The auction of a ‘barn’ find in France of rare and unique early automobiles fills every petrol head’s noddle with joy. I know the feeling well.
I was travelling the dust bowl of Arizona one time of many, on my way to Sedona, a town of cacti gardens and streets called, Gunsmoke, and Snake Avenue. The road to that red earth town with its adobe houses was a driver’s delight, a dead-straight road from the freeway, only coyotes and tumbleweed for company, foot down till over the ton, across the vast desert, radiator aimed at the pencil thin line of mountains in the far hazy horizon.
A few miles down the road I spotted a crush of Model T Fords packed like bicycles under a ramshackle shed with a corrugated iron roof.
An amazing hoard of veteran and fifties cars
Ever the nosy traveller, a quick U-turn to park at the ranch gate, and a squint through a cobwebbed window revealed a group of V16 engines lying on the shed floor, each worth many thousands of dollars. I was invited in by the old timers with a, ‘We don’t get many strangers around these here parts,” and after a few words of greetings and handshakes with the eighty year-old be-whiskered owner, was allowed to look around his collection.
Everything had a surface patina of mild rust. The air is so dry in Arizona, (no mosquitoes!) cars never rust. Rubber dries and splits, wood twists and snaps, but metal stays metal.
I wandered among some of the great names of American automobilia: Pontiac, Lincoln, Oldsmobile, Studebaker. The value of the hood ornaments alone would keep a poor man fed for a year.
Cars of yesteryear ready for restoration.
The cars ranged from 1930 to the sixties. I took some photographs, promised to drop back again on my way home with a bottle of whisky as thanks, and strolled back to my SUV.
As I reached the gate one of the old guys, all of them aged mechanics after years of panhandling for gold, took me aside and said in a conspiratorial manner, “Jake’s got five hundred more some ways up the creek.” He winked and walked back to the huge Duisenberg radiator he was repairing. I looked at him in disbelief. Five hundred? No. He’s joshing with me. But the hint was too much to ignore.
After taking a few wrong turns on unsigned side roads, I walk across the rise and lo and behold, there they were, over five hundred cars from all eras, mostly American manufacturers, a few European, all baking in the 90 degree heat, none for sale.
Would he consider selling me one, at least to preserve a bit of automotive history? “Naw. Jake collected them with his gold savin’s an’ he ain’t minded to sell ’em.”
The reason for this story is to prove rare cars and collections lie all over the planet waiting.
A barn find the owner is happy to sell
There is a barn find a year, usually a single car, perhaps half-a-dozen, but this one in France last December was a doozy!
The remarkable treasure trove of rare automobiles was discovered on a provincial farm in the West of France, cars collected and then stored beginning over forty years ago.
The Baillon collection (exact location a secret) consisted of approximately 200 rare cars that the French owner amassed between 1953 and 1966, with the oldest car in the collection dating back to 1912, a Renault four-cylinder. The most modern car in the collection as it stands today is a Ferrari Mondial, which may have been a daily driver.
Cars as a hedge against the economy
The collection’s owner reportedly moved on to larger vehicles, such as trains, but setbacks in business forced him to sell about a hundred cars at one point. A bankruptcy in 1978 saw the collection reduced by another 100 cars, leaving the 60 intact cars.
Several children had been bequeathed the estate. In an effort to discover the value of the cars, they called Artcurial, best known as France’s leading auctioneer of art and antiques.
The collection reads like a list of the greatest names in 20th century automotive history, the aristocracy of engineers: Bugatti, Hispano-Suiza, Talbot-Lago, Panhard-Levassor, Maserati, Ferrari, Delahaye, Delage. Along with the famous manufacturers, many of the bodies were built by the most celebrated coachbuilders of the period, such as Million & Guiet, Frua, Chapron and Saoutchik. No less than three Saoutchik-bodied Talbot Lago T26s were found among the sheds, including a very rare Grand Sport Aérodynamique and a Talbot Lago T26 Cabriolet once owned by King Farouk.
Like find Tutankhamen’s tomb
The cars are expected to fetch many millions at a French auction. They were originally fabricated for the wealthy, and it is still the wealthy who can afford to buy them and restore them to former glory. No change there, then. Most have their engines still in place, pushing the value sky-high.
The find has been likened to discovering the tomb of Tutankhamen, but unlike the artefacts found in his tomb, cars are not art.
There is art in their making, but only a petrolhead would choose one over a Monet, a Picasso, or a Goya. Nevertheless, it is another indication that we live in two worlds, the mass of us spectators to the grossly rich.
Old cars as a hobby
I keep my eye open when journeying around Scotland for one of our rare cars made here. Even a rusty chassis has tremendous value … an Argyll will do nicely.
The Ferrari sold for over $16 million. Only 37 were ever built. The one sold had been owned by actor Alain Delon. The entire group of cars amassed a total of over £28 million.