The Hanto Pinto

Shelby had his Cobra and in 1974 John Hansen had the Hanto Pinto.

It rated an article in Autoweek at the time.  John had his dream of putting a high performance engine in a compact car and creating a sports racer.  He started with Ford’s new economy car the Pinto.  The Pinto was light weight and priced cheaply and he would need a performance engine to turn it into something special.

Carol Shelby made a deal with the AC car company in England for their cars less the engines and with Ford for their small block (later the large block) V8 engine.  With that combination he put together a legendary roadster that won races and captured hearts.

Jack Griffith put a Ford V8 into a British TVR and created the Griffith.  The Griffith never saw the fame of Shelby and his Cobra, but it garnered a loyal following that appreciated the power the little coupe that would easily do 0-60 in less than five seconds.

Then there was the Sunbeam Tiger.  The British motor car company built the Sunbeam Alpine convertible two-seater with a practical four cylinder engine. Then they replaced it in the Tiger with a 260 cubic inch V8 from Ford as well.  This became a super sportscar that still has a cult following.

If you couldn’t find any of the above you could get an Austin Healy 3000, pull the engine and transmission and replace it with (you guessed it) a Ford small block and four speed which took 150 pounds off the front end and turned it into a poor man’s Cobra.

The sixties were over and no one had done anything like those cars for ten years, until John Hanson worked a deal with Lotus for a twin cam four cylinder and worked to combine it with the Ford Pinto.  John was in talks with both companies as he did development work on the car.

I saw it at one autocross.  The engine gave the car remarkable performance compared to any configuration you could get from the factory.  It still needed a lot of development to get the chassis in tune with all the new power.

It might have gotten there too, but life can present some unforseen twists and turns when you least expect them.  John ended up having domestic difficulties as he and his wife were going through a divorce.  The was a young son involved and as the story goes John took off one night for Canada with the boy and a trailer with his car on it.

Later Chevrolette tried something similar with the Vega and put in a Cosworth Twin Cam engine.  It was the brain child of John Z. Delorian.  It never caught on like the earlier hybrids since it cost just about as much as a Corvette.  Later Vega owners would find kits that would allow them to bolt in a small buick V8.  It lowered the Vega’s weight and provided the power it desperately needed.

You don’t see much of semi-production cars built from engine swaps like you saw in the sixties.  I’ve heard about the RX-7 Chevy small block swap that has become popular, but those are owner swaps like the Vegas.

With the demands of the EPA and the safety requirements that have come about we may never see Cobra or Griffith type cars again.


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2 Responses to The Hanto Pinto

  1. Noel says:

    I think of John Carl Hansen every now and then. He was a character and then some. I thought his wife was remarkably tolerant of his car vices, but I had a sense things were not all rosy. But what did I know… I was 22, single and had known about 3 couples I was friendly with who were married. I remember sitting on the deck of his house in Hyannis while he told me what he was planning for the Hanto while we had some beers and relaxed with our feet propped up on a couple of big old racing tires from a TransAm Mustang or something. I recall the tires were doubling as planters….

    Later they bought a condo (from which JCH departed to Canada). I remember seeing the Hanto at a couple of autocrosses, and like Jim notes, the engine and driveline brought out the shortcomings in the Pinto suspension.

    Of course that was in the early to mid-’70s when Detroit’s creations were a waste of metal (some things don’t change), so the Hanto had some appeal. But no longer. These days you can do all kinds of stuff to cars the factory can’t or won’t do, like Jim did with his Eclipse and will do with the Evo. And I’m tweaking a Saab.

    But for more unique rides look no further than Factory Five Racing and their Cobra kits and their new GTM that uses Corvette running gear. You may have to build it yourself but you get one helluva car.

  2. spirit says:

    I remember the Autoweek article on the Hanto, thinking “A much better use of the motor than a Jensen-Healey”. I had wondered about a Ford 300 ci 6 in a Pinto but was told it wouldn’t fit. But this was the door to a game-changer. But for reasons I could not know, that never happened. Too bad he didn’t stick around for the Capri — that could have been the real thing.

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