The danger could be found with the fuel tank, positioned between the rear bumper and the rear axle, which in the event of a shunt could separate the filler neck from the tank and spray fuel up the underside of the car. In the nastiest of circumstances this would lead to horrendous infernos where inhabitants jammed in the cabin had hot death to look forward to. A further issue with the rear end design found protruding bolts from the differential puncturing the fuel tank - leaving you with rather poor fuel consumption into the bargain.
Ford responded to the Grimshaw lawsuit claiming that the Pinto was as safe and robust as any other car on the road at that time. However, Grimshaw’s law team managed to obtain information gathered from rear-end collision tests on the Pinto, carried out by Ford itself in 1970, well after the first Pinto had left the production line. These results documented that out of 11 collision tests, eight vehicles impersonated a blast furnace - catching fire to a spectacular degree. Just to make things interesting, the three that didn’t go up in flames had safety devices installed.
It wasn’t until journalist Mark Dowie started researching the subject that he discovered Ford’s Cost-Benefits analysis of the Pinto’s defect - basically, human life wasn’t worth spending money on. Fitting extra safety features would set the Ford Motor Company back the sum total of $137 million. A large sum of money by any account, but Ford bigwigs opted for a different route. They were more than happy to continue churning out the Pinto unchanged, as litigation from victims were estimated to cost less than $49.5 million. They even went ahead and predicted that 180 people would perish in Pinto fires.
Ford didn’t therefore install any safety features on their Pinto and, by September of 1977, flaming Pintos were killing estimates of seventy people each year. To spice things up further, it was discovered that Ford lobbied to delay a Federal Bill of 1970 enforcing compulsory safety standards around the rear of vehicles. It finally became law in 1978, just as Pintos were recalled for refit. Richard Grimshaw was finally awarded $125 million in damages - although, strangely, this was reduced to $3.5 million.
Did Ford really fix the problem? Installing a deeper filler neck and a protective shield did appear to reduce fatalities - but the Pinto will be forever known as the car equivalent to a serial killer. The ‘Devils-Hatchback’ is the confirmed cause of at least 27 deaths in America.
This is a shame, really, as the entire fiasco overshadows the little Pinto’s merits. It was surprisingly spacious, it could achieve reasonable fuel economy and, considering its basis, wasn’t all too horrific to gaze over. Yet, movie moments such as this help cement the Pinto firmly in place as a health hazard.