As an impressionable grade schooler, Ray Bruno would walk past a stunning silver-skinned 1956 Vette on his way to class every day. With its Torq-Thrust wheels and black tuck ’n’ roll interior, the ride was surely a sight to behold, especially for a young hot rodder in training like Ray. “I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and from those early days I dreamt of one day owning one just like it,” says Ray. He would have to wait, but that dream would one day become a reality.
Over the following years, Ray always had his eyes wide open and ears trained to the ground, on the lookout for a potential plastic Chevy to call his own. When he was 18 and a college freshman he found a 1956 for sale in the local Want Ad Press. The car not only sounded like a winner but amazingly it was also within his tight student budget. So Ray decided to make the short ride from his home to take a closer look. When he finally laid eyes on that Corvette it was the proverbial “love at first sight” for sure. He knew then and there that he had to make it his own.
Ray quickly struck a deal on the Corvette; plopping down $2,650 for the sporty roadster (his mom cosigned a loan for him … over his dad’s objection). And he definitely got his money’s worth to say the least. The car had undoubtedly seen some racing over the years and sported some cool, late-’60’s add-ons that set it apart. Its original engine was long gone, but a potent 1962 solid lifter 327 was occupying the space between the fenders. Decked out with a Holley four-barrel, headers and backed by an M20 Muncie four-speed complete with a Hurst shifter, this ride was a performer out on the street from the day the title changed hands.
Over the years, someone had decided to change the Vette’s hue as well, covering the car in a skin of Cadillac Firemist Brown. A set of Stewart-Warner gauges replaced the originals (they were neatly packed away in the trunk) and the cockpit sported the rare radio delete plate. With its black tuck ’n’ roll interior and chrome reverse rims shod in Vanderbilt cheater slicks this car just oozed street performance from every angle. And since it weighed in at a mere 2,700 pounds, the horsepower-to-weight ratio was definitely to this driver’s advantage.
From day one, Ray was fortunate enough to have a winter beater car to drive during the nasty New Jersey winters and rainy days. He made it a point for the car to never see road salt or other Garden State corrosives that could take a frame down to rubble or kill a good paintjob in a matter of months. It was his baby, and well, he was a good parental guardian for sure. He often resisted the urging of his fiancé and others close to him to sell the car. It never worked … Ray just couldn’t be swayed!
The car sat dormant for two years while Ray was in graduate school, but nary a day went by that he didn’t feel the urge to get behind the wheel and take it out on the road, or even out on the dragstrip. Once out of school, Ray started hitting the local tracks regularly, putting the roadster through the paces at local strips like Atco, Island Dragway and Raceway Park. After some time putting miles and wear on the car, Ray decided it was time to do a partial restoration on the Corvette.
There were several modifications done to the car in typical weekend drag racer fashion so it was far from stock when Ray purchased the Vette. The fender-top scoops had been removed, the dash modified, the exhaust bumpers chucked and the interior changed over. Once the car was torn down, Ray could also see where the tow tabs were welded on back in the day. When he stripped the car right down to the fiberglass he noticed that the car was painted silver at one time, over its original Venetian Red. The funny thing was that this car was purchased not far from where he spied that silver 1956 on his way to school. Could this be that car? Ray could never find a true connection.
So Ray took to restoring the car on the weekends, cleaning up the body, remounting the excised fender scoops and building a new dash out of two pieces taken from wrecked cars. Ray and his good buddy Dave Gonska did the bodywork and gelcoat, and then proceeded to spray the car right there in his front yard at his home in suburban New Jersey … in lacquer no less! (Yeah, the neighbors were a little miffed) Even after laying the paint down outside, the refinish came out better than expected. Amazingly, that paintjob has held up for over 30 years, with just some minor touch-ups.
Ray drove the car with its potent 327 for a few years after the paint was done, but soon got the itch to build another potent small-block for the ride so he could do more racing. He also felt that the car’s 1962 327 was too valuable to take a chance of blowing on the quarter-mile strip. So Ray found an early ’70’s 350 and built it up with forged pistons, Edelbrock aluminum heads and a solid lifter cam. He took a few items off the 327 to add to the mix, including the chrome motor mount and radiator shroud, and the engine’s Stellings air cleaner (it’s the only piece that would let the hood close without hitting). A Sun Super Tach was purchased at that time and sits on the column to this day, helping Ray punch through the gears.
Along with the engine rebuild, Ray decided to pull the body and do a restoration on the chassis. The interior also received a freshen-up, bringing the car up to snuff all around. But even though the car was now a show winner in every sense of the word, Ray didn’t baby the ride at all. He started hitting the local tracks with gusto, taking on the 1,320-foot strip whenever he had a spare moment. The car consistently ran mid-12s, which was pretty sweet, especially since the car looked like a show-stunner, and was even running DOT tires and a full exhaust system with mufflers.
Ray’s Vette was always driven to the track, never towed. It was super reliable, though he did go through quite a few axles with the car. After several breakdowns on the strip, he removed the OEM unit, rebuilt it, and stored it away. In its place he built up a solid Ford 9-inch rear that he pulled from a 1971 Mustang Mach 1. He just needed to move the spring perches to make it fit properly. It sports 4.11 gears, a Detroit Locker and Moser axles. A set of beefed-up South Side Machine traction bars tie it all together. This setup has proven bulletproof, as even heavy-footed Ray hasn’t been able to break this back-end up … yet.
Over the years the wheels have changed; it has gone from a set of Cragars to the current Torq-Thrusts shod in piecrust cheaters out back. The headers he installed when he dropped in the 350 were taken out and powdercoated white to look like the pieces that were on the car when he bought it. The car has now been retired from drag racing, but Ray drives it often when the weather permits. All of Ray’s three sons enjoyed riding in the Vette over the years, and his youngest is following in his dad’s footsteps when it comes to Corvettes. However, he finds the cockpit a little tight for his 6-foot 6-inch frame.
Both Ray and his ride turned 60 last year and both are holding up pretty well for their six decades of time on this planet. They met when they were both teenagers and have grown together and changed over time … but they are still a fearsome-twosome that can never be torn apart. This 1956 is a time machine of sorts; a hopped-up C1 ride that brings his owner back to his teens every time he slides behind the wheel.