Barnfinds: it’s all becoming ridiculous
CAN WE STOP with the barnfinds? I don’t doubt that there are some cars in barns, but it’s starting to get a bit ridiculous. I did some research and the average farmer makes $42,000 per year. So how all these farmers end up with Birdcage Maseratis and Ferrari GTOs in their barns is beyond me. In my day we didn’t call them barnfinds. When I was in high school there was always a rumour that somewhere there was a big-block Corvette for sale, very low mileage, a guy died in it, they couldn’t get the smell out, the family just wants to sell it for three or four hundred dollars.
This story was told to me over and over again. We once used it to our advantage. We ran an ad in the paper for a ’66 Corvette big-block, four-speed, guy died in it, can’t get the smell out, just want to get rid of it for low money – and we put our high school principal’s phone number in and said call a%er 10pm. Well, he was flooded with phone calls, and of course we would call too. He would say ‘There’s no big-block Corvette here! Don’t call here again!’
Another one was the $100 Porsche. This guy was perusing the newspaper and he saw an ad for a late-model Porsche for $100. So he thinks it must be a mistake, but he calls anyway. So he calls and oh, it is $100. He goes over there and it’s a three- or fouryear-old 911, in perfect shape. So he buys it and asks the woman why she’s selling it for $100. And she tells him that her husband ran off with his secretary and told her to sell the car and wire him the money. So that’s what she did.
For some reason people seem to think I bought Elvis’s motorcycle. This story was told to me by one of the police chiefs in the Valley. Apparently, I’m at a garage sale in Tennessee. Why I would go all the way to Tennessee for a garage sale, I don’t know! So, they have the Harley there with two flat tyres. A%er checking the serial numbers, I offer the farmer (again, a farmer) a million dollars for the bike. A%er he sells it to me I show him the serial number, EP1, which is Elvis Presley 1. Now, Harley-Davidson does not put the owner’s name in the serial number. And apparently, a%er I buy the bike, I li% up the seat and show him the gold plate that says ‘To Elvis, Love Priscilla, Happy Birthday’.
People always say to me ‘Oh, you have the Elvis bike’, and I say ‘No, I don’t’. They say ‘Yeah, you do!’ And I say ‘I show everything I have on my website so why would I not show this if I had it?’ But to this day people seem to think I own Elvis Presley’s motorcycle.
There are tricks to finding hidden cars. If you live in a small town with an old-style gas station, go in there and ask if there are any older customers with interesting cars you haven’t seen in a while. And they might say yeah, there was a guy with a ’62 Whatever-it-is, but he hasn’t been around in five or six years; lived up in this area. It’s kind of a good way to find old cars.
Sometimes cars hide in plain sight. I found a one-owner Duesenberg in a parking garage in New York, where it had been parked for 50 or 60 years. It was rotted out, but there it was, in the middle of Manhattan, with people around it all the time. It just looked so bad that nobody really knew or cared what it was. If you’re looking for a specific car you’re going to be disappointed. But if you’re looking for just any you’ll find something you might not have have thought of. I never thought I would buy a Daimler Dart. Then I found one sitting outside a house in upstate New York. It had sat there 30 years but it’s glassfibre so it was fine. So we brought it back and fixed it up.
All car enthusiasts want to believe. I recently found what would be considered a barnfind but it was in a condominium. It was a one-owner ’71 Porsche 911T and in the late ’90s it had been parked in an underground garage in a condo in Beverly Hills. It belonged to the guy’s mother and it had sat there for 20 years, with four flat tyres. The keys were lost so it was more trouble than it was worth to move, so it just sat there. So I went down, looked at it and I bought it. Had a key made, and I’m restoring it now.
I guess what you have now could be called second-generation barn finds: cars that were found in the ’60s, brought to a second location ready to restore, the restoration never happened, so they’re found again. I have a 1907 White steam car that was perfectly restored in 1950 and won a bunch of awards. Then it was put in a barn or a garage for 60 years and it just deteriorated – so when we pulled it out it looked to be in original condition.
‘THE AVERAGE FARMER MAKES $42,000 PER YEAR. SO HOW DO THEY END UP WITH BIRDCAGE MASERATIS AND GTOS IN THEIR BARNS?’
JAY LENO Comedian and talk show legend Jay Leno is one of the most famous entertainers in the USA. He is also a true petrolhead, with a massive collection of cars and bikes (see www.jaylenosgarage.com). Jay was speaking with Jeremy Hart.