Friendswood father and daughter bond over interest in super star cars
Michelle Mower became a car nut at her father’s knee. A self-described tomboy, she tagged along with him to informal car shows and cruiser gatherings where she came to appreciate the works of automotive art on display. This love of classic American rolling stock bound father and daughter, in about the same way the old cars themselves bind people past and present through a shared love of style, design, color and power.
Their hobby was mostly vicarious in those early days.
“I could afford to buy a car, and did buy a few,” Mower’s father, LeRoy Skaggs, said. “But I couldn’t afford to keep them. With a family, I always got to where I needed to sell them.”
The situation changed over the years, and in 1998, Skaggs went looking for his keeper. He knew exactly what he wanted — a Matador Red/White 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door with a continental kit for the spare tire. This was no random preference. In 1956, when Skaggs was 13 and those Bel Airs still were rolling off General Motors assembly lines in all their chrome glory, he got to drive one — right down Main Street in Houston. This happened at 3 a.m. and how it came to happen is a long story in itself, but the feeling of being behind the big steering wheel of that brand-new Bel Air was lasting.
Chevy’s Bel Air is a classic car super star, among the most beautiful, recognizable, enduring and modified of American cars, providing at least the body style for everything from completely stock Sunday-drive cars to Super Stock drag cars.
At a recent auction, Skaggs and Mower added another icon to their small collection with the purchase of a 1958 Corvette convertible. With that, they joined a fairly elite group of classic car owners. Prices for vintage Corvettes range widely, but they start at an awful lot and go up from there. Buying one is a real commitment to car nuttery.
There are subgroups of car nuts: collectors who like to a keep a bunch of them nicely aligned in a garage; speed freaks who like to strip them down and hop them up; show car artists seeking transcendent beauty in sheet metal under 40 coats of lacquer paint. Mower and Skaggs are cruisers; they buy their cars to drive. As such, they’ve modified them in practical ways to make them more reliable, road-worthy and safe; and to provide a little go to complement the show.
The Bel Air is outfitted with a 350 cubic-inch V8, which inhales through a hefty Holley four-barrel and exhales through a set of aftermarket headers and glass pack mufflers. All of that is attached to a 700R4 Turbo Hydramatic transmission and a custom-built rear end. Skaggs has added disc brakes and upgraded some of the running gear.
The Corvette — done in Signet Red and white, almost matching the Bel Air — is still equipped with a 283 cubic-inch V8, although not the original, and an automatic transmission. The two have added some seat belts and plan to upgrade to disc bakes.
Mower and Skaggs drive their cars frequently and like to attend cruiser gatherings where they place the Chevys side-by-side behind father-daughter parking signs.
“It’s something for us to do together,” Mower said. “It’s nice. It reminds me of how things used to be in America, when people would see you and honk and wave.”