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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.


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.

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