Wonder what the real story behind Ralph Nadar is – did the Japanese help fund him to bring in the demise of the American auto industry?
My first new car was a 1971 Pinto. Calling it an “excellent car” is a stretch! Mine had the optional 2.3 liter engine and manual transmission. I enjoyed driving it and the 29mpg turned out to be useful during the 1973–74 OPEC oil embargo.
At a base price of $1919, car was very basic (with the larger engine and radio, the cost was $2300). No carpet. No AC. Optional AM radio. Barely usable rear seat. The interior light came on when the driver’s door was opened but not when the passenger door was opened (no sensor switch on that side).
It got me through graduate school until it was rear-ended. I was happy to upgrade to something more comfortable (a 1976 Oldsmobile Starfire with 3.8 liter V6, 5 speed manual transmission, AC, AM/FM radio) for $5600.
The lawsuits against the Pinto pushed by Ralph Nader’s PIRGs had no basis. They were able to convince some juries in civil suits but overreached when they reached criminal court (in Indiana, as I recall).
Executives of Ford faced criminal charges over alleged safety issues. The prosecutor produced his list of “expert witnesses” who all turned to be “consumer advocates.” In civil cases, a plaintiff can call his brother-in-law as an “expert.” In criminal cases, expert witnesses need actual credentials. In Indiana, expert witnesses needed to be certified PEs, that is, “professional engineers.” The prosecutor finally produced a retired GM PE with expertise in fuel system design. He was asked to compare the fuel system of the Pinto to two other cars of similar size. The final question posed to him by the defense was something like “in your professional opinion, which of these three cars had the safest overall fuel system.” The PE answered “Pinto.” The jury found the defendants not guilty. PIRG lawsuits against the Pinto faded away after that.
Ironically, consumers shied away from the Pinto because of the PIRG allegations. Many chose to buy the Honda Civic which turned out to be one of the most dangerous cars ever put on the road.