The Corvette in the Barn: More Great Stories of Automotive Archaeology

by Tom Cotter

If it was the word “Corvette” that caught your eye, do realize that this book isn’t just about that. The Corvette story is neither the first nor the biggest one in this book, in fact there are several, but it makes for as good a title as any. This is now the fourth installment in Cotter’s In the Barn series (Cobra, Hemi, Vincent) that started in 2005.

The most amazing thing about these amazing stories is that they’re true. And that Cotter hasn’t run out of material yet. (It’s a big country, kids.) And that many of the cars in these stories are ones “regular” people (could) find in the regular course of their day. In other words we’re not talking about cars like the ex-Earl Howe 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante that upon being discovered in 2007 after 40 years in an eccentric British bachelor’s shed went straight to auction with a multi-million dollar asking price.

Over 50,000 copies of these books have been sold, so, clearly, the relative attainability of a barn-find dream car, or bike, strikes a chord with readers. Outside the US, especially in the UK, there are regular columns in various magazines, most notably those by motoring historian Mike Worthington-Williams who has been been documenting barn finds for decades.

Written by a self-professed “Certified Car Geek” this book presents almost 40 vignettes (each with at least a few photos) dealing with the allure of looking for desirable cars, be it by methodical search or accidental stumble—the latter sometimes literally. But, first a reality check to counteract all the pie-in-the-sky daydreaming readers will want to indulge in: while hope springs eternal, for every good story there are 1001 bad ones—they just don’t make it into books. (Unless they’re really bad, headline-making international incident-bad, and there are some of those!) You’ll surely recognize some of the people and many of the cars in this book. In strictly historical terms, the most unusual car covered here would have to be Father Juliano’s 1957 Aurora safety car.

Penned by the author and a handful of contributors, the book is all about treasures turning up in obscure places, even today. Of course, not all the cars in this book are literally barn finds. City dwellers thus don’t need to feel utterly deprived of opportunity, what with no actual barns and country mice and tobacco-spitting locals who know colorful tales of a tree growing through old so-and-so’s luxo barge. There’s a “virtual barn”—eBay!

If you know the other books, especially the first one (Cobra), you will probably think that this latest one is not as much about the hunt, the sleuthing, the dead ends, the dashed hopes, or the deal making—where many would say the real adventure lies—but about the recommissioning. In fact, if there is a recurring theme to the stories in this book, it is that people only discover what they bought after the fact, while they are restoring it. These stories are no less interesting, just a different flavor.

In the Foreword Keith Martin, publisher of Sports Car Market and Corvette Market, sums up the affliction nicely: “And when my wife reads this introduction, she’ll know why it always seems to take me an hour longer to drive to the grocery store when I go alone that it does when we are together.”

Cotter says this book won’t be the last: “If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing!” Moreover, he encourages readers to share their own stories with him, for consideration in future books (it is the story of the discovery that matters to him, not the brand or value of the car).

An Appendix lists 11 barn-finding tips, some rather tongue-in-cheek (“Get your own TV show”) and the first one is definitely not something you’ll hear every day: a lawyer can be your best friend. (They know about estate sales.)

Making a barn find can be cheap enough—bringing it back to life never is. And at a mere $26 for this book it’s cheaper and easier to live vicariously through other people’s stories than pounding the pavement or thumbing the old Rolodex oneself. But if you are a serious searcher, keep the faith! Someone will know someone who knows something . . . and your story could be in the next book!

Copyright 2010, Sabu Advani (speedreaders.info).

The Corvette in the Barn:
More Great Stories of Automotive Archaeology
by Tom Cotter
Motorbooks, 2010
256 pages, hardcover
List Price: $26
ISBN-13: 978-0760337974
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