1959 Chevrolet Corvette - Purple People Eater Mk. III

Found at Carlisle, Restored to Glory

Corp_0801_01b_z 1959_chevrolet_corvette_purple Front_view 2/18

DOMINATOR ::: With Jim Jeffords driving, "Purple People Eater Mk III" dominated SCCA B/Production racing the same way Sheb Wooley's hit single "Purple People Eater" topped the charts.

It's a basic principle of marketing high-performance cars: Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. Nickey Chevrolet was no stranger to that concept in the late '50s. They'd added a big stock of high-performance parts to their inventory in 1957, while selling Corvettes and high-performance steel-bodied Chevys on Chicago's North Side. The "winning" part was thanks to the cars that they raced on tracks across the United States.

Among the most famous of those race cars is the Purple People Eater Mk III, a '59 Corvette that was an SCCA National Champion in the B/Production class, with Jim Jeffords at the wheel. It was Jeffords' success with this car that solidified the reputation of Corvette's Rochester-built fuel-injection system as a serious piece of race-capable (and race-winning) hardware.

This Corvette wasn't built as a purple one, as that hue wasn't in the Corvette color selection that year. It came out of St. Louis Assembly as a white body/black interior car, optioned with the 290hp fuel-injected 283, four-speed manual transmission, Posi-traction, heavy-duty brakes /suspension, and no heater or defroster. Nickey Chevrolet added a hasp on the hood to keep it closed at speed, as well as a big fuel tank, safety chains underneath, a rollbar (such as it was back then), and replaced the stock windshield and frame with a much smaller windscreen in front of the driver.

Nickey's body shop painted it purple, using a paint formula that, while vivid to the eye, didn't fade like many custom purple paint jobs of the era did. This was the third racing Corvette they'd painted this way, after a '58 that Jeffords drove to the SCCA national B/Production crown the year before, and a '56 SR-2.

Inspiration for the color came from Nickey Chevrolet's secretary/treasurer, Jack Stephani, who thought their cars should stand out from other, factory-painted Corvettes in the paddock. The nickname came from Sheb Wooley's hit song, "Purple People Eater," which was a multimillion-selling chart topper in the summer of 1958, during Jeffords' first B/Production title run. It also came from Jeffords' claim of having only one good eye. What else would you call a car driven by a driver with one good eye that was built with one horn, was larger than most other road-racers of the day, and was painted purple?




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