On the way to work today I saw a verifiable Ford Pinto parked along Fifth Street. That’s noteworthy for anyone these days. Pintos, of course, became the butt of jokes and the source of grief for America in the late 1970s, because they had a penchant for exploding if hit from the rear. (For the record I’ve been known to explode when hit from the rear.)
The Pinto’s reputation earned it a spot on Time Magazine’s list of 50 worst cars ever. The explosive capabilities was known by Ford, as it turns out, because the company had a memo comparing the cost of fixing a defect they knew about versus settling claims in court. Court was deemed to be cheaper, so the message was if you’re going to ride in the back of one, bring marshmallows just in case.
My own experience with the Pinto was from my friend, Kevin, who inherited his from his brother Charlie. It was a black number that Kevin had outfitted with shag carpet (courtesy of our friend Dave, who now runs his father’s carpet business) and a T-handle stick shift to go with the killer stereo. The stick shift knob was an easy and inexpensive way to customize a car, as I’m sure it is today. Another friend, Larry, had a Hamms Beer tap stick shift knob in his car. I bought a classy VW knob for my 1966 Beetle to go with the stereo, carpet and European taillight covers. The knob, the stereo and the light covers were stolen while I was at psychology class at the junior college. The thieves left the carpet.
Whatever you might think of the Pinto now, for Kevin it complimented his already sizzling status with the ladies, something I could never match. I remember a lot of rides in that car, a couple times to Anaheim Stadium, once to Hollywood and once when we ditched school and went to the beach. For Kevin I’m sure the memories are even fonder, involving company that was not me or Dave.
For that reason while everyone else in America might have been chuckling at the Pinto’s descent into infamy, I was kind of saddened by it. To see one again today was kind of life affirming.
Should I see it out on the road, though, I’ll give it plenty of distance.