Dennis Tipton has been around the car business his entire life.
When asked how many collector vehicles he’s sold to date, Dennis Tipton gave Old Cars Weekly a bewildered look akin to asking him how many stars are in the sky or how many grains of sand make up a beach.
Not being evasive, the 60-year-old Doniphan, Mo., resident — who bears a passing resemblance to NASCAR legend Junior Johnson — has been selling vintage cars and trucks for so many years, he’s lost track of even being able to guesstimate a total number.
“On some I made money and on some I lost money, but I’ve sold a lot of cars,” is as specific as Tipton can answer. What is certain as Tipton nears retirement age, is that he may be acquiring and selling fewer old cars today, but he’s enjoying the experience more.
Some of the contentment he’s experiencing comes from having his son Shane as a business partner and grandson Wiley as a helper prepping cars for sale. It’s fitting that Wiley, who is 12 years old, is the same age as Tipton was when he started washing and prepping cars for 50 cents each to sell on his brother Dale’s lot.
Tipton, the youngest of seven children, gives much of the credit for his success in the car business to his older brother Dale. Beyond helping Dale with his car sales business as a youngster and learning the trade, their brotherly bond was quite evident to those around them to the point they acquired the nicknames “Big Tip” (Dale) and “Little Tip” (Dennis). A similar bond is shared between Dennis and Shane, as Tipton handles much of the vintage inventory sales while his son concentrates on late-model acquisitions and sales. This categorization of vehicle acquisition and sales plays to each one’s strength and knowledge base.
“Shane likes some old cars, but not all,” Tipton explained. He countered with, “I don’t understand late-model cars.” Current inventory for Tipton Auto Sales, according to Dennis, is comprised of approximately 200 vintage vehicles and 50 late-model cars. The vintage inventory mainly ranges from the late 1940s to the ’70s, and Tipton said he only sells whole cars, not parts.
On the lot
While much of his inventory is comprised of complete cars, Tipton said, “Most of my cars are used as parts cars to restore others.” He added that he has titles for the vehicles in his inventory. At one time, he had muscle cars such as Plymouth Road Runners and Chevy Camaros mixed in among the convertibles, sedans and station wagons, but the performance-oriented stock has all been sold.
Tipton admitted that he does not advertise, relying on word of mouth within the old car hobby to promote his business. It seems to have worked. He said he’s had customers come to Doniphan from as far away as Sweden and continues to have a steady stream of buyers from Arkansas, whose border is a scant couple of miles away from this southeast Missouri city that borders the Mark Twain National Forest and is a tourism magnate for its access to the Current River, claimed to be the cleanest river in the United States.
Tipton’s introduction to automobiles actually began long before he earned half a buck for each car he washed at brother Dale’s car lot.
Claiming to be partial to General Motors products, Tipton admitted
his collector vehicle sales business would have “gone under” were
it not for Chrysler and Ford offerings. Currently in inventory is
this 1958 Dodge 100 Town Wagon.
In the yard
His grandfather, Weiland Tipton, opened a salvage yard in Grandin, Mo., which is located 17 miles north of Doniphan. Weiland died when Tipton was an infant, and Tipton’s father then took over the salvage business.
“It was neat growing up in a salvage yard,” Tipton recalled. “I was no mechanic, but I could tear up stuff — even tool boxes.”
Tipton’s life took a different path away from cars when he turned 16. He ventured from Missouri to Green Bay, Wis., to help construct grain elevators. He said his airline flight “rattled so bad,” that he vowed he would never step into an airplane again — a promise he’s kept in the ensuing 44 years.
Returning to his Missouri roots after realizing building grain elevators wasn’t his calling, Tipton settled in Doniphan in 1975. He bought out a combination used car lot and salvage yard business, and worked both until settling on just car sales as a profession.
“Back then, I bought cars like you buy candy,” Tipton said. Having acquired so many old cars and trucks through the years, Old Cars Weekly asked Tipton if he had any favorites. “I’ve always liked General Motors [vehicles], but if it wasn’t for Ford and Chrysler I would have gone under.”
Like any successful businessman, Tipton has seen his share of ups and downs in car sales over time, and has had to make adjustments to remain in business. Since he was finding lots of unique car-related items in many of the vintage vehicles he acquired, he started a side business of selling petroliana and automobilia items.
He also enjoys restoring bicycles, and has amassed a large collection of two-wheelers, many of which he sells.
Looking back over the many decades of selling all brands and body styles of collector vehicles, Tipton sums up the experience in a few short words: “It’s been a fun hobby.”
And just as his selling activities span a variety of manufacturers, what is parked in his garage as Tipton’s personal fleet of drivers and restoration projects is equally diverse. There’s a 1967 Ford XL convertible, a Cadillac hearse and a 50,000-mile-original ’66 Chrysler Newport that he bought from Dale for $1,000 when he was 19.
To contact Tipton Auto Sales, call 573-996-3087 or 573-996-6598 Monday through Saturday, or use postal mailing address: Tipton Auto Sales, HC 6 Box 432, Doniphan, MO 63935.
At one time, Tipton Auto Sales had several muscle cars in inventory, but those days are over. One that remains for sale is this stripped 1962 Chevrolet Impala SS hardtop that has had its drivetrain removed.
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1. Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942 by Beverly Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark, Jr.
2. American Car Spotter's Bible, 1940-1980 by Tad Burness
3. Automotive Restoration Online Seminar Download