Of all the things people say about their cars, the one that stands out as most common is: “I always wanted a ...” It’s because we build the cars that we like. Or at least we build the ones that we like from the range that we can afford.
Then there’s Justin Brunner. “I didn’t even want to build this car,” he proclaims. It’s not that he thinks it’s a bad-looking car, mind you. “The ’65 Chevelle just isn’t my favorite.”
But this particular car had something special. Its previous owner had a lot of faith in Justin. Enough faith to pay him and his shop, Bent Metal Customs (Lansdale, Pennsylvania), to do some metalwork on the car. And by some, Justin means everything. “[It] needed every panel either massaged or replaced,” he says. “From the firewall back through the trunk, this car was rotten.” Then the owner took the car home to finish it.
“Well, three years later he comes back,” Justin continues. The owner was going through a divorce. He needed the car to go away. “He throws this price at me. The number isn’t important but it’s like a fraction of what he has into the car. I’ll be honest with you, for a second I didn’t want the car—because I didn’t like the ’65. And it had one of those L88-style hoods,” he mock retches. “But then I think about all that rust repair. Let’s say 65 percent of the bodywork, he paid for. I would’ve been stupid to not buy it. I gave him what he asked for it.”
Justin basically let the car tell him what to do. “I had a few ideas that I wanted to try, though,” he says. Primary among them was the bumper. “The top part of the blade is stock ’65 Chevelle, but the lower half is ’69 Camaro (valance with lights).” The Bent Metal crew actually did that bumper twice. “I didn’t like how the front bumper didn’t match the rear, the way it wraps around the car,” he explains. “The rear part that wraps around has a kind of eyebrow, like the rest of the blade part.” So he grafted ’65 Chevelle rear bumper ends to it. Both bumpers were tucked tighter to the body.
He says he didn’t like all the brightwork on the car, either. “So we brushed it,” he says. “Yeah, we shaved the door locks but basically the body is stock. It’s just paint.” But the way he used that paint makes a big difference. For starters, they’re all in the same color family. And the contrast between them isn’t extreme.
But things like the darker grille make the car look much more sinister. And repeating the wheel color in places like the grille floater and the rear script creates a pattern. Human brains love patterns. The car started to come together.
The drivetrain is a similarly uncommon pairing that really works. He runs an era-correct engine: a 406, which is just an overbored 402, which is just an overbored 396, which was the engine to run when this car was new. And this one has some goodies that weren’t available in 1965; things like 454 heads and a hydraulic roller cam. Still, Chris Ulmer at Bent Metal built it for power under the curve rather than peak, meaning rather than briefly making huge power in a narrow speed range where the engine rarely visits; this one has a torque curve that better resembles a tabletop. In other words, it punishes tires. Justin gave those tires at least half a fighting chance with a suspension suite from RideTech.
So how does Justin Brunner feel about ’65 Chevelles now? “Oh, I love them. At least this one,” he beams. “Obviously, stance makes everything, so to see it hit the ground the way it did, I fell in love with the car. It turned out exactly how I pictured.”
And that, sometimes, is all it takes to fall in love with a car. But it definitely raises a few questions. Among them … what could he do with something he actually likes? CHP
Owner: Justin and Jamie Brunner, Lansdale, Pennsylvania
Vehicle: 1965 Chevelle
Type: Chevrolet Gen IV 402
Displacement: 406 ci
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Bore: 4.154 inches
Stroke: 3.760 inches
Cylinder Heads: Oval port 454 (781 castings)
Camshaft: Comp Cams hydraulic roller
Induction: FAST XFI injection, Edelbrock Performer manifold
Exhaust: Sanderson 1 7/8-inch headers with 2 1/2-inch exhaust, MagnaFlow mufflers
Output: 400 hp at 5,700 rpm, 443 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm
Machine Work: The Engine Shop (Collingdale, PA)
Builder: Chris Ulmer (Bent Metal Customs, Lansdale, PA)
Transmission: TREMEC TKO-500 five-speed, McLeod clutch
Rear Axle: Moser 9-inch, 3.70:1 gears, Detroit Truetrac limited-slip, Moser 33-spline axles
Steering: RideTech rack-and-pinion
Front Suspension: RideTech antiroll bar, dropped knuckles, Varishock air-over dampers
Rear Suspension: RideTech Level 3 four-link and antiroll bar, Varishock air-over dampers
Brakes: Wilwood 14-inch rotors with six-piston calipers
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Boze Pro Touring 18x8 front, 19x9 rear (6-inch backspacing front and rear)
Tires: Hankook Ventus V12 evo2 245/35 front, 285/30 rear
Upholstery: Gillin Custom Design (Middletown, NY)
Material: Leather with Feintuft carpet
Seats: Stock buckets with reshaped foam
Steering Wheel: Billet Specialties Draft
Instrumentation: Classic Instruments in Classic White
Audio: Rockford Fosgate RZR Stage 1 head unit; amplifiers; and 4x6, 6x9, and 10-inch speakers
Body Prep: Justin Brunner, Justin Miller, and Karolyn Callahan (Bent Metal Customs)
Painter: Todd Covely (Bent Metal Customs)
Paint: PPG Long Beach Red
Lighting: Dapper Headlights, Digi-Tails taillights
Photos by Anna McGrath