(Tom Cotter's Column appears in Collector Car World.)
When is a Barn Find Really a Piece of Crap?
I see it all the time, especially in the classic car auction advertisements; JUST DISCOVERED, NEVER TOUCHED, LONG TIME STORAGE-BARN FIND!
Have you noticed that it has suddenly become "hip" to own a tattered, unrestored car? Auction companies began aggressively marketing barn find cars once they realized a "discovered" car could sell for more money than a restored example.
Car restorers, especially American car restorers, have this hang-up that everything old must look new again. For instance, if a typical European enthusiast finds a 100-year-old farm table, they will make sure it's structurally sound, put a new screw in here or there, maybe oil the wood and leave it at that. An old table that actually looks old. If an American, however, finds that same farm table, it will be sanded and planed and stained and coated with thick polyurethane until it becomes the furniture equivalent of a Las Vegas showgirl.
We do the same thing with our old cars; if we find an authentic, never-touched car, most American enthusiasts will have that car stripped and sanded to bare metal before the sun goes down. I have two great friends, Jim and Jack, different as night and day. Jack loves to restore old cars. He can't stand seeing an old car with its original paint flaking off. It drives him crazy. Jim, on the other hand, loves original, untouched cars. Jim owns an unrestored 427 Cobra with a one-off original George Barris pearl white paint job, which he's very proud of. After 45 years, that paint has seen better days, but it's an original Barris, the automotive equivalent of a Picasso.
Jack keeps asking Jim, "When are you going to sand that thing down and paint it?" Jim has no intention of doing that. I'm constantly nervous whenever Jack is around Jim's car and there is a piece of sandpaper nearby
Jack doesn't understand that they are only original once.
Which brings me back to my original question: When is a barn find a piece of crap?
American collectors over the past few years have developed a taste for unrestored cars, barn finds. Problem is, most of the good barn finds were restored 20 years ago, which makes an authentic example very rare indeed. But what is a barn find? A barn-find is a car that has been parked for many, many years even decades -- long before it had any collectable value. It was driven or raced, then parked and forgotten. I say many years because lately I've gotten a chuckle by seeing references on eBay of a "barn find" that has been parked for three years. Not!
Any car that has been ridden hard and put away wet less than 20 years ago doesn't qualify as a barn find to me. It qualifies as a piece of crap. If you own one of these, or if you are an auction company trying to peddle one of these, please don't corrupt the name "barn find." Save that title for an authentic car that has been parked for decades. A car that looks ugly and has been abused is not necessarily a barn find, it's just an ugly car that has been abused.
What to do with all those faux barn finds? Sand them down and coat them with a thick coat of polyurethane.