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.