1975 Leata

The 1975 Leata's Demise
The Cabalero was a Chevette dressed up to look like a miniature Monte Carlo.
The Cabalero was a Chevette dressed up to look like a miniature Monte Carlo.
2007 Publications International Ltd.

The cause of the 1975 Leata's demise was its lack of focus. It was not meant to be a sports car, but it was far too small for everyday needs. Its unusual retrograde styling was neither elegant nor ostentatious, merely cute. At a list price of $3,295, it could not turn a profit because of limited production, yet it cost $500 more than a genuine Pinto that could carry four and would raise no eyebrows at any Ford service department. Stinebaugh had ventured into the territory of the small, low-priced car, a quagmire that has swallowed many a marque over the years.

But dreams die hard. The indefatigable inventor pressed on to produce a second automobile, the Leata Cabalero (spelled with one 'l'). It was an entirely different machine, a Chevette decked out with custom fiberglass body panels. Round headlights in square bezels rode slightly inboard, flanking a rectangular "classic" grille. Swoopy feature lines front and rear suggested pontoon fenders. The entire ensemble had the baroque flavor of a miniaturized Monte Carlo or Grand Prix.

Like the original Leata, the Cabalero came as a coupe or a surprisingly handsome pickup. When asked by General Motors how he managed to make a truck out of a car with no frame, Stinebaugh replied, "It's simple -- you put a frame under it!"

The Cabalero pickup was based on the Chevette.
2007 Publications International Ltd.

Along with the Cabalero came a new approach to promotion. In an attempt at big league ad-speak, brochures referred to it as "a precision-sized luxury automobile, designed by Master Craftsmen ... The Cabalero owner knows he is one of a few people fortunate to experience the pleasure of a truly exceptional automobile meant to be a landmark in automotive history."

Stinebaugh did better with the Cabalero. The original Leata was "one hard little bugger to build," but tricking up Chevettes was easier and faster, though some lovable quirkiness was lost in the process. Perhaps as many as a hundred of the hybrids were sold. Even so, some money was lost on each one.

This Cabalero-like two-seater study was never built.
2007 Publications International Ltd.

Undaunted, Stinebaugh later manufactured a handful of full-sized luxury sportsters. This time, the body panels were stamped out in steel in his own shop. No two cars were quite alike, but all shared the neo-classic flavor of the little ATVs and first Leatas. They sold in the $75,000 range.

Said Don Stinebaugh, "I lost over three-quarters of a million dollars making Leatas. I'm out of the car business for good. But you know," he said as if the light of another dream was rekindling in his eyes, "I look at the little four-wheel drives being built today and I think I probably could have made it with that first ATV!"

Perhaps it was just a bit ahead of its time.

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