WHAT TO LOOK FOR
In the US, there is an army of car-hunters driving the back roads looking for lost treasure. With the UK being more compact, it is best to speak to people in your own area first, as it is surprising how many car fans will know of someone who has an old vehicle tucked away. But no matter how many years a car has been left in an outbuilding, there’s no guarantee the owner or their family will want to part with it. Try to be subtle and patient, and if the right deal comes to light, make your move. For the less patient, keep an eye on auction lists, specialist dealers, among our classified adverts and on the website (see specialist list). A visit to the Practical Classics Restoration Show at the NEC, Birmingham, 5-6 March, will prove inspirational.
FIRST FIND YOUR BARN
Part of the appeal of a barn find is that neglected look that somehow combines past glories with a hint of ‘I could look really beautiful again, you know’. Some collectors now prefer lived-life patina as opposed to the totally-restored gloss that was the desirable aim in the past. You will need ambition and the funds to see the project through as you look at a car that has rampant rot, missing parts, panels you can see daylight through and rodent infestation. Some will prefer a car that has poor bodywork but is in reasonable mechanical order, while others will
IF I SAID YOU HAD A BEAUTIFUL BODY
go for the opposite combination, depending on their skill level. Another choice is how you present your car when restored: rat look or concours? Both have their followers.
It is obvious that no car is going anywhere if the engine has seized. Sometimes the piston rings are just lightly rusted to the cylinder walls and can be freed; often not. If an engine can be turned over, ensure all the little and large components are present and connected. Check that the steering wheel at least turns the front wheels and that the clutch pedal and brakes are engaging. Fill the radiator with water to check for leaks. Even tyres that look reasonable may disintegrate when moved. As well as buying a new battery, you may well want a new coil, spark plugs and wires – and make sure the battery cables are there and usable. Most barn finds will need towing or trailering, so be prepared.
Proving that the car is what it claims/appears to be is another potential headache and due diligence is required to try to confirm all the facts. If you’re lucky there will be a VIN plate in place to reveal the vehicle’s true identity – if so, you can contact the DVLA and ask them about the vehicle and its last registered owner. A ‘forgotten’ car is unlikely to come complete with the sort of paperwork
A CASE OF IDENTITY
history that we prefer when purchasing a classic. A large element of trust is needed when you strike a deal for an abandoned car in the middle of a field! Of course, buying from a specialist dealer or via an auction could provide a smoother transition and offer peace of mind.
A laid up insurance policy to cover the vehicle while it is SORN is a good idea, though not compulsory. This will provide cover for fire and theft while the car is undergoing restoration, which could prove money well spent.
Buying your barn find is just the first step. If you spot the car of your dreams coming up in an auction, satisfy yourself that the car is capable of becoming the vehicle you want it to be, and book your bidding paddle. Stick to your upper price limit, take into account the buyer’s premium, and factor in the cost of transporting your barn find to its new home. Work out a realistic budget for the restoration and before you say ‘It won’t happen to me’ consider that there are always a lot of project cars up for sale where funds and patience has run out. What seems like a bargain might not be one when you discover that parts for your project are not easy to come by. If your ambitions are bigger than your wallet, close the barn doors and walk away.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS