The Ultimate Ford Pinto

It just seems like some people can't leave well enough alone, especially with Ford products. Look at what Carroll Shelby did with the Mustang, or how Bill Stroppe juiced the Bronco. Then along came a tame little subcompact, and some people even tried to build the ultimate Ford Pinto.

At first, it only had a simple four-cylinder engine that was economical and easy to maintain. Who could put any real zip in this little pony? It would take another legend from the world of Ford motorsports to come up with that answer.

One of the most-successful dealerships in marketing the Pinto was Huntington Ford, in Arcadia, CaliforĀ­nia. Huntington sold more than 400 of the little compacts in its first year, and nearly another 550 in the car's second season.

In 1972, the dealership's sales manager, Jack Stratton, approached owner Clare Hoke with an idea to make the Southern California agency the world headquarters for Pinto performance. To accomplish this goal, the talents of well-known Ford performance master Ak Miller were called upon.

After a few months of secret design, testing, and development, Huntington Ford announced that a new super Pinto had been born and was ready to be marketed. Its name was Pangra.

Immediately recognizable from the outside, this new mini muscle car wore an aerodynamic front clip that extended its length by a full 10 inches. Huntington Ford offered the Pangra in four versions, and kit number 1 consisted solely of the fiberglass front end including the hood, fenders, cowl, and pop-up headlights.

Kit 2 included all of the appearance pieces plus Recaro high-back buckets seats, a package of Stewart-Warner gauges, plus visually appealing custom console and dash trim. Also supplied was a set of cast and machined "mag-shot" wheels riding on the top-line "fat" tires of the day, 175HR13s up front and 185HR13s to the rear.

The third package took all the aforementioned equipment and added to it a Spearco "Can-Am" kit that employed shortened coil springs up front, heavy-duty stabilizer bars at both ends, and a full set of Koni shock absorbers.

Then there was Kit 4: everything, plus a Spearco turbocharger fitted to the same 2.0-liter ohc four-cylinder engine that served hundreds of thousands of factory-stock Pintos in naturally aspirated form.

How did this horse of a different color measure up to the competition? At the time, Motor Trend had also commissioned its version of a "super" Pinto, plus it got its hands on a pair of Porsches -- a base 914, with a 1.7-liter flat four-cylinder; and a 914-S, with its larger 2.0-liter engine. In 0-to-60-mph runs, the Pangra averaged 7.5 seconds. The best any of the others could do was 10.5 seconds from the 914-S.

Of course, the Pangra did have a few advantages, such as an estimated 285 horsepower from an engine otherwise rated at about 86 horsepower in stock trim. From the factory, the Porsche 914-S delivered 91 gross SAE-rated horsepower. In handling, the Pangra's upgraded suspension and meaty rubber produced tremendous grip. MT writers said the car "clings like Saranwrap."

The test results weren't necessarily a function of the axiom that "you get what you pay for." The estimated cost of the Pangra, delivered in Arcadia, was $4,600, while even the basic Porsche 914 was listed at $5,300, and the S version required another $288.

By the end of 1974, with the introduction of stronger engines and further restrictions on altering factory emissions systems, the Pangra faded from view. Unfortunately, there are no accurate records of how many of them were produced.

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