Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Hagerty Employee

6 essential tips for buying a barn find

Unless you've been living under a project car on jackstands for the last 15 years, you should be familiar with the barn find phenomenon. The stories are charming, and for many difficult to resist. The long-forgotten car or motorcycle! The project that spiraled out of control!

On the other hand, if it's a De Tomaso Mangusta like in the first pic, raid your 401K, your kids' college funds, whatever you need to do and buy it immediately. If you don't, you'll regret it the rest of your life!
Pit Crew

I am also a great fan of the appearance of the Mangusta. However, when I lived in Michigan, a neighbor who worked at GM brought one home one evening and let me take it for a short drive on a local series of roads that I used for test drives. The drive included some county two lanes and a short stretch of freeway.

The first impression when entering the car was the closeness of the windshield header to my head, and I am only 5 foot 6 inches. During the drive I noted that the handling was not up to expectations. The 1966 Corvair that I owned at the time handled better and was more stable and predictable.

I also seem to recall that Sports Car Graphic magazine had a series where they took a Mangusta and went through it to sort out all of its quirks.

I have a model in my model collection and that is probably as close as I want to get to a Mangusta, even if I could afford one.
Intermediate Driver

35 years ago on business down in McAllen, TX I came across a clean Yellow Mangusta sitting at a flashy Used Car Dealer. What were the odds...! $20K firm.
I was young with both a '70 E-type and '68 GT-350 in the garage that both needed work.
Plus I couldn't grasp how I would get it from McAllen to Chicago...Much less make space.
Sadly walked away and have regretted it since...

Naw , you probably did the right thing. You still have the GT350 and the E-Type right?

Yes, indeed. If it's the DeTomaso we all know what to do.
I also suggest as does the author, talking with your (and joining) your Marque's Owners Club who will be helpful with lots of advice regarding the year/model you are looking at.
And if the car is sitting under 300 years of dust, don't buy it. Never mind flat tires. You'll
probably need rubber anyway. Look everywhere. Trunk, under seats, glove box, obviously engine and trunk.
Why is the car being sold? Listen to the story. You know BS when you hear it. If not, bring a friend as the author suggests. Gloves. Flashlights (yes, sunlight is always better). There
s more, but most importantly DON'T FALL IN LOVE WITH IT.
Intermediate Driver

I once passed on Miura for $26,500 back in the mid 80's. I was in college and poor. Might as well have been $1M.
Intermediate Driver

That Mangusta may not be the best driving car, but it's definitely one of the prettiest. Would love to walk into a garage to find something like that hiding in there!

Most hard core car guys have a good barn find missed story. My was in 1980 visiting a friend in Louisville Ky on a weekend. We went to school together at Xavier, he was big into 2002 tii BMW's, I still liked American muscle. He went back to Louisville and I took a job in Pittsburgh....anyway while driving around we came upon a 70 Dino at a repair shop. It was parked out front and was open (ahh the good old days!). Looked good, although the steering wheel was broken in half. Ended up calling on Monday. Owner blew the engine, got mad broke the steering wheel. He offered it to me for $10,000. Like other here that was all the money in the world to me back then, never made him a counter offer. Ends up that is as close as I ever got to owning a Ferrari!
Intermediate Driver

I lived in London in 1979; so, about the same time as your Dino experience. I was debating between a '69 280SL and a '70 Dino (yellow). Both were pristine and both were (in dollars) $20,000.00. The Dino was RHD and the SL was LHD. I went with the SL, which had only 9,800 miles on it. Likewise, as close as I got to a Ferrari. And yes, the SL is long gone now.
Intermediate Driver

Came across a 1939 Chevrolet Master Deluxe Coupe when I was 17 years old for "just" $700. Non running condition, no problem. I learned all of these barn find tips the hard way and ended up selling it for $700 several years later. Oh well, live and learn!
Intermediate Driver

One of the best ways to ferret out a barn find is to join a club that caters to your interest, as mentioned here in the story. All I had to do was say I was looking for a 1920's era car and soon had a number of leads, one of which panned out. It also helps if you can call in some past favors to help with extractions and trailering.

"Barn Find" and "Frame-off Restoration", perhaps the two most overused, misused terms in the car hobby. No doubt there are a few other candidates.
Pit Crew

How about running when parked .....

Research is definitely the most important thing. that way you know the known trouble spots to hit up. The fine tooth comb approach is definitely important to catch the what is visibly off.

Now go get hat Mangusta! v:^)

When I bought my Pantera in the late 70's (and still own today), Pantera's where very reasonable and Mangusta's were going for even less! I think a Mangusta is cool but a Pantera is a more drivable car with a slightly bigger engine, so it was an easy decision to go with a Pantera. But I wish I had bought a Mangusta as well back then, but not enough $$$ for both...
Intermediate Driver

Speaking as the son of a man who collected old Mopars - one of the most frustrating aspects is the number of people dropping by who heard from someone that we had some old Mopars lying around. They treated my brother and me as if we knew nothing, annoyed us while we were trying to work, and generally led me to sell the lot to someone else at a great price, mostly because they didn't breathe all over us for months. So #1 on the list should be "Don't pester people about their barn cars."
Advanced Driver

Depends. Can you do all the work yourself in a reasonable amount of time or do you have to send it off to a restoration shop? Can you afford the restoration? Does the current owner think his turd is worth a fortune? Just because you saw it while driving by doesn't mean you will be able to get it. Is the person a hoarder that won't sell anything because "I'll get to it 'someday'"? So many cars rot away because the owner is so pig-headed they won't sell it to someone who will fix it up and the parts they have been collecting for years go bad from poor storage. That 426 Hemi in the rusted to heck Cuda sitting in the yard with the hood off and the carb uncovered come to mind. It was parked in 1978 and not touched since.

There is a guy near me who has a GTO that I have enquired about every year or two. It is sitting in his yard, just rusting away. The amount of deterioration in the past two years is just heart breaking. He "no interest in selling it"
Intermediate Driver

My "missed" story wasn't a barn find. It was an actual running vehicle. In the early '70s, a fellow in our sports car club wanted to sell his Mercedes. I remember the price as $6,000; Hubby remembers it as $8,000. Either way, we had 3 cars (in a 2-car garage), plus a plane, so we were a bit vehicle poor. The Mercedes? A Gullwing, of course...
Advanced Driver

That was a typical price for a Gullwing at that time. I came onto one at a used car dealer, I think they wanted $8500. I had some money I inherited, and if I put together every dime I could possibly have laid my hands on, I probably could have bought it. I didn't. Oh well, I probably would have just run it into the ground anyway.
Intermediate Driver

That's how I console myself, too.  On the other hand, we did keep the matching numbers Porsche 356 SC Sunroof Coupe, now 55 years owned.  Hubby restored her about 20 years ago, and she runs fine and is driven regularly.


Getting there first! That is key.


Second finding out if the car is worth the work needed. Too often barn finds are failed projects that need more investment than they are worth. 

‘’You could get lucky and find Cobra that was parked when it’s as not worth much. But you need to watch for a car like an Auburn that is not very popular that could be worth $75k restored but needs $200k investment on your Camaro budget. 

Intermediate Driver

I was asked to help with a 72 Porsche 911 that was sitting in the original owner's garage since 1992. The car had been there under a nice car cover for years. Sounds great? Not so much! The garage had a washer and dryer just in back of the Porsche. condensation crept up underneath the car cover for years. The paint over the entire body had small pimples (yes, rust). Brakes were locked up, all calipers seized, all brake lines plugged solid. Gas tank had a solid mass of gelled gas as did the fuel lines. Engine was a mess! Exposed alloy parts had fuzzy growth on them. painted alloy parts had all corroded. Yep, engine was stuck.

Good tips. Fortunately for me my taste and budget are a bit more modest than Ferraris and De Tomaso. I just bought two Subaru BRAT's as so-called barn finds for a price that, if all else fails (and it often does), I could recoup my investment plus a little extra for aggravation by selling parts if they turned out to be basket cases. One is a parts car with a good motor but bad body and the other decent body and tired engine. I did a hasty engine swap while I was out recovering them (they are 1600 miles from home).
Last year I found a 1989 SAAB 900 turbo in an abandoned storage unit and paid $1000 for it. The body is excellent and interior is in great shape. The car also had parts in the trunk that I sold for $950, so the SAAb owes me $50 so far. The good thing about bottom feeding is the risks aren't so dire.
Pit Crew

I have owned 5 brats and just loved them, have a baja, impreza outback sport, and outback LL bean, and wrx now, watch out for the subie bug


New Driver

My Garage Finds
I was always intrigued when I would read stores about Garage Finds and always wondered
“ How do they find these cars”. Little did I know I would find two in less than a year.
The first one I came across was a 1966 Corvette. Being in the car repair business my whole life
I always loved Corvettes. I belong to a local Corvette Club, and one of the members gave my
name to a friend of his that was having trouble bleeding the brakes on the car. I had pictured in
my mind a beat up clunker. Imagine my surprise when I went to help the gentleman that he had
a fully load 66 Corvette coupe sitting in his garage in great shape. The car had been sitting for
years and he wanted to get it running to sell it. I helped him bleed the brakes and proceeded to
explain what we had to do to get it running He was in Ill health so I was glad to help. When I
told him we needed to drop the fuel tank and flush out the system because the gas was so old
and go thru the whole car to get it running he just collapsed in his chair and said “ I just want to
get rid of this dam thing. My kids don’t want it and I am trying to help my wife get rid of it as I
am in Ill health” I made him an offer to buy it and he said yes. On my way home I called my
wife and said “ how much do you love me, I just bought a car”. Fortunately for me my wife is
also a car nut. She owns a 2005 Corvette and a 1964 Corvair convertible with rare factory
Air Conditioning.
Trailered the car home, went thru the whole car and got it running. Runs great and shows
great at all the local car shows. A fun car to drive.
Unfortunately the gentleman pass away a few months later.

The second one I found was a 1971 Corvette coupe. I was looking for an original jack for the
66 and would look on our Local Sales Network . In a nearby town someone had a Corvette
Jack for sale. I called the person and went to his home to buy the jack . When I went there we
went into his basement and tucked in the corner was the 71 Corvette. It looked like new and I
was admiring it when he said He was going to sell it as he couldn’t drive it anymore because
he broke his back. After talking with my wife about it we made a deal and bought the car. The
car had been sitting for a few years so again flush the fuel system and go thru the whole car.
Got it running and it runs great

But now the best part. My wife and I go to Corvettes at Carlisle and had planned to take her 05
Corvette. When we were looking over the information for the show we noticed they were
making a big deal about the 1971 Corvette. Then it dawned on us this year they are celebrating
the 50 Anniversary of the 1971 Corvette. Corvettes at Carlisle every year has a special tent for
Corvettes that are 50 years old that year. This year it was the 71. We had taken our 63 in 2013
and had a blast. After making a quick phone call we were able to enter it in the exhibit. The car
was shown along with other 71 Corvettes. Then it received an Celebrity Choice Award from
one of the events celebrities We were included in a parade to the grandstand for some great
pictures, What a great weekend!
So now I am on the lookout for the next garage, barn or basement find!
Intermediate Driver

Get at least a bill of sale and make sure you can title it in your state before working on it.
New Driver

Nice article Kyle - where's the one and only Tom (Barn Find Hunter) Cotter these days and can we expect any new content from him?

I have a 'barn find' disassembled in my garage right now... part of what I encountered was expected - part was not

It always 'ran when they parked it'. If you don't see it run, it doesn't... and there is probably a better than 50% chance that the engine is locked up

No matter what you know about what is wrong with the car, there is 3 times more wrong with it. Everyone hears about the guy who found a barn find, poured some gas down the carb, aired up the tires, and drove it out. Everyone hears about the guy who won half a billion in the powerball too. You ain't him
Intermediate Driver

I had a chance at a Lotus Europa for $2500 back in '72 or '73.. but I was a starving university student, preferred going surfing, and at six foot six, I didn't need another shoe. As in, how much of me I could have stuffed into the car.
Intermediate Driver

I'm only 6' 4" and try as I might, and I was a lithe 23 year old, I could not find a way to get into my friend's Europa.

The Europa was one of my favorite Hot Wheels back then, I dreamed of owning one someday.
A few years ago, my B-i-L (a used car dealer) had one on the lot. I'm 5'10" and I don't recall it I actually sat in it, or gave up trying.
New Driver

In the late 70s/early 80s I was an import auto mechanic, and had worked on a Lotus Europa. Really cool and great driving car, but at 5'7", I barely fit, and realized if I was any taller, I wouldn't get in it. Maybe the only time being short was an advantage! Now that I'm older, I'm not sure I could get in and out of it at all.
Intermediate Driver

Finding a "Barn" much less a decent "find" seems to become harder and harder. We all remember finding a "jewel" in someone's driveway, barn, or junk yard, but lest us not forget that was 50 or more years ago. The herd has been considerably thinned out today, and the "farmer" knows what the value and rarity of his "barn find" split window Vet" or tri-five Chevy is worth.

Yep, the ICE effect (Internet Changes Everything).

This is a great step 2 article. Step one, and much harder, is to find the barn find in the first place! Tom Cotter illustrates this very well which is just talk to people all the time so everyone you know - knows you are in the market. I uncovered a stash of 3 cars in one estate - in a 70 yr old hand built shed that hadn't seen the light of day for 30 years. In it included a 26K orig mile 1939 Ford Business Coupe (story published in Street Rodder; I bought and sold a few years ago), a 21K orig mile 1948 Lincoln Continental V12 2-dr Coupe (brokered for the family), and a 37K orig mile 1955 Chervolet 3600 pickup still with the original bedwood & is currently sitting in my garage. How did I find these cars? My father-in-law making small talk with his family doctor, doctor mentioned having these old cars his 98 yr old blind father had and didn't know what to do with them - and God bless my father-in-law - he tells him all about his son-in-law who is really into old cars. Similarly, a work buddy went to an estate sale, sees an old car in the garage - talks to the widow - discovers the car hadn't moved in 10 yrs since her husband died, he calls me, long story short I ending up buying a very well preserved 1966 25K orig mile MGB GT and a matching color 1971 BSA motorcycle with less than 4,000 miles. The key to this one is I treated her with respect, offered a fair price, and even brought it by for a ride after it was back on the road. That lead to her friend calling me who was an original owner of a 1968 Firebird 350 4spd convertible she wanted to sell (couldn't push clutch anymore).
Point is you can't buy a barn find until you find a barn find.

In regards to the first photo, I actually do know where there is a Mangusta that has been parked in a warehouse for many years. A friend found it while out walking around.
Solid tips, and with having been in and out of the car biz for 30 years probably the most important thing is to NOT fall in love with cars while inspecting them... and end up paying too much or buying trash. The first year or so in the biz, I had bought several cars I thought were awesome- but then the next morning they certainly didn't look as great.
Similar things have also happened at the pub and nightclub, but I'll leave it at that.

Advanced Driver

Advanced Driver

Having been in the auto world for 50+ years, I would warn everyone about this current "barn find" hoax phenomenon that is sweeping through the classic car and hot rod world. Remember that TV shows with various "PICKERS" are made for entertainment... but are 75% or more contrived BS.
We all (me included) can easily drift out of reality and become drunk on false optimism when it comes to that idea of bringing some abandoned "whatever" magically jumping back to life and then tooling down the road again, with us behind the wheel.
This is possible, except for almost everything! Take a very experienced, working professional mechanic with you to look at any "barn find". You probably WON'T hear what you want to hear, but you will be saving yourself a ton of aggravation AND a boatload of $$$ too. There is usually a very good reason that these "gold nuggets" are sitting under piles of useless junk. GET IT?
Pit Crew

I found my barn find in an actual barn. The original owners family was selling it to clear out their huge barn. Along with the '57 Ford Skyliner I was interested in, there were about a dozen and a half other cars, trucks and a fire engine, from a '28 Chevy up to some '70's vintage. Seems the rancher would buy a car, drive it until he began having trouble with it, park it in the barn and go out and buy a new replacement. That was the case with the '57; it rolled off the San Jose assembly line in spring of that year and was shipped a couple hundred miles north to its new owner. He drove it for 15 years. I suspect by then he was having cooling issues and probably some funny noises from a cracked flex plate. When I bought it, the engine was seized, the interior had become a rodent playground and I figured the tranny was shot too. It didn't matter though because the body was in great, rust free condition from spending its life in sunny Cal. I spent 4 years rebuilding it and it is such a blast to drive. My only regret is that I didn't have additional cash to pick any of the other cars sitting in that barn.
Advanced Driver

I was the "trusted friend" when we went to look at a '75 BMW 2002--not in a barn, but sitting in an Ohio driveway for 16 years. Amazingly, no structural rust, just surface rust from sitting outside. Even more amazingly, when we pulled the spark plugs to see if we could turn the engine over with a socket on the crankshaft, the engine turned over when I grabbed the fan to insert the socket! While we had to use a sledgehammer to free up the calipers and brake drums, and replace all four split tires to even move it, the price was right--free! The (original) owner just wanted it to go to a good home. Four years later my friend has it all repainted, new brakes and fuel system, but the engine started right up with only a carb and fuel pump rebuild.

First photo reminds me of my garage...bunch of "stuff"...old pinball, old Knucklehead chopper parts, magazines, old tools, picture frames and a Mangusta that I have owned since 1975. When I stopped driving it, they were worth less than $20,000. I recall passing on a Miura with a disassembled engine for $11,500 asking.

Yesterday, I was walking into the gas station, a couple of men were talking to each other.
As I walked by, the older one of them said, "and in his barn are a lot of old motorcycles."
I stopped, faced him, and exclaimed, "A barn with old motorcycles! Where?"
He smiled, as he could tell I wasn't seriously considering pulling the information out of him.
New Driver

Barn finds are not nearly as cool as they sound. In most cases, there was a reason they ended up parked. How many times have you parked a running, driving, dependable car and just left it sit?
Brake lines , master and wheel cylinders, drums/rotors, shoes/pads, fuel tank/lines, EVERYTHING made of rubber, cooling system, and a lot more. and then deal with the critters that have had decades living there.
Unless it is a Dusenberg or a hemi Roadrunner, its probably a parts car.
And don't forget about "No title, but it's easy to get one" I love that one.
Intermediate Driver

I have a "barn find" 1985 IROC-Z Camaro. I've been working on it for a while now. Sometimes it is a matter of just being in the right place at the right time, I wasn't hunting for one. This one was at a an estate sale where the original owner had died and his father was working to clear the estate. The story of how the car ended up in the garage was plausible. The car appeared complete. The original purchase / loan paperwork was in the console. The car had been parked for 25 + years. The license tags and tune up labels confirmed it. The body was in great condition with zero rust-rare in a Michigan car. Some research confirmed the equipment and that the parts were all there. The estate sale company ran an online auction and I purchased it at a fair price for a non-running car. It has taken much more work to resurrect it than I hoped, but I have the time to work on it and have it back on the road. So far, I haven't found anything that contradicts the original story of how the car came to be. I am in the continuous improvement phase, currently working on the interior. I thought it might be a good idea to capture the work required to bring it back to life, so I started a You Tube channel with the videos of my progress. If you're interested, take a look here:
New Driver

Where do I pick up the Mangusta it sure would look good next to my '57 Dual Ghia,that would really be an interesting pair. The only problem is the Dual Ghia really drained the pocket book restoring the the car,so I guess I have to pass on it,but then what are dreams for !!!!
Advanced Driver

Barn find (or farmers field or someone's garage) Do you have the Knowledge /Time & Or Money--Or--are you just buying a Dream that will never happen??
Intermediate Driver

Got an old Matchless 500cc single. It wasn't a basket case, it was a wheelbarrow case. The wheelbarrow wasn't included. When I saw wood screws had replaced machine screws I shouldn't have walked away, I should have run!

Got it for free and it was worth every penny! Still trying to sort it out after many years!
New Driver

Check the condition of the engine oil. If a car was stored a long time with dirty (acidic) oil in the engine, it bad. If the oil was changed in preparation for storage, the bearing surfaces and rings etc will be as good as the day it was put away.