Dennis Varni aka Captain Fun
Hot Rod Magazine
By Gray Baskerville
Photography by Gray Baskerville
Dennis Varni aka Captain Fun is one of those rare and unique characters you meet once or twice in a lifetime. First, Varni's a resident of Los Gatos, an upscale suburb of San Jose, California has been a part of the Petersen family since the late '60s, when his eventual (1992) America's Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) winner graced a number of Rod & Custom covers. Second, the entrepreneurial Varni, who started his career working in a speed shop, has generated enough income to realize most of his fantasies, like going to far-off places and doing far-out things. Third, Varni's offbeat sense of humor, silver tongue, practical joking, and wheelin' 'n' dealin' are legendary. And last, his feeling for automotive history has resulted in a garage full of "carlectibles", a round-trippin' in his AMBR '29 on Deuce rails from Boyd Coddington's shop in Stanton, California, to Indy, and a re-creation of a series of vintage racers to compete in various cross-country chingos. In essence, Dennis is of that rarest of breeds: a hot rodder's hot rodder.
Need further proof? Check out one of his latest clone runs, which he and his partner Dick DeLuna lovingly call "Stinkin' Lincoln". Both Varni and DeLuna have always been fascinated by the historic La Carrera Panamericana aka the Mexican Road Race. This race, which was held during the early '50s, began at Mexico's southern border and ended at Juárez (near the American border). It spawned Ak Miller's HOT ROD sponsored El Caballo '27 T roadster and a thundering herd of pro-driven Lincolns prepared by the late and legendary Bill Stroppe.
Somehow Varni managed to acquire a virginal '55 Capri and did what came, well, naturally. He smooth-talked, wheeled, dealed, and funded (with DeLuna) a Lem Tolliver built new/old Mexican road racer. "This is a favorite car of the Mexican people and the Mexican Federales," remembers Varni, "so there is Spanish writing on the car, and we understand there is a song written about the car that was played on the Mexican radio stations." Why? Because the Dennis and Dick show raced their "re-Carreration" in a re-creation of the Mexican Road Race a couple of years ago and are planning to do it again later this year.
I rode shotgun with Varni while he two-lane tested the '55 Capri's new handling package, after which he, the owner of a couple of exotic Italian sports cars, said, "It's like driving a 4000-pound Porsche." It's more than that. With its NASCAR-style suspension, running gear, engine, trans, rollcage, and semi-gutted interior, Stinkin' Lincoln is the four-wheel personification of a bodacious bit of "haul-right!"
Full Gallery from the article below
Article and Images © Hot Rod - October 1996