1978: Ford Pinto Recall 49
S6.5 Moving contoured barrier crash. When the moving contoured
barrier assembly traveling longitudinally forward at any speed up to
and including 30 mph impacts the test vehicle (school bus with a
GVWR exceeding 10,000 pounds) at any point and angle, under the
applicable conditions of S7.1 and S7.5, fuel spillage shall not exceed
the limits of S5.5 (NHTSA, 1994b).
AN ENGINEERING PERSPECTIVE
In 1968, Ford was aware that the threat of fire in rear-end crashes could
be reduced using relatively inexpensive fuel system design considerations.
It had partially financed a study by UCLA researchers that had come to
this conclusion. The study recommended that the fuel tank not be located
directly adjacent to the bumper but moved above the rear axle.
In early 1969, 1
1
2
years before the Pinto was introduced, Ford engineers
took three Ford Capris and modified their rears to be similar to the proposed
Pinto. For these tests, the fuel tank was moved from above the rear axle to
the rear. When one was backed into a wall at 17.8 miles per hour, the welds
on the gas tank split open, the tank was damaged when it hit the axle, the
filler pipe pulled out, and the tank fell out of the car, resulting in massive
gas spillage. Because the welds on the car’s floor split open, gasoline could
spill into the car interior. In two other tests, a car was rear-ended by moving
barriers at 21 miles per hour. This caused gas to leak either from the filler
pipe pulling out or from the punctured fuel tank (Strobel, 1994).
Even still, the engineers responsible for Pinto components signed off
approval to their immediate supervisors. The Pinto crash tests were
forwarded up the chain of command to the regular product meeting
chaired by Robert Alexander, vice president of car engineering, and
Harold MacDonald, group vice president of car engineering. Harold
Copp, a former executive in charge of the crash testing program, testified
that the highest level of Ford management decided to produce the Pinto,
knowing that the Pinto could ignite during low-speed rear-end collisions
and that design fixes were feasible at nominal cost (West’s California
Reporter, 1994).
Within a few months of the Pinto’s release on September 11, 1970, a
standard Pinto was crashed backward into a concrete wall at 21 miles per
hour. In a report marked “confidential, engineer H. P. Snider reported
that the Pinto’s soft rear-end crushed 18 inches in 91 msec. According to
Snider,“The filler pipe was pulled out of the fuel tank and fluid discharged
through the outlet. Additional leakage occurred through a puncture in
the upper right front surface of the fuel tank which was caused by contact
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