With another successful Hot August Nights coming to a close, longtime Sparks residents Dan and Michelle Rittel will be putting away their beloved “Lola”- a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air- until next year.
“Our very first Hot August Nights was after we bought our first classic car in 1987,” the couple says. “It was a 1956 210 Chevy 4-door hardtop sedan from Carson City,” says Dan. The Rittel’s found the car at their HAN and since there were only 22,000 cars made of that particular model, they jumped on purchasing it.
“It’s the car I had in high school…back then I paid $200 for it and then sold it to my best friend for $250 when I went into the service,” Dan adds. They entered the ’56 Chevy in the following 10 years of HAN, also buying and showcasing 1929 Chevrolet 3-window coup and restoring it (which was also used as an advertisement at a Reno car dealership) as well as a 1968 Chevy Super Sport Impala.
“We put about 10 years into the classics and HAN,” Michelle says. Her family moved to Tungsten, Nevada in 1959 (which isn’t even on the map anymore) and then relocated to the Reno-Sparks area in 1963. Meanwhile, Dan was born in South Dakota, moved to the Mojave Desert, and joined the Navy after high school. He met Michelle when he was stationed in Fallon and they soon married and moved to Sparks. The couple went to their first HAN in 1987 where they found the 1956 Chevy for sale.
Dan started a car club that had 28 members at one time, but when it dwindled the Rittels took a hiatus from classic car collecting for a while.
“We both had a midlife crisis when we turned 50- we sold all of our cars and got Harleys,” Michelle says with a laugh. However, she says as they got older she grew more uncomfortable with the lack of protection between her and the road so she sold her motorcycle in 2006.
“I squirreled away the money from the motorcycle sale and then in 2007 I bought Dan a 1956 Chevy 2-door hardtop Bel Air for his 60th birthday,” Michelle says. They soon named it Lola after the showgirl mentioned in Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” song.
“The price (of the Chevy) was written on a bar napkin on the windshield of the car, parked at the Grand Sierra Resort after Hot August Nights,” they said. The Rittels tracked down the owners from Utah who were selling her and have been entering Lola in HAN ever since. For them, HAN and their love of classic cars go hand-in-hand.
“I like the comradery of the HAN folks, meeting new people and finding out about their cars and how they modify them,” Michelle says. She adds that one of their favorite HAN events is the car cruise in downtown Sparks.
“People in Sparks know the car and like it, and we have a lot of friends here. They go nuts when they see it,” says Michelle. The Rittels plan on entering Lola in future HAN for years to come and are planning for how they are going to improve Lola for next year.
“We want to have power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning,” Dan says. “We don’t want to modify her too much because of people like the looks of a stock car- there are not too many of those these days. But power steering wasn’t an option in 1956, so that’s a luxury we want to get now. As long as we can drive and have the car we’ll always be participating in HAN,” he adds.
“We have at least another 30 years, by then we’ll be in our 90’s,” Michelle says as Dan laughs in the background. “The cars built in the 1970’s are now becoming classics; it’s interesting to see what the younger generation remembers from what they grew up with,” she adds. “It will be interesting to see how cars will evolve in coming years.”