Las Vegas Sun

September 17, 2019

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When you build custom cars, ‘fast and good don’t go together’


Sam Morris

Custom-car builder and painter Steve Pinto is reflected this week in the hub cap of his restored Ford F-100 pickup truck. Pinto, who followed in his father’s footsteps, says he hopes his 7-year-old son, Rocky, will do the same.

Beyond the Sun

Steve Pinto can spot gaps the width of a toothpick from across the garage. By feel, he can tell the difference between metal rubbed with sandpaper of differing grits. He speaks of colors with such names as “magnetic red.”

In an otherwise anonymous string of offices, warehouses and garages west of the Strip, the burly custom-car artist leads a visitor on a tour of the five automobiles whose bodies he is reshaping, rebuilding and painting. Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time” is the soundtrack.

Near the entrance to the space high enough to fit a small crane, a book lies open. It’s about one car, the Lamborghini Miura. The actual car sits under the book, though the gleaming photos on author Stefano Pasini’s pages look nothing like the dull white skeleton of metal that Pinto is being paid $32,000 to render alchemy unto.

“That’s where the gaps were,” he says, pointing to the place where the left passenger door meets the frame. That was before he dripped hot all-metal, a compound made mostly of aluminum, onto the door. And then he sanded the shapeless gobs into smooth curves.

The doors, he explains, come from the Lamborghini factory in the village of Sant’Agata Bolognese, about 21 miles from Bologna, so they have to be perfect.

As he points out his work, the 44-year-old says things like, “In this business, you either do it right or don’t do it” and “fast and good don’t go together.”

He says he has survived the economic free fall so far for two reasons: the elimination, by attrition, of “wannabes,” or competitors, and the luck of having a year’s worth of work lined up when the collapse began.

The slow-working, painstaking Pinto is the kind of guy you might expect to find in an older city, one with long lines of, say, Pintos. His father, Richard, stands smiling in a yellowing newspaper clipping on a desk in the corner of his garage. It is from the Buffalo Evening News, July 25, 1959. “He worked on the first hot rods,” Pinto says with pride, pointing to the car in the photo and recalling his childhood in a neighborhood where families had names like Maggio and Bonano. He laid hands on his father’s cars before he left elementary school.

He says without hesitation that he is better at what he does than his father, who died nearly a year ago. “But that’s because he always pushed me, telling me nothing was ever good enough.”

Pinto has four children of his own, including a 7-year-old son, Rocky, who comes to the garage, watching his father’s hands do the work.

Pinto says it would be great if Rocky could learn the family trade. “Everyone goes to college,” he says. “No one uses their hands anymore.”

“But,” he adds, “he would have to be even better than me.”

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