HomeMediaHoward Hughes, a ’59 Chevy lowrider and an ocean-blue Mercedes SL

Howard Hughes, a ’59 Chevy lowrider and an ocean-blue Mercedes SL


After restoring this 1962 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL, Justine Nikoleit’s grandfather presented it to Nikoleit’s then-16-year-old mother

You might think that the only thing a black-and-silver 1959 Chevrolet Impala lowrider coupe and a pale-blue-like-the-ocean 1956 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL could have in common was the fact that both were on display April 17 at the mid-week Circo Massimo LV: An Evening of Cars & Culture show, being held for the first time at Downtown Summerlin.

Fact is, both the Impala and SL were in dilapidated condition when they were acquired, but they have been restored and were among the nearly 60 “royal chariots” chosen for display April 17 on the main street through Downtown Summerlin, a shopping district in a fast-growing and upscale Las Vegas community well west of The Strip.

Summerlin is named for Jean Amelia Summerlin, grandmother of aviation mogul and movie producer Howard Hughes, who in 1952 bought 25,000 acres west of Las Vegas with plans to move his businesses from California. That didn’t happen, but decades later the Howard Hughes Corporation began development of what is now home to more than 100,000 people and to the new Las Vegas Ballpark, a Triple-A minor league baseball field and home of the Las Vegas Aviators.

And now, four times each year, the home of Circo Massimo LV car shows, organized by AND Studios, a media and marketing firm. The next shows are scheduled for June 27, August 29 and October 24, which is the eve of the inaugural Las Vegas Concours.

Tyler Gallo, 30-year-old co-founder of AND Studios, said the goal for the car shows is to present an eclectic mix that anyone and everyone can enjoy because, as he put it, “cars move all of us.”

Franco had to find replacement parts for much of the front end of the once-dilapidated Chevy

Francisco Franco said he wasn’t sure what to expect when he saw the notice for the first Circo Massimo LV car show in Summerlin. He submitted his entry, with some photos of his ‘59 Chevy lowrider, and then forgot all about the event until he was notified by email that his car had been selected for the “royal chariots” display.

Franco, who works for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, found the Chevy in a barn in Chico, California, though much of the front end was missing. But he brought it back to Vegas and turned it into a lowriding showpiece, redoing not only the exterior, but the engine, glass and interior. 

The Chevy gets driven nearly every weekend, said Franco, who also has a 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme that he’s customized (and displayed at SEMA), and is currently working on a 1948 Chevrolet Fleetliner he acquired last year.

License plate lets everyone know this was, indeed, Mom’s 62

Like Franco’s ’58 Impala, the ’56 Mercedes roadster was in sorry shape when Justine Nikoleit’s grandfather found it sitting outside, suffering from rain and other damages next to a doctor’s home in Laguna Beach, California.

But her grandfather was so taken with the car, which had been driven by the dentist’s wife, so he swapped his relatively new Cadillac for the 190 SL, took it home, restored it, and presented it to his 16-year-old daughter.

Because the car had been pretty much abused, he restored it, even changing it from its original cream color with red interior to the ocean blue shade inside and out because his daughter asked for that color. 

Nikoleit said the car has never been any sort of garage queen, and that her mother, who died two years ago, used to drive it regularly from Laguna Beach to Durango, C0lorado, where her father (Nikoleit’s grandfather) moved to build and operate a motel. 

Nikoleit’s mother moved more than 40 years ago to Las Vegas, where she established a successful interior design business. She died two year ago, leaving the car to Nikoleit, whose license plate lets everyone know that the car really remains “MOMS56.”

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. Great read , Larry. Like a novel that one can’t put down except it’s all fact based! Thank you. Have a very Happy Easter. -Andy

  2. When I was a teenager I had a sweet 1959 Impala turquoise on the outside matching turquoise and white inside V8 split drive shaft I had it lured with hydraulic lift front and back and she would scrape the ground only wish I had pictures but that Chevy 348 or 3 49 was sweet and gas was only about 39 or 49 cents a gallon that was indeed the good old days plenty of room for Drive-In

  3. When I was 15 years old living in Kissimmee, FL (near WDW) the gas station around the corner had a beat-up White/Red MB ’56 190SL that I tried to talk my parents into buying from me.
    Alas, no go. Now I see them restored and selling at Mecum Auto Auctions for over $100K.
    Silly parents!!!

  4. Hi that 59 Chevy, reminds me back in the 60s you could buy a model kit and dress it up just like that one. Kinda nice to see somebody really took it out of the box again


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