Tom Cotter isn’t pining away for the first car he ever owned. The 1940 Ford convertible was a means to an end – a very nice end. It led to his second car (at age 15), a 1939 Ford woodie wagon that he still drives regularly.
The woodie has opened plenty of doors for the author of 11 automotive books, including the award-winning In the Barn series. He drove the car 2,700 miles while writing his most recent book, Barn Find Road Trip, which was published late last year.
“Cars become my friends. It’s as hard for me to say goodbye to a long-owned car as it is to say goodbye to a longtime friend,” said the 62-year-old Cotter, who also owns the third car he ever purchased, a 1953 Ford Ranch Wagon. “Cars have personalities that I grow comfortable with.”
Cotter, born in New York City and raised on Long Island, has worked in all segments of the automotive industry, including repair, parts sales and new/used car sales. He also spent 25 years in auto racing public relations. Cotter has found plenty of diamonds in the rough since his first car purchase in 1969. Among the many cars in his collection, which grew to 40 at one point before he pared it down, are a 1952 Cunningham C-3, 1964 AC Cobra, 1960 Volkswagen convertible and 1972 Datsun 510 race car.
“The same cars that excited me when I was a kid still excite me now,” said, who now resides in North Carolina. That enthusiasm is evident in Cotter’s books and in Hagerty’s new video series, “The Barn Find Hunter,” which follows him across the country as he tracks down forgotten classics.
Here are Cotter’s Top 5 Barn Finds:
1939 Ford Woodie Wagon – I bought the car in 1969 for $300. After several of years toiling with my father on the restoration, I decided that it was beyond my economic means, and I sold it to a collector in Puerto Rico in 1973. Eighteen years ago, in 1998, my wife, Pat, searched for it and found it still in Puerto Rico. We bought it back and have since restored it. I’ve driven it to the West Coast three times.
1952 Cunningham C-3 – I’ve dreamed about owning a Cunningham since I was in my 20s, but because there were only 25 built, I didn't think it would ever be possible. So I began collecting everything else I could regarding Cunninghams: books, artwork, brochures. Then one day, completely by accident, someone asked, “What would be your ultimate barn find?” I told him it would be a Cunningham. He said, “I know where one is.” I was floored and actually didn’t think it could be real. But it was – sitting in a basement in Greenville, S.C. It took me several years, but I eventually bought and own that car.
1964 AC Cobra – All of us have dreamed of finding a Cobra in a barn. Well, my friend Jim Maxwell and I actually did own one that was discovered in a barn in Indianapolis. It was owned by a scientist who developed the drug Prozac. But his wife forbade him to drive the car, thinking that he would get killed in it. So it was parked in a barn for decades before being discovered by a propane deliveryman who thought it was an Austin-Healey. Jim and I bought the car and restored it back to its original colors.
1967 Shelby GT500 – Bob Ramseur of Lincolnton, N.C., owned a 1967 Shelby since it was a year old. He raced a Shelby Mustang, and this car was an automatic that belonged to his wife. I had heard about the car, but I’d never seen it. So knowing Bob was a Ford racing fan, I delivered one of my new books about the history of the Holman-Moody racing team. Bob was quite taken by that and asked if I would like to see his old Shelby. We drove to a rental house he owned in Lincolnton and there it was, a true barn find. I made him a fair offer and he accepted. The car is amazing. It has only 30,000 miles and is one of the most original 1967 Shelbys in existence. I still own the car today.
1966 Austin-Healey Sprite Prototype – A good friend in Portland, Ore., had a totally disassembled, unusual Sprite race car. Neither of us were quite sure of its exact history. When my friend was dying of cancer, he said he knew I would be the appropriate caretaker of his car. I bought it and brought it back to the East Coast to restore. I also began to research the rare car’s history. It turns out that it was of only two aluminum-bodied prototype coupes built in 1966. It was a factory “Works” racer that was in the 1966 24 Hours of LeMans, 1967 12 Hours of Sebring and 1970 24 Hours of Daytona. It was an amazing car with an outstanding history. I restored it and raced it only twice because it was built for a much smaller person than me. I sold it to a collector in Scotland, who raced it at the Historic 24 Hours of LeMans the following year.