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Exploding Pinto is a Myth...Pinto Fires, NOT!

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I constantly debunk the fire myth, urban legends catch on and people do not want to know the truth, they like controversy. BTW at the local shows all cars must have fire extinguishers in them to be judged, some shows even rent them out to participants for that particular show, or sell them if you like. I have been driving my Pinto a lot lately since it passed inspection, tons of fun!

After a car show I went to on Saturday, I decided that maybe I would present my car in a new way. You know how some folks have a poster with statistics. Only so many car made that year and only three with this engine and options etc. Well I decided to have a poster with safety statistics.
I started my research by reading the articles posted on this site under the heading "gas tank issue." The last article titled "My somewhat begrudging apology" had some statistics listed. These statistics looked good on the surface. They said something like there were 300 deaths in pintos and 320 deaths in toyota, 400 in VW etc. Well I got excited. This lookid like what I was looking for, until I realized that these numbers were meaningless. These numbers needed comparatives. Such as 200 deaths per 100,000 vehicles. Without knowing how many vehicles, any car with a small production would look terrific. If a car was listed as only 50 deaths, it could look excellent  unless you knew they made only 50 cars. Then you could realize that sample had a 100% fatality rate.
Doe anyone know how I could find out the true fatality rates for these cars?


There were a total of 29 deaths in Pinto rear-end collision fires. Out of a total sales figure of 6,000,000 cars, or roughly 600,000 per year for the ten year run of the Pinto, that equates to a .0000048% rate, assuming one owner per vehicle. Mother Earth News apparently, and I say apparently because I don't have the proof in front of me, claimed the totals were much higher, a claim that was never truly refuted. The internal memo that was so damning in the Pinto case, the one claiming it would be cheaper to pay claims rather than fix the problem with the cars, was refuted in a graduate dissertation for law school  published a couple of years ago, an Ivy League school if I remember correctly. I can post the information later on. I would be happy to pull all this stuff together, I have most of it anyway and as I close in on my master's degree in American history, which I should complete in spring of 2013,  I am leaning towards writing my thesis on the automotive industry contraction of the 1970's, so this kind of fits in anyway. I get tired of the remembered hysteria and the misinformation more than I care to admit.

Norman Bagi:
Well first, here are the car totals. the number was not six million, just about half that at 3.2 million units. The number of deaths related to fire, all fire nit just rear end hits was 27 as of 1976. So the number had increased since then. But the numbe was far less than the 800-900 per year reported by Mother Jones. The famous letter was actualy a memo from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that listed what an average payout in a loss of life lawsuit was. This was ne'er a Ford created memo. Most cars ofthe day had similar designs of the gas tank behind the rear axle. So this was not soley a Pinto design issue. The media also published that Ford did nothing to improve the design. Just look at the 71-73 bumpers vs. The 74-80'bumpers. Not to mention the recall for the extension of the filler neck and the cover over the backside of the gas tank. There is plenty of information and stats here. Just poke around and get them, don't just rely on my numbers or words or anyone elses.

Norman Bagi:
I want to point out one more issue. Most people think Ford lost the lawsuit, this adds to the myth. Ford was actually was found not guilty and won the case. This is similar to the case against John Delorean. He too was found not guilty, but public belief was he was guilty and did time in jail. The case against Ford was for two girls who parked on the side of the road and were rear ended by a full size van traveling at high speeds. An autopsy revealed they were killed by the impact, not the subsequent fire. The video always shown is in slow motion, because showng an Impala hitting a subcompact car at high speeds takes away from the effect of the collision, the response would be "well duh!" but by putting it in slow motion it appears as though the car will explode while parallel parking it. Which we know not to be true.


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