Classic car stars in Highlands version of 'Grease'
A vintage car is one of the stars this weekend at Highlands High School.
The completely restored 1955 Chevy Bel Air, owned by Bill Mangerie of Richland Township, will be front and center during the high school's musical.
Michael Zeiler, musical director at Highlands High School, was searching for the perfect 1950s car to grace his stage for his 2018 spring musical production, "Grease: School Version."
A car show held last fall at the Pittsburgh Mills mall with Mangerie in attendance ended Zeiler's search.
"I saw Mike (Zeiler) walking over to my car," Mangerie said. "He said he had a weird question for me and asked if I would lend my car for his musical production."
Sporting a vibrant color combination of 1956 Corvette Cascade Green and 1969 Mustang Mach I Wimbeldon White, the Bel Air coincidentally is an exact match to the car featured in the "Grease: School Version" musical promo materials.
Mangerie drove his car on stage last week, utilizing a side stage door. The car is rolled onto stage while in neutral by stage crew for the iconic "Greased Lightning" musical number.
The car is valued at $75,000 and boasts a Chevy V-8 engine with a 383 Stroker motor, 4-speed stick shift and 452 horsepower.
With the vintage car stored in a garage full time at home, Mangerie's current modern vehicle is parked outside. The odometer on the Bel Air was turned back years ago.
"That wouldn't happen now," Mangerie said. "I can't tell you how many miles was on it before, but I have put about 5,000 miles on it since."
Mangerie gets a kick out of seeing the younger generation react to his car when cruising around. "The younger kids see me driving and they look like they are seeing a space ship. The older folks often say they remember the Bel Air model, which was a popular model during the 1950s."
"I knew I would never be happy with a fake cardboard car on stage," Zeiler said. "I really go above and beyond by finding one 'must have' item that the audience will really give a 'wow' and 'ohhhhh' factor when it is revealed on stage."
Mangerie's beloved Bel Air wasn't always this shiny.
Mangerie and his late father, Jim "Jaggers" Mangerie, began a father-son restoration process on the car in 1992, after purchasing it from a relative in 1984.
By 1995, the car was roadworthy.
Father and son frequented car shows and cruises together in Beaver Falls, New Castle and Butler until the engine failed. Hectic lifestyles got in the way of repairing the car, and it sat idle from 1998 until last year.
The memories of bonding over all things mechanical with his father now comfort Mangerie since his father's death in 2014.
"I have so many fond memories of researching parts, modifying this and that, and deciding on the paint color. My dad let me pick," Mangerie said.
His father's death motivated Mangerie to get the car running again.
"To honor my dad's memory, I said 'I am going to get this car back on the road,' " Mangerie said.
After performing the majority of restorative work himself, Mangerie reflected on how the process has brought him closer to his father.
"The day it (the car) was done and ready to go, I cried," Mangerie said. "I feel that my dad is with me in the car. I would talk to my dad as I worked on the car."
Mangerie hit the road again in 2017 in his Bel Air. He enjoys occasional car rides with his family and frequents car shows and cruises, and the car was featured in a national Chevrolet magazine.
To honor his father, nicknamed "Jaggers," for being such a "sharp" man, Mangerie added some sentimental touches, such as incorporating his father's Army dog tags in the car's keychain.
"Every time I drive the car and see the keychain, I have that memory of my dad," Mangerie said.
An empty cutout space above the steering wheel will soon feature a metal cutout that will read "Jaggers," Mangerie said. "That is in the works right now."
Mangerie credits his family, including his wife, Marina, and daughter, Gemma, and extended family for their continued support during the restoration process.
"My daughter says she is going to get married to a boy who loves cars and that we are never selling grandpa's car," Mangerie said.
A fitting tribute
Mangerie said his father would be thrilled to know their car is prominently showcased this weekend on Highland's stage.
"I get enjoyment when other people enjoy the car," Mangerie said.
The Bel Air arrival caused a stir on campus at Highlands.
"It was like a red carpet welcome when I brought the car to Highlands," Mangerie said. "The entire cast greeted me and the car outside, and they were all cheering and clapping as I pulled up. They all flipped out."
Mangerie plans to attend two performances this weekend at Highlands, with front row seats reserved.
"There are good people in the world, and Bill Mangerie is that "all-American dad" and I am so blessed and happy we were able to connect and make this (musical) dream a reality," Zeiler said.
Joyce Hanz is a freelance writer.