What comes to mind when you see the term mechanical mistress? Do you envision a "project from hell" that consumes all of your available money, spare parts, tools in your shop, and your relationships with everyone you know? In Bill Kroll's case, that phrase was painted in the coves of a '57 Corvette that he bought back in the mid-'70s when he was 19. That wasn't all that was painted on that C1's original fiberglass. "It had a 'psychedelic' paint job on it," he recalls. "It was kind of like a show car, but more of a show car on the outside than underneath. It was a pretty crazy paint job-people either loved it or hated it."
Under the hood, Bill found a worn-out 327, which had replaced a big-block Chevy V8, which in turn had replaced the long-removed original 283. Out went the 327 in favor of an LT1-spec 350, and Bill drove it in and around his hometown of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, for the next couple of years, until that love/hate relationship with the Vette's "psychedelic patchwork-crushed mirror" color scheme ended, thanks to an unfortunate mishap in his driveway with his brother's '65 Chevy pickup. "I'd just got the car running and I was jumping it with his truck," Bill remembers. "I told my brother to back the truck away from the garage because I wanted to back the car out. He left the hood open on the truck, and he pulled forward to go alongside the house as I backed up, and he rammed right into the back corner of the car. He shut the truck off, got out, and ran."
When he repaired the '57's body, Bill stripped his C1 of its painted-on psychedelia for a simpler black/silver color scheme. However, other priorities in his life (marriage, family, and farming) put the '57 project on hold. It lay dormant in his basement for many a year, waiting for the day when he'd work on it again. That day came after a trip to Corvettes at Carlisle in 2003. "I started to restore it to pretty much original, but I didn't have the original 283, or anything like that," says Bill. "But, a friend of mine on the next hill had a '57, and he'd put the Mustang II front suspension under it. So, I started thinking about that."
Bill took the Wonderbar radio from his C1 to Carlisle and sold it. With a bankroll in hand, Bill was looking for a way to put later-generation Corvette chassis tech under his '57. "At first, I was talking to Paul Newman, of Newman's Car Creations, and I was almost ready to tell him to pick up my frame on his way back to California," says Bill. "Then, I walked over the hill and I met Billy Dawson."
This was about a year after Dawson had brought his first tubular C1 Corvette frame to Bloomington Gold from his Seguin Speed Shop in central Texas, a frame that created such a stir among Vette builders and owners that they were giving him deposits for production versions of the "Corvette Correction" C1 frame that C4 suspension and steering parts readily bolted onto-before it was in production. Bill says that a look at Dawson's frame, and a chat with him, were all it took to sell him on it. Says Bill, "I gave him a thousand dollars-from the radio-as a deposit on one of his frames and it all went from there."
Now that he had a new frame, Bill needed the powertrain and chassis hardware to go on it. Instead of finding a parts car at a salvage yard down the road, Bill used the Information Superhighway to find what he needed. "I found them on eBay," he says. "I bought a front suspension from one place, and a rear suspension from another, but they're both '93s." Also found on eBay: A new-vintage LS1 engine. To go along with it, Bill scored a six-speed Tremec gearbox and a Positraction-equipped, 3.73-geared Dana 36 rear end.
Once he had the parts together, making a rolling chassis out of them was a snap. "Just bolt it on-that was it," Bill says, adding that Dawson was available throughout the project to render any help that was needed. "He's the nicest person you'd ever want to meet," Bill adds.
Though the chassis went together fairly easily, the body was another matter. Aside from the sibling-induced crash damage mentioned above, there was plenty of remedial work needed on the C1's OEM fiberglass body. "I probably should have put a new front clip on the body, but I ended up matting everything," Bill says of the time-consuming bodywork that was done in his garage, which included repairing the inner front fenders, which were cut by the '57's previous owner to make the big-block fit. While he was at it, a pair of wide rear quarter-panels from Outrageous Paints went on, which are an inch and a half wider than stock.
Bill's choice of colors for his '57 look like they came off the Corvette color selections chart that year, but aren't. Instead, Bill chose Turquoise and Cream Pearl (the latter for the coves) from PPG's "Hot Licks" line. His friend, Frank Pleil-who'd helped him with the bodywork-sprayed the two colors onto the now-restified body. Bill says the Turquoise reminded him of the original '57 Corvette Cascade Green color. "A lot of people think that it's the original color," he says of the comments he receives on his C1's colors. "It'll never go out of style on that car-not ten years from now, fifteen years from now, or ever!"
Inside, Bill called on Portage Trim in Ravenna, Ohio, for help. The result was a custom interior boasting a pair of Wise Guys buckets upholstered in beige ultra leather, custom wool carpets, a billet Budnik steering wheel, a set of Classic Instruments gauges, a Pioneer/Alpine sound system, and the controls for the Hot Rod Air HVAC system.
One finishing touch that Bill added was a '57-vintage Pennsylvania license plate. "Matter of fact, I have the 'right' plate for it," Bill says of the current Keystone State plate that he puts over top of the '57 one when he takes to the road, as Pennsylvania doesn't allow "year of manufacture" plates to be used. "If I lived in Ohio, I could use that plate on the street. So, I have two spring clips to hold my 'right' plate on, and when I get to a show, I take it off."
In all, this project took about five years, resulting in the Vette Rod that you see here. What's it like to drive? "It's great to drive," Bill says. "It's really nice and smooth. It's way nicer than the '57 suspension that was underneath it, that was worn when I got it, and may not have been great to drive brand-new."
Does Bill have any advice for potential first-generation Vette Rodders-to-be? "I'd say call Billy Dawson first, because he'll help you all the way through it. I'm sure that Paul Newman's a great guy too, but Billy is like a regular guy-he really helped me a lot with this."
As for how this "Mechanical Mistress" affected Bill's family and friends, it only did so in a positive way. Bill credits his wife, Debby, for her love and support during this project-and the lunches she made for him while he was out in his shop. Along with Frank Pleil (who Bill says spent two years worth of Saturdays in the shop with him), Bill also thanks his buddy Conrad Escher for his help in the shop, and at the swap meets they ventured to in search of parts.
Plus, you have to think that a vigorous drive on any of Western Pennsylvania's twisty roads is one way that this Vette Rod collects its "Vette-imony."
'57 Chevrolet Corvette
Owned by: Bill Kroll, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
Original production '57 Corvette, with Outrageous Paints' quarter-panels (1 1/2 inches wider than stock)
Bodywork: And paint preparation by Owner and Frank Pleil, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
Paint: Hot Licks' Turquoise and Cream Pearl, basecoat/clearcoat; paint applied by Frank Pleil, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
Frame: Corvette Correction rectangular-tube frame
Suspension: (Front) '93 Corvette C4 with Bilstein shocks (Rear) '93 Corvette C4 with Bilstein shocks
Steering: '93 Corvette rack-and-pinion, power-assisted
Brakes: Baer four-wheel disc brakes (13-inch rotors in front, 12-inch rotors in back), power-assisted
Wheels: Billet Specialties billet aluminum, 17-inch diameter front/18-inch diameter rear
Tires: BFGoodrich Radial T/A KDWs all around
GM Powertrain LS1 overhead-valve V8
Displacement: 346 cubic inches (5.7 L)
Compression Ratio: 10.1:1
Cylinder Heads: Production LS1
Ignition: Production LS1 coil-on-plug electronic ignition
Induction: Production LS1 electronic fuel injection
Camshaft: Production LS1 hydraulic roller camshaft
Exhaust: Custom headers by Street & Performance, custom-fabricated exhaust pipes and Hush Power mufflers.
Horsepower: 345 @ 5600 rpm (Advertised)
Torque: 350ft. /lbs. @ 4400 rpm (Advertised)
Tremec 6-speed manual
Rear End: Dana 36 with a 3.73-geared Positraction differential
Customized/restored '57 Corvette
Restored By: Portage Trim, Ravenna, Ohio
Seats: Wise Guys bucket seats with beige ultra leather uphoilstery
Carpets: Custom beige wool carpeting by PortageTrim
Instrumentation: Classic Instruments custom gauges (0-140 mph speedometer in front of driver, plus 0-7000 rpm tachometer with no redline, fuel level, oil pressure, ammeter, coolant temperature gauges in center of dash) replaced the OEM '57 Corvette gauge set.
Sound System: Pioneer AM/FM/CD head unit in dash with Alpine speakers
HVAC: Hot Rod Air