1979 Ford Pinto
1979 Ford Pinto

By 1979, the Pinto was nearing retirement. After a decade-long run, Ford’s underachieving but cheap-to-own small car would soon be replaced, though not until after literally millions of the unpleasant little buggers were sold into the hands of less-than-discriminating American consumers.

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1979 Ford Pinto

Generally crude in operation, the Pinto did have a well-earned reputation for reliability, and was bargain priced and relatively easy on the gas. Also, the Pinto was American, a thing which protectionist-minded car shoppers appreciated.

1979 Ford Pinto
1979 Ford Pinto Ad

Pintos were prone to explode, however, though Ford management was loathe to admit this. Turns out that early in the development of the Pinto—a rush project helmed by no less an automotive luminary that Lee Iococca—it was determined that the Pinto was want to blow up when struck from the rear by another vehicle. You might expect that, at this point, development of the Pinto would be halted until a fix for the potentially deadly defect could be designed, but you’d be wrong.

Price of a 2013 Ford Pinto: $17,375

1979 Ford Pinto
1979 Ford Pinto Ad

It wasn’t until 1878 that Ford was compelled to recall the Pinto, this after a disputed number of injuries and deaths were ascribed to the car’s faulty design. The fix, as it turns out, was the installation of an $11 plastic shield placed between the rear differential and the gas tank. Lives were lost because Ford dragged its corporate feet on a simple and low-cost fix.

Though the Pinto scandal briefly made headlines, American car shoppers seemed to lose interest in the story pretty quickly. Ford continued to build Pintos, and consumers continued to buy them.

What makes this 1979 Pinto ad so funny—or perhaps so sad—is its oblique reference to the exploding-Pinto scandal. The last paragraph of the ad is headlined. “Redesigned Fuel System.” The text makes no reference as to why the fuel system might have been redesigned, or how that redesign might benefit a Pinto owner. But, if you were aware of the Pinto’s proclivity for bursting into flames, you might take some comfort in the text of this paragraph. Ford had fixed the problem—but you’d only understand that if you knew about the problem in the first place.

The Pinto was replaced in 1980 by the Escort. The Escort featured front-wheel drive, a roomier cabin, was generally more refined, and was much more fuel efficient. And while the Escort suffered from a number of its own issues, bursting into flames was not one of them.

Carnac the Magnificent Says, “McIntosh, Dolly Parton, and the Ford Pinto . . .”

1979 Ford Pinto Ad
1979 Ford Pinto Ad

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