As feature stories go, writing this one was very challenging. Why? Because no matter how many words are put down on these pages, they probably won't be able to fully convey the exquisite detail and sheer creativity that went into the creation of Dwight Polzin's '57 Corvette.
Now, you've heard such hyperbolic statements from fellow enthusiasts and even other car magazines, we're sure. Stuff like, "this car deserves second and third looks," or "we've never seen such a level of detail."
Well, we're here to tell you that Polzin's fiercely red roadster may be the standard against which hyperbolic statements are measured in the future. And the best part is, from an initial glance the car looks like nothing more than a clean resto wearing a set of chromed ZR-1 wheels.
Look longer at the car and you'll notice that it doesn't sit quite like a stock '57, regardless of the late-model running shoes. Look carefully at the suspension bits that are visible, front and rear, and the head scratching really begins. Polzin's Vette rides on '96 Corvette suspension components.
Impressive, you say? After all, Polzin attached late-model pieces to a 43-year-old frame, right? No, he didn't. He scratch-built an entirely new frame. At home. On a homemade jig. "We put some sheetmetal down on the floor, because we didn't want to burn down the barn when the welding started," Polzin says casually.
With detailed measurements of C4 and early-model frames, Polzin set out with 14-foot-long sheets of 12-gauge steel to build the new frame. The plans called for a boxed frame that would accept the late-model running gear while maintaining the '57's basic ride height. Using a plasma cutter with handmade templates, Polzin cut the pieces for the rails, inserted supports within the rails, and welded it all together.
Polzin brought home all the necessary suspension components from a trip to one of the giant Carlisle swap meets. They came from a '96 Corvette and fit just as Polzin figured they would, including the 3.33:1-geared Dana 44 rearend.
Along with the suspension, the rest of the chassis uses as much stock Corvette hardware as Polzin could fit. He fabricated whatever wasn't available or didn't fit, such as the intermediate shaft and steering column. Polzin modified a stock version of the intermediate shaft and scratch-built the steering column. The car now turns with the precision of a late-model's rack-and-pinion.
Many of the car's best details are hidden by its body. You can't really see the stock '57 fuel tank that was fitted to the new frame. Nor can you see how Polzin modified it slightly to accept the fuel pump and sending unit for a late-model, fuel-injected engine.
Under the hood, you get a glimpse of the genius that went into this ride when you see the backward master cylinder. "I really wanted to use the '96 power brake booster," Polzin muses, "but it required re-engineering the brakes and master cylinder a little."
That's an understatement. The master cylinder is reversed, while a custom set of levers and pivots take the actuation from the brake pedal. Although it doesn't quite look factory-installed, it definitely has a high-quality, O.E.-style appearance.
Of course, fitting a late-model motor presented its own challenges. Sure, you could get a fuel-injected small-block in 1957, but it wasn't fitted with electronic harnesses or emissions sensors, nor did it have to fit around a rack-and-pinion steering system or such a complex power-brake system. For this postmodern creation, Polzin ordered an LT1 from GM. It's a '93-spec LT1, which uses a speed-density air metering system.
Again, many of the setup's finer details are hidden from plain view. A K&N air filter draws air just behind the toothy front grille, where it's routed to the throttle body via a late-model Firebird intake bellows. Polzin simply flipped the bellows upside down so its "elbow" turned toward the passenger side of the engine compartment and the air filter.
The engine itself is stock, although Polzin crafted a custom wiring harness. "We didn't want to fool with it (the engine) until we were sure everything was running right," he says when asked about any modifications to the engine.
In a '93 Corvette, the 350ci LT1 was good for 300 horses. It probably makes a little more than that in Polzin's car, thanks to a free-flowing exhaust that includes headers and '67 big-block-style side-exiting exhaust pipes.
The engine is backed by a '93-style ZF six-speed transmission. Although it easily bolted up to the small-block, it required a custom crossmember on the frame, as well as a custom-built driveshaft. The late-model tranny features an internal-rail shift mechanism, which necessitated the relocation of the shifter position in the interior. It sits about 3 inches farther back. Without any type of center console it's difficult to tell the difference at a glance, although the ZF's shift knob is a clear giveaway that something's not quite stock.
And the hidden details abound throughout the rest of the interior, too. Look at the steering wheel. Polzin built it to emulate the look of a stock wheel, but its diameter is 2 inches smaller, which makes for more responsive inputs to complement the late-model steering system.
There's a hidden compact-disc stereo system in the cabin, as well as the stock Wonderbar radio that came with the donor body. The gauges are stock '57s, too, though modified to work with the LT1's computer. Another crafty touch is Polzin's re-wiring of the stock "generator" idiot light to serve as the late-model motor's "check engine" light. The remainder of the trim and upholstery is stock-type material.
The body of the '57 is stock, too. After searching high and low, Polzin found a donor car just 30 miles from home. It had been stored for 20 years, but came with new stainless trim, bumpers, and hard- and soft-tops. Dave Wendell handled the Torch Red paint job, which is one of the deepest-looking we've seen.
Start to finish, Polzin's creative Corvette took just 18 months to complete. And he's not shy about putting miles under that home-built chassis. Of course, it collects big trophies at every show he drives it to, but the red roadster has also collected a few timeslips from the drag strip. Its best so far is a tire-spinning 13.48 at 105 mph.
We end this write-up with the thought that not every detail of the ingenious fabrication has been covered. (Did you notice the wholly appropriate "Fuel Injection" badges in the coves?)
Whatever we've missed, we'll try to make up for on the feature of Polzin's next project. He wants to drop a '57 body over C5 running gear-including the rear-mounted transmission. Better get some more steel for the barn floor, Dwight.