Barn find stories — the mystery of what is behind doors that have been locked for decades, and the suspense of hunting for long-lost relics — have fascinated enthusiasts for years. And how could they not? The thrill of discovering the unknown and the uncovering of vehicles rich with history are an intoxicating combination that has inspired others to explore uncharted territory. These treasures could even be right in your hometown. Here are five of our favorites.
Portuguese Barn Find
Sometimes when stories are shared online, fine details and facts get turned around. A prime example is the Portuguese Barn Find story that went viral a few years prior, about an American couple who bought an older home with acreage in Portuguese wine country. As the story goes, on the property was a large, locked building that was home to hundreds of classic cars in varying states of disrepair. The dreamy story of people purchasing property with enough old car treasures to pay off their new home (and then some) was surely a fantasy read, but there was some truth to the tall tale, and when German journalist Wolfgang Blaube traveled to Portugal to learn more about the legend, he set the record straight. There was, in fact, a large building filled with hundreds of classic cars, but the owner was a Portuguese collector who had built up his collection in the 1970s after the Carnation Revolution — a time when 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
Often, checking on a rumor leads to a collector car rescue mission, such as the story of a very important piece in history: a 1931 Duesenberg Model J Town Car, the one and only Model J with a town car body by F.R. Wood and Sons of New York. The vehicle was built for a department store owner, who locked it away in a Manhattan parking garage in New York City in 1931, possibly in fear of seeming a bit too luxurious 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 television personality and noted car collector Jay Leno learned that this lonely, unrestored Duesenberg would be for sale, it yanked on his heart strings and he decided to save it. The car was decidedly far gone: The garage it was stored in had deteriorated from age, and water was leaking through the roof and onto the vehicle over several decades. In addition, tires stored in the rear of the vehicle caused the interior to become ruined. Even so, Leno welcomed it into his collection and turned the restoration over the expert Randy Ema, who completed a comprehensive restoration and got this relic back on the road.
Bugatti Type 57S Atalante Coupe
The Atalante is among the most beautiful, the most coveted and the most iconic of Bugattis ever produced, so imagine finding one of the 17 examples of the 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante Coupes behind a deserted garage door. This four-wheeled treasure was originally purchased by Earl Howe, the president of the British Racing Drivers Club, and it was finished in Howe’s racing colors of blue and black, upholstered in pig skin, and equipped with twin headlights and the split front bumper, making it easily distinguishable from the rest. 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. With the vehicle’s rarity and rich history, it’s no wonder that it sold for $4.4 million during a Bonhams auction in 2009.
Aston Martin DB4 Convertible
Beautifully proportioned and an instant classic from the moment of its introduction in 1958, the Aston Martin DB4 made a permanent imprint on hobbyists and established a look that would survive the times. One example of only 70 produced was unearthed in the UK. The car’s original owner was a college professor at Oxford University in 1970s. His college parking pass, granting him permission to park in the President’s drive, was still attached to the windshield when the second owner purchased the vehicle. From there, the car was then placed in dry storage in 1979 with a speedometer reading of 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 before it was put away. It sold in the UK for £309,500 (approximately $485,000) at auction, including buyer’s premium, in 2011.
The French Barn Find
Sometimes when you pass rotting barns, sheds or other similarly dilapidated buildings, it is more than worth your time to take a look. The Baillon Collection is the perfect example. Roger Baillon began collecting cars in the mid-1950s. But two decades later, financial problems forced him to shed many of them, and the remaining fleet of cars was stashed in little pockets around his estate. His dream was to make a museum out of his exquisite collection, but it was never realized: Baillon died a decade ago and his son, Jacques Baillon, inherited the cars but didn’t realize their value. Jacques Baillon died last year, and his children decided to cash in on their grandfather’s legacy before it completely wasted away. In January 2015, 60 of the cars went up for auction in western France and, according to the Artcurial auction house, sold for $28M. The group of cars included a rare 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB California Spider that sold for $18.5M alone, along with a 1956 Maserati A6G 2000 that sold for $2.2M, a 1966 Ferrari 275GTB Berlinetta that sold for $2.2M as well, and a 1949 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport SWB that sold for $1.9M.