Tom Cotter keeps talking about his friend Bernie, but in the previous two episodes of the Barn Find Hunter’s trip to the U.K. we’ve only gotten a brief glimpse of the witty Brit. That’s about to change.

In the third installment documenting Tom’s week-long search for automotive treasures on the other side of the Atlantic—back in the pre-coronavirus days—we’re properly introduced to Bernie and his sister, Valerie, who generally refers to him by his proper name, Bernard. “That’s Ber-nerd,” she says, correcting her new American friends, “not Ber-nard.”

You’ll have to wait just a bit longer for that. First up on this rainy English morning is Simon Lane, a friend of Bernie’s (isn’t everyone?), who stores a few of his vehicles in the back of a BMW repair shop located on a gorgeous horse farm near London.

Barn Find Hunter UK - Horse farm
There’s horsepower everywhere at this London-area horse farm. Jeff Peek | Hagerty Media Site

Tom jokes that he’s traveled a long way just to see a lot of American cars. “We’re in the U.K.,” he says. “Where are the Lotuses?” (more…)

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After an unfortunate meeting with an unforgiving curb on Day 1, the Barn Find Hunter’s second day in the U.K. begins with an uneventful Uber ride for the support team and an amazing feel-good story that erases the sting of the previous day’s mishap.

First stop is the Watford home of Cliff Ryan, a racing friend of Tom Cotter’s who has graciously allowed Tom to drive his 1989 Jaguar XJR-S while he is in Great Britain. Cliff travels to the U.S. on occasion to race his classic Mustang—often against Tom’s 1964 Corvette—at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park.

“When you race against someone at 150 mph,” Tom says, “you get to know them pretty well without meeting them—as long as they don’t do anything wonky.” Then he takes a humorous jab at his old friend.

“Let me show you a photo of my Corvette leading Cliff’s Mustang.”

“Obviously,” Cliff says, “it’s a very rare photo.”

Our host explains that his XJR-S is an upgraded XJS produced by JaguarSport—a joint venture between Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) and Jaguar—to commemorate Jaguar’s 1988 victory at Le Mans. We soon wander off to Cliff’s garage, which houses a racing version of the same Jag, as well as a V-8-powered 1976 Triumph Stag that he bought in ’83.

“My wife (Melanie) and I toured France in it on our first holiday together,” Cliff says. “It’s not going anywhere—ever.”

Cliff’s son Sam, one of the Ryans’ three adult children, interjects. “This will be my car (one day),” Sam says with a laugh. That may be true, but we’re here to talk about the car that Sam already owns, as well as the very special story behind it.

We’ll get back to that …

This episode of Barn Find Hunter also includes a stop at the Jaguar specialty shop owned by Gary Davis, a racing friend of Cliff’s. Of course, Jags are the backbone of Gary’s business, but his automotive versatility is on full display as we tour his property. First up is a 1962 MGB roadster that Gary says is “one of the oldest MGBs still racing.” The car’s current owner has raced the MG in Belgium’s Spa Six Hours “at least six times.” Gary adds that “as a mark of respect” for the late Rod Longston, who raced MGBs for 50 years and this one in particular for 30, “his name is still on the side of the car.”

Gary says he performs “mostly race prep, but restoration too,” and there are plenty of projects to choose from. There’s an E-Type here, a Jag MK9 there. Also among the dozens of cars scattered about are a 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk, 1981 Ford Cortina Mk5, and 1972 Ford Escort Mexico Mark I, which Cliff’s oldest son Daniel crashed in a race last autumn.

Then we come upon a royal find—and we do mean Royal—a 1991 Jaguar Sovereign V-12 (AKA Series 3) that was driven regularly by Queen Elizabeth in the early ’90s. The Jag, powered by a 5.3-liter engine, carries the insignia of R.A.K. & Sons, holder of a Royal Warrant as supplying dealer to the monarchy.

Cliff bought it more than 20 years ago, but it’s been off the road since 2004.

“It’ll take a little work to bring it back,” he tells me. “It came here for some body work, and I didn’t plan on letting it sit this long. But life happens. Other things get in the way.”

Do they ever. Which brings us back to Sam Ryan, proud owner of a 1957 Austin A35 that he has owned since 2007.

“Dad had a race car, which was an Austin A35, and … I was driving it around the driveway, and I just fell in love with it,” Sam says. Cliff surprised his son with an A35 of his own a short time later. “It didn’t look like this,” Sam says. “We brought it home, and unfortunately … I fell ill with a brain tumor—cancerous.” While in the hospital, Sam was put in contact with Rays of Sunshine, a charitable organization that grants wishes to children fighting cancer.

He could have met a celebrity or gone away on holiday, but at the top of Sam’s list was having his A35 restored. He says he doesn’t even remember his alternative choices. With the help of an anonymous benefactor, Sam’s wish was granted.

Asked whether his son is a chip off the old block, Cliff says, “Absolutely, in every way. He restores old furniture. He just likes old things.”

Sam adds, “It’s all about antiques and restoring them and sort of keeping the heritage.”

When Sam told Rays of Sunshine that he wanted to restore the Austin, the charity was willing to go all out. He says they asked if he was interested in sending the Austin to the American television show Pimp my Ride, “where they put speakers in the car and they put all this bling paint work on it and stripes down the side and God knows what. I said, ‘No, I don’t want that. (I want it) just exactly how it was originally.’ And they said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want speakers in the back or something like that? I said, ‘No, I don’t even want seatbelts. It didn’t come with seatbelts.’”

Cliff says his son has always had an appreciation for history. “We bought [the Austin] for him to restore, and he and a friend were restoring it in the garage when he was taken ill.”

Sam was 15 when his cancer was diagnosed, and with a tangerine-sized tumor in the motor sensory area of his brain, the outlook looked grim. “Every bad box was ticked,” Cliff remembers. “We were told there was nothing they could do outside of experimental surgery. The doctors (at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children) discussed it and asked if we could come down. A dozen of them were sitting there, and they said, ‘We’ve had a look and we want to try.’”

The surgeons were frank that the surgery could leave Sam paralyzed on one side of his body, but Sam was undaunted. “They took me into the room where they give you bad news, and they told me the risks,” he says. “I said, ‘I’m 15. You just gave me a positive path. I could come through this and be perfectly fine. So let’s do it.’”

When Sam awoke, “I could feel my fingers and toes. I was over the moon.”

Chemotherapy followed, and Sam went into remission. Eighteen months later, however, he had a setback. He suffered a seizure, lost his eyesight, and had to be revived twice—once in the ambulance and again at the hospital. After being stabilized, he underwent two more years of treatment. That was five years ago.

“Thank God I’m still the same person,” Sam says. “I have trouble with my short-term memory, but I have a good life.”

Every time Sam drives his Austin A35, he’s reminded of the power of hope and perseverance. And these days, he isn’t the only one who enjoys the little car.

“Everybody looks at it, and the kids will say, ‘Daddy, Daddy, what’s that? Look at that!’ as we’re driving past, and it just makes me smile.”

Sam and his Austin are spreading even more smiles than he knows—we can vouch for that.

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One swerve, one curb, two flats, two bent rims, and four hours on the side of the road—the left-hand side of the road, which is definitely part of the problem. Welcome to Barn Find Hunter’s first day in the U.K.

To be fair, the Barn Find Hunter himself, Tom Cotter, isn’t the one who hits the curb. Tom, tooling around England in his friend’s 1989 Jaguar XJR-S, arrives in London days ahead of the team and seems comfortable with the right-hand-steering/left-side-driving situation. The rest of us, fresh off an overnight February flight, plan to ease into things by rotating driving duties. Instead, we get a crash course in English driving. Literally. Oversized support vehicle + narrow roads + “wrong side” of the road = trouble (at least for us). Bloody Yanks!

Barn Find Hunter UK - Tom Cotter driving the 1989 Jaguar
Ben Woodworth

After our slight bump in the road (OK, two very large, “What was that?” bumps), half the team crams into the Jag with Tom and heads to barn-find location #1. The rest of us sit and wait for the rental car company to come to our rescue. And wait. And wait some more.

Despite the rough start, Tom and our video guys keep calm and carry on toward northwest London, where they meet up with car enthusiast Pete (who asked us not to use his last name). “It’s harder to find cars in England than in the States,” Tom explains before climbing out of the Jag. “People keep those things hidden. Except [Pete] doesn’t keep his cars hidden—they’re kind of out in the road.”

Sure enough, after saying hello to Pete, who says he has loved cars for so long that as a child he slept with Corgi diecast toy cars under his pillow, we learn the stories behind his weather-worn collection of automotive misfits. First up: the car that Tom heard about and brought us here to see—a one-year-only 1974 Datsun 260Z, which looks like no 260Z we’ve ever laid eyes on. That’s because, as Pete says (pronouncing the Z as Zed), “it started out as a 260Z 2+2.” It didn’t exactly stay that way.

Barn Find Hunter UK - 1974 Datsun 260Z front
Pete’s 1974 Datsun 260Z Ben Woodworth

Pete tells us that he owned a Triumph GT6 Mk II as a teenager, and after his friend finally talked Pete into selling it, he discovered the 260Z. Pete bought it nearly 40 years ago, but it didn’t perform quite as well as it looked.

“It looked absolutely fantastic,” he says, but it was “the slowest thing on four wheels.”

Packed with a 2.6-liter, six-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission, “You would think it would have flown. But it was like a pigeon without wings.”

Hoping to change that, Pete hired a guy to install a 327-cubic-inch small-block engine with a “mad cam,” added a Pro-Stock hood, and built a wooden Plymouth Superbird-like spoiler that he attached to the rear (it’s long gone now). Oh sure, the car looked like it had more muscle, but Pete’s friends were not impressed. Just the opposite, in fact. “Everybody used to take the piss out of it,” Pete says. “They used to say [the spoiler] was a tea tray … a tea trolley … You put your drinks on it.”

He admits that the car was also undrivable. “It was never good enough to be a daily driver. It was insane. You couldn’t keep it in a straight line, and I crashed it a few times.” One of those crashes included driving it through the doors of his parents’ garage.

Pete shows Tom an AMG Mercedes with a supercharged 5.0-liter engine under the hood. “It’s still restorable,” Pete says, “other than a little moss growing on it.”

Up next is a Jaguar—that’s Jag-U-ar, Pete insists, not Jag-war—one of 36 built by Britain’s Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). Packing a 5.3-liter V-12 engine and wearing an aluminum shell—pronounced al-u-minium, if you’re keeping score at home—it no longer runs, but Pete says it’s worth saving.

Opening the door to his garage, Pete reveals a fully loaded Mercedes-Benz 560SEC widebody conversion, then uncovers a 1989 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo Indianapolis 500 Pace Car. One of 1555 built, the Pontiac has only 10,086 miles on the clock. Pete found it on eBay in 2014 and had it shipped across the Atlantic to England. “It’s an absolute pucker,” he says.

Barn Find Hunter UK - 1989 Trans Am Indy 500 pace car
Ben Woodworth

As Tom and crew bid farewell, Pete thanks them for stopping by. “It’s nice to see car guys are alive and well,” he says.

Switching gears from eclectic to classically elegant, the team heads to central London to meet Richard Price, owner of a 1951 Allard P1—or P1 Allard, as Richard calls it. His father bought it new. “He did his courting in it,” Richard says, then flashes a mischievous grin. “I wasn’t born until 1954 … My father reckoned I was conceived in it.”

Sydney Allard created the P1 to compete in the Monte Carlo Rally. Since all race vehicles were required to be production cars, Allard built just enough P1s (505 or so) to hit the obligatory 500. The Allard was a success; it won the 1951 Monte Carlo Rally.

“It’s a bitser … bits of this and bits of that,” Richard explains. “Originally it had a Ford V-8 … subsequently I’ve changed it a few times.”

Tom asks if the P1’s body is made of aluminum, and he receives just the reaction he was looking for. “Al-u-minium,” Richard says, echoing Pete’s earlier pronunciation. “We’re in London.” They compromise, calling it “alloy.”

Try as they might, Richard, Tom, and Tom’s friend Bernie just can’t get the Allard to turn over. (We later learn that the car was simply out of petrol. Silly Brits!)

Off camera, Richard says his father played rugby until he was 63, and the Allard often served as transportation for him and as many rugby pals as he could fit in it—“four, five, six big guys.”

Richard accepted ownership from his dad about 25 years ago, although he prefers to call himself the car’s caretaker. “My father died in 2013,” Richard says. “He had dementia at the end of his life, but I showed up one day in the Allard and his eyes lit up. He said, ‘My car!’ The memories must have flooded back. I nearly cried. We’ve both had some good times in this ol’ girl.” Now, so have we.

Stay tuned for more from the U.K. in future episodes.

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There is a gadget, nay, an instrument in Tom Cotter’s Barn Find Hunter tool kit that is second only to his personal charm and vintage car knowledge. That is his woody wagon. The yellow paint and bird’s eye maple have made a warm first impression on many folks to whom Tom has introduced himself over the years. This wagon’s fascinating history reaches farther back than its tenure on Barn Find Hunter, however, and the latest episode is dedicated solely to this one car—which is possibly Tom’s first barn find.

See, like many of us that have been diagnosed as gearheads, Tom didn’t even have his driver’s license before he began coveting cars. There was one car in particular, though, that caught his eye as he crossed the schoolyard one day as a 15-year-old. Tom spotted the 1939 Ford wagon in Brentwood, Long Island, and it captivated him. Somehow he talked his father into investigating the wagon further that same night. It was indeed for sale, but Tom didn’t have the $300 needed to take the car home.

Luckily, a woman for whom Tom had previously done some around-the-house work decided to advance him the money. Tom then had the summer to work off the debt. He kept the wagon until 1973, where it was then sold to a buyer in Puerto Rico. 26 years later, Tom’s wife tracked it down and returned it to his ownership, and it’s been with Tom ever since.

The ’39 Ford has logged 50,000 miles in the pursuit of interesting cars and their stories. The original drivetrain was not up to that kind of usage, so the long yellow hood hides a modern Chevrolet V-8 backed by an overdrive transmission. With that combination, Tom can achieve fuel economy in the mid-20s. That allows for a lot for exploration per tank of gas.

If you want to see where this wagon goes next, be sure to subscribe to the Hagerty YouTube channel to receive notifications with each video that goes live.

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Tom has an established procedure for introducing himself to the owner of a promising barn-find location, but things went a little differently during this visit to Traverse City, Michigan. Luckily, it was a change for the positive.

While motoring around in his woody wagon, a flock of vintage Mercedes-Benz cars surrounding a house caught Tom’s eye. The site seemed worth investigating, so he returned and knocked on the door. Unfortunately, no one answered. To see whether the hoard was worth a return trip and a second attempt to contact the owner, Tom snuck around to see what was in the yard—something he typically doesn’t do. If the owner were to drive up or appear while he is snooping around, that wouldn’t be a good look.

Tom got lucky this time, though. A Chevy Suburban pulled into the driveway right as Tom walked out from behind the house, and the first words out of the homeowner’s mouth were, “Hey, I know you!” Guess it pays to be famous sometimes.

Ron Borher, who owns the stash of cars, happily ushered Tom around and chatted about the vehicles. It was an especially interesting tour because Ron is legally blind. Though he can’t drive his cars anymore, he doesn’t let macular degeneration stop him from working on them. He does repairs by feel, thanks to 41 years of spinning wrenches for a Mercedes-Benz dealership. The hardest part, Ron says, is finding the right wrenches; he can’t read the engravings that denote sizes.

His range of projects and vehicles is vast, from a 1988 Unimog to a ’61 Chevrolet 6400 to a Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16. Some vehicles are workhorses and others are just for fun—even though he doesn’t get to have the behind-the-wheel experience anymore. The cars are in various stages of running and project planning, but all of them are in the care of a talented, experienced enthusiast who wants to return them to their former glory.

Talking to someone who has been tied to one brand for 41 years is a fascinating opportunity, and reveals what a spring of information such a specialized gearhead can be. Even without his driver’s license, Ron is the real deal. It’s folks like him who keep the car hobby alive by passing along information to the rest of us.

 

 

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Tom Cotter and the Barn Find Hunter crew make it look easy, but the reality is those days out on the road filming are long. This episode is an example of just that. Regardless of the time of day, you can’t slow down Tom’s hunt for interesting cars and stories.

The first stop is a bit of a flashback from the last episode, where Tom drove past a large yard full of vintage steel and joked that “that’s our next find.” At the time he had no idea who owned the yard, or if they would let him and the crew in to look around. Luckily, Tom dug up the owner’s name and managed to make contact with him overnight, arranging a meeting first thing in the morning. Tom is old school, however, so no matter how early the meeting, he arrives 15 minutes before the agreed-upon time.

That policy really pays off this time around, as Maurice gives Tom a tour of just a handful of the 100+ cars he has in his stockpile. We really like Maurice’s style, with a nice blend of timeless Mercedes-Benz models and quirky British motors, like the Triumph Stag, trapped in the middle of it all. In fact, that V-8 powered oddity is the car Maurice would keep from the whole bunch if he was forced to part with the lot. Tom is a bit impressed by this call, and he understands the draw.

Then it’s off to visit another Tom; this one isn’t a Ford guy like Cotter, but rather an air-cooled enthusiast—mostly of the German variety. The 1957 Porsche Speedster he introduces is an interesting piece of racing history, a prime example of a car that would have interesting things to say if it could only speak. There might be nothing for sale, but it’s not all about buying or selling for Tom. He likes to find the stories worth telling—and he found a few good ones on this trip to Atlanta.

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The area around Atlanta, Georgia, supplies a trove of fascinating imports for Tom Cotter to investigate in his most recent quest. In the latest Barn Find Hunter episode, he takes a quick walk through the shop of Alfa Romeo expert Paul Spruell before dropping in to check on a fellow hunter—one Tom knows pretty well.

Paul Spruell is a humble man, that much is clear. As Tom introduces him and lists Spruell’s racing accomplishments over the years, Spruell simply nods in acknowledgement of the four SCCA national championships under his belt. All those wins were behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo, so it makes sense that all the cars Tom examines hail from the Italian brand.

The sheer variety of the Alfas assembled in Paul’s shop is impressive. A 1966 Guilia GTV sits on a dolly out back, while cars almost ready to race sit on lifts inside. Of course, there is everything in between scattered about for Tom to investigate, including the very Duetto in which Spruell racked up those SCCA wins, plus a barn-find ’66 Spider Veloce. Paul explains the intricacies of Alfa Romeo’s Guilia/Giulietta naming formula and the finer points of a couple of the cars in the shop. For fans of vintage Italian metal, it’s a must-watch.

The next stop is to see someone Tom has known for fewer years than some of the show’s previous guests; but that’s only because Brian Cotter was born after Tom met those other fellows. Brian is Tom’s son, and the Cotter household could well be an orchard with how closely the apples fall to each other.

Brian’s managed to stuff three cars into a small two-car garage, and each has its own interesting story. The first he discusses is a Mazda RX-7. Many third-generation RX-7s are modified and tuned, but Brian chose to keep his as stock as the farmer he purchased it from had kept it. This silver example is remarkable in its originality.

Brian also has a 1985 Porsche 911 Targa and a Formula Vee racer, each in different stages of maintenance and care. The Formula Vee is currently lacking its bodywork, which gives us a nice view of how these cars got their name—they’re mainly composed of VW parts. The 911 is a bit rough around the edges, a grey-market car born out of Brian’s college-era Porsche search that needed some TLC to revive from a long garage rest.

Tom is clearly a proud father, and he has every right to be. It’s younger enthusiasts like his son who are driving the future of automotive passion. With gearheads like Brian out there, the future of car culture is in good hands.

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Tom Cotter has driven his Ford woody wagon all around the country looking for cars, but this week he visits a man he has been reading about for decades. A man who promptly critiques Tom’s beloved Ford—valuable feedback that Tom welcomes, since it comes from a person who’s been doing woodwork on cars like Tom’s for more than 50 years.

After hunting around Hagerty’s headquarters in Traverse City, Michigan, Tom decides to make a trip just outside of town to visit Mike Nichols at his woodworking shop. Mike is known the world over for his handiwork on woody cars and trucks. Tom may have logged a lot of miles in his, but he has burning questions about how they are built—questions that have been burning since he was 15 years old.

Of course, Tom is a professional, which means he takes the time to talk about the cars in and around the shop first. Projects waiting to begin sit in the tall grass, awaiting the day when Mike’s focus turns to them. First up is a 1942 Ford military staff car. These four-door Fords were basic autos designed to serve alongside the troops. Interestingly, these cars were powered by a flathead inline-six rather than a flathead V-8. Durability was likely the goal, not power.

Once inside the shop, Mike shows off another odd military car. It’s another 1942 Ford, but this car was converted to a woody wagon of sorts. Mike’s research shows roughly 100 of these conversions were built, and the example Tom is crawling around is just one of two known to still exist.

Tom is here not only for the cars but also to indulge himself a bit in the intricacies of the woodworking process. One look at the finger jointing machine shows why it takes a brave person to run such an overtly dangerous piece of equipment. That might be part of why woody construction never quite caught on in history.

This episode is a good reminder to go out and look around; a world class restorer might be just around the corner from you without you realizing it. This is the perfect time to take a drive in a car you love and look for interesting things—on the side of the road or otherwise. Maybe make a note and head back later. The military calls that scouting; Tom calls it hunting.

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Tom Cotter is always looking for new finds for his Barn Find Hunter series, but occasionally he revisits a select few automotive honey holes. And he knew if he ever got back to Georgia he had to return to David Sosebee’s place. Twenty-five years after his first visit, Tom was excited to return and see what Sosbee had hiding around his property. In the latest episode of Barn Find Hunter, Tom does exactly that. 

Sosebee isn’t just a hoarder of vintage cars. He’s the son of Gober Sosebee, who was one of the first big names in stock car racing. Many of the cars on the Sosebee property are ex-race cars, but the one David shows Tom first is a production car with an odd options list.

The black 1965 Ford Fairlane 500 tucked back in a dark, block garage is a four-door that packs a 225-horsepower, 289-cubic-inch V-8 mated to a four-speed manual—but not much else. No power brakes. No power steering. Basic black over black interior with a bench front seat, and no air conditioning. It was a custom order that Sosbee’s father insisted on getting as soon as he could—meaning he drove it right off the production line.

Tom and Sosebee head off into the woods to talk about race cars and racetracks. The Sosebee family had aspirations of building a racetrack right on their property in 1946. The land had natural gradient to it, which would have made it less expensive to put up, unfortunately Darlington raceway was constructed first, and the Sosebees decided their venue wouldn’t be able to compete. So they let the idea die.

As Tom says, folks like this, with so many stories to tell, are worth finding just as much as the cars themselves. Listening to David tell stories is worth more than the cars on his property, which is saying a lot since the cars in his field are historic racers that offer a flashback to when stock cars were actually stock cars.

The episode closes with Sosebee telling Tom and the video crew about a time when his father was flat-towing his race car to an event and things suddenly went sideways—literally and figuratively. Worth sticking around ‘til the end just to hear that story.

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In the world of barn find hunting, there are legions of pre-1970 cars that have been parked for one reason or another, but there seems to be a significantly smaller abandoned stash of 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s cars. Tom Cotter loves a challenge, so he decided to dedicate this episode to finding something of a different flavor—some more recent cars. A few such discoveries in this episode even came with the help of some younger enthusiasts.

First, Tom stops to see a man about a Mazda. That man is Jim Downing, the co-creator of the HANS device ubiquitous in high-level auto racing. He is also a man in love with Mazda’s rotary engine. However, his collection isn’t in a barn, and none of the cars are truly neglected like long-time Barn Find Hunter viewers might expect.

Instead, Tom finds row upon row of interesting bits of racing kit. From four-rotor show car prototypes to FD RX-7 models that will spin the tires at 60 mph, Jim has it all. The entire collection is a smorgasbord of racecars, simply because Jim snaps up just about any interesting car he can find for a decent deal.

From there, Tom returns to the bread-and-butter of Barn Find Hunter—a flock of rough-condition cars awaiting something. The cars are all Datsun Z cars and owned by Max and Clay, two young enthusiasts who run Resurrected Classics. Tom isn’t easily impressed, but the pair manages to trigger a little surprise when they walk him through the lineup in front of their shop, revealing that they have three or four first-generation 240Z examples from 1970.

Variety is the spice of life, so Tom will always leap at the chance to search out a few offbeat cars. What will he find next on this trip? Well, you have to watch the next episode to find out. If you are worried you might miss it, be sure to subscribe to the Hagerty YouTube channel to receive a notification with each Hagerty video that goes live.

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