As the automotive world hurtles at light speed toward electrification and autonomy and whatever else is around the corner, and the old ways of the previous century’s enthusiasts are supplanted one by one by a newer generation eager to create its own traditions, it’s understandable some folks may feel a ping of nostalgia when catching a fleeting glimpse of an antique machine rolling down the highway. With every passing year, sightings of muscle cars and other classics get rarer. As I try to make sense of the barn find phenomenon, I keep coming back to the hope that perhaps not as many of these old cars were crushed or rusted into the earth as previously thought. They aren’t on the road, but they’ve got to be somewhere, right?
What Is a Barn Find?
Although you might rightfully think a classic car being discovered in a barn is all that qualifies as a “barn find,” you’ll be pleasantly surprised that insiders consider “barn finds” to be a much broader category—any old building or field or abandoned mine will do. Barns, however, are still the epicenter of vintage-car finds, rare or otherwise. As industrial farming gained favor over family farming in the middle of the 20th century, it left a lot of barns unused as folks changed professions or fled the country life for the city. As barn owners’ cars got phased out of daily service, the big building on the back lot came into play.
As mentioned, barns aren’t the only place a car go go into hibernation. Garages, sheds, storage units, back alleys, old gas stations, and even yards also count as places where “barn find” cars can be unearthed. These days, you can even discover a barn find on eBay, as one of our examples demonstrates. Rather than call out each vehicle in painstaking detail as a shed find, yard find, garage find, ad nauseum (it’s the car that really matters, right?), defaulting to the ol’ barn for simplicity’s sake make sense. It’s also more romantic than “old tool & die shop find,” to boot.
The entire category provides spark to the hope there’s something exciting the next place you look, and that if you keep on opening doors you’ll eventually find that gem in the rough. Those doors can be metaphorical, too, like a Craigslist ad, a swap meet, a Facebook post, or the used-car pamphlet at the convenience store counter. You know one when you see it, so let’s look at a half-dozen incredible finds that will inspire you to keep searching!
The Alan Rietz Collection
We begin with the Alan Rietz collection, which was sold by the VanDerBrink auction house in the summer of 2018. Alan had an 1,100-acre farm in Mansfield, South Dakota, where he and his wife Linda grew corn and soybeans—and where, over a period of 45 years, he accumulated more than 100 Mopars and Chevys as well as an impressive collection of engines and parts. (You’ll want to check out the more than 600 quality photos here.) These were dispersed through a series of barns and the surrounding fields, and when Alan passed away unexpectedly in 2017, his wife Linda contacted auctioneer Yvette VanDerBrink to liquidate the collection. It contained a smattering of what we’d consider high-end collector cars, as well as what we think of today as mostly attainable project cars.
This auction provided many regular people something they’d never seen: the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy an affordable barn find. Yes, the 1970 440-equipped Dodge Super Bee and a few others fetched incredible bids, but with so many unrestored cars on hand, many went out the door for a song. We never met Alan but can’t help but think of him as a hero, as he ultimately helped so many people realize their dream of owning a cool piece of history without being ripped off.
1969 Dodge Daytona
When it comes to barn find cars, none get as much attention as winged Mopars. The 1969 Dodge Daytona discovered by Charlie Lyons of Charlie’s Classic Cars in Irvington, Alabama, is one that exploded when it first emerged online in November 2015. With only 503 of these rare, NASCAR-bound rockets homologated for racing on high-banked superspeedways, there’s an added mystique over and above the normally rabid thirst for muscle-car classics. As such, Lyons—a competent expert restorer and consummate fan of muscle machinery—had always desired to own and restore a 1969 Daytona, and after hearing a rumor of one in a nearby town, he went to check it out.
Charlie’s Daytona barn find illustrates how it pays off to develop a network through word-of-mouth and follow-up rigorously. The owner vowed never to sell it, but Lyons kept the owner’s contact info and kept in touch in a friendly way. Eventually, he was able to score the Daytona (see more photos here), but the cash cost of the investment proved too much. After much soul-searching, Charlie let it go at a Mecum auction for $90,000 just as he found it, and he was able to recoup his investment plus a little extra. That sum would fund his next investment, an even more incredible find.
1970 Boss 429 Mustang
If you thought Lyons hit the jackpot discovering a 1-of-503 1969 Dodge Daytona, you may be even more impressed with his discovery of a 1-of-499 1970 Boss 429 Mustang. “Everybody around here knows I collect cars and dig them out of barns,” Lyons said. That tenacity paid off again when he hit the barn find lotto twice in three years. The Calypso Coral 1970 Boss 429 had even been featured at one time during the 1980s in Super Ford magazine when it was still an actively driven and modified ride. The owner’s hometown (Mobile, Alabama) was even published in the story, proving that barn find leads can even be hiding in plain sight.
As an almost perfectly preserved example of a day two survivor (meaning it had been at one time lightly modified and could easily be brought back into factory spec), this barn find is at the height of desirability. Making it extra attractive was its historical role—like the Daytona—of having been homologated for NASCAR. The twist is that NASCAR didn’t require Ford to install the Boss 429 mill in the body style that it would actually race (that would be the mid-size Torino), so it built the required number of cars as Mustangs, making these few cars a collector’s dream.
1971 Dodge Charger SE
Having a network of car-savvy friends is a consistent theme among barn finds, and that definitely factors in the story of Wade Kawasaki’s 1971 Dodge Charger SE. As an industry insider and the CEO of Coker Tire, Wade knows a lot about muscle cars, and to say he has a lot of friends is an understatement. The affable tire man was approached by a friend with an old Charger in mint condition who, after letting it sit in a barn for 15 years, was finally ready to let it go. When Wade got the call, all he had to do was say “yes,” and the deal was struck. The 1971 Dodge Charger SE with its original 383-cubic-inch wedge isn’t going to command the huge sums of a Boss 429 or Dodge Daytona, but it’s desirable nonetheless. It’s the kind of car a current enthusiast of modest means can afford, and this one was in spectacular shape.
After taking the unmolested Dodge under his wing and getting it running in short order, Wade made the decision to offer it up for sale for $20,000, and through some help via this story, the Charger SE ended up at a happy new home. Our hats are off to Wade, who could’ve squeezed more money out of the car but instead chose to share his good fortune with someone else. As we’ve seen before, not everybody is as inclined to make peace with fellow enthusiasts.
1963 Pontiac Tempest Super Duty
Imagine for a moment you’re not a car person, and the house you just bought has a garage full of scrap, including a beat-up 1963 Pontiac. You consider hauling it all to the junkyard and getting scrap value for it, but also knowing $200 will barely cover your sweat, gas, and time. As luck would have it, your young son thinks the car is cool, and you decide to roll it out, take a few pictures, and put it up on auction site eBay instead. You figure at least someone else will come and haul it away, saving yourself a bunch of trouble, and you might even get more than $200. A lot more.
With that one decision, the muscle-car world changed. As Pontiac experts examined the photos on the eBay auction and word spread, it readily became apparent that this was no ordinary 1963 Tempest, but one of six homologated for NHRA Super Stock competition with a ton of super rare equipment, most notably a 421-cubic-inch Super Duty V-8 (missing) and a bunch of lightweight aluminum body parts. Over a period of days, the bidding soared from $500 to $226,521.63—the highest amount (at that time) ever paid for a car on eBay. Most improbably, the car had originally been owned and raced by Stan Antlocher, who was able to help establish the Pontiac’s provenance.
1969 Dodge Daytona
Our final barn find is also a 1969 Dodge Daytona, and what makes it unusual is that it’s a one-owner car. That’s right, Ron Smith has owned it since day one when he found it brand new at a dealership display at the Puyallup Fair in Washington State. Smith wasn’t a car nut, but he was transfixed by the strange, exotic sight of the winged car. One of the the 503 units built for homologation to race in NASCAR, the Daytona was as far away from the deep south as it could get, yet it still wove a spell. He put a $20 down payment on the car on the spot, promising the dealer they could use it for display for the remainder of the fair.
A short time later, Ron was summoned to Vietnam and left the Daytona with his father, Verne Bristol, who kept it safe while Ron was away. Over the decades, Ron enjoyed the car and provided some fascinating details about driving it through the desert in the southwest beyond the speedometer’s range. As the car aged, though, it was driven less until it was finally relegated to the shed. Ron always wanted to get it back running and contacted Marshall Woolery, an expert. Initially reluctant to follow up because the story seemed so far-fetched, Woolery finally looked into it. He was shocked to discover that not only was it a real Daytona in a barn, but it was still owned by its first owner and was 100 percent intact down to its original paint, proving that sometimes the barn holding a secret is the one in your own backyard.