Corvette Racing History

By David Palmeter 

The Purple People Eater Corvette Story

From: Lionel Lindheimer
Sent: Monday, July 07, 2008 2:08 PM
Subject: Purple People Eater

Hi David,

I’m “Lindy” Lindheimer and I started the Nickey Chevrolet Racing Team in 1958. In the first year we won 28 out of 31 races ..the other 2 were DNF’s . We built 2 cars and won the 58 National Championship. Dr. “Dick” Thompson never drove the Purple People Eater nor did he ever drive for “Nickey”. In 59 we did a repeat with 30 out of 31 wins.  The 59 is completely restored and belongs to The “Chip” Miller family. Hope this helps update your web page.

L. “Lindy” Lindheimer 

Thanks, Lindy. I didn’t think I had ever heard of any connection between Thompson and the Purple People Eater but I also thought Noland Adams was an authority of some consequence. Guess he got this one very wrong. Thanks again, David

The First Purple People Eater

Above and Below – The first Purple People Eater (above) was based on the modified Corvette called the SR-2 (Second Generation “Sebring Racer” below)

The Second Purple People Eater

Above – The second Purple People Eater was based on production 1958 Corvette.

The Third Purple People Eater

Below – The Third Purple People Eater was based on production 1959 Corvette.


 Above – Early 1959 race with cut down stock windshield



 Above 5 Photos – August 14, 2002 – 1959 Nickey Corvette at the Salinas, California Single Axle Corvette Club meet 


 Above – 1959 Nickey Corvette at Monterey Historic Races August 17, 2002


Return to the Top 

Return to Corvette Racing Index


C1HistoryPPE — 2 Comments

  1. May I offer some corrections to your otherwise fine web page?
    There were two 1958 production Corvettes that were made into SCCA racers. In total that makes 4 PPE’s. There are several stories about the second 1958 Corvette that needed to be made up by Nickey because of racing date conflicts. I have verified this with Tom Stephani (son of Nickey owner) and Ronnie Kaplan (Nickey Chief Mechanic).

    “Vintage Motorsport” Magazine, No 5, Sept-Oct 2006 Nickey Chevrolet, Tom Stephani, pages 56-71.
    Unique Characteristics: The history of the three Purple People Eater production cars was documented by Tom Stephani in a 2006 issue of Vintage Motorsport. An edited version of that story is recorded here, with full credit to Tom Stephani and “Vintage Motorsport” as author and publisher. Starting in 1958, Nickey got into SCCA road racing in a big way. E.J. (Ed) and Jack Stephani (Nickey) gave Lionel (Lindy) Lindheimer the go-ahead to form a racing team. On the advice of Corvette Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, Lindy brought together driver Jim Jeffords, noted crew chief Ronnie Kaplan and Nickey’s awesome Purple People Eater Corvettes in an effort that would produce dominating victories from coast to coast. The early days of SCCA racing required a coast-to-coast effort in order to secure a National Championship. That year (1958), after a later start and a few early race mechanical problems, the Purple People Eater (Mark I) began a winning streak that had the rest of the contenders shaking their heads. Post-race tear downs became the norm, but the Purple People Eater was always found to be legal. While all of the parts on the car had legitimate Chevrolet part numbers, duly listed in the manuals, the parts weren’t available to everyone. Due to the 1957 AMA racing ban, Chevrolet was not officially allowed to help, but a select group of privateers got secret assistance. The Nickey team was one of them. After dominating wins at Road America, the June Sprints, and at Wilmot Hills Wisconsin Regional, Jack Stephani quickly became excited about the real possibility of winning a National Championship. With schedule in hand, he determined that they would have to win the National at Milwaukee’s State Fair Park on Saturday August 16 and the National at Montgomery, New York, on August 17 in order to have a chance. So he told Lindheimer and Kaplan to figure out a way to do it. An overnight tow to New York was impossible and after discarding the idea of flying the car to New York on Saturday night due to the cost and the likelihood of an engine tear-down at Milwaukee, they decided to build a duplicate Purple People Eater and ship it to a secret hiding place in New York. The race at Milwaukee went as planned with an overall and class win in the B, C, and D Production race and, as expected, they were protested.

    According to Kaplan and Lindheimer, jaws dropped when the team pulled into the Montgomery, New York track on Sunday morning with a purple Corvette in tow. Starting at the back, due to missing the qualifying heat race, Jeffords blasted through the field to win not only his class, but overall as well. With their unprecedented double win in hand, Nickey went on to win five more B Production races in a row and the 1958 B Production National Championship.

    They capped off the year by winning the Nassau Tourist Trophy Race in the Bahamas on December 4, 1958, the first American car and driver combination to win it. For the 1959 year, Nickey purchased Lance Reventlow’s Scarab and began the year racing in that car. In the mean time, a new 1959 Purple People Eater III was prepared. In the Scarab’s shadow lurked the Purple People Eater Mk III. The new 1959 model was modified with special Kaplan and Chevrolet engineering tweaks. While the Scarab got most of the press and attention, the 1959 PPE Mk III quietly went about its business and won every race in which it was entered. Jeffords easily repeated as the 1959 SCCA B Production National Champion in the car.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags allowed in your comment: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>