The Barn Find Hunter’s six-episode trip to the UK has turned into Weekend at Bernie’s, only better. Our Bernie is livelier than the movie character—and that British accent and sense of humor are priceless. Tom Cotter can attest to that.
As we begin our fourth installment documenting Tom’s week-long search for automotive treasures on the other side of the Atlantic—back in the pre-coronavirus days—it’s raining. Again. Which is why, Tom explains, we’re checking out the cars in one of Bernie Chodosh’s barns.
“Let’s see what you got in here, old man,” Tom says. Bernie responds with something resembling English, and it deserves a bleep just to be safe. “Only joking,” he says with a laugh.
Immediately behind the door of Unit 3 is a 1990 BMW M5 Touring, and Tom immediately melts. “Oh, this is a beauty. Ohhhhh, man … I’m a wagon guy, and I also happen to be a BMW guy, and this is the cat’s meow.” Bernie explains that he searched five or six years for the M5 Touring on behalf of a client. “Basically, you can’t buy these cars,” he says. “They never come on the market. People never want to sell them.” This one has 100,000 miles on the clock but has been well looked after. And that paint—wow.
“Aubergine?” Tom asks, pronouncing it abber-gene.
“Aubergine,” Bernie answers, pronouncing it ober-gene. “Bloody … freakin’ Yank.”
He continues. “These are the cars that guys in their 40s are now dying to get, because it’s their era. Everybody has their era.”
The building is wall-to-wall cars, parked so close together that you couldn’t move one without moving several others first. Bernie walks a few steps to a black 1972 Chevrolet Corvette race car, wearing No. 72. He describes its features: small-block V-8 engine, four-speed, factory wide arches on the wheel wells. “It’s a club racer—pretty much ready to race,” he says, adding that there aren’t many Corvettes in England.
Tom asks if Corvettes are revered here, like Ferraris are. “No. No,” Bernie says. “People who buy Ferraris—I don’t know why they do it. They’re like hair dressing cars, aren’t they? They’re like for guys in their 50s and 60s that got nothing better to do, and they buy a Ferrari because they want to have a … It’s the badge, isn’t it?
“We got a Ferrari here. There’re actually bits of shit. If you’ve ever worked on a Ferrari, they’re stuck together. They’re hopeless. But it is what it is.”
Tom laughs. Feel the Bern.
Moving on, Tom asks about a red 1965 Austin-Healey 3000 Mk II. Bernie says it hasn’t been driven in years. He bid £42,000 for it at auction, but it didn’t meet the reserve. Two days later, however, he received a call from the auction house—the seller didn’t want to ship it home, so he was willing to deal. “He said, ‘What will you pay for it?’” Bernie says. “I said, ‘34,000.’ He said, ‘Hold on a second, you bid over 40,000 for it on Saturday.’ I said, ‘That was Saturday, this is Monday.’ Anyway, we did the deal.”
On the other side of the room, Tom spies a Cadillac that he just has to learn more about. It’s definitely an eye catcher: a 1931 Drop Head Coupe that has been blinged out in 24-karat gold-leaf bodywork on behalf of Liberace. We think. Before Bernie bought it, it was in a German museum that claimed it belonged to the colorful pianist. In addition to the gold-leaf exterior, the exterior door handles are plated in silver, the inside handles are 24-karat gold, the interior is white leather, the floor is covered in mink, and the headlights pivot with the steering wheel. Under the hood is a 5.7-liter V-8 mated to a three-speed automatic transmission.
“Don’t ask me why I bought it,” Bernie says. “I couldn’t resist it … I must have been on drugs at the time, I suppose.”
Now he’s feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse and is looking to sell it, preferably to someone in the U.S.
“You’d have to be a very flamboyant person to want to own something like this,” Bernie admits.
“That’s why you own it,” Tom says.
“Exactly. I fell in love with it. I thought, ‘Where in the hell am I going to see another one?’”
Next to the Cadillac is a 1981 Maserati Merak. Tom says he’s never seen a Maserati interior like this one has. “That’s typical sort of ’70s …,” Bernie says. “They went through this sort of Scottish tartan thing. I love it because it’s so different.”
Bernie pulls back the cover to reveal a gold-painted 1965 Ford Mustang K-Code fastback, powered by a 271-hp, 289-cubic-inch V-8. “It’s my favorite … I just love it to death, and I’m a Chevy man,” he says. “There are certain [Ford] models I really like, and this is one of them … That whole muscle car era, it was fantastic.”
Bernie then reveals a red 1991 Acura NSX—he calls it a Honda (or Honder, in his British accent). “Fabulous. Designed by Ayrton Senna. Just a super nice car. This is a manual, not an auto. We spent five years looking for a car like this … Boy, one of the best cars you’ll drive from its era.”
Tom agrees, saying automotive writers of the day called it too good to be an exotic car. “It started all the time, the heat worked, the air conditioning worked. It’s a great car.”
Before leaving the building, Tom admires a 1968 Mercury Cougar with Cragar wheels. “This was like a luxury Mustang,” he says. “It was a step up.”
As if it couldn’t get any better, we’re off to Bernie’s house to see one of his racing Corvettes, as well as some other fabulous rides. The 1958 Corvette in his garage—don’t mind the mattresses on the roof—is nearly identical to the ’59 ’Vette he races in the States. He’s owned it for 38 years. “It’s been to Sebring and Daytona,” Bernie says, but now “my boys race it.”
Dodging the rain drops and walking to Bernie’s other garage, he reveals a Mini Cooper that belongs to his son Adam, who “went through five Minis to get to this one.” Off camera, Bernie says he has done his best to stoke Adam’s automotive fire. “I try to keep the flag flying. We’re losing young people, so you have to encourage them when they show interest.”
Bernie extols the virtues of a recently purchased 1970 Mazda Cosmo Series III. “This was a good car that went from Japan to Russia, of all places [where they restored it] … then it went to Paris.” That’s where Bernie saw it at an Artcurial auction. “I love this car. I love the shape. I love the typical American design on it”—which he says Mazda expertly “nicked” or “thieved” by taking some of the best ideas from other manufacturers.
“Jay Leno’s got one of these,” Tom says.
“He’s got one of everything, doesn’t he?” Bernie asks. “He’s a greedy bugger.”
We move on to a familiar-looking car, a 1965 Aston Martin DB5, the ride preferred by James Bond. Stunning in silver, Bernie explains that it was “built as a gentleman’s race car,” and it carries a six-cylinder mill with Weber headers. He’s owned it for more than 10 years. The bodywork, he says, is “aluminium.”
Tom doesn’t miss the opportunity. “Aluminum,” he says, using the American pronunciation.
“No, we say aluminium,” Bernie answers. “You say it wrong.”
“I think we invented it, didn’t we? Didn’t Americans invent that?”
“You invented Coca-Cola. That’s about it.”
Feel the Bern. Again.
“This is a barn find show,” Tom says. “Couldn’t you have rusty cars here instead?”
“Well, they’re dirty,” Bernie answers. “It’s about as near to it.”
Oh, no, it isn’t. But never fear, barn find fans. They’re coming. Very soon. Stay tuned …