What’s The Best Barn Find You’ve Ever Heard Of?
Story by Jonathan Ward, photography by Mark Adams
As a designer and builder of classic cars, I am a sucker for a good story. The personal history of each and every vehicle found is an integral element of its perceived value, in my opinion. All of us car geeks have stepped into a old car, and even just the smell can be exciting, and consider romantic questions (OK, sometimes they just stink…) about where the car has been, what it has seen.
So I have been chasing rumors and scanning classified ads (remember The Recycler?) for decades, sometimes in predawn light sitting in my truck with a wad of cash and a cell phone, trying to be the early bird. With the advent of the internet, the dynamics of finding has changed immensely, but the hunt continues.
I use social media to solicit leads, and I chase down images I see posted as well. I run RSS feeds, search notifications, but most importantly, I have hunters. They know my taste and style, and I also send them “APB” emails when a client needs a specific vehicle for my projects. The following is one of the many stories that ensue.
As a rabid car geek and fan of this era of Streamline Moderne design, I have always lusted after the 1937 Zephyr Coupe. I have seen maybe five in person, and perhaps a total of eight for sale over the years. So imagine my excitement when one of my classic car hunters gave me a lead about one that may be for sale in Northern California. All we had to go one was an expired Craigslist ad and a few comments on online forums about a cagey owner and the fact that no one had been able to make a deal.
After some creative sleuthing, I tracked him down and we discussed the car. His dad had bought it in the ’40s, and it had been sitting in his barn since 1952, untouched. The seller was not really a car guy, and he had been struggling with what was a fair price to sell it for. CL buyers had pitched offers up to about $35,000 for the car. His friends had been telling him to take the money and run, and he was not sure. I was quick to gain his trust when I told him his friends were wrong, and the car was worth more.
When we could not settle on a number, I was disappointed to see him list it on eBay. Now, the cat was out of the bag. Fortunately for me, his listing was vague and his photos sucked, so after the bids ran up to $50,000 with reserve not met, we were able to settle on a price and close a deal the next morning.
Once he had the money and was feeling a bit more comfortable, he explained that the car would be difficult to extract from the barn. It was sitting up on tree stumps with neither wheels nor tires, in a dilapidated barn, surrounded by old water tanks and a ’60s cargo container. We also mentioned that this was just one of the cars in his deceased father’s hoard.
I smelled a story…so I told him to not touch, wash nor move the car. I contacted a rock star photographer friend in San Francisco, Mark Adams, and arranged for him to visit and photo document the car and the entire hoard, plus the process of freeing the car from its tomb.
In the end, we ended up having to disassemble the barn plank by plank. In the process, we found the keys, fender covers, wheels and hubcaps. The only reason the roof had not caved in yet was the ’40s-era semi truck parked in front of it had held up the roof! After a solid day of work, the car sat in the sun for the first time in more than sixty years, a sight to behold.
This collection will now be sold piece by piece, except for the 1945 Harley that his dad drove once through South America. He and his brother have plans to restore it. At ICON, we have big plans for the Zephyr. We will be restoring it as part of our ICON Reformer line. More soon…..