It’s not often you see a dusty rose pink 1957 Cadillac Coupe Deville cruise by on the mountain roads of southeastern Kentucky or southwestern Virginia. The splash of pink against the earth tones of the Appalachian landscape and the sleek design of a bygone era has been turning heads since its restorer and Harlan native, 39-year-old Mark Perkins, got the vintage car up and running and back out on the highway.
“People take notice,” said Perkins, who now resides in the Cumberland Gap area. “In an era where cars have a more homogeneous design, the work of past designers still amazes and excites old and young alike.”
Perkins has been restoring the vintage car, which he calls “The Ms. Hickey Caddy” for several years. It’s been a work in progress since he purchased the vehicle from the family of the late Delia Hickey, a former Harlan County social light, in 2001. His restoration efforts, however, just recently gained momentum with potential buyers as far away as Holland and New Zealand. Now that the pink beauty is out on the highway this spring, it has started getting plenty of attention from locals, too. People who have seen it and heard it’s bored out 365 V8 engine roar by are enamored by its high tailed fins, gold trim, and plenty of chrome.
“There’s been so much interest shown in this car from teenagers who have contacted me wanting their prom pictures made with it, to big car collectors who marvel at the style of cars Detroit used to produce,” Perkins said. “People are intrigued with the history behind ‘The Ms. Hickey Caddy.’ I know I am. That is one of the reasons why I spent so much and worked so hard to keep this car exactly as she purchased it brand new.”
Delia Hickey lived in Harlan County during the 1950s and was a respected member of the community who was a self-made business woman. She was a colorful character — as colorful as the vibrant pink Caddy she bought off the show room floor of Black Motor Company in Harlan in October of 1957, where Perkins’ late father and uncle had worked. Just like Perkins has experienced in recent months, Ms. Hickey turned heads back in her day, too, when she drove her Cadillac Coupe Deville up and down Harlan County’s roads. Perkins’ late father, Chester Perkins, and late uncle, Buster Perkins, were young men when they first saw Ms. Hickey’s pink Caddy. The elder brothers told Perkins stories of when they used to watch Ms. Hickey drive by.
“Dad would tell me how a team of boys would be outside playing basketball, and they could hear her coming from way up the road,” Perkins said. “They heard her before they saw her with that big V8 engine and dual exhaust. She would come roaring up the holler and Dad said they all would stop what they were doing — for a split second - and watched her roll by. They would just stare and marvel at that shiny new Cadillac Coupe Deville. They thought it was the coolest thing they ever saw. I knew then when Dad first told that story that I had to get that car someday — get it and put it back to that level of esteem.”
Ms. Hickey’s car was a standout in Harlan County back in those days. Mostly Ford flatheads and six cylinder Chevrolets were seen on the highways, so her pink Caddy was the talk of the town. And it’s becoming the talk of the town now – almost 60 years later — with Perkins’ recent restoration.
“It’s definitely a conversation piece — always has been and always will be,” Perkins said. “People always thought that Elvis made these cars famous when he bought one for his Mama, but that’s not really true. Elvis bought a pink Caddy because they were already so popular at the time. If you had Elvis’ money and you loved your mama, you’d buy her a pink Cadillac, too.”
This isn’t Perkins’ first automotive restoration project. In fact, it is far from it. He began watching his father Chester and Uncle Buster, who were both car collectors and enthusiasts, when he was barely more than a toddler. As a small child, Perkins followed his father around and played on such enormous, legendary automobiles as the 1940 Adolph Hitler bullet-proof Mercedes parade car, or Will Rogers’ personal Peerless sports roadster.
“I can remember people coming from all around to ask my father a question, or to try to find some unusual part, which he usually had,” Perkins recalled. “Anyone who had an antique car seemed to know who my father and uncle were.”
It’s no wonder that by age 11 Perkins had bought his first classic car — a 1959 Ford Galaxy — and his first finned Cadillac at age 14. His private collection now consists of several unusual and well-preserved classics, including a few that previously belonged to his late father who passed away in 2003. Perkins’ mother Lena, a retired nurse, has even pitched in over the years by contributing her upholstery skills.
“When I had a hard time finding locals to give competent upholstery service for the ‘Ms. Hickey Cadillac,’ I again turned to my mother for the upholstery finishing abilities that others had lacked, and she did not disappoint,” Perkins said.
From his mother’s sewing skills, to his father’s and uncle’s mechanical expertise, Perkins comes by his talents honest. He’s not only a vintage car restorer, but a business entrepreneur, farmer, horseman, singer, and guitar player who just so happens to love a good story. Perhaps that’s the reason behind his passion for automotive restoration – besides the connection it provides to his late father and uncle. There’s a story behind each set of wheels that rolls into his garage.
“People have asked me what my favorite restoration has been, and that’s hard to say,” Perkins said. “Each one has been unique and has had their own unique stories behind them. When I find an old, rusty car, the story behind it appeals to me as much as its style. That’s what gives me the drive to restore – knowing that the stories will live on.”