Ford Motor Co. said it will not recall about 4 million vehicles made between 1967 and 1986 despite allegations that they have fuel system defects that have caused over 400 fatalities and 4,000 injuries.

"We flatly reject the suggestion of a trial lawyers' special interest group that millions of Ford vehicles produced between 1967 and 1986 are unsafe and should be recalled," the nation's No. 2 automaker said.Ford said it is unaware of any hazardous condition in these vehicles which would warrant modifications of their fuel systems.

"All Ford vehicles meet or exceed all federal and company standards applicable at the time the vehicles are manufactured," the carmaker said, adding that it is unrealistic to expect that whenever a company makes any improvement to its products, it must then recall all earlier products and add the improvement to those as well.

Ford's comments were prompted by a press conference in Washington Friday by the Institute for Injury Reduction (IIR), which renewed its call for Ford to recall those cars or be forced by the government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to do so.

"Should NHTSA itself refuse to require a recall - which is not unlikely in light of the agency's sad track record on safety defect prevention - Congress should look into this appalling problem and move to get it fixed," IIR President Benjamin Kelley said. "More deaths and injuries leading to more court suits are not the answer."

The institute issued new figures, disclosed by Ford in lawsuits, showing that fire deaths known to Ford in cars with the defect have nearly doubled since 1987 - from 221 to 412.

The institute says Ford designed a "fix" for the defect as early as 1970 that would cost only $50 a car to correct but withheld it from production for more than a decade.

Ford's continued refusal to fix the defect "means that it cares more about saving a few dollars than about putting a stop to these ghastly assaults," said David Perry, a plaintiff's attorney who is vice-chairman of IIR and has sued Ford because of the defect.

It also made public a Ford study showing that a Ford car of the 1968-78 model year period was three times more likely than a General Motors Corp. car to be involved in a rear-end crash resulting in a fire death.

The IIR cited a crash in which two teenagers and a child were burned to death in a Ford Mustang on July 29, 1989 - just five months after Ford publicly refused the instiute's request to recall these cars.