Back in the days when history was passed orally down through the generations, like so many rounds of the telephone game, legends often contained just as much fiction as fact. Such is that with the story of the Ford Pinto.
Ryankiefer (aka RyGuy gets around by pedal power now), considering the Gnarliest Crash Test Videos, came up with his own story for the Pinto's historics. It's just as interesting as the original, if slightly less true. To wit:
So, what I'm seeing with the Pinto vs. Impala video is that Ford was dramatically ahead of its time in terms of safety features.
You see, the Pinto's chassis engineer designed the unibody with energy-absorbing crumple zones. The crumple zone was acceptable because the Pinto was originally meant to be FWD, like the Japanese newcomers that were stealing the compact car market out from under the domestic makers. The gas tank would be safely located out of the way of all but the most devastating impact.
When the design was shown to Ford brass, they loved it instantly. It was beating the Japanese at their own game! They promptly had some rolling prototypes built on old falcon bones and shipped them all over the country to show off to dealerships, hoping to stem the tide of drivers looking overseas for their next car by showing them what was coming soon if they were only patient.
Difficulty: Ford brass looked no more than skin deep at the design of the Pinto. When it was discovered that the actual model would be a new, untested, and expensive (parts sourcing, dealer network training ... lots of overhead costs for a new platform) FWD platform, the Pinto was nearly gelded and sent to pasture. Not only that, GM's upcoming compact was also rumored to be RWD. AMC's new hatch design was also going to be RWD. This is America, dammit, and we had to do compacts OUR way, even if we were chasing the Japanese.
It was rescued, to Ford's eventual torment, by a packaging engineer who penned the modifications to the unibody that allow it to accept a driveshaft and simple live axle setup. The front chassis could be left largely unchanged, with the exception of the engine mount locations for a longitudinally-mounted engine. The only real hassle was relocating the gas tank, which in the FWD design was nestled safely under the floor, far away from almost any impact the car might take. It was decided that the tank would fit fine below the hatch floor. It had been done that way many times, so why not now?
The original unibody engineer protested the modifications to his design, explaining that the car was not designed with beefy frame rails leading to the rear bumper, as was the case with older cars designed with the gas tank so far back in the chassis. When asked how hard of an impact the Pinto could take without trouble, the engineer guessed 15mph. That was deemed sufficient. Further complaints went nowhere, and the engineer resigned in protest, but did not go public with his knowledge under NDA threats from Ford's legal team.
The rest, as they say, is history. The Pinto was put into production with a metal gas tank within a crumple zone. Lives were needlessly lost. Ford was left stammering for excuses. The engineer who designed the original unibody was never heard from, and his name has been lost. Some say Henry Ford II, an incredibly powerful force both in industry and politics, made him disappear from all records — he never worked for Ford, never born, never existed.
Neither did the FWD pinto unibody. It was officially considered a flawed RWD unibody design — a hard lesson in pushing a new, little-tested car to market too quickly.
//All of the above is bullshit that I just made up. Conspiracy theories FTW.