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.