What is a barn find?

What is a barn find?

It’s every Classic Car fans dream: A little old lady is selling her dearly departed husband’s (insert your favorite classic here) cheap because she doesn’t know what it’s worth. It hasn’t run in years, but it’s been safely tucked away in her (barn/garage/carport) for decades, covered in dust and with a few weekends of work, you’ll have a true time capsule classic on your hands. You might even be able to turn around and sell it at a nice profit — especially if it was made by Porsche or BMW.

A barn find is commonly a car that has been laid up for some time and may be a ‘forgotten gem’ or a pile of rust. Barn find doesn’t literally mean barn, although the name came from the practice of people in rural communities driving cars until they broke down and then, thinking they had no value, pushing them into a barn and forgetting about them until 40 years later you open the barn, chase away the chickens, look past the dead rats and find a rare and valuable car under inches of dust.

It can be barns, sheds, garages, storage units, factories and even carparks. Many are projects that have been bought and never started, or worse, dismantled and boxed or stacked and with the loss of interest or the invasion of everyday life halting proceedings. Often a retirement project gets started but is beyond the skill level of the want-to-be-restorer and is left.

Over the past few years, the value of collector cars has spiralled out of control, with cars like early Porsche 911s change hands for twice or more what they did a decade ago, and others like Mazda rotaries, early Fords, and even early Toyotas are commanding big money.

If they’ve been well-preserved, the fact that they are ‘original’ may make them worth more than a restored car. Many ‘barn finds’ have lower milage than contemporary cars because they have been sitting idle for many years.

But there are many old cars that aren’t particularly valuable; rare enough and interesting to buy as a good quality runner but certainly not that unique that it makes an extensive ground up restoration worthwhile.

You may find an early model car that is a collectable, rare, matching numbers original, but if it’s a heap that’s been sitting for 20 plus years, virtually everything that isn’t metal could need to be replaced — and depending on rot, a lot of that may need to go as well.

It may not have 50 years’ worth of valuable history: it could have a few years of family commuting followed by decades of decomposition, topped off with a liberal helping of moss, mould, and surface rust, and possibly a seized motor.

Auction brochures often say: ‘you will have the opportunity to take ownership of this true time capsule, either to preserve its legacy or restore to like-new condition.’ But buyers knew better than to confuse neglect with legacy, and the almost derelict vehicle can command money close to a well restored vehicle.

The question is what value does ‘one owner from new’ or ‘matching numbers’ really add. For some cars a lot, the majority not at all. What is the condition of the car and what does it need to get it running again?

I have been fortunate enough to find sone great cars hidden away. Some we sold well below their value and only required a small amount of work to clean and get running to make a good profit, and other rare cars that a much bigger upside.

Every classic car fan wants a car with a story, but what many seem to miss is that a car’s story usually falls into the category of sentimental value. Peter Brock’s daily drive Group A will fetch a premium for its provenance, but Dad’s HSV probably won’t.

We’re always pleased to see another classic back on the road, but it doesn’t need to have 1960’s air in its tyres. One thing is for sure - the hunt, finding and seeing what you can do with these cars is always an adrenaline rush.

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Car ads and what they mean...

Car ads and what they mean...

Right now, buying and selling classic cars is a contact sport. With the prices rising over the last 18 months and people seeing some crazy auction results buyers and sellers are testing the market – sellers looking to get 50% more than the car is worth and sellers looking for a bargain.

Prices are up and competition for buyers and sellers has intensified so to get noticed sellers are using creative licence on the way they describe their cars in ads, which is something that car dealers have been doing for years, proving that you may not be able to gold plate a turd, but you can certainly roll it in glitter.

Any used car ad is generally packed with cliches and catchphrases. But what do they really mean?

If you’ve ever thought to yourself: ‘how can a 1981 Ford Falcon be in ‘as new’ condition, you’re not alone. I have bought and sold hundreds of cars, so I reckon I’ve developed a keen eye for detail in cutting through the BS in used car ads.

Some people are just following along with what other sellers say, some are prone to exaggeration and some are simply deceitful. It really is a case of buyer beware.

So, I have come up with a list of some of the most common terms used – and my interpretation of what those terms may actually mean. Let’s have a look at a few and I’m sure you will have more, it’s great fun.


Collector's item—If you hang on to it long enough, it might actually be worth something.

Needs minor work—Buggered, needs major work.

Stored for 20 years – everything has seized up and rats have eaten the seats.

Uses a small amount of oil – smokes like an Iraqi oil file.

Tastefully lowered – springs cut, rides like a pig, and won’t pass roadworthy.

No time to get roadworthy/ Near roadworthy – Not even close, needs thousands spent.

Drove well when parked – been in a field for 20 years and totally stuffed.

No books – I chucked them out because I wound 100,000km off the clock.

Full-service history – serviced by my cousin Spiro who works at the fish market.

Restoration started—It has been stripped and half the parts are missing.

Unique opportunity to secure an appreciating asset – being sold by a Real Estate Agent

Numbers matching – they matched the cars the parts came off.

Celebrity heritage —I nearly ran over Bert Newton in the Channel 9 carpark

Too many projects – this car is buggered.

Only driven on Sundays – it’s an ex race car.

Looks great from 10 feet – paint is knackered.

Closed door paint job – it has a different colour under the bonnet and inside the doors.

Minor clear coat peel – paint is knackered.

Minor paint fade, good for age – paint is buggered.

Minor retouches –touch up colour isn’t even close/done with a rattle can.

Minor mechanical issues – needs a new engine.

Doesn’t run, just needs a new battery – engine is buggered.

All options—Still has the original AM pushbutton radio and cigarette lighter, which doesn’t work.

Negotiable on price – I know it’s massively overpriced.

Small dent in bumper, quoted $300 for repair. – quote received in 1980, now its $3,000

Minor rust spot size of a 10c piece only – that you can see, frame and rails completed rusted out.

No visible rust – I have covered it with a spray can.

Lovely patina – full of rust holes

Lady owner - Usually means scuffed wheels, parking dents and a poor servicing record

One lady owner – who loves track days and won last year’s burn out competition at Summernats.

One mature lady owner – driven by her three sons on P plates, lowered, dodgy mags, dented and a subby in the boot.

Mature owner – why does your photo shows the car with P plates in McDonald’s car park?

Elderly owner –the car has had more hits than Elvis

Includes personalised plate. Sorry, Daza 71 has no interest to me. Worth nothing.

Drive it home – if you live within 3km

5 x 5 warranty – 5 feet or 5 minutes whichever comes first

Needs a new XYZ, available on Ebay for $80 – Can’t get parts anywhere

Simple fix, just don't have time – No one can work out what is wrong with it

Interior could use a tidy up – It has been under water.

Always garaged – It was in a parking garage once.

Great project – this car will never be on the road again.

Owner moving interstate – it’s easy to get them registered interstate, what is the real reason?

As new – not even close.

Only 50,000 careful kms – then why is the driver’s seat and steering wheel so badly worn?

High kms, but regular use and servicing – It used to be a taxi

Happy to assist with interstate buyers – Please buy it without looking at it.

Never been in an accident – then why is the front guard dented and the bonnet not an exact colour match?

Regretful sale – I regret I didn’t sell it before the rust came through or the tranny started slipping.

Needs paint— and pretty much everything else.

Minor blemishes – Covered in hail damage.

New engine 20,000km ago – the engine had 200,000km on it before it was installed, and registration not updated so you will have a massive headache when you go to register it (may need an engineer’s certificate).

First to see will buy – why is it still advertised after 6 months?

Very reliable – Didn’t break down during the test drive.

All original parts – never serviced.

Country or highway kilometres - 5-year-old car with nearly 300km on the clock.

Well-loved family car - traces of kids' lunches wedged between the seats, marks on the upholstery that can never be removed and a few dings and scratches in the paintwork. 

Never been thrashed – then why does your photo have standard wheels on the back and alloys on the front?

'Selling on behalf of a friend' – I can pretend to not know all the faults or be responsible for when the buyer realises it’s a pile of rubbish.

Immaculate condition for the year – Then it’s not immaculate is it?

Minor scuff on wheels – wheels buggered, bent and no longer round.

Air con not working, just needs a re-gas – Air conditioner buggered

Insured for double the asking price – the insurance company was told it was a concours winner.

Only selling because I have bought a new car – really?

Excuses to explain short ownership – changed circumstances, moving interstate, need a bigger car for work, baby on the way, when the real reason is that they have bought a heap of junk.

Baby forces sale - The interior smells of baby vomit and there are stains on the back seat that I can't clean off.

Offered for sale at a fraction of the restoration cost – that fraction is 98%

1 of only 2 produced in this spec – yes only 2 produced in green with orange seats and a crappy rear spoiler. Bad taste of original owner does not make it desirable or special.

Unique. It’s so bad that they failed when new and no better now and no parts available.

New tyres fitted. - They were new 10,000 Km ago.

Regularly serviced - Every four years without fail.

First time offered – Why would I care about that?

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Electric vehicles and the future of classic cars

Electric vehicles and the future of classic cars

One of the regular discussion points in the car world is that Governments are mandating a change to electric vehicles within the next twenty to thirty years and most car manufacturers are changing over to electric only. We are seeing massive PR campaigns about saving the planet and the move to zero emission cars. Therefore, they surmise, the classic car market is dead, and our pride and joy will be turned into a piece of overpriced lawn art.

We understand that electric cars are the way of the future and the direction that the car manufacturers are going, along with self-driving cars that can possibly reduce the road toll to zero which is a great target. But this isn’t a debate on the merits or otherwise of electric vs internal combustion engines but the future of classics. The fear mongers who take Facebook as gospel are saying that classics will be forced off the road and legislated out of existence which is not correct.

Yes, Europe is mandating all new cars sold to be electric by 2030 but that doesn’t mean that the existing classic cars, or any current cars must be scrapped. Even if all car manufacturers stopped producing combustion engines, including replacement engines now, they still be in use in 20 years’ time. I have 50-year-old cars which still have their original engines and are going strong.

But the replacement parts won’t be available? Wrong again, even if we discount all the car salvage businesses and NOS parts, businesses will pop up that are remanufacturing the parts to the original specification (or better). It already happens with panels, trim wheels and a host of parts that are no longer manufactured by the car companies which are called ‘repro’ or ‘repop’ (reproduction). Cars such as the MGB for example, you could buy every part to build a new one from the ground up if you wanted to.

Classic cars are a multi-billion-dollar business worldwide and where there is demand, businesses will pop up to supply that. The same goes for petrol stations – are they just going to close, so we revert to scenes like Mad Max where we ride the highways looking for fuel? No, that’s not going to happen either.

Can we convert classic cars to electric? Yes, there are conversion kits available but it’s a very expensive process and pulling out the original motor and drive train of a classic vehicle decreases its value as it’s no longer original. You will hear often about ‘survivor cars’ and ‘matching number’ cars which are good because they preserve the heritage and the history of these cars.

Even if in some cities they ban nonelectric cars from the city centres, they often have exemption for ‘special interest cars’ over 30 years old. Paris and Berlin have banned cars older than 1997 from driving in the city but then made an exception for classic cars 30 years or older.

Lets talk about Australia

 Australia, a place with a particularly strong car culture. Australia has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world and the local automotive culture is visible in everything from the classic car enthusiasts polishing their pride and joy, to the hundreds of thousands watching Bathurst and the Melbourne Grand Prix.

We love our V8s and it’s as much about the noise and the feel than the speed. As adoption rates around the world grow quickly, around 10% in USA and Europe, and 70% in Norway Australia remains 0.7% in 2020 and only 20,000 EVs have been sold in the last decade. Given that Australians buy more than a million cars a year this is a very low uptake. Governments around the world are providing incentives but not Australia, just the opposite they are talking additional taxes of 2.5c per km.

The cars will be cheaper to buy, cheaper own, fewer maintenance costs and cheaper to operate. Sales will extend from ‘greenies’ only to people chasing style, performance and comfort, because that is where the development is. Time and perceptions move on.

There was a time, and not too long ago, that many people considered that if a car didn’t have a chrome bumper then it isn’t a classic. That has changed as cars manufactured in the 80s and 90’s with plastic bumpers became classics, much to the dismay of the purists.

And so, in a couple of decades from now, we will be watching car resto shows where they have a classic EV and swapping out the historic ‘dinosaur’ battery power plant for something lighter, efficient, and powerful.  That will be the new ‘resto mod’.

But wont it be great to go home, open the garage and turn the key on Grandpa’s historic 2017 Mustang and hear the burble of a 5 litre ‘fuel guzzler’ V8 and head out to a show with the next generation of car enthusiasts ….

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