Saturday, November 25, 2023

1959 Corvette: Unbeatable Purple People Eater MKIII


1959 Corvette Purple Eater MKIII

1959 Corvette Purple People Eater MKIII

Oddly enough, this Corvette was named after the very odd song - "One Eye, One Horn, Flying Purple People Eater”, a Sheb Wooley hit back in the 50s. 

There were two reasons for the paint job and the name for this 1959 Corvette. The idea for the paint job was because the Corvette racing team was having trouble finding their car in the pits and on the track - all the cars looked too similar to one another. Kind of like finding your car in a mall parking lot on the weekend, the week before Christmas.

So a standout color scheme was born. The color scheme that was created was a metallic purple for the base color and bright white for the trim and decals. Next, they needed a name for the Corvette, so they decided on the "Purple People Eater". It was kind of a no-brainer since the song itself was topping the charts in 1958-59, and the Purple People Eater Corvette was eating up all the competition on the track every single weekend.

Nickey Chevrolet In Chicago 

Back in the 50s, a lot of racing teams were owned by dealerships and this Corvette team was no different. Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago was the owner of this team and, at the time, the largest factory dealership specializing in high-performance muscle car sales and service. Their parts department functioned as a huge speed shop. 

When it came time for the Nickey Chevrolet Race Team to hire a driver and a mechanic, Nickey Chevrolet took some help and advice from none other than the legendary Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Corvette engineer and designer who made Corvette what it is today. Zora suggested they use an aggressive driver named Jim Jeffords and a talented mechanic who was known as the guy who could turn a “Javelin into a competitive race car," Ronnie Kaplan. 

The “Purple People Eater” Corvette Eating Up The Competition

The Purple People Eater Corvettes (yes, there were three altogether) raced during the ‘58 and ‘59 seasons. During that time, they won the SCCA National B-Production titles and a race at Nassau Speed Week. During the 1959 season, the cars never finished worse than second place in any race, always making the Purple People Eater the car to beat at the track.

Ordering Your Own Corvette With Race Specs

If you ordered a factory Corvette with race specs in the late 1950s, you received a Corvette with heater delete, and a heavy-duty brake and suspension package. 

285 cu.-in. Chevy engine

The Corvette came with a 283 Chevrolet V-8 with factory Rochester fuel injection and a four-speed manual transmission, the same way the Purple People Eater was raced. In an interview, Kaplan said, "GM helped with some technical advice, and I got that fuel injection figured out pretty quick." It was very reliable. I told Jim to keep that engine at about 6,000 rpm, and it never broke. He is a very big, strong man and was tough on equipment. I swear he could break off a shifter."  

Where Did The Purple People Eater End Up?

The last one known to exist is the “Purple People Eater MKIII”. It was sold for $800 to a Chip Miller and Ken Heckert, who raced the 1959 Corvette for a short time at Autocross events. Not knowing its future historical significance, it was parked and used as a workbench for a very long time.

After 14 years of being a garage workbench, the sharp eye of car expert/enthusiast Mike Philsbury notices that there were a few things different about some of the parts and options on the car. After some deep research, Mike, Chip, and Ken confirmed that they were eating their lunch every day on the 1959 Corvette “Purple People Eater MKIII”. 

The American Heritage Award In 2002

Knowing what they knew, Chip and Ken went to work and restored the Corvette back to its racing form - color and all. 

In 2002, the Corvette was awarded the American Heritage Award. Thanks to two guys who just wanted a Corvette to go autocross racing in, and a car enthusiast named Mike Philsbury, the 1959 Corvette “Purple People Eater MKIII” lives on.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

1966 Chevrolet Corvair Yenko Stinger: Rare And Cool


1966 Chevrolet Corvair Yenko Stinger

Everyone should know about the iconic late 60s and earlier 70s Yenko drag cars that donated the tracks—Camaro, Nova, and Chevelle. But would you be alarmed to know that Don Yenko was working his high-performance magic long before those muscle cars came along? 

Don Yenko had his eyes on a different type of racing before he built horsepower heavy-drag cars. In the late 50s to the mid-60s, he was into road course racing. He first was racing Corvettes professionally but was getting beat pretty consistently by the Shebly. Don realized the reason was the Corvettes had become just too heavy to compete. 

Corvair Corsa

Enter The Corvair Corsa

The Corvair Corsa weighed 500 pounds less than the Corvette, making it a very viable candidate for some of Yenko's genius power upgrades. So in true Don Yenko fashion, he went to the drawing board and came up with the blueprint needed to retrieve the success he was looking for. 

Yenko Upgrades For The Corvair

  • Forged Pistons
  • Ported Cylinder Heads
  • High-Performance Distributor
  • Stiffer Suspension
  • Cadillac Dual Master Cylinders for Brakes
  • Light Weight Flywheel
  • Four Speed Manual
  • Limited-Slip Differential (3.89 rear gears)
  • Added Oil Cooler
  • Quicker Steering Ratio
  • Removed Rear Seats (making it eligible to be labeled a sports car and save on weight)
  • Front Spoiler
  • Rear Fiber Glass Engine Cover w/Spoiler
  • Aftermarket Steering Wheel

Time To Get In Sync With SCCA Regulations 

It turns out that the SCCA didn't have too much of a problem with the new Corvair race car entering the competition. Instead of giving Don Yenko a hard time, the SCCA's two biggest requests to give the car the SCCA homologation (stamp of approval) were to have at least 100 road-capable Yenko Stingers produced and to have the car painted in white and blue. White and blue were the American colors used to identify American cars on the race course, as every country had its own color codes to follow. 

Needing to have all 100 cars done by January 1st, 1966 to compete in 1966—already being late November gave Don one month to complete the project. Don and his men worked long hours, seven days a week, all through December with the expectation of one day, and that was Christmas. Despite the grips and grimes of the overworked workers, they proudly finished the quota in time.  

Covair Yenko Engine Bay

Four Separate Power Levels

All Stingers came with a 165 cu.-in. (2.7-liter) flat-six engine setup with four carburetors that offered four different Yenko power options. The base Yenko option came with roughly 160 horsepower, from there it went up a level to 190 horsepower, then leveled up to 220 horsepower, and for the big dog of them all, you could get one with 240 horsepower. The different options were mainly so the Yenko Stinger could qualify to race in all road course classes. 

Interesting Fact 

Yenko's daughter received a Stinger to drive when she first got her driver's license. Two weeks into driving, she had an unfortunate accident that sent her headfirst into a utility poll. Because of the engine being in the rear and the spare tire being in the front trunk, the Corvair basically bounced off the poll instead of crushing the front end and sending the engine into the front seat. For the car that has been dubbed "unsafe at all speeds," Yenko's daughter calls it the car that is "safe at all speeds."