10 of the greatest collector car barn-finds



2015-06-26 11:35:11

You never know what collector car treasure lies behind the doors of that old barn.

The barn-find. It's the ultimate dream for the classic car collector.

Opening the doors of an abandoned barn, garage or storage facility to find a rare motor, forgotten by its past owners. An exciting restoration project to get the car looking spick n' span once more, and you're home free. Bargains don't get much better than a discarded chassis or shell.

Yet, the collector car market has really taken off in the past decade, and those illusive finds are becoming increasingly scarce. TV shows and newspaper reports of similar finds have meant that it's not just the dedicated collectors that are keeping their eyes peeled.

However, some of the world's finest cars remain unaccounted for, and it is this sniff of a chance that keeps us digging.

Take a look at some of the greatest collector car barn-finds so far.

(Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons - representative only)

10. Citroen 2CV prototypes (TPV)


The supercar owners among us may scoff at the thought of a Citroen 2CV, but those that appreciate a car's history will know better.

The 2CV was designed by Citroen in the 1930s, in an attempt to motorise farmers and the remaining population that couldn't afford a car. Low-cost, lightweight, and easy to fix, the 2CV was set to mobilise France's population.

However, the prototypes, known as the TPV (Toute Petite Voiture or "Very Small Car"), were still being developed at the outset of the second world war, and Michelin and Citroen decided to hide the models, fearing they would fall into Nazi hands.

Just two of these prototypes were known to exist, until 1994, when Citroen reported that three had been found in a barn.

The company had known about the TPVs and, despite ordering them to be scrapped, workers at the Citroen factory had hidden them from the top-level management in recognition of their historical value.

9. 1952 Ferrari 340 America


A Devin Sports Spider for $26,912 is a fine buy.

Even finer when that "Devin" turns out to be a Ferrari, complete with competition history.

Tom Shaughnessy was browsing through eBay on June 20, 2006, when he noticed an unusual car listed as a Devin. Using his expert knowledge of Ferrari, he quickly identified the car as a 1952 Ferrari 340 America chassis wearing a fibreglass body.

Frantically bidding, he paid just over $25,000 for the car, which was later revealed to be chassis number 0202, a Ferrari that completed the Le Mans race in the year it was made, and had many well-known owners including Luigi Chinetti.

Following a crash, the chassis was fitted with a Devin Spider body and sold off in 1963, where it wasn't seen for the next 43 years. It is one of only 25 340 Americas ever built, and is currently undergoing a Ferrari factory restoration.

A 340 America Spider Vignale sold for $2.5m in 2010, meaning Shaughnessy paid just 1% of the total value of his car.

8. Ferrari Dino 246 GTS


We've all been digging in the dirt in our back yards as youngsters, hoping to find buried treasure.

One group of kids in West Athens, California were doing just that when they struck the roof of what appeared to be a car, and flagged down a passing police car.

The police sent two detectives and a team of men to unearth the kids' find, which happened to be a Ferrari Dino 246 GTS. A quick check of the license plates, and it was revealed to be serial number 07862, which was bought in October 1974, but had been stolen by December of the same year.

The thieves, probably intimidated by their expensive haul, somehow managed to bury the Dino in the back yard of the LA house without any neighbours noticing.

With a token payout of $22,500 to the Bank of America, the Dino was returned to the insurance company, who put it on display for two weeks, during which time it was ransacked of almost all the pinchable parts.

It was then sold to a mechanic for between $5,000 and $9,000 (!), and it is thought that he completed its much-needed restoration. However, it has never appeared on any registry.

7. Ferrari 166MM Barchetta


The term "barn-find" is usually synonymous with "bargain".

Yet some are just so special that they fetch over $1m in unrestored, unloved condition.

The Ferrari 166MM Barchetta put Ferrari on the map. One of their first successful competition cars, it is named after the Mille Miglia, and is one of the finest cars the Prancing Pony has ever made.

So when a US soldier in Germany discovered one of the 24 with a 2-litre V12 engine sitting on a dealer's forecourt for a bargain more than 50 years ago, he naturally bought it for his friend back in Scottsdale, Arizona, who was something of an expert in Ferraris.

For between $5,000 and $8,000, Reg Lee Litton got a fantastic Ferrari, which he raced around the desert outside Tucson with friends until it broke. Unable to fix it, it was covered up in his back yard and forgotten.

It wasn't until he died that his children noticed the old Ferrari rotting out in the yard, and decided to gauge interest in the Ferrari-collecting world. Of course, the enthusiasts came running, and it was eventually sold for over $1m to collector Manny Del Arroz.

6. 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K


The 500K defines luxury. With the "K" standing for Kompressor (German for supercharger), it was produced only for Mercedes' top customers, with luxury and speed coming at a premium.

So it's a little odd that one should turn up in the notorious South Central area of Los Angeles.

Even odder is that the car is a one-off produced especially for legendary race driver Rudolph Caracciola, one of Mercedes' original Silver Arrows.

It is housed at Porche (sic) Foreign Auto, a spare parts business opened in the 1960s by Rudi Klein, a German butcher who has since passed away. Frustratingly for collectors, the junkyard is now owned by Klein's two sons, who refuse to let anyone inside, with those that make it past the gates sworn to secrecy.

Some of the cars housed in Porche Foreign Auto's collection include some of the rarest ever made, with Mercedes Gullwings, "a half-dozen" Lamborghini Muira’s and the last Horch 855 Spezial Roadster, owned by Eva Braun, all rumoured.

5. 1931 Duesenberg Model J


The ultimate American car paired with the ultimate American collector.

Jay Leno is one of the world's greatest car collectors, owning the world's largest private fleet. He's great at spotting a bargain too.

The existence of a "barn-find" Duesenberg in New York was rumoured for years, and in 2005, Leno managed to track it down.

The spectacular Model J had been bought by Isador and Ida Strauss - the Titanic survivors that established Macy's - from new and was driven for just a few thousand miles, including a ride for President Edgar J Hoover, before it was retired to a Manhattan garage.

Despite an attempt to restore it in the 1950s, the car languished until its 85-year-old owner gave it up to Leno for $180,000, who spent thousands on a lavish restoration, removing pounds of dirt and grease to get it running again.

It is now one of the finest examples on the market, and can be seen driven around Los Angeles with Leno at the wheel.

4. 1969 Lamborghini Miura S


The Lamborghini Miura is one of the finest, and fastest, sports cars of the 1970s, as well as among the most expensive.

You’d have to be pretty rich to forget that you owned one, let's put it that way.

Nonetheless, when shipping magnate and Jackie Kennedy's second husband Aristotle Onassis bought one for his criminally-haired (yet impressively side-burned) pop star friend Stamatis Kokotas shortly after release, that's just what he did.

Kokatas was known as something of a playboy, and ragged the Lambo around until the engine failed, having covered just over 52,000 miles. The engine was shipped off to the Lamorghini factory, while the rest of the car was parked underneath the Athens Hilton hotel.

The Greek star soon forgot about his Miura and failed to pay his bills, meaning that Lamborghini kept the engine. Meanwhile, the shell and chassis were left to rot, until preparations for the Olympics in Athens alerted hotel staff to the car's existence.

It was later auctioned off, but Kokatas tasteless modifications meant that collectors were unwilling to pay the $500,000 reserve.

3. Bugatti Type 57S Atalante Coupe


The Bugatti Type 57S Atalante is renowned among collectors. With the "S” standing for "surbaisse" (lowered) it is one of the most distinctive cars ever created, featuring in-house coachwork by the Bugatti factory.

When Francis Curzon, 5th Earl Howe (a Member of Parliament and racing driver) saw it back in 1937, he was one of 17 lucky enough to afford one from new. He drove his beautiful Bugatti for just eight years, including a win at the 1931 Le Mans, until it was bought by a Harold Carr from Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Carr (who is described as being akin to obsessive compulsive millionaire Howard Hughes) drove it for just a few years, before locking it away in his garage. Very few knew where it was until, after his death in 2007, his family put it up for auction.

The car, in an incredibly original state, sold through Bonhams at $4.4m. It was described as one of the last great barn discoveries, with Carr's meticulous hoarding ensuring that the full history and parts were preserved.

2. Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe


Everyone knows the Shelby Cobra was created by Carol Shelby to combat Ferraris dominance on the track.

It did so, pushing Ferrari into second place in many of the USA's shorter tracks. Yet in Europe it was the same old story...Ferrari in first place, time after time.

The legendary Mulsanne Straight got the better of Shelby's Cobras and the Ferrari 250 GTO's top speed of 180 mph compared to the Cobras 150 mph left the US motors eating dust.

Shelby's answer was to enlist the help of Pete Brock, who was just 23 at the time. The result was the awkward-looking Daytona Coupe, a design that Shelby rejected until Jack Sears and Peter Bolton hit 185mph during testing at Le Mans.

The creation of the car caused Britain to establish national speed limits on all its roads, such was its reputation.

Six Daytona Coupes were flown back to the USA after storming the European circuit. However, just five were thought to have survived until 2001 - so where was the other one?

Donna O'Hara was the daughter of a bodyguard who used to work for music producer Phil Spector. Spector had sold the car to his guard after finding the car too fast for the streets and accumulating endless speeding tickets.

It eventually ended up with unstable Donna O'Hara, who stashed the car away and refused to tell anyone of its whereabouts. It wasn't until she took her pet rabbits under a bridge in California and set herself on fire that the car was discovered.

Suddenly, Spector appears, claiming the car is his, along with a number of other would-be claimants. The eventual winner among these was O'Hara’s friend Kurt Goss, now owner of one of the world's most important cars.

1. Ferrari 250 GTO


A yard-find. It's like a barn-find, but definitely more disappointing.

When someone abandons a car to their yard, it's not going to stay in great condition - no matter how sunny your spot, the weather will always eat away at your classic. But when that car is a Ferrari 250 GTO, the most sought-after car in the world, we can make a few exceptions.

Chassis #3589GT was one of the few GTOs ever made as a right-hand drive. There were only ever 36 made, and just a handful were made for those that drive on the left. Naturally, this one was shipped to the UK, where it made its debut at Goodwood with Mike Parkes behind the wheel.

It led a short competition career before being donated to a Texas high school by the owner, Tom O'Connor. Used in the school's events, it was then sold to Joe Korton in 1972.

You'd imagine that the new owner of the Ferrari 250 GTO would be pretty pleased with his purchase, and drive it everywhere. Yet Korton, whose yard is filled with similar classics, simply parked up chassis #3589GT and forgot about it.

According to some, he had planned to rent his exotics to celebrities, but the business never took off.

For years, collectors begged Korton to part with the car, but he was adamant that, one day, he'd get round to restoring it. It wasn't until 1972 that he finally decided to part with the car (now in a terrible state of disrepair) to a Swiss collector.

That collector did what was right and restored the car back to its full glory, including removing the hand-painted red and returning it back to its original state.

Share on social media
Write a response...

The bookmarklet lets you save things you find to your collections.

Note: Make sure your bookmarks are visible.


Click and drag the Collect It button to your browser's Bookmark Bar.

collect it