There were lots of tiny cars to be found on the streets of American cities during the 1970’s, but the Ford Pinto is probably the most notable. This was not due to its body design; it was fairly pedestrian, with unibody styles and simple bench seats. Not exactly something to take your date to the prom with. The engine was four-cylinder, and most Pintos had only two-doors, though a three-door hatchback was available in certain areas. Oh, and the car possessed a minor defect which caused the gas tank to violently explode if a rear-end collision occurred.
Ford was supposedly aware of this flaw (as indicated by a secret memo which circulated throughout the company), but decided that it would be cheaper to pay off the inevitable lawsuits rather then spend a whopping $11 repair bill on each car. Considering this was the cost of a pretty good meal at Mel’s in those days, it was entirely understandable. Not so sympathetic were the families of the victims, who decided to sue Ford for their culpability. Most of the cases were settled out of court, but several of the lawsuits resulted in multi-million dollar awards.
In 1977, the United States government finally instituted Standard 301, a special rear end provision which stated that cars now had to be designed so they didn’t blow up in a fiery inferno should someone accidentally lean against the back bumper. As a result, Ford Pintos that were built over the next three years each had a one pound plastic baffle (don’t ask) placed on the gas tanks. This allowed them to pass safety tests, but the damage was already done. In the public’s mind, the vehicles were deathtraps, and they would eventually be discontinued a few years later due to poor sales.