A compact car built around a smaller engine than the V8's that ruled the day seemed like a good idea at the time for Ford engineers. It seemed like the perfect solution for the oil crisis: a car that could go fast but conserve gas by having a lower weight from the smaller engine and body size. Unfortunately, the engineers that took the concept and turned it into a car were hired out of the Michigan State Mentally Retarded Trade School.
The Bobcat/Pinto was not the first compact car from Mercury/Ford. Previously, they had imported cars from other markets, such as the Cortina from England and the Falcon from Australia. These were fine cars that accomplished exactly what the engineers had hoped. For some reason, the boys in Detroit decided that their knowledge of muscle and pony cars would translate well into a compact car. The U.S. automotive industry would never be the same.
The 1.6 L Kent engine in these cars proved to be more than capable. Several other parts were also very good. The problems started with the suspension and the brakes. The drum brakes were bad, just as any drum brakes are, but these seemed to be particularly troublesome.
Other safety problems emerged with the Bobcat and Pinto. The car did not have a true rear bumper, which made rear-end crashes interesting to say the least. Here's what would happen: a car hits the Bobcat from behind, but with no structural parts between the rear and the gas tank, it would push the gas tank into the rear differential, which had several bolts that would puncture the tank and the sparks from the metal parts scraping together would ignite the leaking gasoline. The force of the collision would cause the doors to jam, trapping the occupants of the car inside as it was engulfed with flames. Not only did people die in these cars, they were roasted alive.
Ford would settle the lawsuits from the Bobcat and Pinto crashes, and some parts were made to alleviate the safety problems.
Pintos and Mercury Bobcats sold today for the most part have all the safety modifications necessary to make them as safe as other cars on the road. You can find them used on places such as eBay, along with plenty of parts or even gutted out project cars if you're so inclined.