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The dawn of the Ford Pinto in September, 1970 was not one of those where-were-you moments for car guys.


Muscle cars still dominated the battle for the hearts and minds of car guys while Pintos were not even Door Number 10 on their wish lists.


The compact little Fords ran anemic little four-bangers and fought in the featherweight division against Chevy Vegas and Volkswagen Beetles.


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Pintos were the kind of car that served a purpose: affordable transportation for every nerd with a driver’s license and no car guy soul.


A Pinto would get owners from Point A to Point B-eventually-and with little chance for romance along the long lonely way for these future Bill Gates.


Then a Ford dealer in California saw the inner beauty of the Pinto and decided he needed to give it an image makeover to bring out its inner bad ass self. It was a tall order for Jack Stratton when it came to his Pinto Pangra concept.


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He experimented with his idea and attempted to incorporate the rakish lines of the iconic Datsun 240Z into his Pinto project. It was a lipstick on a pig moment of enormous proportions and eventually he settled for a fiberglass nose with hideaway headlights.


Stratton added turbo boost to the anemic four-banger, then he beefed up the suspension into a serious handling machine with plenty of power.


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The only fly in the ointment was the Pangras ran afoul of California road safety laws and emission regulations.


The little Pintos became little outlaws in California and only 38 of them managed to get into the hands of buyers, according to Stratton. Through all of this a car legend was born, albeit one few car guys even knew existed-and it was a Pinto in wolf’s clothing.


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John Russell was well aware of the Pinto Pangra because he is a Pinto fanatic who even has a tattoo of a 1974 Pinto horn ring emblem. He owned a Pinto in 1986 that died after several hundred thousand miles on the road and became a sentimental favorite for John. It also ignited his undying affection for the little Ford sub-compacts.


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We spotted his Pinto Pangra tribute station wagon at a show and asked John about his uniquely styled wagon. John was quick to point out his wagon was indeed a tribute car and not one of the original Pangras from the Jack Stratton stable.


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His 1972 Pinto bore all of the trademark style of the original Pangras, including their custom fiberglass front ends with manually operated hideaway headlights.


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John’s version has a little less jump than a real Pangra because his car has its original factory four-banger under the hood. His Pinto is comfortable at around 55 mph (90 km/h) on the road, its “happy point” in John’s words.


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Pintos are not common at car shows but loyal fans such as John will ensure the little Fords from the past will still be around in the future.


Jim Sutherland


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