Bruno's Corvette Repair

Written by Dennis Ortenburger.

When I was in college I lived in a town called Reseda in the San Fernando Valley, Southern California. One of my favorite haunts was a weekly visit to Bruno's Corvette Repair shop in Studio City, about 20 minutes from home. Bruno's (Roger Brunelle) specialized in fiberglass repair, specifically Corvettes.

Brunelle was a Marine during the Korean War and learned about fiberglass working on Marine aircraft. Discharged in 1954 he decided to come to California to seek his fortune.  He reckoned that the new Corvette automobile was the car of the future and it was made out of fiberglass. He opened a fiberglass repair shop in Studio City, a stone's throw from Universal and Warner Brothers studios. Smart choice of location because many celebrities bought sports cars and the new Corvette was certainly one of them.  Among his clients were Steve McQueen, Ryan O'Neal, Bruce Willis and even Sonny and Cher. Brunelle also built a few custom Corvettes for the TV series, "Route 66" and the Elvis Presley movie, "Viva Las Vegas".

It wasn't long before Corvettes were crashed and in need of repair and insurance companies quickly discovered only one shop in Southern California did fiberglass repair.  Not only did he repair these cars but Bruno's soon earned a reputation for superlative work. His employees often found him meticulously picky and difficult to please which resulted in repairs undetectable from factory new. Before long Brunelle became known as the "plastic surgeon", a term he used in his advertising.

In 1963 I was a sophomore in college and was over the moon for the Lotus Elite. From time to time I'd see one in the shop. Brunelle never seemed to mind my nosing around so I took full advantage. It was in his shop that I learned my first lessons in fiberglass repair. How to mix resin and catalyst in the right proportions and how to speed up or slow down the hardening process. I learned about minor and major repairs as Bruno's had accumulated quite a collection of repair panels, doors, front and rear clips and the like. He had a second story attic above the shop full of Corvette body sections but quite a few for the Elite as well. In fact it was Bruno's where Jay Chamberlain sent his Elites for repair or repaint.

Roger Brunelle often said that no matter how badly damaged a fiberglass car came in he could fix it as good as new. The story of how he stitched together two Elites is true. A customer had the misfortune to be hit from behind by a large truck. The entire back end, right up to the seat backs was broken off and shoved under the car. Amongst Bruno's collection of bits was an Elite insurance write off which consisted of a severely damaged front end but a good rear section. Chassis number 1812 thus became two Elites as a result of this remarkable repair (see photos below).

By the 1960s there was quite a variety of fiberglass cars on the market and Southern California became the home for many of them. I remember seeing a Peerless GT coupe, Daimler Dart, an Elva Courier, and race cars like the Ginetta and Lola in the shop not to mention Corvettes of every vintage.

The 1980s weren't kind to Roger Brunelle because the neighborhoods near his shop were being developed for a well heeled clientele. The residents didn't like the smell of polyester resin or lacquer paint. His shop was on Ventura Boulevard and the street was home to boutiques and restaurants. Complaints became numerous and the first air quality regulations were put into law. It was true you could smell the place blocks away and, as a result of this, Bruno's Corvette Repair's days were numbered.

He tried to comply but had little room for a spray booth, the cars had been painted outdoors in a car port arrangement! There were ventilation systems becoming available that might have mitigated the odors of polyester but the costs were high and, again, Brunelle had no room. And there was the matter of fiberglass dust. As we all know some pretty messy stuff.

He finally gave in and decided to close the shop. Sad day for enthusiasts. He sold everything including a bare Elite shell that sat precariously on top of one of the buildings near the entrance. It could be seen from the street and to the initiated was the perfect bill board for his craft. For one reason or another I didn't get to the sale for several days. All the body sections were gone as was most of the trim and hardware. There was a new radiator, some window frames and the like but lack of funds prevented me from taking the bits home. I never found out where the Elite panels went. No matter, a chapter of the history of the Lotus Elite was done, the likes of which would never be seen again.

I didn't have the presence of mind to get a picture of the place but this is Ventura Boulevard today (see photos below).