On a late summer evening with the cool Bay Area breeze blowing, I met up with Miguel Maldonado, the President of True Elegance car club, at his San Leandro home of 16 years. As we walked up the driveway, Miguel explained that he's been building cars in his own garage since day one. Opening up the garage door, Miguel revealed his 1961 Impala and 1972 Monte Carlo. With all the old photos and club plaques hanging on his wall, it wasn't hard to tell that Miguel has been Lowriding for most of his life. Pulling up a milk crate to use as a chair, he sat and shared a little of that life with me.
Coming from a family of carpenters, Miguel decided to go a different direction and got into autobody and paint work with his stepdad. At 9 years old, Miguel started helping him work on cars. Whenever he would get side jobs, Miguel's stepfather would give him the daunting task of taking the car apart while he was at work. His stepdad would say "you don't need to read a book to learn, you just have to remember how you took it off to be able to put it back." At one point, Miguel worked after school at an autobody shop, sweeping and developing his skills, before working at Miracle Auto Painting, which he's been at for the last 17 years. Starting off at such a young age, Miguel knew he would be able to build himself a nice Chevy one day.
His first Chevy was a '72 Monte Carlo, which he got by doing some trade work. Athough Miguel was predominantly a Monte Carlo guy, he decided that one day he would like to build himself an Impala. He knows all too well that before you can build a car, you have to fall in love with it first. His search began in finding the right year Chevy for his dream build. After looking at all the different years of Impalas, Miguel finally fell in love with the body style of the '61. What attracted him the most was how, from factory, the 16-piece body moldings would wrap around the car from fender to fender. Since then, Miguel has built six hardtop '61s, selling two to Japan, with the rest being sold in the Bay Area.
His new goal was to build a 1961 convertible for himself. After shopping around, he found out that the few that were left in the Bay Area were either too beat up or too pricey for his tastes. He knew that the only way he could have his dream convertible was to literally build his own. One day, one of his neighborhood friends that was searching for a '65 Impala, gave Miguel a lead to two '61 bubble tops up for sale in Antioch. His wife Geraldine, who's always supported him in his lifestyle, without the knowledge of Miguel, sold her 1972 Monte Carlo, so that he could have enough money to purchase one of the bubble tops.
After calling the guy and setting up an appointment to go look at the bubble tops, Miguel was informed that other potential buyers were going to go look at the cars that same day. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to purchase his dream car, Miguel woke up, bright and early, at six in the morning on that fateful Saturday. Just like anyone who wants a car, Miguel and his good friend P-nut showed up with money in hand, trailer fully hitched, and ready to buy. Once the deal was made, the car was loaded onto the trailer and was brought back to San Leandro. Knowing Miguel's plans for the bubble top, P-nut wrote on the side of the car "Project '61 Convertible" with a marker. Skeptics quickly told Miguel to not cut the car, offering their opinion that he would "ruin a good bubble top." Miguel stuck to his guns despite the skepticism, and maintained his goal of building himself a '61 convertible.