The 1973 and 1974 Ford Pinto were on the market at a turbulent time. In October 1973, war flared once again in the Middle East. Key Arab oil-producing states, angered by Western support for Israel, raised prices and eventually orchestrated an embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
In the U.S., gas prices leapt from around 30 cents a gallon to well more than half a dollar. Shortages at fuel pumps led to lines of up to a mile long as motorists began to panic, afraid of going to sleep with the fuel gauge in the old buggy below the three-quarters-full mark.
With an energy crisis gripping the U.S., the
economy-minded Pinto sold in huge numbers in 1974.
Sales of full-sized Fords dropped like a rock in 1974, from more than 854,000 the previous model year, to about only 461,000. In early 1974, President Richard Nixon signed into law a new national speed limit of 55 mph in an effort to conserve fuel. For Pinto owners, this, too, was a relief, for while the little subcompact could go faster, it did quite well at the lowered highway speeds.
Ironically, just when the gas crunch started to hit, Pinto's biggest news for 1974 was the addition of a new, larger-displacement optional engine. Unlike the previous Pinto powerplants, this new engine was designed and produced in America, at Ford's Lima, Ohio, engine facility.
An all-new design, this 2.3-liter overhead-cam four-cylinder was rated at 85 horsepower. With its introduction, the slow-selling 1.6-liter four was discontinued, putting the 2.0-liter engine in as the standard powerplant.
Surprisingly, the new engine was rated at one horsepower less than the base engine, but was said to produce more torque and deliver better gas mileage. By the end of the year, most Pintos would carry the 2.3, which added $52 to the base price.
Exterior design saw only minor changes, apart from hefty new bumpers that coincided with the arrival of federal five-mph impact standards for rear bumpers. The addition of the new bumper system, base-engine upgrade, and added sound insulation throughout the car had boosted the weight of a Pinto sedan from 1,949 pounds in 1971 to 2,372 pounds in '74 -- more than 21 percent. Prices continued to go up, too.
While the sale of the high-profit big Fords took a nosedive for 1974, Pinto seemed to reign supreme. Overall, 544,209 of them came off the line, another new high-water mark that brought total Pinto production to within a stone's throw of 2 million cars.
But not everything in the Pinto's world was rosy. Reports started to surface in both company memos and the press about a serious problem with rear-end collisions that resulted in fiery explosions and deaths. Talk of lawsuits began to fly, and some serious secret research was launched to find out what corporate liabilities might exist.
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