Jim’s Blog: Are Barn Finds Dead?

Trends come and go. Sometimes this is a good thing. Anybody miss their custom Van from 1977?

One thing I saw less of this year, at least in Scottsdale, were barn-find cars. Sure, there were dusty originals on offer at places like Barrett-Jackson, but they were typically OE cars with delivery miles that were still on the MSO. What I’m talking about were the ratty, rusty, only-original-once muscle cars and trucks in need of everything, from body and paint all the way down to interior restoration. 

These are the cars that sell for similar prices to completely restored examples. For what seemed like years, these cars were all the rage in the market, even if buying one didn’t make much sense. There might be romance in the notion of an untouched car, but there’s also some reality there that isn’t quite so romantic when you have to figure out what you’re actually going to do with your new relic.

It seemed to me that the trend, at least in January 2020, had settled down. In their place were a bunch of patina builds — cars that have some essence of aged originality while also having modern powertrains and interiors. You know, stuff you can actually use.

Were barn find cars ever relevant, really? Do you think it’s a fad that passed, or was Scottsdale’s lesser number just an anomaly? 

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  1. I believe it’s more a matter of running out of barn finds. That trend was long legged and well mined by Cotter et al. Resto cost hasn’t fallen since the bank crisis of 2007 and there are still many bucks down buyers. If the right car comes along, someone will snap it up and odds are 50 50 it will be left alone where feasible. People shouldn’t feel ashamed to drive an unrestored car, the hobby is better for it.

  2. I agree, there weren’t any at Scottsdale.The closest I came to finding any were a ’70 Boss 302 with an ancient body repair that was coming undone and the flying car that has spent more time parked than flying/driving in its 65 years of existence.

    By my reckoning, there were two types of ” barn finds”, a neglected old heap of a common car pulled out of a barn, and a similar condition car but one that is rare. We see examples of the latter grace the pages of Sports Car Market at sales like the Aston Martin-only event that used to be held at the factory service department.
    It makes sense to spend huge amounts of money on a car that is going to be worth something…after all they quit building DB4/5s, E-Types of Enzo-era Ferraris years ago.
    But there is less of a case for someone spending silly money on a hulk (where you are paying for the privilege of writing more checks) on a more common car, just because it’s dusty. But to overpay for a project when you can buy a car already finished is silly unless there is a special attachment to that particular auto.
    So instead of paying $30k for that ’57 T-Bird that needs everything, go to an auction and buy a car with a Minter restoration that’s been in someone’s collection and is now being sold because they are ageing out of the hobby.

  3. A “barn find”, an ambiguous term if there was one, has a half life of exactly one transaction. It’s a barn find once. After that, it’s just a neglected old car in need of restoration. The greater fool theory applies. Is anyone surprised this silliness has run its course?

  4. Jim, I was able to acquire a new addition to my collection this winter. Since it is from AZ, I don’t know if I can call it a barn find, but what I say it’s an awesome example of lost rolling art.
    It is a 77 Cherokee Wide Body S (2 door), with amazing options like push button 4×4, AC, pwr back window, front and rear brush guards and my favorite after market 70s slot mags with larger tires (tires will be replaced).
    The gentleman we acquired it from, brought from a solider at Ft Huachuca, AZ in 1981 (still wearing the base sticker) and drove it for a few years before it got a ticking noise and he parked it.
    My buddy had found it when answering a ad for a 60 Ford truck at the same location. He called me knowing my interest in those, and I had to have it so a deal was struck.
    Now, that I live on the east coast I wanted something to drive when the weather is less than perfect. As well as the ability to go off the beaten path.
    To answer that tick we took the heads off and are now getting them machine as part of a full valve job. However we will not be stopping there as we will be going through the rest of the beast to make sure that everything functions right.
    It was repainted in the late 80s and that paint is peeling, blistering and the factory blue is starting to show from underneath. So, we are going to bring out more of that patina and then eventually cover that in clear to protect it. Especially since it is virtually a rust free AZ truck.
    By the way the interior is in great shape except for some wear on the drivers seat and that custom van material Jeep used. The whole family is super excited about this one. So, there are a few diamonds in the rough out there, we just need to decide what makes a diamond to us.
    PS: I was at Pomona a few years ago and a guy rolled in with his 73 Dodge Panel van. He built it like the one he drove on Van Nuys blvd even down to dash plaques and pong game that was a sure fire way to attracted company in the 70s. He even pulled out a full foldaway tiki bar and with is small generator made exotic drinks for us all to enjoy. I have been in search for one since as it was the true hit of the event. So, this guy wants that 70s custom van.