Why a 59 Plymouth?
This question is one that really doesn’t have a logical answer-there’s no logic involved when it comes to saving something that Detroit designed to look more out of date in 2 years than your 97-year-old Aunt Bessie.
We can hate the automakers for that.Or we can thank them 50 years later for the kind of ruthless marketing practice that produced the most unique-looking cars in the history of Detroit. We can thank them by saving the few that are left.
I chose the latter…
THE FIN CRAZE
Fins were the biggest statement made by car designers from the mid-50’s on. Sure, some will argue that the 40’s Cadillac started the fin trend but you could barely see those little bumps. Late 50’s fins were like silicon implants-you couldn’t miss them.
Try and find a bold fashion statement on a 2008 Hyundai.
The fin craze had a profound effect on a pre-schooler 50’s kid like me. They were a symbol of the brand new optimism of a jet-age era where a Soviet satellite named Sputnik launched us into the space race. Sure Russia got into Earth orbit first but the Big Three carmakers sure had better-looking cars. In fact, it wouldn’t be until the early 70’s that the Communists produced a passable 1958 Packard.
Their rockets were 2nd rate too, thanks to that Commie work ethic.
DAD OWNED ONE
On a personal level the first cognitive automotive memory was that my dad owned fin cars- a 1956 and a 1959 Plymouth. That tattoos you for life so every car since seems kind of blobby and boring. Some elements of the 56 Plymouth are a little hazy.
The 1970’s and 80’s excessive lifestyle took care of those warm and fuzzy moments but the highlights are firmly imbedded in my memory hard-drive.
On the other hand, that ivory white ‘59 Plymouth 4-door sedan is still a rock star in my world.
That’s why I wanted one.
IT WAS A COP CAR
My dad used this incredible finned warrior for highway patrol duty as part of his job and I truly believed that he never lost a speeder with that 50’s era brute.
They called them ghost cars back then if they didn’t have markings or lights. Without the drag of a big ‘cherry’ he clocked that monster through radar at over 120 mph. I truly believed at the time that there wasn’t a faster car than the Plymouth or a better driver than my Dad on the planet.
He had a pretty basic car back then with only a few options like an AM radio and a V-8 but… the one option he did have was really special – it was a toggle switch under the dash.
SHAKING UP THE PRINCIPAL
This toggle switch turned the horn into a very loud police siren and I’d seen my dad flick it on a hundred times to pull over speeders. Back in those days a dad could take his kids on a high speed chase- yup, the good old days.
I guess kids were more expendable in the baby boomer era but it sure beat the stuffing out of playing a video game for 8-year-old kid interest.
Anyhow, my brother “double dog-dared”me after church one Sunday to demonstrate the siren to my humor-impaired elementary school principal. I was dumb enough to bite. The siren blasted through the after church crowd, she jumped about 3 feet in the air, landed in full sprint to rat me out and my dad was there in a nano-second.
Man, for a middle-aged woman she sure got to him fast. She went straight to ‘turn the kid over to dad’s custody’ mode.
You have to put this in perspective-this was the Baby Boomer era of child rearing. Time-outs were found in football. They weren’t found in the early 60s era toolbox for kiddie discipline. No Band-Aid Dr. Phil stuff back in that era. This was real 1960’s style child rearing.
Instead of the expected cuff in the head from my dad he decided that some rudimentary child psychology was in order. Not the ‘think about what you just now did take a time-out’ 21st Century stuff. He told me that setting off a siren was highly illegal and I was going to jail for a long time.
The prospect of hard prison time at 8 years old had a profound effect-after that I wouldn’t have touched that toggle switch even if somebody held Dirty Harry’s 44 Magnum to my temple.
My dad could never be accused of being a helicopter parent.
THE CAR’S APPEAL
Sometimes it’s the simple things that grab you about a car. The ‘59 Plymouth put out a vortex behind it that made the dust kick up a few feet behind the car at high speed down a dirt road. To a young mind it, looked like the fins were kicking out jet trails.
Remarkable stuff for a kid who didn’t have an in car Hi-def Blu-ray video to entertain him on a trip.
The car even looked ready to launch in a Safeway parking lot.
One more thing-it had that super modern push button transmission. No wonder the Jetsons were such a big deal at the time.
The final deal-maker-it as the first car I was ever carsick in. When you hurl in a car during the formative years you bond with that baby for life.
Maybe the ‘59 Plymouth wasn’t a hand-built Ferrari or Rolls Royce but who knew a guy that actually drove one? Definitely no one in my middle class kid baby boomer world-we didn’t even see cars like that on TV.
No it was that plain-Jane white 4-door sedan with the blue roof and the unusual horn that convinced me 50 years ago that I had to own one.
The sickness had begun…