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.