Dream Catcher

After 56 years, Paul Brunner recaptures the magic of his very first Corvette—and then some

Dream Catcher 1
September 21, 2018

Paul Brunner’s love affair with the 1962 Corvette began the year the car was produced. Then 19 years old, Brunner wanted one so much he was willing to sell his treasured Civil War musket and pistol collection to raise the needed money. “I went to Walker Motor Sales in Massachusetts,” he remembers. “There, in the lot, were two almost identical black ’62 Corvettes. One was a 340-horsepower model and the other was the fuel-injected, 360-horsepower model. Sad to say, I had only enough money for the 340-horse [one].”

Typical of the time period, Brunner began modifying his Corvette for better performance almost immediately. The factory cast-iron exhaust manifolds gave way to Hedman headers, and the original 3.70:1-ratio differential was set aside in favor of drag-friendly rear ends with 4.56, 4.88 and then 5.14 gears. Next came slicks, a flywheel scatter shield, and some serious tuning on a dynamometer. “Other tweaking followed,” remembers Brunner, “and I was ready. Off I went to Connecticut Drag Way, Lebanon Valley Drag Way in New York and others. I was turning 13.2 seconds consistently, and most of the Fuelies [I ran against] were in the same ballpark. Times were great, but then…marriage made it necessary to sell my beloved Vette and buy a more practical vehicle.”

Two years after getting married, Brunner was earning enough to buy a used ’62 Corvette, and his wife, Karen, was all for it. They found a Fuelie for sale but made the mistake of buying it at night, so they didn’t notice the body damage above the right front wheel. “Once we found out that it had been hit, we decided it was time to sell the car and move on.”

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Though Brunner didn’t lose interest in fast, interesting cars, it would be half a century before he’d lay hands on his favorite model-year Corvette. “By 2015 I was retired and my son, Lad, and I were fooling with muscle cars,” he relates. “I casually mentioned to him that I would love to find another ’62. Unbeknownst to me, he had already…found one on a local website. He and my wife…decided to buy the car and subsequently drove it home from Ogden, Utah.”

Interestingly, the Corvette was black with a 340-horsepower 327 engine and four-speed gearbox, just like the one he’d bought some 53 years earlier. In fact, the only obvious difference between the two cars was that the “new” one had a red, rather than a black, interior.

The original owner of the Brunners’ newly acquired ’62 Corvette had died in 1973, after which his widow put the car in a shed, where it remained until the friend of a contractor hired to paint the shed convinced her to sell it. Though the car was extraordinarily original and had only 57,000 miles from new, the decades of storage under a heavy plastic cover had taken a toll. The second owner restored most of the interior before selling it to the Brunner family, and they initially planned to finish restoring it.

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“We drove it around for a couple of months, and my wife loved it so much she decided it was hers,” Brunner recalls. “During those months we discussed whether to restore or ‘restomod’ it. It was such an original car that my first thought was to [return] it stock to preserve its value, but my son…ultimately [convinced me] to do a complete restomod.”

The Brunners turned to Pete Orme and the crew at Thunderstruck Hot Rod & Custom Cycle in Salt Lake City to oversee the project. Thunderstruck sourced a brand-new chassis from Art Morrison Enterprises to serve as the foundation of the project. Crafted primarily from 2×4-inch steel tube, the frame was designed to accept C6 Corvette front-suspension components, Strange Engineering adjustable coilovers, a Detroit Speed & Engineering steering rack and an adjustable C6 front anti-roll bar. For stopping power, C6 rotors and 13-inch brake work in conjunction with a Wilwood master cylinder, proportioning valve and lines.

Next, the Brunners called upon JDP Motorsports in Sandy, Utah to build an upgraded version of a Chevrolet Performance LS7 engine. The JDP Stage III naturally aspirated package included CNC-ported cylinder heads, forged internals (a meaningful upgrade given that the stock LS7 uses hypereutectic cast pistons), custom camshaft and valvetrain upgrades, an MSD Atomic Aeroforce intake manifold, a Nick Williams 102mm throttle body and long-tube headers. When completed, the engine produced 649 horsepower at the flywheel and 525 horses at the rear wheels, representing a more than 100 percent upgrade over the original (gross power-rated) 327.

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For easy cruising, the Brunners initially chose to go with an automatic, but when they found that the 4L70E transmission operated too hot, they switched to a Tremec five-speed. The manual gearbox is mated to a nine-inch rear end courtesy of a custom-sized QA1 carbon-fiber driveshaft. Thanks to its light weight, the carbon shaft reduces parasitic losses through the drivetrain, improving both throttle response and rear-wheel horsepower. The differential is fitted with an Eaton Detroit Trutrac limited slip and a 3.70 gear set, and it sends torque to the wheels via 31-spline Strange S/S street axles.

Concurrent with chassis assembly, the Corvette’s body was being massaged to perfection in Thunderstruck’s paint-prep area. Though all those years of storage had ruined the car’s factory finish, its body was still in excellent, original condition. To prepare it for paint, the Thunderstruck crew began by fixing the stress cracks and other minor problems common to early Corvettes. They then made the body gaps uniform and block-sanded all of the surfaces until they were straight as an arrow. The rear inner wheel housings were enlarged by moving them 2 inches inward on either side, effectively creating mini-tubs to accommodate the much-larger-than-stock wheels and tires.

The firewall also required some modification to make sufficient room for the LS7 engine, and to allow the Wilwood master cylinder to mount in the proper place. Once all of the modifications and other body work were finished, the car was sprayed with a radiant color from House of Kolors called Brandywine Kandy that Pete Orme, whom Brunner calls a “paint genius,” tweaked slightly to make even more striking.

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In keeping with the Brunner family’s desire to keep their Corvette looking largely stock on the outside, Thunderstruck finished off the exterior with all of the car’s original adornment, including body emblems, re-chromed bumpers and beautifully polished stainless-steel trim. So, aside from the color, the only truly significant exterior deviations from stock are the two-piece Forgeline wheels in place of factory steel rims and hubcaps. Those alloy Forgelines measure 18×8 inches in the front and 18×10 out back, and they wear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires sized at 235/40ZR18 and 285/35ZR18, respectively.

While the Brunners wanted to “stick to the script” with regard to the car’s exterior, they did ask for a number of noteworthy changes inside. The most apparent among these is the generous use of intricately stitched Relicate distressed leather throughout, including on the door panels, kick panels, shifter boot, steering wheel and ductwork for the Vintage Air air-conditioning system. The beautiful leather work was done by Bruce Lee at Perfect Stitch Upholstery in South Jordan, Utah. For an extra personal touch, the seatbacks were branded with the mark used at the Brunners’ cattle ranch; the same distinctive logo was printed on the face of the speedometer. The speedo and other gauges are from Classic Instruments, and all are mounted in the stock housing to help preserve the overall feel of the car’s original layout.

The desire to keep the car’s appearance reasonably close to stock in spite of its many functional alterations and performance updates drove some of what Thunderstruck did under the hood as well. The Be Cool radiator, Vintage Air compressor and Wilwood master cylinder are obvious signs that the car has been updated, and, of course, nobody is going to confuse the composite induction setup atop a late-model LS7 with a period-correct carburetor or Rochester mechanical fuel-injection system from 1962. But Thunderstruck did use adaptors to add a pair of 1960s-vintage finned-aluminum Corvette valve covers to the cylinder heads, giving the otherwise modern-looking engine bay a distinctly retro feel. The retention of the stock hood hinges and latches, along with the factory windshield wiper motor, also reinforce the impression that though this Corvette is a thoroughly 21st century performer, it still retains its vintage soul.

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Even though every aspect of this gorgeous Corvette is finished to the highest show-quality standards, the Brunners do not hesitate to drive it whenever and wherever they want. With modern suspension, brakes, steering, engine and drivetrain components, it goes and stops better than most late-model performance cars, while the various amenities and that luxurious leather interior make it a delight in all circumstances. “I could not be happier with this car,” Brunner tells us. “It does everything well, is knock-out gorgeous, and brings so much happiness to the entire family. It really does fulfill my dreams to have the ultimate 1962 Corvette.”

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Also from Issue 125

  • Twin-Turbo C4 Prototype
  • Buyer's Guide: Special Editions
  • Ivan Tampi XIK Widebody C7
  • Driving an Unrestored C2
  • Big-Block C3 Trio
  • History: From Sebring to Le Mans
  • 2004 Commemorative Edition Z06
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