What’s the greatest thing you’ve ever given your mom? You’re unlikely to have gone as far as Donny Pinto, who won the title for best son of the year in 2018. Witness the touching moment Donny reveals his labor of love to his unsuspecting mom, in a gift that meant so much more than it’s market value.
Having spent $37,000 and 6 years building Jeanie “Nonni” Pinto her dream Chevrolet, she received the biggest surprise of her life that left her completely speechless. He had no idea that the car would give his mom the chance to drive down memory lane and relive the most meaningful moment of her childhood. At Popular Everything, we’re revealing the touching story of just how far a son will go to make his mom happy.
A Ride to Remember
Jeanie and her husband Tony live in the suburbs of Los Angeles, making the task of getting a 1963 Chevy Nova no easy feat. But why this car specifically? It all started in the summer ’64 for Jeanie, where she rode in a Chevy Nova for the very first time – an experience that would stay with her all her life.
Returning from summer camp to her parent’s house, she was lucky enough to catch a ride in the most glamorous motor of the day. “My girlfriend’s mom and grandmother came and picked me up in the car,” where she “rode home in the back seat and had a great time – the wind blowing in my hair,” she remembers. Unfortunately, her carefree state-of-mind wasn’t to last, as she realized when she arrived home.
How a Car Came to Mean so Much More
Upon arrival at home, Jeanie learned of her father’s passing away while she was at camp. In news that ushered in a dark period of time in her life, her memory of being in the backseat of the gorgeous convertible would become one of her fondest to recall as a young woman.
“I fell in love with the car when I was 14 and it just never changed,” she remembers. Her experience in the backseat solidified the cherry-red chevy as her ultimate dream car, even though she never thought she’d get the chance to own one.
A Symbol of ’60s Glamour
You don’t have to be a car enthusiast to appreciate this head-turner! The Chevrolet Nova (Chevy II) is a motor of legend at this point, featuring in Tarantino films such as Reservoir Dogs and Death Proof, among other Hollywood hits like Beverly Hills Cop.
Initially, the Chevy Nova was brought out to be the higher-end, sleeker alternative to the Chevy II, however, Chevrolet eventually replaced the older version and taking on its name. And once you’ve seen it in a bright cherry-red paint job, it’s hard to imagine a color more fitting for such a stunning classic.
Where There’s a Will There’s a Way
It was her son, Donny, who came up with the idea of giving Jeanie her dream convertible as it held huge sentimental value. But it would prove to be an arduous task, as everything from purchasing the parts to fixing it up, would come as a challenge. Nonetheless, determined Donny, went about finding the Chevy Nova online.
He found a car that fit the bill – the shell of a car, anyway. He paid $6,500 for a car that stated “sight unseen” in the description, with his dad Tony cover shipping costs from South Carolina. Upon arrival, they saw that all the car basically was just a frame – everything needed to be replaced.
Not a Lot of Bang for Your Buck
Donny wasn’t aware of just how much work it would take to detail the car. It seems he put a little too much faith in buying it blind: “We literally thought we just put in some seats and a carburetor and drive it down the road. But when we saw it we were [like], ‘Oh my gosh.’ We were missing almost every piece.”
Donny conceded, “we admit we overpaid and only used the body, fenders, windshield and the door – everything, and I mean everything, else was garbage.” While that would be enough to deter most, he chose to soldier on with his vision: “…we were ambitious and decided to do it.”
Not a First-Timer!
It wouldn’t be a far stretch to imagine that this was Donny’s first time fixing up a car, but he had actually just finished restoring a 1957 Chevy Bel Air for his father Tony! With Tony’s satisfaction in owning his dream car, he wanted to spoil his wife just the same. It’s just a shame Donny didn’t learn enough from the first project…
However, the surprise of the new chevy being far more unfinished than expected turned out to be a good thing. It ultimately allowed Donny to perfect every detail of the classic car. It took a long time to complete but, when it was finally finished, it was in meticulous condition. With Tony’s help, they went on to order all the missing parts.
Like Father, Like Son…
It’s clear that the Pinto’s have a special thing for automobiles. Dad Tony has a particularly keen interest, even entering his prized possession in for classic car competitions – and clearly winning! However, he’s not alone anymore, as Donny appears to have caught the family curse…
As well as refurbishing Chevrolets, Donny enjoys posting about classic cars on his social media account. He even chose a retro Airstream Safari Travel Trailer to be his wedding carriage after he got married in 2015! Clearly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…
Years of Cash and Elbow Grease
It took Donny 6 long, arduous years of blood, sweat, and tears to get it to the state he wanted. And he had high expectations and wanted attention paid to every detail. He made sure that he spared no expense, be that time or money. In the end, he estimates that the restoration cost around $30,000!
He only has an estimation, as he admits “We eventually stopped counting how much we spent,” but managed it by “using a lot of used parts and restoring a lot by hand ourselves.” They were luckily quite handy in the tool garage, with dad Tony’s existing knowledge of classic cars being an advantage throughout their 6-year project.
How Do You Hide a Car?
The biggest challenge for the Pinto men surprisingly wasn’t the money or time – it was keeping it hidden. They wanted to catch Jeanie completely off-guard, and while Donny wasn’t living at home, his mom would frequently drive down to see him, sometimes staying for weekends!
This proved to be problematic, and Donny and Tony would have to sneak around and move the Chevy whenever she paid her son a visit: “We would hide it anywhere we could – neighbors, friends, rental trailers. Wherever we could find to stash it for a weekend until she left.”
Lucky Escapes Were a Crucial Element
There were more than a few times that Donny and Tony almost didn’t pull off the big surprise. Having to hide large parts of the car “when it didn’t drive, steer or stop,” proved an almost impossible task that they luckily enough managed to keep under wraps!
Donny admits, “a couple of times the parts suppliers would call my dad and accidentally get through to my mom asking to discuss shipping for her Nova parts.” The surprise remained intact as “she would politely reply, ‘we don’t have a Nova’. So thankfully she never twigged and it was secret right up until the surprise.”
The Day Had Finally Come
Finally, when November rolled around it was go time. Painstakingly repaired and restored to uphold the glory of a bygone era, they went back and forth about what the best method of delivery would be, as Donny was based in San Diego and needed to get the vehicle to her and Tony’s home in LA – the final expense!
Donny drove the Chevy Nova up the coast-line to the Los Angeles suburbs with tension building! He remembers being extremely nervous – understandably, as this project had cost more in time and money than anyone had expected – all to put a smile on his mother’s face!
Sharing the Moment
Donny and Tony threw a family party so that everyone important to Jeanie would be present for the big reveal. They were in on the surprise, so they were ready with their camera phones when they got the signal that the reveal was coming. Jeanie was just having a good time entertaining everyone in the kitchen!
Upon arrival, some family members helped shine the car to a showroom standard away from the house, as they were determined to make the moment perfect. They’d waited a long time to get everything right, so the least they could have done was gloss the chevy to get it looking its best!
Donny Could Hardly Contain Himself
Brimming with excitement, Donny, accompanied by friend Gregg Griebel who helped the restoration, anxiously messaged his mom from inside the chevy! They parked the car just outside the house, hidden from sight, while they sent her messages hinting at the surprise to come.
Wishing to provide some context to the situation, he wrote to Jeanie: “This is a convertible 1963 Chevy Nova Dad bought you six years ago. Gregg and I have been fixing it up ever since. Open the gate.” Knowing it would confuse her, they purposefully left the message ambiguous!
A Picture Worth a Thousand Words…
Accompanied by his mysterious message, he chose to send her a picture of the car mid-restoration without any wheels. Hoping to tease out of Jeanie some curiosity, he captioned the image, “Do you know what this is? Talking to her family as she received the image she declared, “that’s Donny, and that looks like dad’s old trailer… I don’t know.”
Still in a state of bemusement, she readied herself to go outside and open the gate! She knew they were up to something, and with her family’s excitement building and their phone cameras rising, she was eager to figure out what all the commotion was about outside the house!
Tensions Are High at the Pinto House
Understandably confused, a bewildered Jeanie stumbled out of her house, with family members readied with their camera phones to capture the moment. While Jeanie was trying to figure out what all the fuss was about, Donny was in the car feeling emotions rise.
Donny revealed, “My voice was cracking as I read her replies on my phone prior to dropping off the car to her.” He explains, “It was an overwhelming moment for myself, Gregg, my dad and especially my mom.” It was a nervous time for the whole family, as everyone waited to see how “Nonni” reacted!
The Moment They’d All Been Waiting For
When Jeanie saw the chevy roll up her driveway, she almost instantly burst into tears as she realized what was happening. In front of her was the car she sat in all those years ago, a care-free teenage girl free of any worries. With what this chevy reminds her of, it was more to her than just a simple car.
We can’t imagine what she must have been feeling at that moment! Probably a mix of emotions with all the memories it brought back, but either way it certainly was a touching gesture from her son, Gregg, and her husband Tony!
Lost for Words
Still in shock, Jeanie walked over to the car repeating the phrase “are you kidding me?” She conceded, “I’m speechless” in an attempt to justify why she was at a loss for words when everyone’s eyes were on her! She proceeded to go up to Donny and throw her arms around him, before giving her husband Tony a big thank you kiss.
In what was truly a family effort, they managed to hide the surprise for 6 years and, thankfully, it paid off! Her emotions were running high and as her family would later find out, the sight of the Chevy Nova was bringing back a lot of memories for Jeanie…
Coming Clean About the Past
An overwhelmed Jeanie proceeded to explain the connection the car has with her father and her memory of the car as a young teenage girl. Talking over her tears, she managed to spit out the whole story, which would have come as a surprise to all her family.
Sitting in the backseat as she did all those years ago, she explained her history with the ’63 Chevy and how it reminded her father. Afterward, she insisted Tony should come and join her on the backseat to start creating new and happy memories for her new convertible. “I don’t need to bend down!” exclaimed Tony, as he climbed into the roofless whip.
First Kiss in Her Dream Car!
After Tony sat beside her, Jeanie asked him to kiss her to complete the moment in order to ensure it was a happy memory for her. When Donny suggested she take the car for a ride, she replied: “that would be a great idea, but first your father has to kiss me!”
He proceeded to tenderly peck his beloved wife as she requested before she raised her hands and squealed in joy, excited to take the convertible for a spin. “Now it’s a good ride,” she declared to the rest of her family before Donny and Gregg climbed into the two front seats and drove them out.
A Gift That Keeps on Giving
Jeanie and Tony waved goodbye to their family as Donny drove the four of them off the driveway and on to the road. Jeanie and Tony had a few minutes to speak on the backseat and settle down, while Donny looked for a good place to pull over and switch seats with his mom.
Unexpectedly for them, they were managed to turn a bitter-sweet memory into a happier, more meaningful one for Jeanie. Witnessing the love and dedication her boys had for her went a long way in healing past wounds and making room for the new. Now all that was left was for Jeanie to get to take it for a spin…
Her First Time Behind the Wheel of a Chevy!
Jeanie took to her Chevrolet like a duck to water! She excitedly jumped in the front, with Tony behind her egging her on! He looked just as happy as she did, as he had been waiting a long time for the payoff… Himself a fan of classic cars and in good knowledge of their working order, this was definitely a passion project for him too!
And he also enjoyed taking the car for a spin sometimes, but resolutely this was Jeanie’s baby. Look back at the reveal, Tony admitted “It was a Kleenex moment for sure but we were able to pull it off. She says, ‘You know this is my favorite car.’ The best thing was to pull this off without her knowing about it.”
Jeanie’s Favourite Car
Adorably, her family collected video snippets of separate occasions she had dropped them off or picked them up in her beloved ’63 Nova. We see her taking her kids, their partners, and her grandchildren out for a spin in the retro cult classic – a sure head-turner for when you catch a ride to school!
Of course, as well as receiving the car you’ve been dreaming about for half a century, the biggest prize of all was having such loving family members that wanted to spoil you. And it didn’t come easy, with Tony revealing he was worried they would be caught “red-handed,” as it is “hard to fool her.”
Reliving the Moment
The Pinto’s even had the whole family around again since, where they all communed in the living room and watched what the family had documented from that joyful day. Not many in the room were left with dry eyes as they relived the Chevrolet reveal moment!
In particular, “Nonnie” found she couldn’t hold back the tears as she clung to son Donny and their family dog. It was an emotional moment to remember, made even more sentimental with all the family from that day gathered around! It was the moment of a lifetime where one person’s life-long dream came true.
As well as for Donny’s dedication, where would they have been without Tony’s helping hand? After all, he was present not just for the payments, but for his great working knowledge of classic cars and restoring them, as well as passion to see the project through and make it perfect for his wife.
This restoration project was funded in large part by husband Tony “Papa” Pinto, who understood this would be the perfect car after years of listening to Jeanie talking about it! And as her devoted partner, he couldn’t help but shed a tear during the rewatching of that big reveal moment.
Recovering From the Past
Described by her family as “one of the kindest and most generous people on the planet,” Jeanie is happily enjoying her perfect engine with her family, even letting them get behind the wheel at times too! Having been “her all-time dream car since 1964,” she finally got it 54 years later!
In the end, he and Donny, Tony and Gregg managed it perfectly. In what had she had held mixed feelings for previously, they were able to create happy family memories for Jeanie by inviting other relatives to be a part of the reveal, allowing her to heal from the past.