Lake Norman & Mooresville

'57 Chevy has a surprise under the hood

The next time you see a red, 1957 Chevy cruising the streets of the Lake Norman area, be advised there's a lot more under the hood than meets the eye.

Specifically, it has a 2006 Corvette 505 horsepower engine. It's the brainchild of retired IBM engineer Jim Williamson of Cornelius, and the labor of love was a five-year project.

"It all started back in 2005, when I bought a '57 Chevy at the Food Lion Auto Fair for $19,000," said Williamson. "The car was in pretty good condition, no rust, with a 327 engine."

Williamson drove the car for about a year, doing some minor repairs. At that point, he wanted to restore the car, engine and all, to the original '57 Chevy specs, but he learned that some parts were virtually impossible to find.

So, he decided to gut the interior, engine and all, and install a new, speedy hi-tech Corvette engine. Williamson did all the work himself in his three-car garage off Jetton Road in Cornelius.

Williamson and his wife, Virginia, relocated to Lake Norman from New York in 1986 when he was transferred by his employer, IBM.

He was no stranger to mechanical work, having spent 24 years as a process engineer at IBM, and 12 years after that running a sanitation company.

However, this project was a challenge.

"I had to literally hoist the car onto ceiling beams in my garage and then drop the chassis. It was hard work, but it turned out great. I even found someone to buy the original chassis for $3,000."

All told he spent close to $100,000 restoring the car, he said. The most expensive part was the body work and paint, which ran about $35,000.

The car was completed about a year ago, and Williamson takes the car on short trips around the Lake Norman area, frequently attending "cruising" events such as Mooresville's monthly Cruise-In.

What type of reaction does he get when strangers see the car on the road? "It always attracts lots of curious people who like to walk around the car and inspect it, inside and out."

Despite the size and speed of the Corvette engine, Williamson, 70, has no plans to race the car.

"I'm a Grandpa, not a race driver," he said, referring to his seven grandchildren.

The '57 Chevy/Corvette hybrid is one of only about 100 such cars in the entire country, he said. When asked how much he would want for the unique auto, he paused for a moment and said it really wasn't for sale. However, he said he has seen similar cars sell for more than $150,000.

Now that this major project is complete, what's next? He has two cars in his garage, both "works in progress:" A 1937 Ford Fiberglass street rod, and a 1966 Mustang. He's concentrating on the Mustang right now.

"That was my 43 year-old-son Dwayne's car originally, so I'm fixing it up for him to run and look like new."

Williamson, who spends the winters in Florida, enjoys his retirement days in North Carolina but vows to stay busy.

"For people my age, if you stop doing things, you get sick and die. I'm not going to let that happen to me. You have to stay active."