It isn’t often—outside of the U.K., anyway—that you find three Triumphs living within 300 yards of each other … and not one of them is a Spitfire. And Barn Find Hunter Tom Cotter discovered them within a few miles from his home in Davidson, North Carolina.

In episode 103 of the Barn Find Hunter, the first since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country, Tom forgoes driving his 1939 Ford Woody Wagon in favor of another car that he’s owned for years: his Fern Mist 1953 Ford Ranch Wagon.

“What? Where did this come from? You know I’m a station wagon guy. You know I like Fords …,” Tom says. “I bought this car in 1972 as a high school senior. My girlfriend said, ‘I’ll never ride in that car.’ Now my wife of 46 years, she has ridden in this many times.”

Tom explains that the seller wanted $100 for the Ranch Wagon, but he agreed to take all that teenaged Tom could afford: $85. “It had a surf rack, curtains in the windows, and mag wheels. Then about 25 years ago I restored it.”

The Ford is a “bare bones car,” with three-on-the-tree manual transmission and no radio or clock. Tom says that ’53 was the last year of the flathead V-8, “but this car does not have an eight; it has a six.” Meant to be shipped to Germany, the Ranch Wagon’s speedometer is in kilometers. Tom says he considered upgrading the engine many times, but he’s glad he never did.

“You don’t see these much anymore,” he says. “They’re all gone.”

Also unusual are the three Triumphs that Tom discovered while jogging down a gravel road in Davidson.

First up is Chuck’s 1975 TR6, which he has owned since 1994. “I loved the lines,” he says. One day, Tom ran past Chuck’s garage and saw him tinkering on the TR6, so he stopped to check it out. It runs much smoother than it did then, since Chuck spent a lot of his downtime during the pandemic working on it.

He tells Tom that he’s now planning to sell the car, but Tom encourages him to hold onto it. Chuck is already doubting his resolve.

“You know, every time I get it running right, I say I’m going to sell it, then (I think), ‘I can’t sell this car.’ But I think my wife is tired of me doing that.”

Just down the road is Mark and his 1971 Triumph Stag, built the first year the car was available in the U.S. The two are greeted by a puddle of oil. “The first sign that you’re in Triumph territory is the oil slick,” he jokes.

As a teenager, Mark convinced his father to buy the V-8-powered car for his mother in 1981, and it has now been in the family for 40 years. Tom remembers the strong odor that hung in the air the first time the Stag drove past. “We call that British car cologne,” Mark says with a smile.

In addition to the rare Stag, Mark also shows Tom a pair of Jeep CJ2As in his garage. Then it’s on to Triumph no. 3, Jane and Bob’s 1966 TR4A.

Bob bought the four-cylinder TR4 new in 1966 and drove it as his daily driver for years. “One day he just disappeared, and then he came home with this car,” Jane says. “… He drove the kids to school every day. They put the top down, they sang—they still sing the songs … They were very popular in that car.”

Tom also visits another neighbor with a 1957 Studebaker Provincial Wagon. That makes three Triumphs, two Jeeps, and a Studebaker. It’s amazing what you can find in your own backyard … or down a gravel road.

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When Tom Cotter scours the country looking for hidden automotive gems, he’s not just looking for interesting stories and more fodder for his next book. He’s also always in the market for a new project. In the latest installment of Barn Find Hunter, Tom shows us the storage facility where he keeps many of his own vehicles and stops by a few to highlight their histories.

Early on, Tom introduces us to two Datsun 510s, including one that he has a long history with that’s got a fresh coat of paint and is nearly ready for assembly. Also in the fray is a 510 that’s showing a bit of rust and in need of a restoration of its own. Next up, a Morris Minor race car that Tom has owned for more than 30 years. Although it is currently without an engine and transmission, the stripped-down and caged racer has served Tom well on the track, including some endurance racing.

Tom’s family has had a long history with VWs, so it’s no surprise there’s a couple of Wolfsburg’s finest in his collection. He pulls back the cover on a mildly customized 1960 VW Beetle convertible that wears Porsche wheels and opens the hood to reveal a Judson supercharger that boosts power to a much more exciting 50 ponies. It may not seem like a lot, but the factory mill was only good for 35 horsepower.

Next up is another Morris Minor race car, but this one’s even more of an oddity than the first as it sports an early grille that relocates the headlights from their familiar fender-mounted location. This one’s topless for less drag and slotted all over with louvers. After brief stops at a couple more of his cars, including a fully stripped 1964 Comet convertible, it’s off to a new site.

The next venue is a property with a couple of the less-well-preserved projects. First off is a 1946 Ford car/pickup hybrid with a rare Marmon Harrington 4×4 drivetrain. Originally a woodie wagon, it was used as an alternative to a chair lift at a ski slope. When its wood body rotted, the body and bed of a Ford pickup were grafted on. Tom has an additional woodie for use as a parts car to help get that rare piece of history restored to its original condition.

There are even more cars in the video that we didn’t mention, but one of the final projects that get some screen time in this episode is one you may not have heard of. Only about 20 Standard/Triumph Vanguards were produced in left-hand-drive for North America and this one is about to be put back on the market.

As Tom points out, storage facilities such as the one he uses himself, with all the cars under the same roof and visible to any visitor, make a good place to scout for your next project. Remember, the cars are still out there.

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There are literally millions of configurations of “old cars,” but if one person could rightfully claim to have seen them all, it would be Tom Cotter. This rare 1957 Oldsmobile convertible, however, caught Tom by surprise when he first found it back in early 2019. It only made sense that the car would someday be reborn to a second life—but not because of Tom’s influence alone.

Not long after the Barn Find Hunter episode had aired, the red-and-white convertible popped up for sale on Facebook Marketplace, where its current owner Rob found it in December of 2019, unaware that the Olds had starred in the show. The ’57 was improperly listed as a Rocket 88 rather than a Super 88, its correct title. Rob thinks the mislabeling helped to disguise this great find.

The Super 88 is rare for a few reasons. Rob points out that the car has minimal rust and its excellent condition, combined with the J-2 tri-power option, makes it a particularly special piece of history. The odometer reads just 17,000 miles, but when Rob discovered it, the Olds’ engine was clearly in need of some love. The exhaust seats had cracked and were leaking. Rob points out that this was a common failure point on the 371 V-8s because they got hot-rodded more than the other Olds engines of the time.

It wasn’t easy for Rob to get this car back on the road. In fact, Redline Rebuild expert Davin Rekow was the first to try and get the Super 88 running, but he declared defeat after finding the 371 locked up solid. The mill was worth a full-blown rescue effort, but Davin simply didn’t have the time. Rob dove into the engine and found the root issue: Rodents had taken up residence in the number five cylinder. All the nasty stuff they left behind after years of living in the block meant that the engine was in desperate need of a total rebuild.

The Olds V-8 is all back together now and better than ever. Rob can’t wait to put some miles on the car after the 11 months of work required to return it to well-deserved health. His story proves that finding these cars is one thing; bringing them back to life is an entirely different challenge. It’s a task worth tackling, however, even if your project isn’t as rare as this ’57 Olds. If you want to see more barn finds and discover the stories behind them, be sure to subscribe to the Hagerty YouTube channel and look for new videos every week.

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There are plenty of folks who parrot the saying that “there are no shops like the old ones anymore.” Tom Cotter is out to prove that myth is exactly that—a myth. This week on Barn Find Hunter, Tom and crew head into the North Carolina mountains to visit a friend with some fantastic British race cars before dropping through a VW shop that continues to operate like it’s 1970.

First stop is a shop owned by Tom’s friend Brian. The large race trailer out front is a big hint about what sits inside. A pair of Lotus Elevens greet Tom right off; one sports a fiberglass body, and the other is beautiful bare aluminum. Both are powered by similar Coventry Climax 1500cc four-cylinder engines. Interestingly, those engines were not produced as racing engines. They were initially stationary pump engines but sharp eyes saw a compact and durable overhead-cam engine that would be a perfect fit for the racing world.

In the back trees of Brian’s property is an odd duck. It’s an Austin Healey 3000 with a strange fiberglass roof, but under the hood is the real meat: a Ford V-8. Brian thinks it’s a 289, but no one can be 100 percent sure with the amount of detritus that has accumulated on top of the iron lump. The car needs a lot of work now, but at one point, it was probably a wicked fast machine thanks to that trans-Atlantic engine swap.

Tom then heads out from the race shop and stops by a more modest establishment. There are no race cars to be found at Guy Roberts VW Repair. Now in its third generation of ownership, this garage carries a reputation that draws customers from five hours away. As impressive as the shop is, the side yard, which serves as a de-facto parts car collection, is  even better.

Folks know that the shop is VW only, so when someone’s VW dies or they don’t want to deal with it anymore, they tow it and leave it in the yard. When the scrap price is right, the shop empties the yard. The dozens of donor cars run the gamut of VW’s history. Tom compares it to cutting down a tree and counting the rings to get the history of the tree—this yard is the history of Volkswagen all in one spot. Some of the cars were customers that never came to pickup their vehicles. One air-cooled Beetle has been waiting to be picked up for over a decade; it’s more of a storage unit now.

From the side lot of the shop Tom travels five minutes down the road to investigate the personal collection of Guy Roberts. The quality is a massive shift compared to the outside storage. A single cab pickup welcomes Tom right away, and as the pair venture deeper into the building, more interesting air-cooled machines are revealed.

Shops like Guy Roberts VW are scattered throughout the country, sometimes a little ways off the beaten path. All you have to do is spend some time looking for them. As Tom always says, “happy hunting.”

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Tom Cotter and crew have traveled the U.S. countryside (and also the UK) in search of dilapidated and hiding cars. He can’t find them all though, so we put out a call in the Hagerty Community for folks to share their best barn finds and the tips rolled in. There were fascinating stories in the posts shared, so Tom sat down with his computer and went through some of the best.

Broncos galore

User montanabroncos has one of the more straightforward user names in the Hagerty Community. (Hint: they find Ford Broncos in Montana.) Well, sort of. Apparently most discoveries are better described as field finds, which tickles the dad humor in Tom. Regardless, the beautiful green first-generation Bronco is one that takes Tom back in time to when he was a salesmen at a Ford dealer. Just proof that time travel does exist, it just requires a different machine than what you see in the movies.

The dream E-type (might be a nightmare)

A red Jaguar covered in an inch of dust, subtly lit by the suns rays peeking through the space between the barn wood slats. The picture sent in by user ClassicRoadster could have been plucked out of just about any gearhead’s dreams. But Tom offers a reality check; a car like this one is a huge project to take on, and unless you want to do it yourself, you might struggle to find someone willing to take it on. Between finding good parts and the right shop to work on it, diving into a project like this could be a mistake for the unprepared.

A flat-four luv affair

Of all the submissions that have poured in, user longboardluv is a someone seemingly born for this moment. He and his friends have been pulling Volkswagens out of garages, fields and basements for years and documenting it all on a YouTube channel. Tom has a soft spot for VWs and admired their work, so he called them up to chat. Each member of the team has their own VW story and trips they like to take to get away and explore the central Texas area they call home. From fast cars to the slowest VWs built, they love it all and have found just about every type, as well.

All of these submissions show that there really is no trick to finding cool cars. Tom points out that it helps to have a fun car that attracts attention and can be used to break the ice of the initial conversation, but that is a luxury.  Almost everything highlighted in the Barn Find Hunter series has been found the old school way—just driving around and looking. The Hagerty Community shows that there is plenty of cool stuff to be found out there, you just have to go look. What are you waiting for?

 

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Of all the crazy-valuable and hyper-rare cars Tom Cotter has uncovered in his time rooting around barns and dusty garages, nothing lights him up like a Datsun 510. Wait, why does Tom get a thrill from picking through hoards of Japanese economy cars? This latest Barn Find Hunter episode may clarify it for you.

The Datsun 510 is a car that follows the same formula as the venerable BMW 2002. A simple four-cylinder engine in the front, bolted up to a manual transmission to power the rear wheels, independent rear suspension, and a couple different body styles. The trick here is that the 510 was $1996 off the lot while a BMW would set you back over $5000. A smart buyer who is chasing the driving experience, not the panache, would likely save that $3000 in price difference for maintenance items—or track prep.

One person who can relate is Peter Brock, the same man who penned the Cobra Daytona Coupe. Brock is such a staple in the 510 community that the paint scheme you recognize is attributed to him. Brock campaigned multiple 510s in Trans Am 2.5-liter class under Brock Racing Enterprises—better known as BRE. The red, white, and blue BRE color scheme matched with 13-inch American Racing Libra wheels and slight fender flares to really muscle up the looks of this econobox.

Looks are one thing, but the 510 backed it up on the track. The Alfa Romeos and BMWs were no match for the humble little Datsun. Unfortunately, the 510 only lived six years before production ended in 1973. The fans have never forgotten about the little car though, and Tom counts himself as one of the faithful.

There is plenty of additional iron in and around this North Carolina hoard, and all of it is rooted in the small local area. As Tom points out, the cars are still out there and hiding just about everywhere—you just have to look. Whether you want a classic Buick Riviera or a race-storied Japanese economy car, it’s up to you to go out and start searching. Or as Tom calls it: hunting.

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Most of Tom Cotter’s barn find stories end when he walks away from whatever barn, building, or field in which he found them, so it’s exciting when we hear the rest of the story. Especially when there’s a happy ending. Such is the case with a 1972 De Tomaso Pantera that Tom uncovered on a trip to New Hampshire in 2017.

Welcome to the first installment of the Barn Find Hunter Reaction Series, in which, as Tom explains, instead of physically looking for barn find cars, he checks out photographs and videos sent in by our viewers.

This Pantera immediately caught Tom’s eye, since he ogled it four years ago and always wondered what had become of it. Turns out it was purchased at auction by Pete Weeks of Windsor, Colorado, who had known of the car since the 1980s. “I think you’ll enjoy the transformation it’s made from sitting in an ant-infested, mosquito-ridden storage container to what it has become today,” Tom says.

Weeks worked for the car’s owner as a teenager in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and he was fully aware that it was a big deal, because he’d heard about the Pantera competing in the 1980 U.S. Express cross-country race. As Weeks explains, after he moved to Colorado, he remained in touch with his friends in Portsmouth, and several years ago one of them reached out to tell him that the De Tomaso was up for auction. Of course, Weeks had to have it, even though it was a dilapidated mess.

He fully restored it over three years, and the now-orange sports car is still powered by its original 351 Cleveland engine, which Weeks built into a 408 stroker that produces 470 horsepower.

“It’s not just a ’72 Pantera to me,” Weeks says. “It brings back a lot of the memories I have as a teenager … and seeing it as a teenager, it was probably the coolest car I’d ever seen.”

After checking out what Weeks has done to the car and seeing it in action, you’ll likely agree that the Pantera’s cool hasn’t faded a bit.

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Searching for automotive gold during a pandemic can be problematic, even for Barn Find Hunter Tom Cotter. So he’s getting by with a little help from his friends.

In episode 96, Tom visits Tim Herman in Hickory, North Carolina, a city that’s famous for two things: furniture and Porsches. Seriously. As Herman explains, Hickory is so Porsche-crazy that at one time all six Porsche 959s in North America were located right here, 56 miles northwest of Charlotte.

Herman, 72, has been restoring high-end Porsches for nearly 50 years, so he has plenty of Porsche barn-find stories. And although we’re here to focus on a machine that resulted in not one but two rare 1955 Porsche 356 Continentals, Tom has to get a lay of the land first. So he starts by showing us a clean SC engine and then mentions that Herman is looking to hire two experienced body guys, or he’ll never finish all of the cars on his list. (You can inquire at carerramotorsport.com.)

The first car we see is a stunning blue-over-red 356 (Pre-A) that was once part of Herman’s collection but is now headed elsewhere. Then we step into another room and check out the progress of a 1952 356 body, which is currently in primer, that Herman and his staff have been working on “five days a week for a year.” When completed, it will be Asher Blue over light beige.

Finally, Herman shows us the reason we’re here. He explains that he once stopped to look at a Volkswagen inside a barn and saw a rusted-out 356 cabriolet. As he started to negotiate a deal, the owner said that Herman would also have to take a 356 roadster in similar condition. Done.

Work on the cabriolet “Continental,” one of fewer than 50 made and 6–8 known to exist, came first and seems to be progressing well. The roadster provides Tom an example of what the cab once looked like.

“It’s a little crispy,” Herman admits as Tom examines some rusted-out metal.

“It would scare the willies out of me,” Tom says.

Herman is nonchalant. “That’s just all in a day’s work.”

Tom and the crew step outside of Herman’s shop (Herman & Walker, LLC) and point out some newer—and less expensive—Porsches sitting outside Herman’s neighbor, JTS Motorsports, which is a Porsche service shop. First, Tom shows us a 924 “that’s trashed, but I’m told it runs.” It can be had for $500. “If you only have $500 to spend on an entry-level project car, these are out there,” Tom says, then jokes, “If you want to own the ugliest Porsche in the world, then here’s your opportunity to do that.”

One thing is for sure: A 924 will cost you a lot less than the cars on which Herman spends most of his time and labor.

Until next time, happy hunting.

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Since the introduction of the Barn Find Hunter series, the tips and leads have never slowed down. Tom has mentioned in the past that he simply can’t get to all of them—there is just too many. The information coming to us is worth talking about though, so we put out a call in the Hagerty Community for folks to share their best barn finds. Of course, the photos and videos rolled in. With limited travel time, Tom sat down and perused the posts to give his take on the best that have been submitted thus far.

Range Rover Triplet

Dougscars must be a special kind of masochist because he found and acquired not just one Range Rover Classic, but three. They were in sad shape when they came home, but within a day he had them running and even got them driving. The power plant in these Range Rovers is a variation of the Buick 215 V-8, which is stout and durable, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised they came to life so easily. Then again, looking at the photo of a pair in the field where they were sitting makes them look pretty rough.

GTI, Hearse, and Beetle, oh my!

This next group of find comes from kfolk‘s front yard. It’s an eclectic grouping for sure, led by a what Tom believes is an eight-valve 1986 Volkswagen GTI. It’s a car Tom knows a good bit about because he has one in his home garage right now. He bought his new and it served as a family car for many years. The next car in this group is a rusty but seemingly complete Cadillac hearse. Tom recounts when these used hearses were cheap and he would watch the surf guys strip out the interior to make them into surf wagons.

The MG and Jaguar in the… Lean to?

There isn’t much information for Tom to go off with the photos AJS sent, but the images make Tom want to know more. What appears to be an MG TD and Jaguar XK140 are under some type of shelter roof, but there are no walls to protect these two Brits from getting absolutely covered in dust. We can’t even be sure what the paint color is on either car, but they each look complete and worth saving. A really neat find.

FJ40 rescue

The Toyota FJ40 has been riding the value roller coaster, and as it has continued to climb the likelihood of finding a good one in the sticks seems to shrink. User dhaayer didn’t let that discourage him, and he got lucky enough to come across a nice FJ40 in southern British Columbia that was worth saving. He has documented his journey to bring it back to roadworthy condition in a video series that is worth a watch.

Not Indiana—India

Tom has been luck enough to travel coast to coast in the U.S., and even the U.K. on the hunt for vintage iron. One country he hasn’t been lucky enough to visit yet is India. Tom likes the thought of uncovering interesting cars in other countries, and TheDoc68 only reinforces Tom’s interest by posting a group of cars from India. It’s an interesting mix of English and American cars and includes a first-generation Camaro. That must have been difficult to import, and it looks like the current owner is taking care of it as such.

That is just a taste of the submissions that Tom and the team have received, and we will continue highlighting the best that come in via the Hagerty Community. If you would like to share yours, be sure to add some photos and include a brief description. You never know, Tom Cotter might be knocking on your door.

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There are a few things Tom Cotter like to do the old-fashioned way, and finding vintage iron by doing his own footwork is one of them. However, the occasional tip comes through that he can’t ignore. In this case, it’s a call from Steve Davis who has a 365-foot long chicken coop that is no longer used for poultry. Instead, the structure packs all manner of vintage horsepower, of both the two- and the four-wheeled variety.

The property might look familiar to long-time Barn Find Hunter viewers, because Tom first visited back in 2017. There weren’t enough hours in the day to investigate the vehicles in all 12 of Steve’s buildings, so Tom decided to return and take a more focused approach. This hunt is all about two-wheeled vehicles, and the stash is epic.

The starting point is a lineup of 1960s Hondas, which for Steve represents the literal starting point of his collection. In his youth, he borrowed some money from his father and fixed up a few Honda 50s. Soon, Steve realized he was never going to get rid of anything, and the proverbial snowball started rolling. Today, he owns a full-on avalanche of timeless machines.

A couple highlights include a fleet of unrestored Yamaha motocross bikes from the late-’70s, a Wankel rotary-powered Hercules, and a Czechoslovakian-built CZ whose odd starting method is its claim to fame. The shift lever on the bike’s left side pushes in and flips over to become the kickstart—one lever to do it all. In the end, though, Steve’s hoard is merely the appetizer to the main course that exists just down the road.

The second collection is owned by Robin and, despite being just 10 miles from Steve’s well-known property, was entirely unknown to Steve until recently. Robin is a U.K. transplant who loves the motorcycles of his homeland and has acquired and stashed a multitude of vintage machines.

The cornerstone is a Vincent “Red” Rapide that he purchased in 1964. Robin has done a lot of work to the bike over the years to upgrade it to Black Shadow specification. Interestingly, just 26 Vincents like Robin’s made it stateside, and the red paint is said to have been sourced from the U.S. Post Office fleet. Sitting right next to the red Rapide is a black Rapide that has been a part of this collection for 50 years as well. When Robin buys, he buys what he likes and holds onto it.

Tom jokes at the outset of this episode that the nice thing about motorcycles is their compact size; you can store 10 bikes in one car’s worth of space. A motorcycle collector can easily amass a decent collection in a small garage or storage space, but that also makes bikes a bit tougher to find out in the wild. Tom loves a challenge, though, and that’s why we love him.

Be sure to subscribe to the Hagerty YouTube channel and tune in each Friday for new Barn Find Hunter episodes. These motorcycles are just the start of the new season, and you won’t want to miss the great finds just around the corner.

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