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Old 03-21-2002, 10:23 AM   #1 (permalink)
Mach1 Cobra Jet
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Default Safety Issue 64 - 70 Mustangs

Have any of you seen this and made any mods to eliminate the potential hazard? See The rest of the message.

The following article came from the August 17, 1999 showing of CBS' 60 Minutes II

CBS
Attorney David Rand demonstrates what he says is the dangerous design of classic Mustang fuel tanks.


(CBS) Last summer, 16-year-old Harold Gielow fell in love with a 32-year-old--a classic Ford Mustang. On July 15, Harold was driving his beloved 1966 Mustang in the rain. The car hydroplaned and spun across the center line into the other lane, where an oncoming vehicle hit the Mustang in the rear. Gielow's car exploded into flames.

Another driver, Craig Jackson, swerved around the skidding Mustang. A professional firefighter who has seen many car fires, Jackson was startled by the size of the exploding fireball in the Mustang.

"The car was fully engulfed in flames," he says. "I mean, the flames were coming out the front window, the side windows."

Continues Jackson: "I was going, 'Why is this accident all of the sudden turning into a catastrophe like this?' I mean, I still don't know what really happened."

Harold Gielow was incinerated. The police say Harold was going faster than conditions would allow. Ford Motor Company says Harold panicked and that he was killed on impact. Harold's parents dispute that, and are troubled by a coroner's report saying their son was burned to death in the Mustang fire. 60 Minutes II Correspondent Dan Rather reports.

"This is going to happen again, unless people know about it," says Harold's father, Harold Sr.

In looking into the accident, the Gielows learned a secret about the classic Mustangs, the ones built from 1964 through 1970. For more than 30 years, fires that erupted after crashes in the trunks of some classic Mustangs have spread into the passenger compartment. This American icon has left a trail of suffering and death.

All across America these old Mustangs are treasured so by so many people that they just won't let them go. In addition to the amazing number of classic Mustangs still on the road --up to 1.5 million--there are many thousands off the road just waiting to be restored. From fields, from garages, from junkyards, classic Mustangs are being reclaimed, reconditioned and returned to the nation's highways.

And every one of them carries in the trunk a potentially deadly defect, says San Francisco attorney David Rand. He's representing the parents of Harold Gielow, and sued Ford before on the gas tank design. Because the top of the Mustang's tank is also the floor of the trunk, Rand says, terrible car fires can erupt after even modest rear-end crashes.

"The gas tank is right here, inches away from [the driver]," Rand says, showing a reporter the layout of the car. "And the gas has a very wide opening to come right from the tank directly into where the people are."

Ford has been sued more than 70 times by people burned in rear-end collisions in classic Mustangs. Most suits have been settled out of court, without publicity.

"I guess they felt that it'd be better to pay people off, give them money, than to recall the car," says Marlo Aragon, who was in a Mustang accident 14 years ago. She was then 15, a princess at her high school prom. The fire in a 1967 Mustang burned away her fingers, much of her skin, her ears and her hair.

The fire in Lisa Hutchinson's 1966 Mustang burned her vocal chords. Peggy Viel's 1965 Mustang exploded in fire in 1972, leaving her with deep scars. Says Viel: "It's a classy looking car but it's a death trap."

In 1995 Ben Hodges survived a rear-end crash in a '67 Mustang. He would have walked away without a scratch--except for the burning gas that came into the passenger compartment and nearly killed him. "Before I was born they knew about this car," says Hodges. "Before I was born there was people getting burned in this car."

Ford has refused repeated requests to appear on 60 Minutes II to discuss the history of fires in the classic Mustangs. Ford says these were all high-speed crashes, and in a letter, insists that "the fact that there are so many registered Mustangs is unassailable evidence of the design integrity and performance of this car line."

In fact, there are no reliable statistics on fires erupting in classic Mustangs. We requested our own expert analysis of U.S. government data on highway fatalities. The result: the death rate where fire occurred in rear-end Mustang crashes is more than three times higher than for all other cars of the same period.

While Ford chose not to speak with us on camera about the classic Mustang, Lee Iacocca did. A former president of Ford Motor Company, Iacocca was known as the father of the Mustang when it debuted in 1964.

"People said, 'wow, that's such a great buy, I'll go in and I'll buy air conditioning, I'll buy a V-8,'" Iacocca remembers. "Before you knew it, we were making nothing but money. I mean, we were rolling in it. We were lucky."

Safety, he admits, was not as big a factor in car design as it is today: "It was part of the specifications you laid out to the best of your ability," he says. "But it wasn't front and center. It wasn't the priority."

Iacocca says he doesn't remember any discussions about fuel tank safety when the Mustang was designed. "Not one," he says. Iacocca says he is stunned by the suggestion that rear-end fires in classic Mustangs indicate the car is seriously flawed.

"The reason I'm stunned is you don't have that many successes in your life," he says. "To tell me that the Mustang had more problems or severity of problems than any other car in its class, or maimed or killed more people, to me is poppycock."

But it's not just poppycock to some of Ford's own safety engineers, who concluded early on that there was a problem with the Mustang's fuel tank design. One of those engineers is Peter Bertelson. He has never before spoken publicly about his years at Ford, when the Mustang was marketed as a sports car Americans could afford.

Says Bertelson: "It would clear the air to say, 'look, we goofed'."

"It was supposed to be a low-price car. And it was. And in order to make it lighter and less expensive, they did come in with this drop-in fuel tank."

Ford was the only American manufacturer to use a drop-in fuel tank before abandoning the design in 1971. On Mustangs built from 1964 through 1970, the gas tank was simply dropped into a hole in the trunk. If the tank is ruptured in a rear-end collision, there is no solid barrier--just a flimsy seat back--between the passengers and the gasoline.

"It's not a safe way to put fuel into an automobile," Bertelson says.

To this day, Ford calls the system "reliable and safe." But Bertelson remembers there was early and widespread recognition at Ford of the dangers of the Mustang's fuel system. In 1966, he is absolutely sure that "all the engineering executives were aware of the -- problems of the drop-in tank."

Plans were made to change future models. But the danger in the classic Mustang was never publicized. Mustang sales soared, especially among baby boomers. Even President Clinton owns one. Style sold cars, not safety, says Lee Iacocca, who insists he tried. He calls himself the "Father of Safety," and notes that he was criticized for it at the time.

Iacocca was criticized when he tried to sell cars that wouldn't start until the seatbelts were fastened. Congress passed a law against that. But Iacocca also pushed all the way to the White House for a delay in federal safety standards. In a meeting with President Nixon, he was recorded on the President's secret taping system, saying safety was killing the American car business.

"I didn't know I was being taped at the time--how the hell would I know that?" Iacocca says when reminded of this. In talking to President Nixon, Iacocca said: "Shoulder harnesses and head rests are complete wastes of money. Safety has really killed off our business."

"We wanted to make sure we survived. So we talked differently then," Iacocca says now.

In building a case against Ford, Rand, the lawyer, discovered film of a decades-old Mustang crash test--Ford Crash Test 301, which he says shows unambiguously the danger of the drop-in gas tank.

Ford says this 1966 test was very severe--on a modified car--and was designed to study occupant movement, not to evaluate the gas tank. But the camera looking from above down into the trunk shows the tank being crushed and gasoline spewing onto passengers.

"Very clearly this dummy's head is just being saturated with gasoline," says Rand, showing the tape to CBS News. "All of this gasoline, if it had been ignited, would have definitely killed all of the people in the car."

Another element in the case against Ford: 30 years before Harold Gielow's fatal accident, a young Ford engineer named Sherman Henson wrote in 1968 warning his superiors: "a fuel tank rupture during a rear-end collision would result in gasoline inside the vehicle."

"Ford knew this accident was going to happen," says Rand, who flatly accuses Ford of suppressing the information. "They knew it 30 years ago. And they know it's going to happen again."

That charge has yet to be decided in court. Ford violated no laws or federal safety standards on the classic Mustang. But there was no safety standard on rear-end crashes back then, recalls Joan Claybrook, formerly the nation's top highway safety official. Says Claybrook: "There was no government standard that covered it. It met all government standards, but there wasn't one that dealt with that problem."

In 1976, a year before Claybrook took over, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported classic Mustang fuel tanks "present no fire hazard which does not also exist in...other fuel tank systems." But Claybrook, now a consumer advocate, believes Ford passed by withholding from investigators its own crash test 301.

"Ford knew and never told the Department of Transportation during the course of this investigation that when the car was hit in the rear and the fuel tank came forward fuel could spew out into the passenger compartment," she says. She says that Ford withheld the crash test they had done from the Department of Transportation. Department records show Test 301 was not submitted. But Ford officials maintain that they were fully responsive, and that Test 301 was not designed to test fuel tank integrity and not relevant to the safety of the drop-in tank.

Why would Ford not fix the problem? Claybrook has an idea: "They hated recalling cars, particularly then. And Lee Iacocca, who was president of Ford, loved that car. He helped to design it. And so they didn't ever want to admit that they had a problem with their best car on the road."

Iacocca insists he was never told of problems with the drop-in tank, and says: Don't blame the auto makers because old cars do not have the same safety equipment as new ones.

Says Iacocca: "To me it's almost asinine to say, 'Anything that grows old you gotta turn back the clock and make good on that. But what the hell would you do with a black and white TV set today? You'd throw it away."

But there are repairs that could be made, say Harold Gielow's parents, and Ford could inform people of dangers learned about in the classic Mustang: "They did know there was a problem with the car. They knew that based on their own test, based on their own safety engineers. And they did nothing about it. They didn't warn people."

Liz Gielow wants Ford to warn people now. "Maybe some other little boy or girl will grow up, go to college, get married, have children," she says. "Harold never will do that. He'll never do that."

The family has not yet sued Ford, but is on a safety campaign to get people out of classic Mustangs. They may find an unlikely ally in Lee Iacocca. At 74, he's out of the car business--and into the business of selling electric bicycles. His advice today to owners of classic Mustangs who are concerned about safety: "If you really want a real safe one, trade up. After 35 years it's time to dump that old Mustang."

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Old 03-21-2002, 11:59 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Yes, this information has been around for years even before the 60 Minutes story. Some models came with a felt divider and others came with a cardboard one. You can replace it with a 16 guage steel divider (which I did) that most of the Mustang parts suppliers carry. Got mine from Mustangs Unlimited for about $69 I believe. Straight forward installation. Just paint the color you want and drill the screw holes. If you still feel uncomfortable, some even carry a special gas tank that supposedly won't explode, but it's around $500. Believe National Parts Depot carries.
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Old 03-21-2002, 12:02 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Yes, I think most of us have seen or heard this many times before but as always it is blown out of porportion. I have a 69 fastback that has a solid metal door (trapdoor) between me and the gas tank but they fail to mention anything about that. But if I had a car that just had the back seat dividing the compartments I would buy the metal divider that many parts suppliers sell or the metal that bolts over the fuel tank. If you really wanted to go all out purchase a fuel cell.
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Old 03-21-2002, 01:15 PM   #4 (permalink)
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What a scandal. The 65 mustang was not safe by 1990 standards!!!! Well, this info has been out there for years and quite franky, the early mustang has way more problems on todays highways than just a lack of fuel tank barrier to the inside of the car. Lets see, lack of collapasable steering column, 2 point seat belst, low back bucket seats, brakes that are marginal at best, no structural integrety in doors or crush zones. The padded safety dash sits on top of a knife edge steel lip. No collapasable steering wheel. Small brake lights. ETC...
But for all of that, it wasn't bad by 65 standards. Heck, ask where the fuel tank was in a 68 dodge pickup. It was in the cab behind the seat! And it suffered from all the above problems.
Bottom line is these cars are not safe by modern standards and you should realize this when you drive or work to change it.
As for the fuel tank problem, aftermarket suppliers sell protective barriers or get a fuel cell.
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Old 03-22-2002, 05:22 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Thunderbolt you are soooo right. These old cars were built for the safety standards of the day. Not todays standards.

What about airbags???

Model "A" fords had the fuel tank in the cowl and was gravity fed to the carb.

Everyone loves the army jeep....cj model. They had the fuel tank under the seat.

My 56 F100 had the tank behind the seat, in the cab with you.

I could go on and on too. Times change and things get better, most of the time. There still are many things that I wish never had changed...sigh
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Old 03-22-2002, 12:36 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Default fuel tank?

I have a 65 fastback. Does this car have the same fuel tank problem as the coupe. Should I look into some of the metal barriers you guys are mentioning? I use my car as a daily driver so this topic concerns me.
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Old 03-22-2002, 12:43 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Default Metal Partition

Yes, your car does have this same safety problem, however I just looked in my newest Mustangs Unlimited Catalog and they do have the safety shields for $79.95. Includes partition, screws, silicone adhesive and instructions. It says it is made of 18 guage primered cold steel. Paint and Install. I am buying a 65 Fastback as well and I am going to do this fix. I also need to find out if my 69 Mach1 has this same problem. Hope this helps.

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Old 03-22-2002, 01:20 PM   #8 (permalink)
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you know even with this problem I still consider the mustangs or any other old ford car to be safer then any new car. I don't care what any one ells says. I mean I have been in alot of crashes for my age. (I am 15 turn 16 in 56 days) I have been in A 35mph crash with A new civic and that thing crushed like hell I was injured in that crash almost as bad as I was in A 70mph crah in A 66 ford fairlane we hit another car that was dead stoped cause of A crash just before us. and all that was dammaged was the front end and had to replace a few hoses. but I don't even want to think of what would happen if we hit A dead stoped car going 70 in the civic.

yes it's A good idea to fix this problem but in my eyes it's still safer then any new car.

just my 2 cents

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Old 03-22-2002, 02:48 PM   #9 (permalink)
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we are doing my friend's 70 right now. and as a shell you can definitely see where the problem lies. man, can you imagine having your child in the back seat....i can't even finish the sentence, it puts fear in me.
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Old 03-22-2002, 07:37 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Just like Clark said about the 69 fastback, the 65 fastback has a metal trap-door between the back seat and the gas tank. NO additional safety shield would help much.

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Old 03-23-2002, 11:25 PM   #11 (permalink)
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That info has been out for way long time. The coupe isn't running right now so no worry about that but the fastback has a steel trap door and a 3/4 mfd board to feed the fire that I put in to clean up the trunk. I'm thinking of getting a fuel cell. Don't know yet. For now I'll just be careful
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Old 03-14-2005, 07:26 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safety Issue 64 - 70 Mustangs

That is not a new problem. The fix it there to be bought. But I'd have to ask. What is a classic Mustang doing out in the rain? Now if you spin out & go rear end 1st into oncoming traffic you're A). going to fast for conditions & B). Expecting more from the car that it was designed for.
I guess if I want a vehicle that is really safe in a impact I can buy a M-1 Abrams. Wonder if it comes with a working gun?
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Old 03-14-2005, 11:30 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safety Issue 64 - 70 Mustangs

60 minutes always has some agenda, it is a smear campaign. That can happen with any old car, they just picked the Mustang. It is not politically correct to enjoy a classic car because they were made before the government controlled every little piece of it. Please pardon my attitude, I'm not usually like this.
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Old 03-15-2005, 10:43 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safety Issue 64 - 70 Mustangs

This isthe first time I have ever heard this. What is the sheet metal called in the mustangs unlimited catalog. Thanks.
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Old 03-20-2005, 03:13 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safety Issue 64 - 70 Mustangs

yes like everyone here so far has said this issue has been around a long time. and for info also .....some states it is manditory to have the metal blast shield in the earlier mustangs to even be able to inspect or in some state even register them for road use. i have a 66 coupe and that was the second piece i bought to install while in the processes of restoring was the steel shield. i am still in the works of restoring but i will be probly welding it in place versus bolting it. Almost as much publicity on this one as the pinto with bad brakes and leaky gas tank heheheh..... oh yes i failed to mention i bought my piece of 16 gauge steel direct from local sheet metal fabricator i simply took size measurements i needed there sheered piece off and it only cost me $18 versus $60 plus the parts companies wanted and it matches what a buddie put in he 66 for material.
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Old 03-20-2005, 11:13 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safety Issue 64 - 70 Mustangs

I am a huge Mustang fan, would even consider myself pretty knowledgeable in the equipment of the car. The trunk however, is not really a highly documented and publicized part of the car. I think I have the proper spare cover, or fender inserts, but mainly only cause of part catalogs.

My car has the flip up metal door, but that door only comes down to the sub floor of the fastback. There is still an opening betwen the sub floor and the floor of the car that would allow fuel to run right up into the fastback and onto the rear seat. Maybe I am missing a card board insert, I don't know.

I do not expect my car to do well in accidents. I drive so cautiously, but preventing some yahoo from rear ending me is extremely difficult, if not impossible. I believe Ford knew about this problem all the same. Since they were not willing to do it, I will ad the piece of metal for a LITTLE bit of added protection in a crash with my car.

I do not see this as a Ford or Mustang bashing campaign. I do see this as a place where they may have cut corner's in the name of profit. Expecting a 16 year old to know of this risk, is a bit unlikely. With that being said, as long as the issue is well known, and the options are out there, people can drive this car at their own KNOWN risk.

Ryan
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Old 03-21-2005, 12:04 AM   #17 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safety Issue 64 - 70 Mustangs

Ok, what am I missing guys? I can not find one for the 65 Fastback.
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Old 03-21-2005, 09:22 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safety Issue 64 - 70 Mustangs

The fastbacks have a metal trap door, unlike the coupe. The only thing that separates the coupe gas tank from the inside of the car is the back seat. So no extra safty necessary for the fastback, unless you want to replace the rear window with metal.
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Old 03-21-2005, 10:23 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safety Issue 64 - 70 Mustangs

Thanks Red, I appreciate the help. After looking all over the net, that is kinda what I gathered.
Ryan
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Old 03-22-2005, 05:55 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safety Issue 64 - 70 Mustangs

Hey the rear window with metal.... That's a great idea. I mean heck it isn't like my Mach I is lacking a blind spot problem already.
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