The Barn-Find Mystique: Hagerty's top five forgotten treasures
The famed Portuguese Barn Find included a huge range of vehicles, from the red 1967 Steyr-Puch 650 TR in the foreground to the blue and white 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, the 1947 Ford coupe, center beside the 1952 Simca 9 Sport Coupe with its windshield part cleared beside it. Yes that's a 1955 Facel-Vega HK 500 in the back corner. The collection had two more listed. (Photo by Wolfgang Blaube)
An Appia Coupe, two Alfa Romeos and a '58 Opel Kapitan are cast in a golden light amid the dust of the barn. (Photo by Wolfgang Blaube)
The collection included a 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300C (one of four), a BMW 502 to the right and a 1950s Austin A35 in the back. (Photo by Wolfgang Blaube)
Another view of the barn collection with an Alfa Romeo Berlina in the foreground. (Photo by Wolfgang Blaube)
Television personality Jay Leno rescued this Duesenberg Model J from a parking garage in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Jay Leno's Garage)
The Duesenberg had fallen into disrepair, and a restoration by expert Randy Ema was necessary. (Photo courtesy of Jay Leno's Garage)
This Bugatti Type 57S Atalante Coupe was discovered in a doctor's garage after more than 40 years in storage. (Photo courtesy of Bonhams)
The Bugatti, upholstered in pig skin and equipped with a split front bumper, sold for $4.4 million in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Bonhams)
This rare Aston Martin DB4 convertible — one of only 70 produced — was unearthed in the UK and garnered £309,500 at auction. (Photo courtesy of Bonhams)
The original owner was and Oxford University professor, and his college parking pass was still attached to the windshield and read, “Authority to park in the President’s drive.” (Photo courtesy of Bonhams)
Barn find stories — those tales of long-forgotten automotive treasures discovered tucked away in original condition and obtained at bargain prices — have long excited anyone who has four-wheeled dreams. The mystique of the unknown and the thrill of discovery are an intoxicating combination. Here are five of our favorites.
Portuguese Barn Find
You may have heard a version of this story a couple of years ago that went like this: An American couple bought a house in Portuguese wine country. On the property was a large, locked building. Upon entering the building, the couple discovered hundreds of classic cars in varying states of repair. German journalist Wolfgang Blaube set out to learn more about the legend. He travelled to Portugal in 2009 with his camera, and here's the real story: There was in fact a large building filled with hundreds of classic cars, but the owner was a Portuguese collector who had amassed his collection in the 1970s after the Carnation Revolution. Many Portuguese collectors were stashing their cars in Spain, or letting them go for bargain prices. In a labor of love for old cars, Antonio Ferreira de Almeida seized every opportunity offered — cars from every manufacturer, every country and year made, and in every condition. By the end of the 1970s and before he was 30 years old, António owned some 100 cars, and by the mid-1980s he had more than 300. When his buying binge ebbed around 1996, almost 400 old cars were in his possession, around a quarter of those in good or excellent condition.
Jay Leno’s 1931 Duesenberg Model J
Rumors led television personality and noted car collector Jay Leno to a 1931 Duesenberg Model J, which had become something of an urban legend among car enthusiasts. The sedan — the only Model J with a town car body by F.R. Wood and Sons of New York — was built for a department store owner, who locked it away in a parking garage off Park Avenue in New York City in 1931, possibly in fear of seeming a bit too flamboyant for the times. The owner’s son removed it briefly in the 1950s to get it running again, then returned it to the garage, where it fell into disrepair. When Leno learned the car would be available for sale, he purchased it and turned it over to Duesenberg expert Randy Ema, who completed a comprehensive restoration.
Bugatti Type 57S Atalante Coupe
Only 17 examples of the Type 57S Atalante were built by Bugatti, so it’s not surprising that an Atalante barn find was sold by Bonhams for $4.4 million in 2009. Originally purchased by Earl Howe, the president of the British Racing Drivers Club, the car was finished in Howe’s racing colors of blue and black, upholstered in pig skin, and equipped with twin headlights and a split front bumper. The car changed hands several times before being purchased in 1955 by Dr. Harold Carr of Newcastle, England. Carr allegedly consigned the Bugatti to his garage in the early 1960s and it was only discovered in 2007 after his death.
Aston Martin DB4 Convertible
A rare Aston Martin DB4 convertible — one of only 70 produced — was unearthed in the UK and garnered £309,500 (approximately $485,000) at auction, including buyer’s premium. DB4C/1104R was never listed in the AMOC Register, and the seller purchased it in 1978 from its original owner, who was a professor at Oxford University. His college parking pass, granting him permission to park in the President's drive, was still attached to the windshield. The car was placed in dry storage in 1979 when the odometer registered only 60,000 miles. The original engine was gone, but the unit that came with the car was a factory replacement, which was installed in the late 1970s.
1952 Ferrari 340 America
Only twenty-five 340 Americas were built by Ferrari, so happening upon one in a barn is about 100 times less likely than winning the Mega Millions jackpot. One California collector beat those odds. In a 2006 eBay auction, Tom Shaughnessy placed the winning bid of $26,912 for a car touted by an Illinois seller as a 1950s Devin Sports Spider with a fiberglass body. Underneath the fiberglass was a genuine 1952 Ferrari chassis numbered 0202 A. The car was raced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1952 by Maurice Trintignant and Louis Rosier, then was lent by the factory to Piero Scotti, who competed with it in hill climbs during 1953. Luigi Chinetti brought the car to the U.S, and it was owned in the late 1950s by Paul Owens, who installed a Chevy V-8 engine. The Devin Spider fiberglass body was installed after a crash. Chassis 0202 A was titled in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1963, after which it vanished until 2006. A complete Ferrari 340 America would likely net several million dollars at auction, which means Shaughnessy is just about the luckiest man alive.