By now it’s downright difficult to impress Barn Find Hunter Tom Cotter, who in his many travels pulling back the cover on old cars has just about seen it all. But there’s no mistaking the absolute joy Tom feels when he wanders into Randy Carlson’s goofy menagerie of cars, none of which would ever be mistaken for a garage queen.
After a handful of tipsters mentioned Carlson’s place in the desert outside San Diego, Tom is under the impression there will be just a couple of cars to see. Upon arrival he is disabused of that notion as Carlson points out a strange version of a Crosley—dubbed the Crosmobile—that was made for the export market. Right behind it is a 1968 Volkswagen van with a particular accordion-style Dormobile pop-top that Carlson previously owned and sold. Of course, when he saw it listed online several years later, he had to buy it back.
Next is a pair of Ford Model Ts with the original interiors. The cars, which have a few improvements installed like a two-speed Ruckstell rear end and better brakes, had long been sitting before Carlson ushered them into his collection. Tom is soon fascinated by a ’32 Packard with a straight-eight, which have been kept in Carlson’s family. Sure enough, the plot thickens, as Tom learns that the car more than held its own competing in a beach race at The Race of Gentlemen.
Then things start to take a turn for the weird, starting off with a bizarre Honda Civic with two drivetrains, two steering wheels, and two opposingly-driven axles. Carlson traded for the car with odd-car king Jeff Lane of the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, and he assures Tom that it is a hoot to do donuts with two drivers wrestling for control. “There’s no going back in this car,” Carlson says with a chuckle.
After glancing at a worn-looking Porsche 356B that belonged to his father, Carlson moves on to a Lincoln Premiere with a clean body, followed by a pair of vintage two-cylinder air-cooled Hondas that were built on the same day. But Tom really enjoys the ratty-looking, rusty 1960 Volkswagen Beetle in the yard. It apparently runs great, despite the aesthetics, which really give VW fans something to marvel at when it rolls up to car shows.
Tom spends a good bit of time getting the scoop on the crusty old Packard and Model A hot rod decorating the property, but he is dazzled by what Carlson reveals under a car cover. What looks like a ’50s Porsche coupe is in fact much more of a mystery—best Carlson can figure, the car is a one-of-one coach-built Frankenstein put together at a German design school in the early 1960s. The school, the Meisterschule für Handwerker in Kaiserslautern, is still in operation, and has a history of automotive and industrial design.
It seems that the car was a class project, with much of the car hand-built to the quality and engineering standards of a production car. The steel body has a cloth sunroof, features a 1960 Porsche 356 engine and brakes, Porsche taillights, and the chassis from a ’58 Karmann-Ghia. As Carlson explains in his Petrolicious feature on the car, he is still trying to get the school to confirm its origins with any contemporary blueprints or drawings. But what he knows for certain is that the car is unique and a total jewel of Germany’s design and engineering history.
Also taken with the rare find, Tom can’t resist asking Carlson to swap in an old battery, drop in a little gas, and let the old relic sputter to life. The sound is as clattery and mechanical as an old Porsche should be, and that’s about all it takes for Tom to declare that this was one of his most enjoyable barn find adventures to date.