Barn Find Hunter Tom Cotter has always wanted to use an airplane to search for classic cars from above. On his latest treasure-hunting trip to northern Michigan, he gets his wish.
Flying over inland lakes and along the shore of Lake Michigan, Tom uses his cellphone to drop a GPS pin when he sees something promising, and he plans to drive to the location later when he’s back on the ground. It’s a great idea in theory, except it doesn’t bear fruit. Not directly anyway. After visiting a repair shop that works on more modern vehicles, Tom prepares to leave when the owner offers, “I’ve got a friend about 45 minutes away who has a bunch of old cars you might like.” Bingo.
“Even though that airplane trip didn’t actually produce a barn find, the experience produced a lead that we’re going to check out now,” Tom says. “You never know where they’re going to come from. Crazy world.”
Soon the Barn Find Hunter team arrives at the home of 74-year-old Frank, a longtime race car driver and accumulator of project cars. Regretfully, Frank didn’t get around to fixing as many of those project cars as he’d hoped.
“The original plan was to restore ’em,” he says. “Every time I’d find one, I’d buy it (and say), ‘I’m gonna fix that,’ and I’d put it out there with the rest of ’em. Now I’m too old and I’m gonna sell ’em all off.”
That means there are deals to be had, in case you see something you can’t live without.
Among the cars in Frank’s are a 1968 Ford Torino with a 302 engine and automatic transmission. Frank discovered it on a hunting trip in Montana and towed it home. Parked a few feet away is a 1983 Mustang with a 302 powerplant and five-speed gearbox, along with a pair of 1941 Ford business coupes. A tree appears to be growing out of one of them.
Tom asks about a Ford drag car sitting nearby, and Frank explains that it belongs to his son. “He couldn’t beat the old man on the circle track,” he says, “so he went drag racing.” Frank says his son is a fan of Cleveland engines; Tom innocently asks if Frank likes Windsors.
“No, I hate Windsors,” he says, which makes Tom laugh. “The 351 Windsor—all that is is a Chevrolet painted blue. I don’t like it.”
Well, OK then. So what happened to that dilapidated ’66 Galaxie over there, Tom inquires? Frank admits, sheepishly, that it’s been sitting at his place too long.
There’s so much more to see here: several more Torinos, a ’68 Mustang, an LTD convertible, and a ’38 Oldsmobile. Wait a sec, Tom wonders aloud, what’s an Olds doing with all these Fords? “I liked the damn grille,” Frank says.
Tom later spies a race car hauler, a ’47 Lincoln two-door coupe, and a ’65 Mustang convertible. He asks about Mustang. Frank says it belongs to his son. “He got divorced, and he was going to leave it here a couple of months until he found a new place,” Frank says, then he pauses briefly before delivering the punchline. “That was about 20 years ago.”
Tom notices a white car way off in the field, far away from the other vehicles. “Is that a Nissan?”
“That’s a piece of s**t Subaru,” Frank says. “A buddy of mine left it here, so I towed it back there.”
Tom laughs at Frank’s colorful comment, and then thanks him for spending so much time with the crew. As Tom drives away in his borrowed 1970 Challenger, he revels in what the day has brought.
“That turned out to be a neat stop,” he says. “And you know what? Better than the stuff (we saw) were the people.”
Which is often how it goes. Happy hunting.
— Jeff Peek