Barns are for chickens, not cars
We all like surprises. whether it's clown-shaped or expensively crafted. And maybe that explains why 'barn finds' are so alluring to so many classic car enthusiasts. The two words evoke a creaky wooden door being gradually drawn back to reveal a dusty but remarkably complete rare classic car.
Personally I blame the book 'The Cobra in the Barn', which tells the story of a genuine AC Cobra discovered by chance in, you guessed it, a wooden sided structure. This 'barncore' genre is also fuelled by the many coffee table books of beautifully lit 'barn finds'. You can tell that barncore is a thing when the world's top auction houses jump on the bandwagon - organising specialist 'barn find' auctions or publicising 'genuine barn find' cars beautiful shot and remarkably still in their original barns. Invariably these 'finds' are wheeled out onto the auction stage still covered in the moss and dust and detritous that gives them so much character. And, of course, boosts their prices.
Barn find cars attract interest and, inevitably, money. Where a shiny, concours classic seems airbrushed of its history, a barn find wears it like a badge of pride. This is understandably attractive and partly explains why such cars often exceed their auction estimates. The other reason is that they represent a low cost way into ownership. Well, they seem to.
But there are very good reasons why you should approach a barn find with a great deal of care. Firstly, the term is used about as loosely as that other barn staple - 'free range eggs.' Nowadays any car that has been left unloved and forgotten in the far corner of a damp field is classified as a 'barn find.' No longer is a wooden farm structure a pre-requisite.
Secondly, barn finds are generally exactly that because the person who already owns them can't afford to fix them or it isn't economically viable to do so. We might like to imagine that behind every barn find is a little old man hobbling around with a stick and string for a belt blithely unaware of exactly what his barn really contains. Spolier alert - those people don't exist. At least, not any more.
Thirdly, barn finds are not cheap. Whatever you pay for it won't be enough of a saving over a good example, once you spend oodles of money reconditioning it. This is, however, where most buyers are ready with a response. They argue that they'll do the work, that they'll ignore the cosmetics and focus on the structural and mechanical work required to put it back on the road. Or they'll keep it and wait until values increase enough to justify the investment.
To all those arguments I say simply - stop now. Even if you invest your own time to fix it up, you'll still need parts and, inevitably, there will always be something that you can't do, whether it's welding, painting or trimming. This is the argument behind TV programmes like Whealer Dealers that claim to make money restoring cars - they don't factor in their own labour. Even then they make very little money.
Of course, to every rule there is an exception. Some cars like early E Types and Lamborghini Muiras are so rare and so sought after that when a genuine 'barn find' comes along it's worth jumping on. These are cars for which demand outstrips supply - suddenly discovering that another one exists is a mighty lure for such people.
Barn finds are appealing because they imply potential. They are a project to challenge and complete. And if you do want a project to fill your weekends and evenings, and you don't want to still have functioning family relationships at the end of it, fill your boots. But don't be sucked in by the emotion.
To anyone else who thinks they see a cheap way into classic car ownership, one that can be easily fixed by a friendly classic car workshop, think again.
We service, maintain and restore classic cars. We almost always work to fixed quotes so that you pay the same price at the end as you expected at the start. Find out more at www.fixclassiccars.co.uk or call 01527 893733