Dennis Darnell has worked as a television and movie technician, private investigator and owned a towing service. But his true love of him is car collecting.
“I’ll keep car collecting until I’m toes up,” joked Darnell, 81, who maintains his passion for collectible cars even after a five-way heart bypass in 2006 and later suffering three strokes.
He said his illness prompted the sale of his collection.
“I had a collection of 1950s Oldsmobiles and let it go around 2007,” Darnell said.
Darnell has since amassed another stable of collectible vehicles, ranging from a red 1932 Ford “highboy” hot rod with a 350 V-8 engine and custom wheels by Edelbrock to a 2015 Chevrolet SS pickup.
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A special vehicle for a special man
Darnell’s collection also includes a 2000 Dodge Hellcat “Redeye” model that pumps out nearly 800 horsepower.
Darnell said the Dodge, which has 6,000 miles on the odometer, was owned by his late son-in-law, Thomas F. Sauer Jr., who died in 2020.
According to an Ocala.com obituary posted on Legacy.com, Tommy Sauer died March 24, 2020, at age 49. He served as an Ocala Fire Rescue firefighter/paramedic for 23 years and as a medic for the Ocala Police Department SWAT team. Sauer was also a professional MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter.
“The car is a memory of him,” Darnell said.
A Red 1951 Studebaker
One of the showpiece vehicles in Darnell’s current collection is a red 1951 Studebaker custom pickup truck powered by a 350 V-8 engine and with custom wheels by Boyd’s.
The Studebaker truck was built by local car enthusiast Jerry Gallery and completed soon after Darnell’s heart surgery.
“I call it my heart attack truck,” Darnell said.
Dennis Darnell has lived in Marion County for 50 years
Darnell, a native of Kentucky and former California resident, has lived in the northeast Marion County area for 50 years.
While living in California, Darnell worked on movie sets, camera trucks and a technical crew for a television series.
“I went to Tahiti with the (cast of) ‘Mutiny on the Bounty,’ ” Darnell said.
Darnell said he was also on a crew that developed a prop for the television series “My Mother the Car.”
The show, the IMDB website states, ran in 1965, starred Jerry Van Dyke and involved a man who felt his mother was “reincarnated” in a 1928 Porter car and communicated with him by way of the car’s radio.
Darnell said he was part of a crew that developed a periscope-type arrangement that allowed the driver to remain hidden and give the appearance the car was self-driven.
Darnell was a private investigator and owned D & D Towing service. He has repossessed hundreds of cars in his career from him.
Additional vehicles that round out Darnell’s current collection include a 1934 all steel Ford custom with 350 V-8 power, 1940 Oldsmobile with a 403 cubic inch V-8 and an original trim 1955 Chevrolet Bel-Air with a 400 horsepower V-8 engine.
Tom Baker, a friend of Darnell’s, said he loves the collection and he thinks Darnell enjoys the fact each car can be driven.
Darnell explained a car hobbyist must have mechanical ability and the craftsmanship to build and maintain the vehicles rather than purchase a car ready made.
“Anybody who can afford to make payments can do that,” he said.