There has been plenty said about the Ford Pinto, but one detail has always caught my eye that doesn’t get a lot of press. The Pinto has strong shoulders, with the bodywork spreading outwards from below the windows, but then the sheetmetal drops away and curves inward along the sides of the car.
I suppose what interests me about this design feature has something to do with the poor performance of the domestic compacts against the Japanese in the 1970s. Completely unlike the highly utilitarian hatchbacks from France, the straight lined, boxed compacts of Italy and later Germany and Japan, the Pinto did its best to deliver on style rather than on space. I love the looks of the Pinto, and it still looks today like a sporty little car, especially in this searing fire-engine red.
The inward curve of the Pinto cuts down on the available space for the passengers inside, and reflects general design theme visible also in the low, sloping roof and the long hood. Like the Chevrolet Vega, the Ford Pinto reflects a particular attitude held by Detroit in the late 1960s (when the Pinto was presumably designed) towards small cars. The style-heavy approach that pleased the eye but lost out to more passenger-satisfying imports has an uncertain place in automotive design history. The designers of today’s compact cars seem concentrated on re-injecting style and interest in the increasingly form-follows-function world of safety regulations and aerodynamics.
The ethos of the Pinto and its domestic contemporaries lost out to the Guigiaro school of small car design, but fatigue with what once symbolized modernity has made such functionalism look bland and the pedestrians enjoying a sunny spring weekend in Manhattan’s Upper West Side were completely happy to idolize this old tin can Ford and its wayward style over substance foolishness.