Knowledge is defined by the dictionary as “expertise and/or skill acquired by a person through experience or education.” At a young age through trial and error, Mike Leos’ father was providing Mike the valuable mechanical knowledge he needed to restore his 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air into the masterpiece it is today.
Mike’s interest in Lowriders started around the age of ten. The cars and the lifestyle were very interesting to him, and he used to save up his money just to buy Lowrider Magazine every month. He counted the days when he would have his chance to build his first Lowrider. This dream would soon become a reality for the young builder.
When Mike was twelve, his father came to him and told him it was time for them to build a car together. When he asked Mike what kind of car he wanted, Mike’s response was “a 1964 Chevy Impala.” Mike and his father started to look for cars in the 500 dollar price range but that budget left them empty handed and scratching their foreheads in frustration. One day Mike’s father came home from work with a 1968 Chevy Chevelle that had the word “nightmare” airbrushed on the quarter panels. His first reaction was not a positive one but little did Mike know that along with that car, more valuable knowledge would come to him for his aspiring career as a builder.
Mike’s father used the Chevelle to teach him how to rebuild an engine and replace the brakes. Mike’s uncle John showed him all he knew about paint and body work. The Chevelle was Mike’s stepping stone into Lowriding, and he never looked back.
In 1993, Mike’s friend Jose Ruiz approached him and asked Mike if he would be interested in being part of a car club that he was thinking about starting. He had moved on from the Chevelle and had a mini truck with spokes at the time. Mike agreed to join the club anyway, and at that point Mike, Jose, and five other friends got together and started Tradition Car Club.
A year after the start of the club, Mike found this 1953 Chevrolet Bel-Air in Moreno Valley, California that he bought for a couple of thousand dollars. On the way home, the Bel-Air was shorting out and sparking, so the only wise thing to do was to restore it mechanically and cosmetically. Once again, Mike’s father was right beside him to help to get the Bel Air road and show worthy.
Mike and his father rebuilt the Bel Air’s 235 and two speed Power Glide transmission in Mike’s garage. After the engine was restored and performing 100%, they added the chrome accents to the engine compartment and dual straight pipe exhausts out of the rear of the car. All of the chrome on the car was taken care of by Apalonio of AB Polishing.
The air bag suspension was installed by Mike and his friends, Loui and Sergio, at Loui’s house. Mike wanted to keep the bomb intact, so he chose to go the air bag route and not cut the car for hydraulics. Fifteen inch steelies with cross bar hub caps mounted on 5.60 whitewalls finished off the suspension upgrades.
The body needed some TLC, so Ruben from Ruben’s Autoworks in Ontario, California got everything straight and prepped for paint. The body was kept stock, except for the dual frenched antennas in the rear fenders. Lalo Onsurez of ONZ Bodyworks in Mira Loma, California sprayed the Bel-Air with a Silver and Charcoal Grey two tone color scheme. Willis Dormer of Stripe Fine added accents to the Chevy to complete the new look. As far as accessories, Mike added headlight visors, AAA Safety Award license plate topper, and the super rare outside two-way driver’s side mirror.
The interior was brought back to life by Lupio from Meda’s Upholstery in Montclair, California. Lupio used a combination of leather and suede to cover the front and rear seats as well as the door panels. Mike added an Alpine head unit with an Apple IPOD and Alpine 1-inch tweeters and Alpine 6-inch mids to the interior. For that extra punch, he added a Performance Technique amp and Kicker Solo-Baric Woofer in a custom enclosure in the trunk. Mike finished off the interior with a Smokey the Bear Snuff it, Trico Fan, and Air Guide Compass.
The amazing restoration of Mike’s ’53 took thirteen years and cost a sum of money that Mike rather not be reminded of. In the end, the effort was well worth it, and the car is a testament to his hard work, as well as to the hard work and support of his friends and family.
Mike has been a member of Tradition for 17 years, and is now the Club President. Mike’s leadership and his dedication to the club have definitely made the club stronger over the years. He would like to thank his car club brothers for their support, as well as his wife, Maria, and his kids Danny, and Maya. Lastly, Mike would like to thank his mother and father for their support early on. Mike would especially like to thank his dad for bringing that “nightmare” Chevelle home; it was the start of something great.
Owner: Mike Leos
Vehicle: 1953 Chevy Bel Air
Club: Tradition Car Club
City/State: Montclair, CA
Paint: Two Tone Silver & Charcoal Grey by Lalo Onsurez of ONZ Bodyworks. Ruben of Ruben’s Auto works prepped the body for paint. Willis Dormer of Stripe Fine added accent lines to the bomb.
Interior: Lupio of Meda’s Upholstery covered the interior in leather and suede to compliment the exterior
Suspension: Mike and his friends Sergio and Loui installed the air bag set up at Loui’s house
Wheels: 15 inch steelies with cross bar hub caps
Tires: 5.60 nylon white walls