The Ford Pinto hit the market in response to highly economical imports from Japan and Europe. The subcompact sat on an all new platform, but featured a drivetrain for the Euro-spec Ford Escort. While the car sold well, it hardly drew attention from reporters when released for 1971. In the years that followed, a controversy would erupt. The issue with the car stemmed from the placement of the gas tank in the Pinto, which sat outside the frame. By 1974, rumors of fiery accidents related to the tank began to swirl inside and outside of Ford. Things really blew up in Ford’s face when one of the most devastating accidents related to the Pinto occurred on this day in 1978.
Sisters Lyn (16) and Judy Ulrich (18), and their cousin Donna Ulrich (18), were on the side of U.S. 33 in Indiana in a their 1973 Ford Pinto. Judy had just pulled over to tighten a loose gas cap after filling up. Within an instance, a large van plowed into the Pinto and it burst into flames. Read a detailed account of the accident here. The parents of the sisters would receive a recall notice for their Pinto in the mail the next year. The accident was not the first, nor the last of its kind. These fiery crashes would lead to lawsuits for Ford, who denied it knew about the design flaw. That would be proved wrong in court. Ford would end Pinto production following the 1980 model year and millions of dollars in damages.