This page: Vintage and classic car discoveries - hidden gems otherwise known as 'barn finds'.
The "Barn Find".
The two words "Barn" and "Find", when joined together, are all but guaranteed to send a ripple of excitement through the vintage or classic car enthusiast's soul. Thoughts of a long-forgotten gem, perhaps a Duesenberg or a Cobra, hidden away for decades and set to see light of day once more under you own guiding hand, can be hard to resist. Often the reality is very different from the dream though. Forget rakish pre-war gems, sporting coachwork penned by Italian styling houses. Only other lucky souls find cars like that. More often than not, a creaking wooden door, when prised open or removed from its hinges, will reveal a mouldy Morris or sodden Standard, waist-deep in leaves and split in two.
That isn't to say though that these forgotten and crusty classics are a disappointment, in many ways I find them more interesting than restored cars glistening at a show. They tend to be the true "time warp" vehicles, parked and forgotten, and not yet subjected to the rigours of (over)restoration. Original old maps left on the rear parcel shelf, seat covers in a fetching shade of tartan, and perhaps a faded tax-disc from a distant decade. These are the proper classic and vintage cars, un-touched and un-molested.
Some of the cars I've had over the years could, I think, qualify as bona-fide "barn finds", the Austin 7 special, the A35 van and the Daimler 15 Coupe in particular spring to mind. The former was hidden away in a pitch black outbuilding, attached to a crumbling Victorian house, for fifty years and could only be found by torchlight. The green Austin van of the late 1950s, had been tucked away for several decades in the old wooden garage it had known since new, same story with the Daimler.
But what is a "barn find"?
What is a "barn find"? There's no real answer to that question, just as there is no real definition as to what is, and isn't, a Classic Car. To my mind, a "barn find" is an aged vehicle (car, van, motorcycle or whatever) that has been out of circulation for many years, often in the possession of a long-term owner who can't bear to be parted with their old car. Often nostalgia for the good old days leads to cars being stashed away, hidden from view, rather than simply sold on or scrapped when they no longer have a use.
A "barn find" doesn't necessarily have to be tucked away in a rustic barn either, most in fact turn up in suburban garages. However the one thing they tend to have in common is that they're hidden from view, their existence unknown to the local old-car owning set. Cars found in garages, lean-to's, hangars, sheds and industrial units can, I reckon, be classed as "barn finds", so long as they've been out of use for a long time (say 30+ years), preferably covered in a layer of dust and ideally with one - or several - flat tyres. Extra points can be awarded for "finds" that are buried under piles of useless junk, or are blocked in by interesting old artefacts not necessarily related to motoring, but add to the overall romance, and aura, of the "find".
A five-year-old Mondeo, abandoned in a public car park, is not a "barn find". Nor is a ten-year-old Honda with a rusty wheelarch, found at the back of a used-car lot in Wolverhampton. And a part-restored car in dismantled state, even if it's old enough to be called a classic or vintage motor, doesn't really count as it no longer has the un-touched, "time warp" feel that can only be found with a pukka "barn find".
Tracking down an interesting "barn find"
The tricky bit is tracking down such a gem. They turn up from time to time on the internet, although sifting out the true "finds" from the hordes of old ruins labelled as "barn finds" to make them sound more interesting, can take persistence. In the olden days, ie when Bill Gates still had a paper round, there were no such things as home computers, so people had to find things by talking to people, or writing letters to magazines. Amazingly both methods can still yield results.
If you're lucky, the mention of an interest in old cars while at the pub can lead to news of interesting old motors lying unused in the vicinity. Not so long ago just such a conversation I had turned up news of a Humber Imperial, lying idle and out of use for many years in a barn not five miles from here. I went to have a look naturally, and although I didn't buy it, it was interesting to see this mighty old cruiser, gathering dust and longing for a hoped-for resurrection one day in the future.
Many people say that all the interesting "finds", whether in barns or elsewhere, have long since been discovered already. That is, in part, probably true. But there are still some very interesting old cars out there, waiting to be discovered. So while turning up a long-forgotten D-Type may be aiming a little high, there are bound to be some E-Types and XKs out there, just waiting to turn a wheel once more after decades of dis-use and/or neglect.
What interesting cars are still out there awaiting discovery?
Speak to anyone who has an interest in a particular make or model of car, and they're bound to know of long-lost examples that they'd desperately like to track down. Pre-production prototypes and road-test cars are often sought out, perhaps because they regularly featured in contemporary magazines. Cars used at Motor Shows also turn up from time to time, and again can be interesting to research thanks to their fifteen minutes of fame, either at an event or else in print at the time of their launch.
Despite the 1930's being rather a long time ago, pre-war cars, owned by the one family from new, still turn up. A case in point is this Austin 10 Cambridge. It had recently been turfed out of its long-term home when I found it, following the death of its original owner. The family were clearing the estate, and the Austin was still sat in their relative's garage. It was correct, right down to the original purchase invoice and Austin warranty. Okay I didn't see it in the garage, but to all intents and purposes it was a good example of the type of un-touched car that can still be found. And if 1930s cars can still turn up like that, then later cars of the 1950s and 1960s should therefore be that bit easier to find.
Stories of "barn finds".
I've been lucky enough to find some near-forgotten classics over the years that would qualify as "barn finds". A handful, like the Austins mentioned already, I did end up buying. Most however I simply went to have a look at, including many that I've seen while in the company of others who had heard about an old vehicle, and were undertaking an expedition to view, or retrieve, said gem.
Over time I plan to add in some of these discoveries, and, hopefully, publish tales about cars that visitors to the site have been fortunate enough to trip over.
Hopefully it won't be too long before something else interesting crops up, hidden away in a garage, shed, hangar or barn, somewhere in Great Britain.