Arkansas Projects

A visit to Mark Varnell's Auto Sales in Midway, Arkansas
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Story & Photos by LeRoy Drittler

This view of the front door of Mark Varnell’s sales office includes the Arkansas Champion Western Soapberry tree.

This view of the front door of Mark Varnell’s sales office includes the Arkansas Champion Western Soapberry tree.

Throughout many years of road tripping through western Arkansas, I would pass a body shop/used car lot with an old car or two out front. The business is located on the northeast corner of the intersection of State Highway 22 and State Highway 109, which is also the location of the Arkansas Champion Western Soapberry tree. Designated by a plaque at its base, the Soapberry tree provides much-needed shade on the lot during hot Arkansas summers. More often than not, I would stop at the shop and further explore, usually finding a couple more salvage cars, parts cars or builders behind the body shop. In the last year or so, the old car inventory has increased by about tenfold and most of the old vehicles are now parked across the highway in a previously vacant lot.

The designation plaque is mounted on a rock at its base.

The designation plaque is mounted on a rock at its base.

Mark Varnell says he’s been in business for 31 years at this location. He used to work on customer cars in the body shop, but has retired from those duties. Varnell now uses the shop to work on some of his own projects that include a 1947 Ford sedan, a ’66 Ford truck and an ’86 Chevy pickup that he’s turning into a hot rod. During my visit last year, Varnell said he would like to slow down, sell everything and completely retire in the near future.

Even though some of the collection of old cars appear to be salvage cars, Varnell says no parts can be removed from any of them. He will sell the complete vehicle either as a parts car or a project car. If you need your purchase shipped, you will need to make the shipping arrangements.

When asked how and where he acquired the old vehicles, Varnell says several of them came from local people who just wanted to get rid of them. They would load them up and bring them by and Varnell would make an offer to buy them. Others came in a package deal. A few of the vehicles are failed projects because the previous owner ran out of money or interest. Some of those failed projects appear to have needed work that far exceeded the skills possessed by the owner.

The old vehicle inventory does not lean towards any certain make or model, but does include a wide variety of cars and a few trucks. There are about ten imports available; the oldest vehicle is a 1920 American LaFrance fire truck. Some of the vehicles were driven in and parked, but they haven’t been started since. Others will run and drive, and among these projects is a straight 1956 Lincoln Capri that is loaded with options including factory air conditioning.

The business is located at 13201 State Highway 22 in the small community of Midway, which is six miles west of New Blaine and six miles east of Subiaco (hence the name Midway). Business hours are 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. Note that Varnell’s mailing address is different.

Mark Varnell’s Auto Sales

Physical address:
13201 State Highway 22
Midway, AR 72651

Mail address:
11057 Old Military Road
Subiaco, AR 72865
Phone: 479-970-3690

The Trans Am was the top-selling Pontiac Firebird in 1977. This one needs body and interior work.

The Trans Am was the top-selling Pontiac Firebird in 1977. This one needs body and interior work.

Everything works on this 1965 Ford wrecker, and the missing driver’s side door makes it easier to jump in and out. It is still in use, moving inventory around. It is for sale, as are all the vehicles on the premises.

Everything works on this 1965 Ford wrecker, and the missing driver’s side door makes it easier to jump in and out. It is still in use, moving inventory around. It is for sale, as are all the vehicles on the premises.

This 1962 Corvair 900 Monza Spyder supposedly runs, but needs work.

This 1962 Corvair 900 Monza Spyder supposedly runs, but needs work.

Parked along the back fence, a couple of imports are available. The Sunbeam Alpine is a roadster, and the MG has a removable top. The engine is gone from the MG.

Parked along the back fence, a couple of imports are available. The Sunbeam Alpine is a roadster, and the MG has a removable top. The engine is gone from the MG.

This five-window 1948 Chevrolet cab was nice until a tree limb fell on it. Fortunately, Varnell had taken the corner windows out before that happened, and still has them, and they go with the cab.

This five-window 1948 Chevrolet cab was nice until a tree limb fell on it. Fortunately, Varnell had taken the corner windows out before that happened, and still has them, and they go with the cab.

The engine and transmission are gone, the body is beat up and the floors are rusted, but this 1957 Ford Ranch Wagon is still a candidate for restoration.

The engine and transmission are gone, the body is beat up and the floors are rusted, but this 1957 Ford Ranch Wagon is still a candidate for restoration.

The Opel GT was introduced in 1969 and it resembled a scaled-down Corvette. Someone sliced the top off this GT to make it a roadster and started custom work on the body, including filling in the door handles. Since it’s been on the lot, a tree limb fell on the windshield and destroyed it. A skilled ambitious craftsman is needed to finish this one.

The Opel GT was introduced in 1969 and it resembled a scaled-down Corvette. Someone sliced the top off this GT to make it a roadster and started custom work on the body, including filling in the door handles. Since it’s been on the lot, a tree limb fell on the windshield and destroyed it. A skilled ambitious craftsman is needed to finish this one.

The body on this first-year 1960 Valiant is nice and straight. It still has its transmission and slant-six engine.

The body on this first-year 1960 Valiant is nice and straight. It still has its transmission and slant-six engine.

Equipped with a 302-cid V-8 engine, this 1973 Mustang runs, drives and is a good car

Equipped with a 302-cid V-8 engine, this 1973 Mustang runs, drives and is a good car

Varnell considered making a car hauler out of this ‘59 Chevrolet Viking 50, but says it’s for sale just like everything else. It has a steel plate extended bed.

Varnell considered making a car hauler out of this ‘59 Chevrolet Viking 50, but says it’s for sale just like everything else. It has a steel plate extended bed.

This 1951 Chrysler Newport is all there and would make a nice cruiser. It would probably be the only one at most car shows.

This 1951 Chrysler Newport is all there and would make a nice cruiser. It would probably be the only one at most car shows.

The oldest vehicles on the premises are these two. On the left is a 1928 Ford truck, and on the right is a 1920 American LaFrance fire truck on a Brockway chassis. Varnell says he has everything that goes with the fire truck stored in the shop.

The oldest vehicles on the premises are these two. On the left is a 1928 Ford truck, and on the right is a 1920 American LaFrance fire truck on a Brockway chassis. Varnell says he has everything that goes with the fire truck stored in the shop.

Running and driving when parked, this 1973 Buick Rivera was the final year for the boat-tail rear styling.

Running and driving when parked, this 1973 Buick Rivera was the final year for the boat-tail rear styling.

The windows are gone and the floors are rusty, but the grille and body on this rare 1947 Lincoln Club Coupe look good.

The windows are gone and the floors are rusty, but the grille and body on this rare 1947 Lincoln Club Coupe look good.

This 1969 Barracuda has its engine and automatic transmission. All the sheet metal from the firewall forward is off of the car, but someone could still build it.

This 1969 Barracuda has its engine and automatic transmission. All the sheet metal from the firewall forward is off of the car, but someone could still build it.

The engine is gone from this 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne and it would probably serve best as a parts car.

The engine is gone from this 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne and it would probably serve best as a parts car.

Running and driving when parked, this 1953 Nash sedan has a continental kit, but is missing the rear bumper.

Running and driving when parked, this 1953 Nash sedan has a continental kit, but is missing the rear bumper.

Varnell has the front cap for this 1940 Cadillac sedan. It’s another project car that should be built. The red plastic on the taillights looks new.

Varnell has the front cap for this 1940 Cadillac sedan. It’s another project car that should be built. The red plastic on the taillights looks new.

This little Renault Dauphine stands as a complete car. Manufactured from 1956 to 1967, more than two million were made, but they are seldom seen anymore.

This little Renault Dauphine stands as a complete car. Manufactured from 1956 to 1967, more than two million were made, but they are seldom seen anymore.

A pair of Jaguar sedans are at the end of one row near the highway. On the left is a 1979 XJ6L, and on the right is a 1985 XJ6.

A pair of Jaguar sedans are at the end of one row near the highway. On the left is a 1979 XJ6L, and on the right is a 1985 XJ6.

Everything is there to restore this 1964 Thunderbird, or it could be used as an excellent parts car.

Everything is there to restore this 1964 Thunderbird, or it could be used as an excellent parts car.

The engine is out of this one-owner 1963 MG Midget, but Varnell has it stored in the shop.

The engine is out of this one-owner 1963 MG Midget, but Varnell has it stored in the shop.

Varnell describes this 1947 Dodge truck as “great rat rod material.”

Varnell describes this 1947 Dodge truck as “great rat rod material.”

This 1953 Kaiser has been parked a long time. It is all there but in rough condition with many broken windows.

This 1953 Kaiser has been parked a long time. It is all there but in rough condition with many broken windows.

The Special four-door sedan was Buick’s price leader in 1956, selling at $2416. This one is a one-owner car and complete.

The Special four-door sedan was Buick’s price leader in 1956, selling at $2416. This one is a one-owner car and complete.

This 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster sedan runs, drives and is a solid restoration candidate.

This 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster sedan runs, drives and is a solid restoration candidate.

This 1958 Chevrolet Apache 36 has a long-narrow-bed and is complete with engine. It would be a good one to restore. Long-narrow-beds of this era were favorites of farmers with a small herd of cattle who would add sideboards to haul their cattle to market.

This 1958 Chevrolet Apache 36 has a long-narrow-bed and is complete with engine. It would be a good one to restore. Long-narrow-beds of this era were favorites of farmers with a small herd of cattle who would add sideboards to haul their cattle to market.

1978 was the last year for the Mustang II. This one with the Cobra II package has a four-speed transmission and air conditioning.

1978 was the last year for the Mustang II. This one with the Cobra II package has a four-speed transmission and air conditioning.

This 1948 Pontiac Silver Streak coupe with a good-looking body has a white vinyl interior that was done years ago. It is stained and deteriorated. The engine and transmission have been removed. This car would make a great cruiser after being restored.

This 1948 Pontiac Silver Streak coupe with a good-looking body has a white vinyl interior that was done years ago. It is stained and deteriorated. The engine and transmission have been removed. This car would make a great cruiser after being restored.

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