26 January 2012

The Barn-Find Mystique: Hagerty's top five forgotten treasures

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.

9 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Marc Sequim March 28, 2013 at 13:03
    How about discovering the only surviving WW1 Officer's Cadillac that served in France from 1917-1919?
  • 2
    Bill McCoskey Maryland June 12, 2013 at 14:21
    About 1990 I found a rather unusual vehicle hidden in a special garage bay in the bottom floor of a large office building's underground parking garage in Washington DC. Owned by the office building's owner, it was only used by him when he flew in for Redskins Football games a few miles away. When I found it the car had gone just 5700 miles. It was all original, including tires. The vehicle: a 1965 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron with a hand crafted limousine body by Ghia of Italy, #9 of only 10 built. All those years it was kept in beautiful condition, and I drove it out of the garage. But that's not all; About 1987 I got a call from a man about 10 miles from my old car shop. He was moving out west (Arizona or Colorado - I can't remember). The moving company was loading up all his household goods as we talked. He had expected them to load up his old car too, but they said the company wasn't permitted to transport vehicles. He was leaving that very day, in a matter of hours, and the new owners were to move into the house the next day. He had to dispose of this vehicle right away, and asked me if I was interested. I asked him how much he wanted for the car, and he said $500. It took me about 30 minutes to grab my ramp truck and hit the bank for the cash, and I was there at his house. What I found was exactly what he said it was: a 1935 Rolls-Royce 20/25 limousine with a hand built body by the coachbuilder James Young. The car had been sitting outside for about 10 years and was in pretty sad condition, but I was pleased to buy it for $500. And a comment directed to the gentleman above who thinks these finds are (as he put it) "BS", they really do happen, these are just 2 examples of the great "barn finds" I've disovered over the years.
  • 3
    John Brooklyn Ny November 30, 2013 at 18:12
    My Father Found a Rare 1937 Buick Special with Dual Sidemounts 4 door sedan back in 1981. Was in a Barn As well. Still Have the Car over 30 yrs later
  • 4
    Johnny Spiva Coos Bay Oregon October 15, 2014 at 08:45
    In 1993, I walked into a repair shop in Vancouver Washington. A large, outdated calendar hung on the wall, featuring the most unusual, amazing car I had ever seen. A 1990 Consulier GTP Targa. Later, finding out anything more about this unique car was impossible. No internet way back then! The car, the poster, the colors and what the car looked like was forgotten until 20 years later.  Grassroots Motorsports magazine had full page ads, featuring a shiny red Consulier but way out of my price range. Later, the company had a store of them in a warehouse, and marked them down because they wanted to clear some space, but still, my pockets weren’t that deep.  Early in August 2013, a car guy I know contacted me saying he had bought one of the left over Consulier GTP cars and I had better call Mosler quick! The cars were now priced to sell. Once selling for $58,000 to $70,000 in 1990, they were going for $15,000 and less. My friend thought there was a chance they might have couple left.  I called and was told there was only one left, the “Barbie” car. The what? He said it was the Matco Tool calendar car back in 1991. We made a deal and the car was mine. I went to the factory for a tour before having the car shipped across the county from Florida to Oregon. A new company has taken over since Consulier/ Mosler was sold. I was introduced to a guy that had been working on these cars since the late 80’s. On his wall was “the calendar” I remembered seeing back in ’93. Oh my! It was MY car in the poster, the same exact car I had fallen in love with 20 years before. In that moment, everything I had forgotten came flooding back into my memory. The poster car is the car I bought!  It had always been a factory demo and promo car. The car was painted up “Miami Vice” colors for the Matco Tool calendar/poster from the very beginning and left that way. I am the first owner of this car. After I got the car, I found it had masking tape on it, like the factory was going to paint it. But they never did and then it sat that way for the last 18 years in the factory warehouse. It had 29,000 miles on it.  I guess it was sitting there just waiting for me, the guy who fell in love with it 20 years ago. 
  • 5
    Bob Boyer Canada October 16, 2014 at 19:15
    A few years ago I saw a 1935 Dodge in my neighbors driveway. I found out it had only 29,000 original miles. After looking at it for some time he invited me to look further in his garage only to find a 1935 Hupmobile. Go figure. I lived near this house for more than 5 years without knowing these cars existed.
  • 6
    A.M. Blades tulsa, oklahoma October 23, 2014 at 23:47
    I am on the hunt for someone to love my uncles 47 ford coupe as much as he did. Bill looked for this frame and complete original body for so long. He died two days after my mother. I hope you will print this, I just want him to be happy in heaven. I know he will be if I find a loving home for his ford. thank you
  • 7
    Daren Stone San Andreas, Ca. August 7, 2015 at 14:41
    Around 2007 I was looking for a Volvo P1800 parts car to repair a wrecked P1800ES. A friend of a friend put me in touch with a guy who had one he needed "out of his garage, ASAP, for $400, take it or leave it." Needless to say I took it, and was thrilled to find it was a straight, unmolested 1969 model with underdash air. Once I'd rebuilt the hydraulics & fuel system it was back on the road & it is now my favorite car for vintage rally events. They really *are* still out there.
  • 8
    Car Person new york May 21, 2016 at 20:14
    Im only 13 years old and i was hiking in my grandma's woods and found a 1962 Datsun 5000 convertible that is worth $250,000 and one of 46 made horrible shape
  • 9
    Rhys Talbot Tujunga, Ca June 11, 2016 at 18:46
    have a 1973 FJ-40 that I'm modernizing.

Join the Discussion