Leata – 1975

The car world has more than its fair share of eccentrics but few can compare with Don E Stinebaugh of Post Falls, Idaho. A mart of many ideas (he patented all of 48 inventions) but little business acumen, he built himself a small fibreglass ATV which was much admired locally. The positive reaction from his neighbours encouraged him to set up the Stinebaugh Manufacturing Co to build bigger versions fit for the road. So the Leata (named after his wife) was born.

Stinebaugh bought in mechanical parts, mainly from Ford, had custom frames made for him by a racing-car builder, fitted a Ford Pinto 2.3 litre engine and commandeered his sons into helping him construct the hand-laid fibreglass body. But the Leata was no kit car; being put together with perfectionist zeal and professional skill to an original design that gave more than a passing nod to Stinebaugh’s favourite car, the 1939 Lincoln Continental.

This accounts for the Leata’s peculiar anachronistic looks — a small two-seater based on old-fashioned big car styling which from a side-on view appears simply to have had the back hacked off. Athough undeniably cute and packing a frightening amount of power for its size, the Leata was ultimately a heroic failure. Stinebaugh didn’t bother to advertise. He reckoned that word of mouth would give him all the business he could handle at a production rate of one car a day, selling for under $3,000.

In the event, he couldn’t build more than a car a week and the price went up to $3,295 — several hundred dollars more than a four-seater Ford Pinto. The Leata was doomed, and less than 100 were built. But Don Stinebaugh was unbowed — he carried on investing in self-designed cars, and carried on losing money hand over fist.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA

FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1975

ENGINE: 2.3 I (140 cid) Straight Four

PERFORMANCE: Top speed of over 100 mph (161 km/h)

YOU SHOULD KNOW: When the US government wanted proof of the Leata’s crash-resistance, Stinebaugh invited the press to watch him tow one of his cars into a cement wall at 40 mph (64 km/h).He then got into it and drove off.

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