Tom Cotter has covered a lot of ground during his visit to northern Michigan. The Barn Find Hunter’s adventures have included racing a pair of classic Mopars, driving an antique tractor, and visiting an old friend whose woody restoration shop burned down. This time around, he gets down and dirty at an auto detailing shop and in a field of vintage SUVs.

First up is a visit to Dane at Bayside Detailing, a meeting inspired by Tom’s interest in a Jeep Wagoneer and a Chevy Camaro sitting outside, which he passed several times before stopping.

“You don’t have to drive into the middle of the U.S. and hunt through barns,” Tom says. “Sometimes barn finds are right next door.”

Dane’s 1982 Wagoneer—which he purchased at the age of 17—is a bit rusty, and he blew its straight-six engine a while back. On the bright side, “It has a perfect [copper-colored] interior—just mint.” That’s important because Dane plans to put the Wagoneer’s interior into the mud-caked Jeep pickup that he just off-roaded over the weekend. “It has nice patina,” he says, “if you could see it.”

Dane bought the silver Camaro from his former boss. It has a 1995 LT1 engine, a six-speed manual, and ’95 Corvette seats. The body was rough when Dane bought it, and he did all of the restoration work himself—in about three months, because he wanted to drive the car ASAP. Now he wishes he had more time behind the wheel. Unfortunately, between Dane’s job and the other classic vehicles he owns, he just doesn’t have the time he once did.

Much like Tom, Dane enjoys driving around searching for old cars. The best vehicle to find, he says, is one that looks like it has been parked and forgotten, “because you know (the owners) aren’t thinking about it … and you can go over and work it.” Work it, he means, as in make an offer.

It’s a strategy that Tom uses while uncovering barn finds across America. In fact, it serves him well on this trip; after he leaves Dane’s place, he drives down a dirt road and discoveres an enthusiast named Joe that he’d actually met several years earlier. Joe’s property is a honey hole of vintage SUVs … Ford Broncos, Bronco IIs, and Toyota FJ40s. The Broncos at Joe’s are mostly parts vehicles because his son loves Broncos, and “all of the better ones are at his place.”

Tom asks about one of the Broncos, which isn’t complete but has a decent-looking body. “I’ve seen worse,” Tom says, to which Joe replies, “There’s always a worse one out there.”

While Joe’s son is into the Ford SUVs, Joe finds Toyota FJ40s more to his liking. One of them, housed in a storage building, is an early import model with a power winch. He also has a Ford Fairlane XL, a 1956 Thunderbird, the shell of a ’57 Chevy, and two Corvettes—one that features a ’63 front clip, ’64 body, and ’65 frame.

Then there’s Joe’s red ’72 Corvette convertible, which he scored in a trade for a boat in 1976. Joe and his wife made a lot of memories in the Vette, and he is currently rebuilding it so they can make more. New additions to the car include a 360-hp 350 V-8, power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning.

Tom delights in his reunion with Joe and says their happenstance meeting exemplifies the importance of taking the road less traveled.

“If you’re just driving around looking for old cars, go down that road you’ve never driven before—you might just meet someone like Joe, who has a garage full of stuff, and a backyard full of stuff, and cool Corvettes to look at.”

Happy hunting.

— Jeff Peek

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