The Orange Pinto

Why Sabrina’s ride is recognized as one of the “Worst Cars of All Time”

By The Townsend Agency | April 6, 2010

Judged as being among the worst cars of all time, the Ford Pinto ranks among Ford Motor Company’s most infamous vehicles. The car debuted on September 11, 1970, designed as a competitor to the Chevy Vega and AMC Gremlin, and was initially welcomed onto America’s roadways, selling over 100,000 units within the span of just a few months.

Marketed as a wagon, couple and Runabout hatchback (Sabrina’s model), the Pinto remained popular and enjoyed a 10 year production run, lasting until 1980, when it was replaced by the new front-wheel-drive Ford Escort.

So why the bad rep? Despite the Pinto’s sleek design and sweet hatchback, it suffered from a poorly designed gas tank, creating a major safety issue when involved in accidents.

Although fires occur in roughly three out of every one thousand car accidents, each year thousands of motorists sustain disfiguring or fatal burn injuries in post-collision fires. Many of these are caused by hazardous and defective fuel systems, which have the potential for total failure in the event of a collision. Just two months after the introduction of the Pinto, Ford shot down the federal measure to impose greater safety guidelines on its fuel tanks in the interest of saving money – it was estimated that it would cost $11 per vehicle to enhance fuel tank safety during rollover crashes.

Several successful fuel system crash worthiness cases were brought against Ford Motor Company, most famously in the 1981 dispute, Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company, a collision involving a 1972 Pinto hatchback. The Pinto was brought to trial where the jury awarded substantial punitive damages against the manufacturer.

On Ford’s later appeal, the company contested that the case’s evidence was not sufficient to support a finding of malice. The California court disagreed, stating: “Through the results of the crash tests Ford knew that the Pinto’s 

fuel tank and rear structure would expose consumers to serious injury or death in a 20 to 30 mile per hour collision. There was evidence that Ford could have corrected the hazardous design defects at minimal cost but decided to defer correction of the shortcomings by engaging in a cost-benefit analysis balancing human lives and limbs against corporate profits. Ford’s institutional mentality was shown to be one of callous indifference to public safety. There was substantial evidence that Ford’s conduct constituted ‘conscious disregard’ of the probability of injury to members of the consuming public.”

The (In)Famous Orange Pinto

Charlie Townsend provided his employees with company cars, most familiarly parked at curbside nearly every single time the exterior of the Townsend Agency office is seen on the series.

In actuality, behind the scenes, Ford Motor Company provided the automobiles seen on Charlie’s Angels for all of its five seasons, and should have furnished the Townsend Associates with some spectacularly sleek wheels – alas – during the mid-1970′s, when Charlie’s Angels premiered, the United States was still trying to recover from an economic slump, and was just starting up a legislative grip on car design which directly affected the cool factor of the Angels’ rides.

While Jill and Kris shared the choicest set of wheels on the show (the Ford Mustang II Cobra) and Kelly trailed behind in her modest Mustang II, it was Sabrina who got stuck with the sensibly dismal 1976 Ford Pinto; orange, hatchbacked and ready to combust.

With what is now known about the safety issues involving the Pinto, it’s a wonder that Bri escaped a Sunday drive alive.

Hand-Me-Down Pinto

When Kate Jackson left the series in 1979, the car was handed down to the new Angel, Shelley Hack, whose life was also spared during driving stunts on location, despite the fact that her character, Tiffany Welles, had more than one potentially dangerous encounter with the vehicle. (Tiffany even RENTED a sickly-macaroni-and-cheese colored Pinto when investigating out of town in One Love … Two Angels.)

Perhaps most alarmingly, in Catch a Falling Angel, Tiffany and Kelly survived a fall down a ravine in the Pinto, and not only came away walking, but the car’s mobile phone still worked after the dust had died down. Miracles always happen to Angels.

By Season 5, the now four-year-old car was passed along yet again to newcomer Julie Rogers (Tanya Roberts) who drove it throughout the final season, which, by the way, was also the final curtain call for the Pinto line, phased out in 1980.