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    Corvette beauty 32 years in making

    Corvette beauty 32 years in making
    Tim Hunterís 1962 baby a labor of love


    Jason Campbell
    Reporter, Manteca Bulletin



    Tim Hunter proudly stands next to his 1962 Corvette that he finished restoring in April after buying it sight unseen more than 30 years ago.

    Manteca, California - Tim Hunter always had a thing for the Chevrolet Corvette.

    Just months after graduating high school in 1961 he went out and bought himself what had always been the car of his dreams - cherishing the two-seat roadster until he got married and realized that it wasn't exactly the most practical daily vehicle for a family man.

    But the thought of getting his hands on another one never drifted too far away, and in 1976 he told his father - who was then working at a gas station in Los Gatos - to keep an eye out for any 1961 or 1962 Corvettes that he saw available for purchase.

    "He called me up and told me that this guy had a 1962 fuel injected 327 for sale for $1,200," Hunter said with a smile on his face. "I immediately said 'Buy it.'

    "Sight unseen, I knew that car was going to be something I was going to love."

    And there began a 32-year long love affair that culminated in April when Hunter finally finished restoring the old car to it's original factory condition.

    After making the initial purchase more than 30 years ago, he had a 30-day window to drive it back-and-forth to work every day and enjoy the feeling of the wind in his hair before he'd have to pony up the rather expensive insurance payments, and opted instead to roll it into the shop until he'd get around to creating a show-ready beauty.

    It would be 15 years before he'd get around to starting on the project, and at the time the obligations to his wife and his family would have to come before his after-work hobby that started with breaking the beast down piece-by-piece and cataloging each and every move in order to ensure that everything went back the way it was supposed to.

    "I didn't make very much money by any stretch of the imagination, and it can be pretty expensive when you start getting into reconditioning some of those parts," he said. "It was a slow process, but it was something that gave me an outlet and a project that I could stick with, and I'm glad that it's something that I never gave up on."

    Sandblasted, painted

    Vette in his backyard

    With the occasional help of neighbors and friends, Hunter dissected every piece of his '61 Vette and stripped the model down to the bare frame - which he sandblasted and painted himself in his Powers Tract backyard.

    While some of the work had to be outsourced to various shops that specialized in reconditioning parts, the majority of the work was done alone in his shop with his own tool set and his own bare hands - adding an extra dimension of pride when he finally got the chance to look at the finished product early this year.

    When it came to the motor, he would pay the machine shop owner each week for various stages of work on the 360-horsepower, fuel-injected 327 that now looks like it just rolled off of the assembly line - a process that would take roughly two-years to complete.

    The bright leather seats were sent to a specialist in Texas for reconditioning, and a Maryland shop would be charged with turning the faded and rusted instrument panel back into something any car lover would instantly recognize as an original.

    He would even wait two-years to have the car painted by a local man operating out of his own backyard, and would wait two more before getting it back with the 18 coats of lacquer that help make the ivory color shimmer from any angle.

    Even though it took longer than he ever thought to complete, the fact that he can now share his love with others makes all of the sacrifices and the labor worthwhile.

    "When somebody else looks at it and comes up to tell you what a great car you have - that's really what it's all about," Hunter said. "Getting that response from somebody makes everything that went into making this car what it is today worth it."

    And others have recognized the painstaking dedication that went into returning the car to its factory condition.

    Gets almost perfect

    score at San Jose show

    When he took it to a National Corvette Restorers Society earlier this month in San Jose, he earned 99.3 percent of the total points possible when judges went through and rated the factory-specifics of the overall car.

    Last weekend in Lodi, Hunter not only took first place in his class, but also walked away with a Best of Show ribbon that makes him beam from ear-to-ear when he proudly shows it to friends and on-lookers.

    Over the course of the next two years, he plans on making the trip up to Bend, Oregon for another NCRS convention and eventually on to Lake Tahoe where he hopes to earn his performance verification - the mark of a car that is 100 percent factory original from bumper-to-bumper.

    Hunter also has his sights set on earning the Zora Duntoff award in 2010 when he hopes to travel to Bloomington, Illinois - an award named for the "father of the Corvette" and given only to the best-of-the-best.

    But given all that he's put into making his dream car what it is today, Hunter says he's happy with just the occasional glance from passers-by, and the kind words of people lucky enough to see him driving it around (he only has 25 miles on the motor.)

    "It's just the American sports car, and there's something special about that," he said. "I always knew that I wanted another one after I sold my first, and I'm just glad that I finally got the project completed and I can now share my love with other people."

    To reach Jason Campbell, e-mail jcampbell@mantecabulletin.com, or call (209) 249-3544.
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