It's hard to believe another summer has come and gone. It's even harder to believe that Chip Miller has passed away. In his place, his son, Lance-30-something, blue eyes beaming, red hair almost matching the Aztec Bronze of his father's '57-is seated behind the wheel.
"Was this a special Corvette in Chip's collection?" we asked.
"Absolutely, more so because of his memories of the vehicle,"says Lance.
Already, we knew about the rarity of the color. Anyone can look up the production numbers. Just 452 of the total 6,339 '57 Corvettes built that year came in this unusual shade of lacquer.
Lance laughed, "Take somebody into the garage and immediately they walk to that car." We've had the chance to look in "the garage." Among the many rare Corvettes in Chip Miller's garage are a C5-R race car, one of the factory champions, a '60 Briggs Cunningham Corvette Le Mans race car, and the famous Purple People Eater, a '59 competition car prepared by Nickey Chevrolet.
In his lifetime, Chip Miller owned more than 80 Corvettes, many of them with a racing heritage. What put him on the collector-car map was in 1974, when he and his brother, Bill, started the first automotive event at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In 1981, the pair bought the Carlisle Fairgrounds. Since then, Corvettes at Carlisle has become one of the largest national events of the year, bringing together vendors, manufacturers, and collectors in an extravaganza of car show wonderment.
Last summer's gathering was the largest ever of '53 models (54) for the 50th Corvette Anniversary on Labor Day weekend. The Monday after, we had the privilege to photograph the '60 Cunningham Le Mans Corvette. Chip was "tired" as he drove the historic vintage racer, lettered No. 3, to an open spot on top of the Fairgrounds. Yet, he was beaming. His baby was finished, having undergone an intensive ground-up restoration.
At that time, Chip was not aware of the disease that was taking its toll on his body. He had a rare plasma-cell disorder, primary amyloidosis, which attacks the body's main organs and for which there is no cure. However, when detected early enough, the disease, apparently, can be managed to some extent. Not until December would Chip find out why he felt so fatigued.
Lance Miller, of Ocean City, New Jersey, was back to promote the annual Corvettes at Carlisle event and he agreed to bring out the '57 for a photo shoot. The car has gone through an extensive restoration. The color is unusual, and it's also one of the first Corvettes equipped with a four-speed. But this Corvette will forever be special. Chip chose it, of all his cars, to donate to charity. It was auctioned off at this year's Corvettes at Carlisle, due in part to Chip's friendship with former event auctioneer Bob Gold.
Judy Miller, Chip's wife, explained the connection: "Chip was very close with Bob Gold, and he and Bob-because Bob was so ill there at the end-would go out in the '57 and they would do the Corvette parade at Corvettes At Carlisle. Chip would drive and Bob would be the passenger. And that was the car they used. So it has special meaning." Judy and Chip had been childhood sweethearts.
Lance revealed, "He sat the family down and said, 'Hey, what do you guys think? I'd like to donate this car to a good cause.'
The money would go to raise awareness of the disease and for research. The '57 had a special mission: to kick off the fight against amyloidosis. Chip passed away March 25, 2004. Two months later, The Chip Miller Charitable Foundation had raised $50,000.
Judy explained, "Chip said he wanted to do something for others, as far as trying to prevent somebody else from going through the heartbreak we were going through. He was hoping he would be here for the Corvette auction, to see that Corvette get auctioned off. For amyloid."
We felt an urge to spread the word, to help make others aware of the disease, for early diagnosis and to help raise money for research to find a cure. Judy, her voice smooth and clear again, offered strange but true news. "They say people die from it every day and it's not diagnosed, because doctors don't know what it is. They don't know to check for it."
Perhaps the 2,000 affected by amyloidosis is actually much higher. The foundation will make available wallet-size cards for people to carry to spread awareness of the symptoms of the disease. Anybody can pick up a card at Carlisle.
Chip's gone, but his legacy lives on. While we were taking these photos, the sun came in and out of the clouds. We thought the excellent lighting was gone for good under thick, dark clouds. But just when we needed light, mysteriously, the sun returned and lit the side of the car for a short time so the '57 Corvette reflected its true shade of Aztec Copper.
"That was Dad," Lance said, smiling.
DonationsThe Chip Miller Charitable Foundation1000 Bryn Mawr Rd.Carlisle, PA 17013www.carsatcarlisle.com(717) 243-7855
Amyloidosis is a disease caused by abnormal accumulations of protein molecules in body tissues. Signs and symptoms depend on the affected organs. The wide range of signs and symptoms make it difficult to diagnose, or there may be no symptoms.
Some of the signs and symptoms of amyloidosis may include:Swelling of ankles and legsShortness of breathNumbness/tingling in hands or feetAbnormal protein in urineSevere fatigueIrregular heartbeatDifficulty swallowingWeaknessWeight lossDiarrheaSkin changes
'57 Corvette Specifications, Per Chip MillerVIN: E57S104672Owner: Chip MillerTotal '57 Corvettes produced: 6,339 Date purchased: Nov. 12, 1996Odometer reading then: 111,884Odometer reading today: 113,247Past owners: TwoCondition: Excellent; mostly restored to the way it left the factory; no changes or modifications. Colors: Aztec Copper, beige inserts, beige interior and soft top, same colors as when new.
Tires: BFGoodrich Silvertown 6.70-15 reproduction whitewalls
Engine: 220hp, 283ci, original
Transmission: Four speed, original, near the beginning of four-speed productionOptions: Heater, AM signal-seeking radio, whitewall tires, auxiliary hardtop, two-tone paint, Posi-traction rear axle (3.70:1 ratio), and four-speed manual transmission
Chip's Remarks: The second owner purchased this car in 1959 and put on most of the miles. I had known him since 1966. He started the restoration about 12 years ago and I purchased it before the restoration was completed. Dick Robinson, Richard Robinson Restorations, Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, (215/947-2272) completed the restoration. All glass is original and perfect. The car never had body repair. The chrome is completely original and has not been replated with the exception of new taillight housings. Extensive documentation was passed on with the car. It includes: original invoice, original order, original service policy, original Delco battery warranty, original temporary registration certificate, various registration cards starting 1957, letter from Chevrolet-Central office dated May 14, 1957, original service records, original operations manual, and original tune-up book. Bob Gold was my copilot in this car at the Downtown Parade the last Corvettes at Carlisle before he died. It was a special car to him and is even more special to me for that reason.