Jennifer Keffeler’s ’62 Corvette was crashed for a second time and submerged in a hurricane before her childhood promise to the car came true. Thankfully, “$umday” finally arrived.
“I fell in love with the new body style of the ‘62s when they came out,” says Jennifer’s father, Steve. “I told myself that when I grew up I wanted to be a fighter pilot and own a ’62 Corvette.”
He joined the Marines and eventually became a fighter pilot, Captain Stephen Richards, and then he was selected to attend Top Gun. In 1971 the second half of his childhood vow was realized when he spotted this ‘62 in front of a hot rod shop, a little worse for the wear. The car had been set up for drag racing with the front end jacked up on spacers, and the nose was badly damaged from a crash. The original Fuelie small block was long gone, and the engine bay, now exposed from the fender openings forward, was barren.
Even though he was starting a family with the recent birth of his daughter, Jennifer, he towed it home and began putting it back together. He bought an LT-1 crate engine and a Muncie four-speed to fill the empty rails. He found a guy in town who had been collecting parts to make repair molds for C1 and C2 Corvettes (and eventually sold the whole lot to Eckler’s). He supplied Steve with a front clip and with a little paint the Corvette was back on the road.
“I remember riding in it to get ice cream, after we moved up north” Jenn says. “We’d ride four deep, with me down in the floor holding onto the dash handle, and the smell of the oil and engine exhaust really left an impression. I love that old car smell.”
In 1978 Steve was leaving a work party and wrecked the car’s front end. “Almost as bad as the first crash,” he says. The Corvette was back to square one and followed them around the country until they landed in Texas. Jenn fondly recalls it being in the garage throughout her childhood. “As a kid I’d dust off whatever parts I could reach that weren’t covered with boxes and talk to it,” she says. “I’d tell it: some day you will be fixed like you deserve.”
The years rolled by and the car was eventually brought south to Pensacola, off the Santa Rosa Sound in Florida. Steve was going to restore the car when he retired. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan hit, and the car was submerged under eight feet of water for more than a day. Ivan broke several hydrological records, including a massive 91-foot wave and a seafloor current of 5mph. The damage to the state and the Corvette was severe.
Jenn’s phone call from her father revealed that the insurance wanted to total it out, unless she was interested in trying to save it. Without a hesitation came the yes, and the car was rescued from the salvage heap.
Now, Jenn’s husband, also named Steve, is a pretty handy guy and a contractor by trade. He says he spent a year researching how to save and improve the Corvette before attempting any work. “I drove a stock ‘61 Corvette,” he says. “Right after that, I knew I was not interested in retaining the stock suspension.”
He heard about a guy named Billy Dawson with a company called Corvette Corrections who was making an updated chassis for the C1, and liked the idea of a better suspension with modern C4-based components. After the purchase, Danny Kurtz of Restoration Techniques installed a new front clip and fit the body to the frame, and it was shod with a round of 18-inch Billet Specialties wheels on Michelin Pilot Sport IIs.
The LS2 was the hot ticket of the day, and the guys at Speed & Sport offered one with a stand-alone EFI and engine management system. Steve brought it to a collision shop for paint, but it kept getting pushed back as the insurance jobs rolled in. Eventually he was referred to Randy at Painthouse in Cypress, Texas. The two hit it off, and the Corvette was brought over for some work. “It’s all his fault,” Steve says. “He made it much nicer than we could ever have imagined possible.”
Randy tightened all the gaps and smoothed the panels, door jambs, firewall, and the undersides of both the hood and the trunk to a mirror finish. Steve told him he wanted the paint to look like a “Pinot Noir in the sunlight with a metallic pearl,” and that’s exactly what he got, in PPG’s Deltron 2K base/clear system.
Since the car was previously painted “Russet Firemist, “ a popular Cadillac color, with a fawn interior, Jenn insisted the upholstery remain in the tan and brown colors she loved as a kid. The Vette was taken to Ron Mangus for a few hides of Italy’s finest bovines and a set of custom-contoured seats. A Budnik wheel tops the Ididit column and a Hurst shifter keeps the car’s three-pedal heritage intact, along with a Tremec T56.
With the car well underway, Randy combined Jenn’s childhood promise with their restoration journey and came up with the car’s name: $umday. It took a lot of both time and money, but it was finally realized. With the completion came showing the car, and new friends like Mac and Shelly Bernd and an added bonus of the build: numerous friendships that will last a lifetime.
As a surprise, Jenn got the Corvette booked into a special car show that was held on the USS Lexington aircraft carrier, now a museum in Corpus Christi, Texas, It was extra special because that just so happened to be the very same ship Steve had done his training on. Jen and her dad drove onto the ship and she surprised him with the placement of the car: Right under the wing of an F-4 Phantom II – just like the one he flew. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment they all cherish.
Today, the Vette continues to make memories into the third generation, as Jenn’s daughter Nicole has now grown up with the Corvette’s presence. Like her mom, she also loves that “old car smell” when they go get ice cream, and looks forward to the day when she gets to drive it. That’ll be “$umday.”
Photos by John Jackson / NotStock Photography