Barn Find Hunter: Custom Volkswagens and an Ed Roth paint job discovered in Utah

On the hunt for long-forgotten cars? Barn Find Hunter Tom Cotter is the expert, but as he’ll tell you, developing a nose for vintage metal is all about practice and good habits. During his search in Utah, Tom loads up his yellow Ford woodie wagon and explores St. George, but he knows better than to just drive down every street with no plan. So what does he do? Consults the local specialists, of course.

Tom figured if anyone would know where the old cars are, the local restoration shops would. The first spot he drops into comes up bust, but in the process he learns about another possible lead. On the drive across town, Tom notes that the area has a lot of new construction, which is not typically conducive to finding forgotten cars. This might be an uphill battle.

Steve’s Hot Rod Garage, however, is proof that Tom is in the right place. With projects in varying degrees of completion filling the lot outside the shop doors, there’s everything from a chopped VW Squareback to the shell of a 1957 Ford Country Sedan in the process of being parted out. Shop owner Steve Nielsen shows Tom that the really interesting stuff is hidden away in his storage units.

Behind storage door number 16 is a piece of hot rod lore, along with a bit of Nielsen’s own history. It’s a wicked cool Chevy van with “Delirious” lettered on the side and a custom tufted red interior Nielsen did himself. It’s really a time capsule to an era when the boxy customs were all the rage.

“It was my high school van. I’ve had it 42 years.” Nielsen says. “I used to work at Custom Vans of Utah back when vans were the thing. I did all the upholstery and paint work.”

Behind the van sits a car with its own hod rod history, a fiberglass 1932 Ford coupe with pinstripes laid by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth—the name synonymous with the eye-popping style of hand-painted custom work that was prevalent in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. The Rat Fink logo is Roth’s most famous creation, a character that made it onto cars as well as endless merchandise. The Deuce coupe has no Rat Fink, however—just a subtle pinstripe job on the deck lid and tail panel, which still looks badass today.

All these great finds (plus a Corvette-powered Volkswagen) and all Tom had to go on was a thin lead from a local shop. It just goes to show that even in far-flung places, it isn’t about looking everywhere, it’s about looking in the right place with the right attitude and approach. Next time you’re searching for a special barn find, remember that.