In the late 1960's Ford Motor Company (Ford) was faced with server competition. In a move to increase the company's competitive position, and tap into new markets, then chairman Lee Iacocca approved the development of a new car. The specifications called for a car to not weigh more than 2000 pounds, cost less than $2000 dollars, and finally be developed in record time. Ford Engineers began their duties and in 25 months the Ford Pinto was on showroom floors for sale in 1971. .
During the development of the Pinto, Ford and other automakers faced increased safety requirements for the Federal Government and consumer groups. Ford followed the Federal safety standards as they where current written. When the vehicle was developed the standard for rear-end impact worthiness was the 20 miles per hour (mph) moving barrier test. Stated simply, the car being tested was hit by a barrier moving at 20 mph. Test conducted using this test showed that the Pinto passed, having statistically identical performance grades as other sub-compact cars of equal weight. The matrix in question for the Pinto was gas leakage. When hit by the barrier, how much fuel leaked from the car? Again, Fords testing showed that the Pinto complied with the Federal standard.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTS) was the new Federal Agency that was to regulate the safety of vehicles sold in the US. In the early 1970's the agency was considering increasing the rear-end impact standard in several ways. First, the agency considered increasing the speed of the impact from 20 mph, to 30 mph. Second, the agency considered changing the test from a moving barrier to a fixed barrier test. These two changes where being advocated by consumer groups. The agency also considered changing the safety requirements of rollover test for vehicles. Specifically the allowable fuel leakage requirements in a rollover test.