The funny thing about ‘barn finds’ is that these days there rarely seems to be a barn or any finding involved. In the past two weeks, press releases have issued forth from the PR departments of two auctions houses revealing details of a ‘condo find’ Ferrari Daytona and a large stash of 60 predominantly very rusty cars on a French farm (barn present in this case). The acknowledged wisdom is that, sooner or later, we will run out of barn finds, but they just seem to keep on breaking out of their sheds.
“what he had actually ‘discovered’ was an Aston Martin DB5 that, although unused, was not forgotten by its owners at least. Was this a barn find, a garage find or indeed a find at all?”
In the world of classic cars, what could be more exciting than a genuine barn find? I have to admit to being a sucker for the romantic ideal of an Indiana Jones style discovery with a barn being cracked open to reveal a long lost car within but in many cases all we find is something that no-one was looking for anyway and for me barn finds raise a lot of questions. First and foremost – why are buyers willing to pay so much for them?
Answer me this: When buying a car do you a) Buy a well-loved and looked after car with history and provenance that you can drive and enjoy immediately, spending money on restorative work as and when you choose or b) Buy an abandoned and neglected hunk of rusting metal with a bit of a story behind it in the name of originality and then proceed with a lengthy and expensive restoration that strips the car of the very thing you bought it for in the first place?
To be able to bring back a once forgotten piece of our automotive history is a privilege, but the thing that wakes these cars from their slumber is usually money, not love, and that seems a little sad to me. In both of the cases above the owners called the auction houses to turn their cars into cash, so did anybody really find anything? The phrase ‘barn find’ has become a marketing tool – after all, when was the last time that you heard about one that wasn’t for sale? This year we’ve even seen the same barn find Jaguar XK120 sell at two auctions, a matter of months and a few thousand miles apart, with the same layer of dirt and grime present at each sale.
So, is a car that has been intentionally laid up in a garage by its owner for decades collecting dust still a barn find? About a year ago a colleague was walking on a well-trodden path, ageing Labrador in tow, when something caught his eye. After what can only be described as a monumental double-take he clearly recognised the tail light of an Aston Martin through a nearly-closed garage door, covered in dust. He will admit to feeling like he’d found the Marie Celeste at the time, but in the cold light of day what he had actually ‘discovered’ was an Aston Martin DB5 that, although unused, was not forgotten by its owners at least. Was this a barn find, a garage find or indeed a find at all?
The person who sells that DB5 on the open market will write the next chapter of its history and I’ll wager that when it does find its way onto the market it will be presented as a barn find, a missing piece of Aston Martin’s heritage that will fuel the passion of collectors. The new owner will need to rebuild the engine and attend to 25 years of corrosion and sadly, for me at least, the spell will be broken and the romance gone as soon as the inevitable restoration takes place and everyone takes their cut. And just in case you were wondering – yes, that DB5 is still there…
Edward Legge is Director of Commercial Development at Classic and Sports Finance