Nothing in the vintage car hobby ignites more imagination than the idea of the barn find. By now, a half-dozen books have been published on cars, motorcycles, even guitars stashed and long forgotten, and discovered by unsuspecting nephews or neighbors of the original owners. There’s something so mysterious about valuable cars going underground and resurfacing years later.
Big collections like the Lambrecht Chevrolet auction in Nebraska are lighting a huge fire under collectors everywhere. That a car dealer – with access to cool inventory and a means to stash it – has a bunch of cars in storage shouldn’t be that big a surprise to anyone. There’s probably such a collection in half of the towns in America. Not five miles from where I sit right now, there’s such a collection that contains a couple of Shelby Series 1s, and some pretty special Oldsmobiles, and the last Oldsmobile Cutlass to come off the now-defunct Framingham GM assembly plant in 1987.
That’s the beauty of jittery old woodchucks stashing cars they think they’re going to restore someday: plenty of barn finds are still out there. You just need to be ever-more vigilant to find them. Here are four of the coolest barn finds – and one bedroom find – in history.
You’d hear about interesting barn finds years ago, but a lot of those stories were urban legends that never passed the Snopes.com test. That’s largely because cars weren’t really worth all that much. Even Shelby Cobras – and even the rarest, most unique, racing-DNA Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupes that competed at Le Mans – were just used cars after they raced for a season. By 1965, those obsolete cars sold for $5,000 a copy.
But in 2001, it was a whole new ballgame. Shelby Cobras had been out of circulation for generations, Carroll Shelby was beating the drum with a new car, and dot-com money was falling like confetti in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Vintage cars were worth money, and suddenly, cars that had gone underground were surfacing left and right.
The first story of a multimillion car that captured the collective consciousness of car enthusiasts everywhere was the car that Steve Spence wrote in Car and Driver in July of 2001, in the article “Death, Deception and the $4 Million Cobra.”
“She was Donna O’Hara, 54, a divorced woman who had worked for 13 years at a Sears merchandise-distribution center in Santa Ana,” Spence wrote. “What had happened to the Shelby Cobra race car that Donna O’Hara had locked away in storage for almost three decades, the one that had been worth maybe 10 grand when the padlock went on but was now worth $4 million.”
It’s a fascinating story detailing CSX2287’s perplexing chain of ownership, eventually involves Wall-of-Sound nutjob Phil Spector.
Bugattis and Ferraris are pretty much guaranteed to bring some kind of money no matter what shape they’re in. But if you’ve got an old Pontiac taking up space in the chicken coop, chances are fairly good that your best hope is going to be for scrap value.
But what if that rot-box Pontiac is a Tempest, and it’s got a real funky rear suspension setup, and some damned fool has replaced the side windows with Plexiglas?
It’s probably a coin-toss between whether it should go to the crusher, or up on eBay. Luckily for the seller, this particular seller took the latter route, because it turned out that this Tempest was one of just six Stan Antlocer Factory Experimental lightweight drag cars.
Even with the engine long gone, this particular Tempest rung up an impressive $226,521.63. Not bad for something that looked like it was used to breed raccoons not long before the pictures were taken.
Hoarders get a lot of attention now, what with their reality shows and all. But Harry Carr was one of those hoarders that reached epic status, not unlike Howard Hughes. Instead of tissue boxes and milk bottles filled with his own pee, though, Harry Carr stashed things like 1,500 German beer steins, and this 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante.
Just one of 17 of this configuration ever produced, Carr was the third owner, purchasing the car from Barclay’s in 1955 for about $2,500 USD. He drove it for a bit and then stashed it in a garage, where it sat until Carr died in 2007.
It wasn’t the only car in Harry’s barn. There was an Aston Martin and a Jaguar E-Type, too. It wasn’t completely forgotten. A handful of people over the years had made attempts to buy it, but because they understood the car’s value and wanted to be the ones to purchase it, nobody ever disclosed the car’s location. Finally, when Harry passed away in 2007, his family consigned the car to Bonhams.
On the 7th of February, 2009, at the fabulous French vintage car event Retromobile, Bonhams put the car across the block with a $3 million reserve. At the end of bidding, the gavel dropped on this stashed Bugatti at $4.4 million.
Hemmings Motor News just reported this one yesterday: Darryl Tinnerstet of McCleary, Washington was a De Lorean parts specialist, and he had a side business finding the stainless-bodied sports cars for clients.
He ran across an ad in Hemmings for a 1981 De Lorean in 1994 that was not only close by, but had just 81 miles showing on the odometer. He took a chance and went out to meet the owner.
The car had originally been purchased as an investment, but the owner was in failing health, and he needed to move it along rather quickly. When Tinnerstet arrived, he looked at his surroundings and noticed that there was no garage near the seven-room ranch where the owner lived. The owner mentioned that he stored it for a short time in the carport, but was concerned about leaving the car outside.
“Where’s the car now,” asked Tinnerstet?
“In the bedroom,” the owner answered.
He led Tinnersted around to the side of the house, where a chainsaw had been used to hack a hole in the side wall of the house. With a set of ramps, the De Lorean rolled up inside, right onto the blue shag carpet, with barely enough room inside to move.
You can read the rest of the story on Hemmings Blog.
Motorcycles – almost more than cars – seem to be lurking in barns and sheds with alarming frequency. I’ve ended up finding the makings of three Ducati singles, a Moto Guzzi 850 T-3, a Honda CB450 and an Allstate scooter just by keeping an eye peeled and making it known I’m interested in such things.
Indians, however, are another matter, and the 1941 Indian 4 is probably the rarest of barn finds you’re likely to run across. The Indian 4 was the Springfield, Massachusetts company’s plan to modernize just as the Second World War broke out, and this one looks like it’s spent a fair bit of time since then collecting dust. It was auctioned by a small auction company in 2011. No word on what it eventually sold for.
Image Credit: Penny Worley Auctioneers, eBay, Hemmings Motor News, CobraRegistry.com
- Shelby Cobra
- Carroll Shelby