Barn Find: How To Find Your Next Project

1958 Berkley Roadster Found in the Southern Cailfornia Mountains for $600

Everyone in the car hobby is always looking for that rare"barn find" but if you know how to look they are far more common then you may think. Over the years I have found dozens of ultra rare cars, from a forgotten Boss 302, to classic Austin Healey's with racing history and everything in between. There are always stories about car hunters, even some T.V. shows have popped up that make it seem like finding an old car is a magical gift. To make the show or story interesting there is always a cloud of mystery to how they find these diamonds in the rough, and they pretend that these cars are so few and far between that it has to be a full time job.

Well...You don't have to root around behind peoples barns, get chased by farm dogs, or pick through abandoned buildings hoping to uncover some hidden gem. As someone that has been finding, restoring, selling, trading, and racing old cars for the last 14 years I have some idea on what it takes to find them. The professional car hunters will not be happy, but here are some tips for first time car hunters:

1. Run a ad in the local paper:Wanted 1965-1966 Ford Mustang in need of work.You will be surprised how many calls you will get from people wanting to get that old car out of their drive way. One such call yielded a low mileage unrestored Fastback V8, with power steering complete and rust free for only $1,000.(Photo of Black Fastback purchased for $1,000)

(Note: You can always spot the car hunters ads because they have some story like "looking for a car like my wife and I had when we were first married" or the best one "father and son looking for project to bond over". These 9 times out of 10 professional car buyers. They also will stress "Privet Party" in their ads, that way when they show up with their three car hauler the sellers will be more comfortable.)

2. Go exploring: Take a drive, if you have GPS turn off the "Allow Freeways" option and set off through some older parts of town. On my drives I have seen everything from Boss 302's to a classic Ferrari. They may not all be for sale, but knock on some doors. You can always copy down the address and send a letter to the owner. A letter is how I once picked up a 1972 Mustang Sportsroof 351C that ran and drove for FREE. A letter to a old auto repair shop, help pick up a 1967 coach built Moretti 124 for the low sum of just $500. (Photo of Rare Moretti 124 2+2 found for $500)

3. Craigslist and Ebay: Yes everyone knows about these sites, but I have found some great deals on them just by changing the way I search. Many people will type in "1965 Mustang" and you may find some cars, but so will everyone else. Search by year "1965", search common misspellings and typos, and search models. You will be surprised what you find, a guy may list a 1970 Mustang Sportsroof as "70 msutang slopeback". In searching this way I found a complete V8, 1970 Mustang Sportsroof for $1,500.(Photo by Barrel_Girl)

4. Make Connections: Make friends with some local salvage guys, you may be able to get a car and pay them a finders fee before they have to process it as salvage. I found a 1969 MGB roadster for $200 plus lunch for the salvage yard driver.(Phoot of 1962 Austin Healey Sprite with Thomas Denner Bonnet)

Another tip for the new car hunter is to keep a small bag in the car with the following:

  • Flashlight

  • Note Pad and Pen

  • Camera

  • AAA premium membership card

  • Pair of Jeans, Tee Shirt, and Gloves

  • Small Tool Kit

You never know what you may find while driving to your cousins house, or helping a friend move, or behind the local repair shop.

These are not stories from the 10 or 20 years ago. I have found all of these cars in the last 5 years and with very few exceptions have I never paid more then $1,500 for a project. My current 1974 Fiat X1/9 (project Budget Elise) was a running driving car purchased for just $900, and my vintage Formula Vee with Cal-Club race history was pulled from a back yard for $500.

I have found the most amazing cars when not looking for them, if you run an ad that says "Wanted: Rare Boss 302 Mustang" you have just told the guy that has that car rotting in his back yard it is rare. If you run an ad "Wanted: 1968-1973 Mustang unrestored" you may get a call from that guy with the Boss, Mach 1, or K code.

Don't let the "experts" try to tell you that their are no more cars out there, that you need to just buy a complete car, because all the good ones have been restored. For every deal that I passed up, I found two more, and remember even today, old cars are being parked because of mechanical failure, or the purchase of a new car. I have purchased cars that had been sitting for just a few months before the owner lost interest and parked it. So take your time, if it is a project car it may take a few months to find the right car for you, but just remember there are still lots of cars out there.

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