How to buy a barn find
...and ensure that your dream project car doesn't turn into a complete nightmare.
In recent years the term ‘barn find’ has taken on a new meaning. At one time it represented a negotiable bargain that only the brave and knowledgeable would have considered worth restoring, but it now stands for something desirable and worth investing in. A barn find is buried treasure rather than a money pit.
We’ve seen collections of barn finds change hands for phenomenal sums. In times gone by, auction houses might have turned their noses up at them, but now no sale seems complete without at least one lot bearing the description.
Silverstone Auctions’ sale at the 2014 Practical Classics Restoration Show boasted ‘the largest collection of barn find cars ever assembled in one auction’ and made headlines by raising more than £1 million. At the February 2015 Artcurial auction in Paris, the Roger Baillon collection of 59 barn find cars sold for £20 million, with a Ferrari California Spider contributing £11.8m of the total.
WHY YOU WANT ONE
The thought of stumbling across a priceless car in original condition, tucked away in a rural outbuilding where it has rested for years is a dream come true for many car enthusiasts. That dream generally revolves around a lost gem that just needs the dust blowing away, an engine that requires some fresh petrol and a shove to get it to burst into life and allow you to drive off into the sunset. However, in the cold light of dawn, there’s a lot to consider. Don’t let the realisation of your dream turn into a nightmare. Here is everything you need to know about barn finds.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
FIRST FIND YOUR BARN
In the US there is an army of car-hunters driving the back roads looking for lost treasure. With the UK being more compact, it is best to speak to people in your own area first as it is surprising how many car fans will know of someone who has an old vehicle tucked away. But no matter how many years a car has been left in an outbuilding, there’s no guarantee that the owner or their family will want to part with it. Try to be subtle and patient, and if the right deal comes to light, then make your move. For the less patient, keep an eye on auction lists, specialist dealers, among our classified adverts and on classic car classified websites, such as ClassicCarsForSale.co.uk.
IF I SAID YOU HAD A BEAUTIFUL BODY
Part of the appeal of a barn find is that neglected look that somehow combines past glories with a hint of ‘I could look really beautiful again, you know’. Some collectors now prefer lived-life patina as opposed to the totally restored gloss that was the desirable aim in the past. You will need ambition and the funds to see the project through as you look at a car that has rampant rot, missing parts, panels you can see daylight through
and rodent infestation. Some will prefer a car that has poor bodywork but is in reasonable mechanical order, while others will go for the opposite combination, depending on their skill level.
Another choice is how you present your car when restored – rat look or concours? Both have their followers.
It is obvious that no car is going anywhere if the engine is seized. Sometimes the piston rings are just lightly rusted to the cylinder walls and can be freed; often not. If an engine can be turned over, ensure all the little and large components are present and connected. Check that the steering wheel at least ties to turn the front wheels and that the clutch pedal and brakes are engaging. Fill the radiator with water to check for leaks. Even tyres that look reasonable may disintegrate when moved. As well as buying a new battery, you may well want a new coil, spark plus and wires – and make sure the
battery cables are there and usable. Most barn finds will need towing or trailering, so be prepared.
A CASE OF IDENTITY
Proving that the car is what it claims/appears to be is another potential headache and due diligence is required to try to confirm all the facts. If you’re lucky there will be a VIN plate in place to reveal the vehicle’s true identity - if so you can contact the DVLA and ask them about the vehicle and its last registered owner. A ‘forgotten’ car is unlikely to come complete with the sort of paperwork history that we like when purchasing a classic. A large element of trust is needed when you strike a deal for an abandoned car in the middle of a field! Of course, buying from a specialist dealer or via an auction could provide a smoother transition and offer peace of mind.
A laid up insurance policy to cover the vehicle while it is SORN is a good idea, though not compulsory. This will provide cover for fire and theft while the car is undergoing restoration, which could prove money well spent.
Once you’ve got the car back on the road, you’ll be looking for specialist Classic car insurance, here are a couple of examples of what you could expect to pay for your insurance. Prices quoted are for comprehensive cover for these particular models and based on a 50 year old, living in a rural area, garaged, SDP use, 3000mpa, claim and conviction free. Give our specialists a call on 0800 083 6256 for a quote.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Buying your barn find is just the first step. If you spot that the car of your dreams is coming up in an auction, satisfy yourself that the car is capable of becoming the vehicle you want it to be, and book your bidding paddle. Stick to your upper price limit, take into account buyer’s premium and factor in the cost of transporting your barn find to its new home. Work out a realistic budget for the restoration and before you say ‘It won’t happen to me,’ consider that there are always a lot of project cars up for sale where funds and patience has run out. What seems like a bargain might not be
when you discover that parts for your project are not easy to come by. If your ambitions are bigger than your wallet, close the barn doors and walk away.
David Brown, Classic Car Weekly
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