in the Dateline affair, when he boasted of having recommended to NBC that it hire its crash tests out to Bruce Enz--yet another frequent plaintiffs' testifier.

How to identify Kelley and his doings on screen is a point of some perplexity at the networks. 20/20's Jeep expose in 1990 tagged him as an "auto safety expert" formerly with the Insurance Institute; it did not mention that he had for years been working as a hired courtroom expert for Jeep rollover plaintiffs. Last year CBS Evening News got flayed in a cover story in TV Guide ("Fake News") for running a report on allegedly defective seat belts without doing enough to inform viewers that its source was a "video news release" from Kelley's Institute for Injury Reduction (IIR), which frequently sends made-to-order footage on auto safety to broadcast news departments. CBS's Street Stories, in another Kelley-sourced piece, identified the institute blandly as an "auto safety consumer group." In fact, as its letterhead states, it was "founded by trial attorneys," who remain its major constituency. "We are made up of trial attorneys," Kelley readily acknowledges. "This is like saying that the Democratic Party is a front for Democrats."

* * *

NO CATALOGUE of this sort would be complete without an account of 60 Minutes's 1986 attack on the Audi 5000--perhaps the best-known and best-refuted auto-safety scare of recent years. The Audi, it seemed, was a car possessed by demons. It would back into garages, dart into swimming pools, plow into bank teller lines, everything but fly on broomsticks, all while its hapless drivers were standing on the brake -- or at least so they said.

"Sudden acceleration" had been alleged in many makes of car other than the Audi, and from the start many automotive observers were inclined to view it skeptically. A working set of brakes, they pointed out, can easily overpower any car's accelerator, even one stuck at full throttle. After accidents of this sort, the brakes were always found to be working fine. Such mishaps happened most often when the car was taking off from rest, and they happened disproportionately to short or elderly drivers who were novices to the Audi.

The Audi's pedals were placed farther to the left, and closer together, than those in many American cars. This may well offer a net safety advantage, by making it easier to switch to the brake in high-speed emergencies. (The Audi had, and has, one of the best safety records on the road.) But it might also allow inattentive drivers to hit the wrong pedal.

60 Minutes was having none of the theory that drivers were hitting the wrong pedal. It found, and interviewed on camera, some experienced drivers who reported the problem. And it showed a filmed demonstration of how an Audi, as fixed up by, yes, an expert witness testifying against the carmaker, could take off from rest at mounting speed. The expert, William Rosenbluth, was quoted as saying that "unusually high transmission pressure" could build up and cause problems. "Again, watch the pedal go down by itself," said Ed Bradley.

Bradley did not, however, tell viewers why that remarkable thing was happening. As Audi lawyers finally managed to establish, Rosenbluth had drilled a hole in the poor car's transmission and attached a hose leading to a tank of compressed air or fluid.

The tank with its attached hose was apparently sitting right on the front passenger seat of the doctored Audi, but the 60 Minutes cameras managed not to pick it up. It might have been for the same reason the Jeep weights were tucked away in the wheel wells, rather than being placed visibly on top. Or why the Dateline rockets were strapped out of sight underneath the truck rather than conspicuously on its side, and were detonated by remote control rather than by a visible wire. Doing it otherwise would only have gotten viewers confused.

* * *

IF YOU want to catch a vehicle doing something thrilling on camera, you face a problem: statistics. Most cars, most of the time, perform as intended. Small Jeeps do roll over more readily than other vehicles, but they seldom do so under ordinary road conditions. The dread Pinto gets rear-ended every day, but Pinto fires killed an average of four and a half people a year in the cars' heyday. And when it comes to a vehicle like the GM trucks attacked on Dateline--which have a significantly better safety record than the average vehicle-the odds are even worse, or, as the case may be, better. According to federal data, it takes 4,000 side-impact crashes in a GM truck to produce one fire with a serious injury or fatality.

At a first approximation, then, any crash test where something interesting or unusual happens will probably turn out to involve what have been called strange inputs.

In itself, there's nothing wrong with simulating extreme adverse conditions, so long as you make it clear that that's what you're doing. (Automakers themselves frequently "test to failure," as it's called, to find out how far a system can be abused before giving out.) When news broadcasts air such videos, though, they tend not to bother listing the artificial conditions. Disclaimers, as we know, make for dull journalism: it's not very grabby to say, "This could happen to you on a rutted shoulder with sleet on the ground, bald tires, and a fair bit of driver error." Network execs want their safety exposes to match the emotional tone of a murder trial, not a drivers' ed class. And so do trial lawyers.

Given half a chance, the litigation lobby will yank on the direction of news coverage the way the robots yanked on the steering wheel of the rigged Jeep. All the more noteworthy, then, that one of the best retrospectives on the Dateline affair should have come from The American Lawyer. Editor-in-chief Steven Brill cites "the media's almost comic double standard when it comes to holding itself accountable as opposed to holding the rest of the world accountable." Many reporters fretted about "morale" at NBC, as if it would be a good thing for morale to stay perky under the circumstances. And, Brill points out, although the network paid dearly for faking the crash, few seemed to care "how utterly unfair the rest of the Dateline report was." His magazine called the networks to ask how many corrections they have aired lately. ABC said that it had run a total of three over the past year. CNN couldn't recall any for years back. And a spokesman for the unshamable CBS couldn't remember any corrections at all.

CBS continues to brazen out even its egregious Audi segment. Ed Bradley was a guest on Larry King recently when a caller praised 60 Minutes in general but politely suggested it might want to apologize for faulty or mistaken stories like those on the Audi and on Alar, the apple spray. "First of all, they're not mistaken. Secondly, they are true," Bradley replied with some heat and more redundancy. He reminded listeners that among the Audi victims the show had spoken to were a policeman and a state auto inspector, supposedly unfoolable about such matters. "It's not a figment of our imagination. It actually happened, whether you believe it or not."

Hewitt, on Crossfire, defended the Audi show in a different and, if truth be known, contradictory way. If there was really nothing wrong with the cars, he asked, then why had Audi recalled them after the 60 Minutes episode? But the point of the main recall was to add an "idiot-proof" device that kept drivers from shifting into gear unless their foot was on the brake. If you accept Ed Bradley's theory that their feet were on the brake all along, that fix should have been useless.

ABC is close behind in the race for the "Edie" (awarded to the network that, with Edith Piaf, regrets the least). One of the themes of its Jeep expose had been that many rollovers do not arise from driver error. It cited Carl Cook's fatal one-car accident, and showed Mrs. Cook reciting the details of his blamelessness: "There was no speed, there was no drinking, there was no drugs, there was no falling asleep"; he had been "operating a Jeep vehicle in an off-the-road situation, exactly what it was designed to do." Summing it all up, 20/20 reported flatly that the jury in the resulting lawsuit said "that the fault was not Carl Cook's."

Flatly, and wrongly: in fact, the jury had voted Cook's own negligence 50 per cent responsible for the accident. When Chrysler called ABC on this palpable error, network exec Richard Wald wrote back that "we made a judgment that this was not significant" in light of Chrysler's having been found liable for the other half of the fault. Thus do modern networks deflect criticism: lest someone think they made an inadvertent slip, they claim to have misstated things on purpose.

Which leaves NBC as what you might call the moral front-runner. Of the three old-line networks, it was the last to plunge into dubious safety journalism in a big way; it got burned in what was, by most accounts, almost its first time out of the box; and it apologized, which is more than its rivals have done. Ousted NBC News head Michael Gartner, for all his sins, has earned the last word. "I saw that I had been too ready to believe our so-called experts, without trying to find out who they were .... I realized we were just plain wrong."

* * *

Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, is the author of The Litigation Explosion.

Related Olson pieces on GM/Dateline case: WSJ 2/9/93 / Wash. Post 2/28/93

Overlawyered.com (frequently updated links and commentary on the U.S. legal system) / resources on auto safety litigation / on product liability

More Olson writings on lawyers behaving badly / on media criticism

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04 Jun 2012 - VINDICATION Pinto-


FordPinto Vindication at last- ?

The Ford Pinto was born a low-rent, stumpy thing in Dearborn 40 years ago and grew to become one of the most infamous cars in history. The thing is that it didn't actually suck. Really.

Even after four decades, what's the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of the Ford Pinto? Ka-BLAM! The truth is the Pinto was more than that — and this is the story of how the exploding Pinto became a pre-apocalyptic narrative, how the myth was exposed, and why you should race one.

The Pinto was CEO Lee Iacocca's baby, a homegrown answer to the threat of compact-sized economy cars from Japan and Germany, the sales of which had grown significantly throughout the 1960s. Iacocca demanded the Pinto cost under $2,000, and weigh under 2,000 pounds. It was an all-hands-on-deck project, and Ford got it done in 25 months from concept to production.

Building its own small car meant Ford's buyers wouldn't have to hew to the Japanese government's size-tamping regulations; Ford would have the freedom to choose its own exterior dimensions and engine sizes based on market needs (as did Chevy with the Vega and AMC with the Gremlin). And people cold dug it.

When it was unveiled in late 1970 (ominously on September 11), US buyers noted the Pinto's pleasant shape — bringing to mind a certain tailless amphibian — and interior layout hinting at a hipster's sunken living room. Some call it one of the ugliest cars ever made, but like fans of Mischa Barton, Pinto lovers care not what others think. With its strong Kent OHV four (a distant cousin of the Lotus TwinCam), the Pinto could at least keep up with its peers, despite its drum brakes and as long as one looked past its Russian-roulette build quality.

But what of the elephant in the Pinto's room? Yes, the whole blowing-up-on-rear-end-impact thing. It all started a little more than a year after the Pinto's arrival.

Why the Ford Pinto didn't suck

Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company

On May 28, 1972, Mrs. Lilly Gray and 13-year-old passenger Richard Grimshaw, set out from Anaheim, California toward Barstow in Gray's six-month-old Ford Pinto. Gray had been having trouble with the car since new, returning it to the dealer several times for stalling. After stopping in San Bernardino for gasoline, Gray got back on I-15 and accelerated to around 65 mph. Approaching traffic congestion, she moved from the left lane to the middle lane, where the car suddenly stalled and came to a stop. A 1962 Ford Galaxie, the driver unable to stop or swerve in time, rear-ended the Pinto. The Pinto's gas tank was driven forward, and punctured on the bolts of the differential housing.

As the rear wheel well sections separated from the floor pan, a full tank of fuel sprayed straight into the passenger compartment, which was engulfed in flames. Gray later died from congestive heart failure, a direct result of being nearly incinerated, while Grimshaw was burned severely and left permanently disfigured. Grimshaw and the Gray family sued Ford Motor Company (among others), and after a six-month jury trial, verdicts were returned against Ford Motor Company. Ford did not contest amount of compensatory damages awarded to Grimshaw and the Gray family, and a jury awarded the plaintiffs $125 million, which the judge in the case subsequently reduced to the low seven figures. Other crashes and other lawsuits followed.

Mother Jones and Pinto Madness

In 1977, Mark Dowie, business manager of Mother Jones magazine published an article on the Pinto's "exploding gas tanks." It's the same article in which we first heard the chilling phrase, "How much does Ford think your life is worth?" Dowie had spent days sorting through filing cabinets at the Department of Transportation, examining paperwork Ford had produced as part of a lobbying effort to defeat a federal rear-end collision standard. That's where Dowie uncovered an innocuous-looking memo entitled "Fatalities Associated with Crash-Induced Fuel Leakage and Fires."

The Car Talk blog describes why the memo proved so damning.

In it, Ford's director of auto safety estimated that equipping the Pinto with [an] $11 part would prevent 180 burn deaths, 180 serious burn injuries and 2,100 burned cars, for a total cost of $137 million. Paying out $200,000 per death, $67,000 per injury and $700 per vehicle would cost only $49.15 million.

The government would, in 1978, demand Ford recall the million or so Pintos on the road to deal with the potential for gas-tank punctures. That "smoking gun" memo would become a symbol for corporate callousness and indifference to human life, haunting Ford (and other automakers) for decades. But despite the memo's cold calculations, was Ford characterized fairly as the Kevorkian of automakers?

Perhaps not. In 1991, A Rutgers Law Journal report [PDF] showed the total number of Pinto fires, out of 2 million cars and 10 years of production, stalled at 27. It was no more than any other vehicle, averaged out, and certainly not the thousand or more suggested by Mother Jones.

Why the Ford Pinto didn't suck

The big rebuttal, and vindication?

But what of the so-called "smoking gun" memo Dowie had unearthed? Surely Ford, and Lee Iacocca himself, were part of a ruthless establishment who didn't care if its customers lived or died, right? Well, not really. Remember that the memo was a lobbying document whose audience was intended to be the NHTSA. The memo didn't refer to Pintos, or even Ford products, specifically, but American cars in general. It also considered rollovers not rear-end collisions. And that chilling assignment of value to a human life? Indeed, it was federal regulators who often considered that startling concept in their own deliberations. The value figure used in Ford's memo was the same one regulators had themselves set forth.

In fact, measured by occupant fatalities per million cars in use during 1975 and 1976, the Pinto's safety record compared favorably to other subcompacts like the AMC Gremlin, Chevy Vega, Toyota Corolla and VW Beetle.

And what of Mother Jones' Dowie? As the Car Talk blog points out, Dowie now calls the Pinto, "a fabulous vehicle that got great gas mileage," if not for that one flaw: The legendary "$11 part."

Why the Ford Pinto didn't suck

Pinto Racing Doesn't Suck

Back in 1974, Car and Driver magazine created a Pinto for racing, an exercise to prove brains and common sense were more important than an unlimited budget and superstar power. As Patrick Bedard wrote in the March, 1975 issue of Car and Driver, "It's a great car to drive, this Pinto," referring to the racer the magazine prepared for the Goodrich Radial Challenge, an IMSA-sanctioned road racing series for small sedans.

Why'd they pick a Pinto over, say, a BMW 2002 or AMC Gremlin? Current owner of the prepped Pinto, Fox Motorsports says it was a matter of comparing the car's frontal area, weight, piston displacement, handling, wheel width, and horsepower to other cars of the day that would meet the entry criteria. (Racers like Jerry Walsh had by then already been fielding Pintos in IMSA's "Baby Grand" class.)

Bedard, along with Ron Nash and company procured a 30,000-mile 1972 Pinto two-door to transform. In addition to safety, chassis and differential mods, the team traded a 200-pound IMSA weight penalty for the power gain of Ford's 2.3-liter engine, which Bedard said "tipped the scales" in the Pinto's favor. But according to Bedard, it sounds like the real advantage was in the turns, thanks to some add-ons from Mssrs. Koni and Bilstein.

"The Pinto's advantage was cornering ability," Bedard wrote. "I don't think there was another car in the B. F. Goodrich series that was quicker through the turns on a dry track. The steering is light and quick, and the suspension is direct and predictable in a way that street cars never can be. It never darts over bumps, the axle is perfectly controlled and the suspension doesn't bottom."

Need more proof of the Pinto's lack of suck? Check out the SCCA Washington, DC region's spec-Pinto series.


Contact Mike Spinelli:

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20 Apr 2011 - My Somewhat Begrudging Apology To Ford Pinto


My Somewhat Begrudging Apology To Ford Pinto


I never thought I’d offer an apology to the Ford Pinto, but I guess I owe it one.

I had a Pinto in the 1970s. Actually, my wife bought it a few months before we got married. The car became sort of a wedding dowry. So did the remaining 80% of the outstanding auto loan.

During a relatively brief ownership, the Pinto’s repair costs exceeded the original price of the car. It wasn’t a question of if it would fail, but when. And where. Sometimes, it simply wouldn’t start in the driveway. Other times, it would conk out at a busy intersection.

It ranks as the worst car I ever had. That was back when some auto makers made quality something like Job 100, certainly not Job 1.

Despite my bad Pinto experience, I suppose an apology is in order because of a recent blog I wrote. It centered on Toyota’s sudden-acceleration problems. But in discussing those, I invoked the memory of exploding Pintos, perpetuating an inaccuracy.

The widespread allegation was that, due to a design flaw, Pinto fuel tanks could readily blow up in rear-end collisions, setting the car and its occupants afire.

People started calling the Pinto “the barbecue that seats four.” And the lawsuits spread like wild fire.

Responding to my blog, a Ford (“I would very much prefer to keep my name out of print”) manager contacted me to set the record straight.

He says exploding Pintos were a myth that an investigation debunked nearly 20 years ago. He cites Gary Schwartz’ 1991 Rutgers Law Review paper that cut through the wild claims and examined what really happened.

Schwartz methodically determined the actual number of Pinto rear-end explosion deaths was not in the thousands, as commonly thought, but 27.

In 1975-76, the Pinto averaged 310 fatalities a year. But the similar-size Toyota Corolla averaged 313, the VW Beetle 374 and the Datsun 1200/210 came in at 405.

Yes, there were cases such as a Pinto exploding while parked on the shoulder of the road and hit from behind by a speeding pickup truck. But fiery rear-end collisions comprised only 0.6% of all fatalities back then, and the Pinto had a lower death rate in that category than the average compact or subcompact, Schwartz said after crunching the numbers. Nor was there anything about the Pinto’s rear-end design that made it particularly unsafe.

Not content to portray the Pinto as an incendiary device, ABC’s 20/20 decided to really heat things up in a 1978 broadcast containing “startling new developments.” ABC breathlessly reported that, not just Pintos, but fullsize Fords could blow up if hit from behind.

20/20 thereupon aired a video, shot by UCLA researchers, showing a Ford sedan getting rear-ended and bursting into flames. A couple of problems with that video:

One, it was shot 10 years earlier.

Two, the UCLA researchers had openly said in a published report that they intentionally rigged the vehicle with an explosive.

That’s because the test was to determine how a crash fire affected the car’s interior, not to show how easily Fords became fire balls. They said they had to use an accelerant because crash blazes on their own are so rare. They had tried to induce a vehicle fire in a crash without using an igniter, but failed.

ABC failed to mention any of that when correspondent Sylvia Chase reported on “Ford’s secret rear-end crash tests.”

We could forgive ABC for that botched reporting job. After all, it was 32 years ago. But a few weeks ago, ABC, in another one of its rigged auto exposes, showed video of a Toyota apparently accelerating on its own.

Turns out, the “runaway” vehicle had help from an associate professor. He built a gizmo with an on-off switch to provide acceleration on demand. Well, at least ABC didn’t show the Toyota slamming into a wall and bursting into flames.

In my blog, I also mentioned that Ford’s woes got worse in the 1970s with the supposed uncovering of an internal memo by a Ford attorney who allegedly calculated it would cost less to pay off wrongful-death suits than to redesign the Pinto.

It became known as the “Ford Pinto memo,” a smoking gun. But Schwartz looked into that, too. He reported the memo did not pertain to Pintos or any Ford products. Instead, it had to do with American vehicles in general.

It dealt with rollovers, not rear-end crashes. It did not address tort liability at all, let alone advocate it as a cheaper alternative to a redesign. It put a value to human life because federal regulators themselves did so.

The memo was meant for regulators’ eyes only. But it was off to the races after Mother Jones magazine got a hold of a copy and reported what wasn’t the case.

The exploding-Pinto myth lives on, largely because more Americans watch 20/20 than read the Rutgers Law Review. One wonders what people will recollect in 2040 about Toyota’s sudden accelerations, which more and more look like driver error and, in some cases, driver shams.

So I guess I owe the Pinto an apology. But it’s half-hearted, because my Pinto gave me much grief, even though, as the Ford manager notes, “it was a cheap car, built long ago and lots of things have changed, almost all for the better.”

Here goes: If I said anything that offended you, Pinto, I’m sorry. And thanks for not blowing up on me.

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