Regardless of what it is or where it was found, eight of these barn finds are worth over $100,000, 11 are worth over $1 million, and three are over $10 million! All of them are worth familiarizing yourself with if you call yourself a car person in any capacity.
There’s something mysterious and alluring about the concept of finding something hidden; the thrill of locating and uncovering a previously-undiscovered or little-known treasure is unlike any other known to man – it’s inspired marine-fantasies of pirates and treasure chests – complete with maps and a sparkling chest of gold and diamonds. It is half of the reason piracy is so romanticized in the 1700s. In reality, piracy was a bad trade full of murky characters with low morals and little education. Treasure chests and overflowing bounties were much less common than scraping by on meager rations and fighting off scurvy for months at a time.
Although we romanticize this aspect of marine history probably more than we should, one area of history that remains underrated is the automotive barn finds that scatter the globe in silence – catacombs of priceless and extremely rare vehicles are sitting all across the world just waiting to be discovered. Some of them haven’t seen the light of day for almost a century and some people have no idea the magnitude of the gold mine they are sitting on. Others simply have a stroke and forget all about a car for 26 years; only to discover that the shop they left it at a quarter-century ago wants almost $100,000 in back storage fees. Do you pay it? These rides definitely might be worthy of the fee!
20 Mercedes-Benz 190SL ($209,000)
Contextually-speaking, yes, the 190SL is nowhere near the level that an equivalently-rusted out 300SL is perched upon; but in its own right, the 190SL is beyond the scope of any barn find you’ll ever likely come across in your own lifetime.
It’s the definition of classic in a car from Europe and it was designed for speed. The performance numbers wouldn’t impress even a Grand Touring Mazda 6 in a contemporary sense – but contemporary in 1960 was a bit different; the open-body 190SL was all about accentuating performance with luxury and elegance.
19 Bugatti Type 57 Ventoux ($337,000)
Even if there’s only a few of them left in the world, it’s a rare occasion to see an extremely-unique barn find worth less than a contemporary production model, but not every car company has a $1.5 million dollar production car, either.
Although the Type 57 was no Veyron, it won Le Mans in 1937 and in 1939 (despite its designation as a “road car”) with its mighty, 198cid straight-eight. The Ventoux wasn’t the exact variant of the barn find, but definitely helped drive the six-figure winning bid for the Type 57 nonetheless.
18 Bugatti Type 22 Brescia ($360,000)
The concept of “barn finding” can be greatly enhanced by expanding the definition of what a barn-find can actually be. If the “barn” in question were to be a large body of water, this 1925 Bugatti Type 22 makes an excellent contender for “barn-find of the century.”
It spent three-quarters of a century submerged beneath the surface of a lake in North Italy before being discovered at a depth of 164’. It was raised from the bottom of Lake Maggiore and sent to the auction block in January 2010 where it secured a $360,000 winning-bid in the condition it was discovered in. The car was sent to be displayed at a museum in Oxnard, California where it will remain a tribute to Bugatti craftsmanship in the rotted condition it was discovered in.
17 Hispano Suiza H6B Cabriolet ($485,000)
The H6B is a 1919 example of what motor company Hispano thought “luxury” should be defined as. Indeed, an elegant way to shuffle yourself around just as the Raging ‘20s were entering boom times, this H6 ended up spending much of its life quietly weathering the test of time under a corrugated, tin roof.
As some cars were reduced to little-more than multi-million dollar book shelves, the Hispano was given a little more dignity – aging next to piles of trash and rusting garbage, rather than underneath them. The spare tire was rotted away to nothing more than a rusty rim bolted to the side of the engine cowling when the car was discovered.
16 Jaguar XJ220 ($600,000)
The Jaguar XJ220 isn’t exactly what you’d call your average barn find, but anytime a $600,000 piece of automotive hardware is just abandoned to the elements for someone else to stumble across qualifies as something of a special find in my book.
Hardly anything classic came from the year 1992, but Jaguar was intent on making it a year to remember by means of their 200+mph supercar that was to set a top-speed record at the time. This particular example of such history was left to corrode away in the Qatar region with a completely mysterious background and unknown history.
15 Farouk Bentley Mark VI ($850,000)
King Farouk was a car connoisseur of sorts; so finding out that he had an $800,000 Bentley stashed away somewhere comes as very little of a surprise. It was one of his favorite cars when he traveled with his entourage. There is some doubt as to whether this is an authentic Farouk car or merely just an identical model; all of Farouk’s cars were painted uniquely to distinguish him from ordinary citizens so he could be easily identified and not hassled by police.
That color was red, and this Bentley hit the auction block in a black livery with no mention of a king or any red paint in its history. Did someone get duped? Or are the Mark VIs just worth that much?
14 Wet Nellie Lotus ($864,000)
The Wet Nellie lotus is arguably one of the most famous James Bond cars in history – it was a custom submarine car that looked a whole lot cooler than it actually was – but that’s the whole point of Hollywood, is it not? It was a “wet-sub;” occupants were required to wear scuba gear to operate it but it nonetheless was a Lotus that you could “drive” underwater. The car was featured in The Spy Who Loved Me and eventually found itself in a blind auction of a shipping container with a lot of other cars.
The winning bidder paid $100,000 for the lot – Wet Nellie is worth closer to $1 million, however, making it the snatch-up of the century as far as lost-and-found treasures go.
13 1957 “Airbox” Corvette ($900,000)
Phil Bachman’s lost-and-found love story is an unusual barn find tale, to say the least. This is an Airbox Corvette, a 43-car production run of a specialized “race-package” that featured a cold-air induction from which the “Airbox” name was given. Only 20 of these Corvettes are thought to have survived the test of time.
Bachman, through his dealership, bought one and sent it off to a Corvette specialist for customization. During that time, he suffered a massive stroke and during his recovery, the Corvette was forgotten. 15 years later, while going through old paperwork, his son found the title to the ’57 Corvette and they tracked it down to the garage it had been originally sent to for the work; they wanted over $75,000 in back storage fees.
12 Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing ($1 Million)
The highly-collectible Mercedes 300SL is already a legendary car in and of itself; it was produced strictly as a racing car from 1952. It went into production as of 1954 with just over 3,000 units produced. The W198 was the first Grand Tourer iteration of the SL-class and today sits as one of the most collectible Mercedes Models in existence; the technological firsts, low production numbers and gullwing doors drive prices to around a ballpark-$1,000,000 to $2,500,000 for collector pieces.
This particular 300SL is the 43rd unit to roll off the line and thought to have the original paint stripped in the mid-50s where it then sat for 60 years.
11 Aston Martin DB2 Prototype ($1 Million)
Aston Martin is a prestigious name; even James Bond thinks so – the result is a place in domestic car culture that’s been chiseled out for the Aston Martin to occupy for all of history; they have been producing successful racecars since the 1930s and it wasn’t until late in that decade that Aston Martin decided to start transitioning a focus to road cars.
This 1950 prototype DB2 has its own racing history – it was the only Aston Martin to complete the 1949 24-Hours of Le Mans. It was also one of only three similarly-built racecars like it at the time and the only known example surviving.
10 Ferrari 166MM Barchetta ($1 Million)
The 166MM Barchetta story is a particular variation of your typical, run-of-the-mill barn find story; rather than leave it for fate to have it discovered on its own, the owners of this car decided to sell it after having watched it rot away in the Arizona desert for decades.
It’s assumed that a member of the U.S. armed forces stationed in Germany found it for a friend back home (Reg Lee Litton), bought it for around $5,000 to $8,000 and had it shipped stateside to his friend 50 years ago.
Litton raced it until it broke, parked it for decades and eventually passed away. His family, knowing full well what the car was and what it was worth, posted it for sale.
9 300SL Alloy-Body Gullwing ($4.6 Million)
This ’55 alloy-body Gullwing was estimated in the $6 million neighborhood, but the market would only support a final $4.62-million closing bid. I say only as if a multi-million dollar price tag is anything to sneeze at, but the balance between 4.6 and 6 becomes a lot when you prefix it with a dollar sign and add a few zeros to the end.
This ’55 alloy body, chassis number 5500640, is cited as the “rarest and most desirable W198 Gullwing ever presented for public auction” according to Sotheby's. The $4.62 figure is a record-setting price tag for the collector car.
8 Maserati A6G Berlinetta Grand Sport ($2.2 Million)
It was part of the legendary, 59-car barn find in France that totaled $28.5 million in historic, automotive memorabilia; setting 10 records in the process. As famous as the A6G is today in light of the historic car cache it was found amongst, it was already gaining fame and prestige at the Paris Motor Show in Grand Palais in October 1956.
It had already been delivered to its new owner but was displayed nonetheless as they were built on an as-ordered basis (at the time, it was rare for a company to display a car in such a manner). It was only estimated to bring between $900,000 and $1.4 million at the auction block, but bidders were not shy about their interest when the hammer fell in 2015.
7 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport ($1.9 Million)
Usually, when king and car are involved, it’s the king making the car famous. In this case, it’s the car bringing the spotlight to the throne as one of King Farouk’s Talbot-Lago T26 Cabriolets were among the Boillian car collection; not that you’d even know who he is.
I can name one king off the top of my head – and he had a roundtable; this Farouk fellow only became relevant in my quest to uncover details about this magnificent car. Unfortunately, the integrity of the chassis has been compromised by a rear-end collision sometime in its operational past, but that didn’t stop bidders from driving the auction price just shy of $2 million either way.
6 Shelby Cobra 427 ($1.5 Million)
Possibly the sweetest barn find any motor-enthusiast could hope to ever stumble across, this was the ’67 roadster parked alongside the 275 GTB for 26 years. It was parked in the same, good-running order and left to marinate in the stew of time – gaining value every single day.
Acquiring the car with 13,000-original miles, the owner put another 6,000 miles on it before parking it in the garage of his new home. The Goodyear Wingfoot tires were still fitted to the Peter Brock sunburst rims and everything remained in pristine condition, the way any collector car should be stored. Of all the exciting cars to find in a barn or hidden away in someone’s garage, few are more awe-inspiring than the 427 Cobra – in turnkey condition.
5 Ferrari 275 GTB Alloy Coupe ($1.8 Million)
It’s a car at or near the top of every Ferrari enthusiast’s hot list; the 275 GTB (a 1966 model-year, in this case) was found tucked away with another barn find for nearly 26 years and almost forgotten.
The 275 GTB sat in a private garage next to a Shelby Cobra 427 for a quarter-century and was found in a very well-preserved condition – this barn find is literally out of your wildest dreams. Thankfully for the world, the car was parked in running condition and left untouched the entire time it was stored. Barn finds really don’t get any better than this.
4 Bugatti Atalante Coupe ($4.3 Million)
Bugatti is mostly known for its current hypercars due to their trendy, world-record setting inclination on a five-mile stretch of isolated asphalt. It’s incontestable that the extremely-outlandish market value of even the oldest and beat up Bugatti is bolstered by that fact.
But when a 1937 Bugatti is found highly unaltered after sitting 50 years in a garage in Britain, it makes for something truly special. Although not as special as finding a rust-bucket at the bottom of a lake – it’s a whole lot easier to restore. It was originally owned by Earl Howe, president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club (and one of 17 examples known to have been produced).
3 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider SWB ($10 Million)
As a part of a massive 59-car barn find, this Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider is unique in more than just one area of distinction; not only is it one of the rarest (if not the rarest) Ferrari in existence today; it was also owned by French actor Alain Delon. He was photographed with the car alongside Jane Fonda and Shirly MacLaine if any of that matters to you.
I could not care less about any of that; but a vintage, SOHC, Colombo V-12 Ferrari engine with a trio of Webers on top inside a matching-numbers chassis is something to tip your hat to even if this wasn’t one of the rarest barn finds in history.
2 Ferrari 250 GTO ($18 Million)
It is the “Holy Grail” car from a “Holy Grail” carmaker – and despite what anyone will argue to the contrary, an $18 million hammer-price is compelling evidence to that case. Sitting under piles of literature appears to have had little effect on the sale price – in fact, it probably adds to the nostalgia of finding it in the manner it was discovered; shabby, forgotten and (most importantly) preserved.
In its fully-restored condition, it’s nothing short of a stunning automobile; a simple, two-tone racing livery gives it a playful nature and it is no less beautiful now than it has ever been before. A 1962 GTO sold in a Sotheby’s auction for $48.4 million in California; breaking the auction record which previously held that title with nothing less than – another Ferrari.
1 Mercedes Benz W196 Formula 1 Racecar ($29.7 Million)
It’s July 12th, 2013 and the hammer drops at a staggering price (even for this car) – almost $30 million dollars for Juan Manual Fangio’s 1954 W196 R Formula 1. He himself is already a Formula legend of his own time – many would contest his racing acumen to be even superior to contemporary Formula drivers (he’s that good).
The stellar price is a blockbuster for the Bonham auctions without a doubt; it’s the highest price they’ve ever secured for a Mercedes as well as a Formula car – the previous record was a 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa that sold for only $16.4 million.
Sources - roadandtrack.com, motor1.com, motorauthority.com & rmsothebys.com