How to find Your Own "Barn Find"

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 of 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 an ad on Craigslist or even the local paper: Wanted 1965-1966 Ford Mustang in need of work. You will be surprised how many calls and emails you will get from people wanting to get that old car out of the driveway. Be smart in how you word your ad 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 backyard it is rare. If you run an ad "Wanted: 1968-1973 Mustang unrestored" you may get a call from that guy with the Boss as well as a bunch of other potential cars. 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)

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 and back roads. You might be surprised how many cars are sitting out in old neighborhoods, in side-yards, sticking out a junk in the garage, or out in the countryside.

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 and a note left on the gate of an old auto repair shop, lead to 1967 coach built Moretti 124 for the low sum of just $500.

3. Searching Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace: Yes everyone knows about these sites, but I have found some great deals on them just by changing how 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 for common misspellings and typos, and search models. You will be surprised at what you find, a guy may list a 1970 Mustang Sportsroof as "70 msutang slopeback". In searching this way I found a complete V8, Mercury Monterey Convertible for $1,000.

4. Make Connections: Make friends with some local salvage guys, let people know you are a car guy always looking for a project. You may want to even pay them a finders fee. I found a 1969 MGB roadster for $200 plus lunch for the salvage yard driver. But my last SEMA project was found by someone knocking on my door and offering me a 67 Ford Fairlane Fastback for $500.

Also try to keep a small bag in the car with the following:
  • Flashlight
  • Note Pad and Pen
  • AAA premium membership card
  • Pair of Jeans, Tee Shirt, and Gloves
  • Small Tool Kit

Don't let the "experts" try to tell you that there 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. This award-winning SEMA show car we built started out as a $500 car that had been sitting behind a guys house for 20 years. 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.