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1959 Automobiles: The Year of Fins

Published: Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 11:37 a.m. CDT

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When Dean King was 11 years old, he walked by the Cadillac-Oldsmobile-Pontiac dealership in Mount Pleasant and witnessed the unveiling of the 1959 Cadillac (this dealership would later become a bowling alley, and then The Mount Pleasant News).

The ‘59 Caddy was a machine of stylish beauty, with sweeping tail fins that mimicked a jet airplane. Dean made up his mind right then and there that someday he would have a Cadillac.

And he did. In 1991, he bought a brand-new Cadillac.

But he also noticed that after 1959, the tail fins on the Big Three automobiles (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) became smaller, and then disappeared altogether. In Dean’s mind, that was disappointing, because tail fins were really the mark of classy design.

The year 1959 was all about fins. In Detroit there was a billboard that stated, “We gave it wings, and it flew.”

He looked around, and in 2008, he purchased a 1959 Cadillac, which boasted the tallest tail fins of all cars. Then in 2009, he purchased two more 1959 automobiles with magnificent fins, a Chevrolet Biscayne Hardtop (no center post), and an Oldsmobile Super 88.

It was about this time that he realized he had a collection of 1959 cars going. He decided he might as well complete it.

To date, Dean King has 17 automobiles from 1959, all with great fins. In addition to the above mentioned three, he also has a Chrysler Imperial, Ford Thunderbird, Chevrolet Impala, Buick Electra, Dodge Cornet, Ford Skyliner (the hard top retracts into the trunk), Buick Invicta, Edsel Ranger, Lincoln Capri, Pontiac Catalina, Dodge Desoto Firedome, Plymouth Savoy, Mercury Montclair, and (the only non-Big Three auto) a Rambler Basic.

His antique-auto insurer told him she knows plenty of car collectors, but none with all the autos of the same year.

During Old Threshers in Mount Pleasant, Dean parks his collection of 1959 cars in the front yard of his home on East Washington Street. He has a guest registry. People from all over the world stop to see this amazing collection of fins, err ... uh, automobiles.

If the Kings are having a garage sale, when cars pull up, the women tend to go to the sale, while the men head for the cars.

With 17 antique cars from 1959, what do Dean and his wife, Mary, drive? Well, for around-town putsying, he has a 1991 three-cylinder Geo Metro convertible he absolutely loves. His kids call it “the jalopy.”

He also has a small pick-up truck and a minivan. However, Dean and Mary try to drive one of the ‘59s each week. That way, they rotate through the cars, and keep them in good running condition.

None of the cars are what you would call “show cars.” Dean restores them to good running condition, and then drives them. He starts with the engine first, then the brakes and exhaust, then the interior and body.

At each location where he has the cars stored, he also keeps a can of gasoline and a battery charger, just in case a carburetor needs primed or a battery charged.

He views his collection as his savings account. Automobiles from the 1950s are increasing in value faster than any other class. And, each car has a story.

For example: the Chrysler Imperial was the heaviest car made in 1959. It is 1,000 lbs. heavier than the Cadillac. Because of its weight, the Imperial used to win all of the demolition derbies. It was finally outlawed from participation.

Dean considers the ‘59 Caddy to be the iconic collector’s car. But which of his 17 ‘59s is his favorite? Without hesitation (he is asked this all the time), he emphatically states, “Whatever car I happen to be driving at the time.”

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