If you’ve ever visited the Corvettes at Carlisle show, you know that the organizers run a well-oiled event. After many years in the game, they have fine-tuned their show to be as user friendly as possible. Part of that comes down to grouping most of the Corvettes by generation. They have also, over the years, encouraged Corvette clubs to use the show weekend as a meeting place for their activities. As a result, the show has attracted numerous clubs that gather en masse to display their vehicles as a group. Perhaps one of the best represented in recent years is the crew from the ZR-1net Registry. They show up with a large spread and usually take up a sizeable chunk of real estate with a well-organized armada of LT5-powered C4 ZR-1s and a sprinkling of C6 ZR1s.
The last place we expected to find a C2 was in that mix, but that’s exactly what we spotted during the 2013 show. In that sea of ZR1s, Bruce Hiorns’ Nassau Blue Metallic ’66 convertible stood out—if not out of place. From a distance, it looked like any other restored midyear. It was only when we approached the car that it became obvious that something else was at play. Once Bruce popped the hood, it all became quite clear. Unlike most recent C2 restomod efforts that rely on modern LS power, Bruce had gone almost old school with an early ’90’s LT5 mill. Of course, the next question we asked was, why? Bruce explains, “I actually had the LT5 before I had the rest of the car.” The result of an eBay purchase, the ’90 5.7-liter engine was a killer score as it had less than 4,000 miles.
Since Bruce was a Corvette guy, he made it clear that there were never any doubts that it would be installed in anything else but a Corvette. Prior to buying the LT5, he had just completed a nut and bolt restoration on a ’72 LT-1 convertible. “I really enjoyed the process of chasing down all the matching-numbers parts and restoring the ’72 back to original,” he says. “After that, I really wanted to do something that went off the scale the other way. Something nowhere near numbers-matching, but would still be a nice ride.” Another C3 was not in the cards, however, a C2 was the perfect candidate, but it had to meet some very specific criteria. He points out, “I didn’t want to take a car that was restorable back to matching-numbers and put something else in it and face the wrath of those who are purists, so I made sure I found one that wasn’t a candidate for full restoration. I didn’t want to insult anyone by bringing it back to life with a modern engine and suspension.”
Bruce didn’t have to travel far to find the right donor. A local advertisement of a ’65 convertible, mounted on a 4x4 frame, subsequently led him to the ’66, which turned out to be the perfect candidate. It was missing the drivetrain, nose, and interior, but had a valid VIN, so it could be registered as a ’66.
When he finally parked the Corvette in his garage, the first thing he did was order up a frame from SRIII Motorsports. Their tube frames are set up with a C5 front and C4 rear suspension and QA1 coilover shocks at all four corners, which automatically ensured that his ride would have excellent modern handling characteristics. Since SRIII can custom fabricate frames based on specific needs, Bruce had them modify his. Due to the installation of the LT5 backed by a ZF six-speed, they were able to remove 2.5 inches from each side at the rear, allowing him to run a wider tire.
The body, what there was of it, was also in need of some attention. Since he wasn’t up to the task of doing the bodywork, the bare shell was sent to Corvette Center in Newington, Connecticut. The folks at CC spent many hours bringing it back to life. They hung a new front clip and also installed a pair of GTS Customs rear quarters. These gave him an additional 1 inch on each side, which was perfect for fitting wider rubber. After countless hours of body and prep work getting it razor sharp, the CC crew laid down numerous coats of R-M Diamond Nassau Blue Metallic basecoat, which was then sealed in Glasurit clearcoat.
With the frame and body whole again, both were joined to the point that Bruce had a roller. While that may seem like most of the road traveled, those familiar with the LT5 will easily acknowledge that it isn’t an easy swap to perform. Due to the unique electronics utilized with that engine, installing one in anything beyond a C4 ZR-1 becomes a Herculean task. But as is often the case in the Corvette universe, there is always someone who manages to tackle these kinds of obstacles. When that service was needed, he went looking and found Haibeck Automotive Technologies in Addison, Illinois, who specialize in everything ZR-1. Bruce sent them the harness from a ’90 ZR-1 to modify for the ’66. In the process they stripped out everything that wouldn’t be needed, labeled everything that would, and how it would attach to the midyear harness. They also modified the engine wiring so that all 16 injectors would run simultaneously.
While one-step closer, yet many still to go, Bruce needed to get the rest of the car reassembled. In what ended up being an arrangement of convenience, he struck a deal with New Hampshireman, John Brusseau. He explains, “I had a ’65 convertible bare body with a clean title with 30,000 miles that I exchanged with him to finish the car.” With a gentleman’s handshake, the deal was cut and the Corvette was transported to John’s shop. Mechanically, the Corvette was still in need of being sorted, as was the installation of a new interior. Since the engine and transmission were already in place, installing or fabricating the remainder of the parts was all that was needed. Bruce chose to keep the LT5 bone stock, so improving the performance came down to the installation of long-tube headers and 3-inch stainless steel pipes, while the ZF gearbox received a RAM hydraulic throwout bearing, which was needed to replace the slave cylinder that worked the clutch. This modification was done because of the limited space in the transmission tunnel. Eventually, John got the car mechanically sorted to the point that he was ready to test the hybrid harness. Without a hitch, it fired up.
Once the car was able to move under its own power, the last hurdle was to finish the interior. The goal was to have it look period correct but also be comfortable with some modern touches. This turned into a rather laborious job, which took John a great deal of time to install. Along the way he added heated leather seats with shoulder belts and a Vintage Air A/C system. Power windows were also on Bruce’s list. This he cleverly achieved by installing the switches to actuate the power windows with the existing manual window cranks. Other details included Auto Meter gauges and a custom center console to accommodate the relocated shifter. A new top from M&T Manufacturing in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, was also installed, and all the exterior trim replaced. There were a few items that had to be fabricated. With the installation of the larger-diameter exhaust, John machined a set of rear bezels, and also the “LT5-4CAM 32 VALVE” emblems on the side of the car.
The final detail for Bruce was choosing a tire and wheel combination that went well with the car. He states, “When you see most restomod Corvettes, they are using a modern-day wheel, which I feel really detracts from the look of the cars.” He further explains, “People use those because they are the only size wheels that can go over the modern disc brakes.” Wanting a wheel that looked period correct meant having a custom set fabricated. After some research, he got dialed in with EVOD Industries, in Escondido, California, who specialize in custom wheels and accessories. Based on his specs, they machined a set of stunning knock-off wheels that measured 18x9.5, which he then wrapped in sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport 265/40ZR18 radials.
After five long years spent putting this car together, the Carlisle event was its maiden outing. When asked what he enjoyed most about the entire build process, he candidly admits that, “the best thing about the build was interacting with the folks that helped me along the way. There were numerous people associated with the ZR-1net club who gave me a lot of insight when I started to do research on the ZR-1.” He also credits the input from the Corvette forums, along with the individuals at all the various businesses who took his vision and made it happen. The last detail for Bruce was giving the car a proper name, so it was christened “Concealed Carry,” which goes hand in hand with the discreet installation of the LT5 but also Bruce’s background in law enforcement.