Purple People Eater
Racing Icon at Amelia
Larry Jewett - February 28, 2014 01:49 PM
The annual Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance event, March 7-9 at the Ritz-Carlton and Golf Club of Amelia Island (Florida), historically hosts some of the most high-end cars in the country and also helps contribute millions annually to local First Coast charities.
A very unique 1-of-1 Corvette racer known as the Purple People Eater is one of the planned displays. Not only is this car special because it’s the only one of its kind, it’s special because of the story that surrounds it.
In the mid-to-late 1950s, West Coast drivers were racing Corvettes and blowing the doors off of all comers. During the 1958-1959 racing seasons, a Florida-based driver named Jim Jeffords piloted the oddly named racer to victory after victory. Jeffords and the Nickey Chevrolet car were so dominant that he was nearly unbeatable. His efforts behind the wheel as well as his contributions to the sport landed him a spot in the National Corvette Hall of Fame in 2002.
After the racing career ended, the car slipped off into obscurity. It wasn’t until 1974 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, that the car was rediscovered. At that time, the finders didn’t know that they had the Purple People Eater, only that they had an old Corvette race car that they could bang around and use for autocross.
The finders weren’t just two guys who happened upon a car. Both were knowledgeable on the brand. Ken Heckert owned a restoration shop and Chip Miller was the founder of what is now known as Carlisle Events. They stored the car off to the side at Heckert’s warehouse, covered it with a sheet and since the car didn’t have a roof, it essentially became the bottom of a table used for work space.
Some time later, Miller set out to find the Purple People Eater. His goal was to find it, restore it and add it to his always-expanding Corvette collection in Carlisle. After multiple correspondence with enthusiasts and experts, he found that the dingy “beater” that was stored in Heckert’s shop was indeed the Purple People Eater.
Now restored, the car once again looks as it did during its racing days with Jeffords behind the wheel - purple with white coves, a white circle on each side and the hood with black numeration along with all original graphics and designs. This amazing and rare piece of automotive history will be on display during the entire Concours weekend. Further, Miller’s son, Lance Miller, co-owner of Carlisle Events, will be onsite with the car.