Next time you go walking past a dilapidated barn, take a peek inside. Chances are, there could be something of real interest lurking inside. Like a car, perhaps.
We’re not entirely sure why you’d put a car in a barn and then forget about it for decades, but the number of so-called ‘barn-finds’ suggests it happens more often than you’d think. And no, we’re not talking about the dubious ‘barn-finds’ listed on internet auction sites. Deciding to sell a car that’s been parked on your driveway or in your garage for a couple of years doesn’t count.
Selecting the 10 best barn-finds of all time is harder than you might think. We could have included countless Aston Martins, Ferraris and Jaguars. Sure, there are four Ferraris in our top 10, but each one has a remarkable story to tell. So, grab a torch, dust off the cobwebs and join us as we take a tour of the greatest barn-find cars in the world.
Ferrari 250 GT California
This 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider was part of the remarkable Baillon barn-find collection unearthed in France last year. More than 60 cars – including the Ferrari 250 GT – were stashed away by a wealthy collector, but then forgotten about. Roger Baillon, an entrepreneur who ran a transport company, had started assembling the collection in the 1950s. His aim was to build a collection of pre-war cars in a museum environment, but when his business fell on hard times, Baillon was forced to mothball the collection. Sadly, he died 10 years ago.
The Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider was undoubtedly the star of the collection. Its first owner was comedian Gérard Blain, who later sold it to actor Alain Delon. He was photographed in the car alongside Shirley MacLaine and Jane Fonda, giving the Ferrari added provenance. The car was considered lost forever and was indeed written off by historians. It sold for a record-breaking £12.1 million at auction. Forget cash in the attic, this was more cash in the barn.
Barn-find Ferrari sells for record £12.1m
Lotus Esprit ‘Submarine Car’
What’s the best Bond car of all-time? No, not the Aston Martin DB5, it has to be the Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me. Its appearance in the film didn’t happen by chance. In a classic example of product placement, the Lotus PR team had positioned a de-badged pre-production model of the Esprit directly opposite film producer Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s office at Pinewood Studios. Broccoli liked what he saw and a deal was struck for Lotus to supply two production vehicles for the movie. Seven extra body shells were supplied, one of which had been sealed all round for the famous underwater scenes.
The body was shipped to Perry Oceanographics, where it was converted to underwater use. The rest is history and, once the filming was complete, the Esprit was shipped to New York where it remained in a storage unit for 10 years. Amazingly, it was bought in a Storage Wars-style blind auction and the couple who had won it couldn’t quite believe what they had unearthed. It’s the only functional Lotus Esprit Submarine Car. In 2013, it sold at auction for £616,000. The buyer? A certain Elon Musk of Tesla fame.
James Bond’s submarine car goes up for sale
The Aristotle Onassis Lamborghini Miura
Internet auction sites are littered with unwanted presents. Clothing, jewellery, cosmetics, Lamborghinis… Wait, Lamborghinis? OK, so here’s the story. Stamatis Kokotas was kind of a big deal in Greece in the 1970s. What do you mean, you haven’t heard of him? Kokotas was to the Greeks what Tom Jones is to the Welsh. The singing rally driver was even nicknamed the ‘Greek Elvis’. Yes, you read that right – Kokotas was part rally driver and part singer. What a guy.
Turns out Kokotas also had friends in high places, such as the Greek shipping millionaire, Aristotle Onassis. Amazingly, Onassis gifted his friend a metallic brown Lamborghini Miura P400S. Records suggest that the Miura was confined to an underground car park at the Athens Hilton after an engine fire at 52,000 miles. There it stayed until 2004, when the Athens Olympic Games saw it moved to another location. In 2012, it failed to reach its reserve at auction and hasn’t been seen since. A potential barn-find of the future?
Bugatti Type 57S Atalante
In 2009, this Bugatti Type 57S Atalante hit the headlines after being discovered in a garage where it had been gathering dust for 50 years. The car was originally owned by Earl Howe, the first president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club. Dr Harold Carr bought the Bugatti in 1955 and drove it for a few years before leaving it in a garage near his home in Gosforth for the best part of five decades. Dr Carr suffered from a form of OCD and hoarded everything he owned. After his death, his relatives also found an Aston Martin and a Jaguar E-Type. The Jag was in such a sorry state, it had to be scrapped.
Only 17 of these Bugattis were built, so it was no surprise when it sold at auction for £2.8 million.
Citroen 2CV prototypes
The Citroen 2CV went on to become one of the world’s most successful cars, but this was largely thanks to a game of wartime hide and seek. With the outbreak of war and the German occupation of France, Michelin and Citroen were keen for the Nazis not to discover the original prototypes – or TPVs. They were squirrelled away in barns and outbuildings, where they stayed until the end of the war. In fact, the cars were so well concealed, it was felt that they were lost forever.
But Citroen’s management team knew of their whereabouts and sent orders for them to be destroyed. Upon hearing this, some workers decided to hide them away, realising they had immense historical value. They remained in their hiding place until 1995, when they were found in French barn.
Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta
Only 25 Ferrari 166 MM Barchettas were ever built, which made the discovery of one sat in the Arizonian desert all the more surprising. The Ferrari was shipped from Switzerland to America, where it was used regularly until an engine failure forced it off the road. It stood in the desert, covered in old rugs and pieces of plastics, until the rugs were removed for use elsewhere.
So there it remained, basking in the searing heat of the desert. When the Ferrari’s owner died, his children alerted the world to its whereabouts and it eventually ended up at auction in Arizona. It sold for $1.87 million. OK, so we admit no barns were involved with this discovery. But you don’t find a Ferrari in a desert every day.
Mercedes-Benz 600 ‘Six Door’ Pullman Landaulet
We could have included more valuable barn-finds. Heck, we could have featured more beautiful barn-finds. But there’s just something about this Mercedes-Benz 600 ‘Six Door’ Pullman Landaulet that makes it a fascinating discovery. The fact that it sold at auction for £450,000 means that we’re probably not alone in that assessment.
The 600 Pullman Landaulet was ordered almost exclusively by heads of state, dictators or the incredibly wealthy. Many would have had the car designed and built to their own exacting standards. So what’s the story behind this particular 5.5m-long saloon car? Who rode in the back of it? What stories could it tell? We’ll have to leave that to our imagination.
This Porsche collection attracted a huge amount of attention in 2013. In fact, it was a bigger story than Kim Kardashian’s bottom. Allegedly. The collection was built up over a ten-year period and included a range of 911s, 912s and 356s.
Some were in a state of disrepair while others could have been described as rolling projects. We’d never seen anything quite like it before. The collection was broken up in lots by Anglia Car Auctions and sold over a 12-month period.
Dino 246 GTS
The story of the buried Dino 246 GTS is one of our favourite things on the internet. If you haven’t read the story on Jalopnik, we suggest you wander over there today and have a look.
The 1974 246 GTS was quite literally buried in a Los Angeles garden before being unearthed in 1978 and subsequently restored. The 246 GTS shown here isn’t the actual car. It’s another 246 GTS that forms part of The Pinnacle Collection being auctioned in Monterey this summer.
Ferrari 250 GTO
And finally, a story that’s more ‘garden-find’ than ‘barn-find’, but is no less compelling. According to the website, The RetroMobilist, the Ferrari 250 GTO had sat on a front lawn for 15 years and few people gave it a second thought. Indeed, locals and Ferrari enthusiasts the world over knew of its whereabouts. The car was originally sold and raced in the UK, before arriving in Texas and – wait for it – being donated to a Texas school.
It was then sold at auction to a chap who put it on the back of a trailer and left it in his front garden, totally exposed to the elements. Eventually, the owner was encouraged to sell it and it now belongs to a Swiss collector. Want to know how much this garden ornament was worth? Well a Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta sold at auction last year for £25 million. Time to check that barn?