1959 283/290 FI Race Car

Corvettes dominated SCCA racing in 1959, and Jim Jeffords took the SCCA B Production points championship with his 1959 Corvette, dubbed the Purple People Eater Mk III. Plans were laid to contest the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the FIA championship the following year.

Against this frenetic backdrop, the 1959 Corvette offered here was built. The powerplant is the 290-hp, fuel-injected 283 V8. A 4-speed manual transmission, Positraction rear axle, as well as heavy-duty brakes and an upgraded suspension kept the Corvette in line. For a grand total of $5,227.65, including freight, anyone could purchase an excellent sports car, make a few modifications, race, and win.

The original owner of this car was Gene Cormany, an enthusiastic sports car racer and VP of Engineering for Zollner Corporation, a major supplier of automotive pistons. Cormany made a practice of buying a new Corvette every year or two, and his industry connections enhanced his chances of getting exactly what he wanted. Cormany raced this Corvette throughout the Midwest in 1959 and 1960, winning four of 22 events and scoring twelve top-three finishes.

Cormany eventually sold the victorious Corvette to Roland Gorman. Dale Pearman then acquired it in the 1980s and began a restoration. In the process, he met Mike Ernst, an early NCRS member and Corvette expert, who in 1988 had purchased the original engine and fuel injection unit from the first Scaglietti-bodied Corvette. In January 1989, Pearman acquired this engine and fuel injection unit to use during the restoration.

The current owner of the Corvette acquired it from Pearman in 2004 with its restoration still in progress and sent it to Ron’s Auto Restoration in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, a shop recognized for its expertise with Corvette restorations and particularly the early straight-axle cars. There the restoration was carried out over a three-year period, with the outstanding results seen here.

In keeping with its winning ways, this Corvette has won “Best Sports Car” at the 2007 Newport (Rhode Island) Concours d’Elegance, and it earned the coveted NCRS Heritage Award shortly thereafter. NCRS Performance Verification has also been achieved, with confirmed speeds in excess of 100 mph.

With only four owners from new, this 1959 Corvette comes with comprehensive original paperwork, including window sticker, owner’s manual, Owner’s Protection Plan folder, battery, clock tags, and original key. The prior owners have executed mileage statements supporting the 90,366 miles currently showing on its odometer as the actual mileage from new.

CM Analysis

This car sold for $275,000 at the RM’s Automobiles of Amelia Island, Florida, sale on March 8, 2008.

Many of the highest-profile Corvette sales have been documented, authentically restored race cars. Only a handful of Corvettes out of the over one million produced have competed at places like Le Mans or Daytona, or have won SCCA National Championships. The top Corvette race car sales have all fit this profile. 

This car, sold at $275,000, places it seventh in our database list of Corvette racers. But unlike the other Corvettes in this group, this car was neither raced at a legendary event nor driven by someone like Jerry Thompson or John Greenwood. Instead, it had a minor career in SCCA regional events by someone unknown in Corvette lore. This Corvette is fully documented and accurately restored, so there is no question about its past—but it’s a minor league past.  

Auction sales of first-generation Corvettes have remained very strong, especially those originally equipped with the fuel-injected engines, and those with the RPO 684 “Big Brake” racing brake and suspension package even more so. Proof of that is a 1958 “Big Brake Fuelie” sold at Barrett-Jackson last winter for $198,000. 

The ultimate in Corvette performance

The RPO 579D/684 cars have commanded the highest prices of Corvettes of this era for decades, for the same reason the Z06 cars of 1963 and the L88s of the late-’60s bring top dollar: they represent the ultimate in Corvette performance in that era. A test of a 1959 RPO 579D/684 Corvette in the March 1959 issue of Sports Car Illustrated revealed a potent machine. None other than Zora Arkus-Duntov himself delivered the car to GM’s Milford, Michigan, test track for the magazine. SCI saw 0–60 mph in 6.6 seconds, and the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds at 98 mph. They remarked, “Acceleration, while breaking no SCI records, is tops for pushrod equipment, and at the top end, quite similar to the 3.0 liter Ferrari 250 GT tested last year.”

Cornering was also improved, though still requiring great skill. “With so much power so freely available, rapid cornering necessarily becomes a maneuver requiring careful control of all elements involved,” SCI wrote. The magazine concluded, “It’s not a low price car, and it’s none too cheap to operate, but it goes well, it stops well, and with reservations, it corners well, too. For all around performance per dollar, the Corvette is hard to beat.”

But these options do not necessarily make a true Corvette racer. In fact, most RPO 684 cars were never raced (at least on a race track). So this car, even with its limited racing history, shows that a documented Corvette race car is so rarely seen in the marketplace that it will command top dollar. This was a fair deal for buyer and seller both, and this car will do nothing but appreciate.


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