Most Unsafe Cars in History: Ford Pinto to Chevrolet Corvair

James Raia

The Chevrolet Corvair earned the dubious honor in part when the book “Unsafe At Any Speed” paid homage to its horrible reputation for crashing disasters. The Ford Pinto is on the list because its gas tank was in the optimal place for exploding after even a minor accident.

What these cars and eight other infamous vehicles have in common is that they’ve been selected as the Most Dangerous Cars In History.

The websites, The Consumerist. and Auto Shippers.com have combined to present a list of common vehicles and some not so common that earn honors they’d prefer not have.

Ford Pinto
Ford Pinto

The subjective list, according to The Consumerist.com, was compiled when “Auto Shippers combed through the auto industry’s storied history of catastrophic engineering and manufacturing failures, recalls and scandals to select history’s most dangerous jalopies.”

The Ford Pinto tops the list. In brief, it’s described as “the one vehicle that didn’t discriminate when it came to exploding in accidents, often requiring only a low speed and moderate impact.”

Here’s the list of the most dangerous cars in history:

1. Ford Pinto (1971-1980)
2. Briggs & Stratton Flyer (1915-1925)
3. Peel Trident (1966)
4. Chevrolet Corvair (1960-1963)
5. Bricklin SV-1 (1974-1976)
6. Yugo (1985)
7. Smart ForTwo (2009)
8. Ford Mustang (1984-1988)
9. Chevrolet Corvette (1984-1988)
10. Kia Rio (2009)

Article Last Updated: May 27, 2013.

15 thoughts on “Most Unsafe Cars in History: Ford Pinto to Chevrolet Corvair”

  1. As a middle-age American auto enthusiast, the Corvair's and Pinto's role on this dubious list are no surprise. Nader's book and the Pinto's media coverage remain clear in my memory. To the contrary, however, the '84 – '88 Mustang and Corvette are a very big surprise.

    As usual, a well done article. Perhaps a publication date of Friday the 13th might be fitting?

  2. You have a list of real winners there, but I can think of two others that should at least be honarable mentions. The Suzuki Samurai and the Ford Bronco 2 were great rollover queens.

  3. My husband and I each had a Corvair and we loved them! They got an unfair shake (especially by that nut, Nader) because people would replace the required tires with something other than those recommended and then that would cause them to be unstable. With the engine in the rear, we had much better traction for the Michigan winter driving than most. We each never had a bit of a problem with our Corvairs, one a two door and the other, a four door.

  4. I am saddened by the Corvair being on the list. The car got a really bum rap back in the day and its biggest problem is that it got caught up in a really stupid legal battle. It was actually more stable than the VW Beetle which GM had based the swing axle design used in the rear of the car.

    The net effect of the Corvair fiasco is that American car companies stopped innovating and I am of the opinion American's in general became wary of new designs. Even today, many of our popular pickup trucks and SUVs all pretty much have the same suspensions that were developed in the 1950's.

  5. I don't agree about the Corvair. I owned a '60 that would turn 'inside' of a MG-TC at speed. A '61 that I Drag Raced winning many trophies. A '63 convertible that I drove all over the Philippines while stationed there, and NEVER had a problem. All were new as well as a new '65 Turbo and two used ones, a '64 and a '66. Am I a "Fan"? You betcha…

  6. The later Corvair models were much improved, fun to drive and pretty good road cars. We had both, including a '61 wagon that even FELT unsafe as it drove. Our later model 2 door was a good car.

  7. Obviously a subjective list. Corvette! Mustang! The Corvair reference was started by an admitted car hater, Ralph Nader. Any car can be dangerous when driven by dangerous drivers.

  8. The Volkswagen Beetles where the most unsafe car ever made. Why aren’t they on the list? The VWs had the same problems as the Corvair, only much worse. But the Idiot who wrote “Unsafe at Any Speed” completely missed that. Of course, he did not even drive! Those who are really drivers had no problem with any of these cars. I’ve owned four of them in my 60-plus years as a driver. Now all I see is idiots on the road.

  9. dear sir I have had both the car and the van [Corvair] and they were very good ..if they were being made and sold I would buy the van any time ..I think covair was given a bum rap..I put a lot of miles on the van in flat and in mountains with no problems ..if oil changed regular the motor was a good one ..if screen benith the intake was dirty from bad oil it did leak oil .as the blow by could not get out and had crank case pressure pushing the oil out through the seals..ford was to blame for the bad press…remember the arrow comerical ?? JIM

  10. I learned to drive at age 16 on a stick shift Chevy Corvair convertible, way back in the late 1960s. Some days I would head out with mom on a frontage road and we would buck along as I learned to shift. Other days I would head out with dad and buck along in the empty parking lot of a nearby supermarket. I lived to tell.

  11. How do you figure the Bricklin is unsafe? There have only been two recorded fatalities in a Bricklin, and that’s cause thay drove it off of a cliff.

  12. The Pinto wasn’t any worse than any other small car. I had a ’74 which I drove for ten years and put 150,000 miles on. I got hit four or five times, never rear-ended, never burned. I did see two Japanese cars burst into flames after being rear-ended by larger vehicles, which forced the gas tank down onto the pavement and pushed it along, causing a rupture and lots of sparks. Fire was in the passenger compartment within 15 seconds. But they didn’t get the publicity that the Pinto did.


Leave a Reply

Share to...