Every generation of automobile enthusiast has its tales of how cheap cars were back in the day that the younger generations like to file under the “you’re so full of crap” category. The baby boomers had to hear about two-dollar 1932 Ford 3-window coupes from the GI generation and everyone after the baby boomers has had to hear about how cheap one could buy a relatively new (used) Corvette for back in the day.
A good example would be the Inca Silver, dual-quad 1959 Corvette I bought in 1969 for $680.00. I got a good deal on it because you couldn’t give a Powerglide Corvette away in those days. Now if I’d found a fuel-injected 4-speed Corvette for that kind of money that would have been a steal, those were around $1,800. It was only a handful of my Corvette buddies that made any kind of big deal about how rare a certain specification of Corvette might be and the thought of one being worth more money because of rarity wasn’t a part of the conversation.
And this is why the swap meet-find story behind the 1959 Corvette race car Chip Miller and Ken Heckert bought in 1974 for $800 (and then let sit) is so intriguing. Already equipped with a roll bar, the two friends autocrossed the ’59 for about a year and then let the car function as a paint mixing bench until the mid-80s when they decided to find out what all the heavy-duty racing parts were about and restore it.
Chip Miller was in the loop with Corvette folks in the know, so a lead soon emerged that the ’59 Corvette was once campaigned by Bob Spooner. Chip’s friend Mike Pillsbury phoned Spooner and after hearing a description confirmed the car was the third in a series of Purple People Eater racecar Corvettes. Perhaps at the vanguard of goofy theme cars, the Purple People Eater color and name were derived from a summer of 1958 hit song by Sheb Wooley. Spooner bought the ’59 in 1961 from Nickey Chevrolet, the car’s selling dealer and constructor.
The list of options that, in addition to the car’s highly successful racing career, make it so desirable are the RPO579D 290hp fuel-injected 283 (at 745 units built), RPO684 big-brakes which includes an extreme amount of special cooling ducts that have to be installed when the body parts are glued together and heavy-duty suspension (only 142 cars built to this specification). Also included were RPO686 metallic brakes (333 produced) and a retro-fitted by Nickey RPO1625 24-gallon fuel tank. There weren’t any paint codes on Corvettes until the 1963 model change. Some accounts of the PPE say it came from the factory in Inca Silver (957 cars produced), and others were the most common color of 1959 Snowcrest White (3,354 units sold).
The restoration of the Purple People Eater Mk. III from the condition it was discovered in to how it will cross the block at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction in January (held the 23rd to 31st) is nothing less spectacular than on the scale of exhuming Marilyn Monroe from her grave and presenting her in JFK date night ready condition. For more information or to bid, go to Barrett-Jackson.com.