In Detroit, amid worker alienation and the "blue-collar blues," Chevies, Fords and Plymouths rattled, rusted and rolled over -- and those were the good ones. The Ford Pinto's gas tank was prone to explode into flames when the car was hit from the rear, making the Pinto the poster product for corporate callousness. In 1978, after three Indiana girls burned to death when their Pinto got rear-ended, Ford became the first company to be indicted for reckless homicide. The company later was acquitted, but public opinion judged the Pinto guilty.How Detroit drove into a ditch
For all the Pinto's infamy, perhaps no car better captured America's decade-long haplessness than the pug-ugly AMC Gremlin, which debuted in 1970 and died -- mercifully -- in 1980. The Gremlin's shape, fittingly, was first sketched out by an American Motors designer on the back of a Northwest Airlines air-sickness bag. On Aug. 20, 1979, 18-year-old Brad Alty, fresh out of high school in Mechanicsburg, Ohio, was driving his Gremlin to work when the car broke down. He was two-and-a-half hours late to his first day on the job at a new motorcycle factory that Honda Motor was opening in central Ohio.
For the next few weeks, Mr. Alty and his 63 co-workers did little but sweep floors and paint them with yellow lines. Then they started building three to five motorcycles a day. And at the end of each day they would disassemble each bike, piece by piece, to evaluate the workmanship.