Why barn finds drive me crazy

Life sometimes gets in the way. But what happened to pride of ownership?

I'm not one for screeds, manifestoes or self-righteous indignation. But something in my brain twisted slightly when I watched the Hagerty Barn Find Hunter's recent episode, in which a 1967 Shelby Cobra 427, a Ferrari 275 GTB/2, and a couple of equally cool but sub-$1-million vehicles emerged from a 30-year nap in North Carolina. It's not Tom Cotter's fault that the cars slumbered for three decades, nor do I fault his unalloyed joy in finding them. The layer of dust and the fantastic cars underneath make for great video, truly, but it's worth remembering that time is kinder to gold and silver than to rubber, carburetors, and the delicate moving parts of engines.

The cars in this garage were not forgotten, if the story the owner's friend tells is accurate. They were abandoned after a trusted mechanic died – for that impact to have led to this, the relationship between owner and mechanic must have been profound.

Life intervenes in our plans, of course, and makes a mockery of our dreams. Sometimes, an owner dies and his relatives aren't aware of what was hidden in an outbuilding. That's not really the owner's fault. More often, it seems, the vehicles were "stored" for a period of time before something like that happened. "I'll restore it someday", which never comes, and in the meantime the improperly stored vehicles start deteriorating, surprisingly quickly. It sneaks up on the owner, and then the damage is done – however predictable, and despite the ease of preventing it.

But behind this particular story, if it's true, lies something that rubs me the wrong way: 30 years hidden in a garage – a preventable slumber, a discretionary interlude – is 30 years of neglect, plain and simple.

ferrari 275 gtb

Even three decades ago, Ferraris were valuable. The late 1980s represented a big bust in the Ferrari bubble market, but just a few years later (in the run-up to the Dot Com bubble, say around 1995) values were back up to reasonable levels. The Ferrari 275 GTB/2 highlighted in this episode was bought for roughly $47,000 in 1987, according to the owner's friend (about $104,196 today, adjusting for inflation – a fraction of its current value, but still a lot of money). There were only 348 (!!!) original 427 Cobras built. There were even fewer alloy-bodied 275 GTBs built. That also has value, both monetary and otherwise.

If these cars were parked in response to a tragedy in 1991, maybe five years is enough time to mourn and then do something about them?

I don't know how this person acquired these cars, whether the owner bought them or inherited them, whether their upkeep was a financial burden or a mental one. Did they represent a trophy to his success in life or were they a footnote to even greater monuments? Maybe this is his fourth house and the Ferrari or Cobra are a rounding error on his tax returns. A legal fight over ownership between siblings or co-owners is equally possible. There are a thousand reasons why these cars could have been consigned to a garage, unmoving, for decades. But there aren't many excuses why they couldn't have been prepared for that eventuality.

One thing that's clear: they weren't. Plastic sheeting underneath is the only provision I see for long-term storage, which does help prevent moisture from leeching up through the concrete and attacking the metal and rubber, as well as protecting the concrete from leaks. Besides that, what else happened? The cars do not appear to be stored on jack stands. It's an easy mental leap to imagine that fluids weren't drained, batteries disconnected, and so forth. The open truck of the Cobra reveals a couple mouse nests the size of soccer balls.

Good intentions don't preserve cars. Preparation does. Both of these cars represent a large sum of money – money that some car-loving folks won't see in a lifetime of hard work. Who says that being able to afford a Ferrari or Cobra absolves you of the responsibility of being a good steward of it? They are things, of course, but also objects that have historical and also some unquantifiable, nonmonetary value.

The burden of keeping a vintage Ferrari or Cobra or whatever running may be a real barrier, even for someone well-to-do enough to have a three-car garage full of cars that aren't driven. I get that, and I don't want to minimize that. But preparing a car for long-term storage takes more time than money, and not much of that either. There are no excuses not to take minimal steps to keep a car from deteriorating any more than it needs to, even a few years down the road when it becomes clear they won't be serviceable anytime soon. The complexity and cost of a restoration, and the loss of originality (possibly) pale in comparison to the entirely reasonable costs and effort associated with long-term storage.

The more moralistic point here is: take pride in what you own. When you stop taking care of the things you possess, it's time to pass them along – or stabilize them from further damage – if that's within your control. It won't make for as good of a barn find story in the future, but that's OK with me.

Related Video:

Share This Photo X