12. “Pinto Madness”

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

The Ford Motor Company has long been fighting to keep unsafe cars on the road. Unfortunately, the payoff for their efforts has been substantial. The driving force behind the battle is, of course, profit.

Ford, when rushed to put a subcompact car on the market, cut the preproduc­tion time of the PINTO in half. There were already $200 million worth of tools in place on the PINTO assembly line when crash tests proved that the gas tank was extremely vulnerable to relatively low impact rear-end collisions: After eight years and more than five-hundred burn deaths, the design flaw was corrected: Ford’s internal “cost benefit analysis,” which placed a dollar value on human life (about $200,000 per person), said it wasn’t profitable to make changes sooner.

In 1978, the society of professional journalists, Sigma Delta Chi, honored Mother Jones for public service in magazine journalism in its publication of Mark Dowie’s expose of “Hazards created by the gasoline tank mounting of the Ford Pintos.” The article was hailed by Ralph Nader in Washington as “a story of corporate callousness at the highest level.”

However, when Mother Jones and Ralph Nader held major press conferences in 1977, there was a brief flurry of news about the Pinto problem which rapidly disappeared from the media. The fact that there are still about two million people in this country driving potentially fatal fire-trap vehicles (many of whom are unaware of the problem) qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “ten best censored stories of 1977.”

SOURCE: “Pinto Madness,” by Mark Dowie, Mother Jones, September/October, 1977.