The Cobra in the Barn, Great Stories of Automotive Archaeology

by Tom Cotter

“While the novice may think ownership is the best reward in barn finding, that’s only partly true. The real joy lies in the search and discovery of these old cars. It is something that seems to reach back to our primal instincts. Who wouldn’t want to find buried gold coins, left by Captain Cook, off some Caribbean Island? Or maybe untold riches left in a tomb by King Tut, or one of his cronies? But most car guys don’t live on islands or in the desert, and they must deal with the ‘treasures’ at hand.

For them, a potential jackpot lurks behind every barn door or fence.”

This was the first of Tom Cotters’ “In the Barn” books. Elsewhere on Speedreaders is a review of The Corvette in the Barn which was published some five years after this Cobra title.

As well as the author, thirteen writers have contributed the many stories of tracking down and securing interesting old vehicles that have, for the most part, been languishing unused and unseen for years, sometimes decades. The title might mislead you into thinking that this is one story about a Cobra barn find, but it comprises the stories of many vehicles, twenty-eight, with detailed tales and many others covered under the broader headings of Unconventional Discoveries, Professional Car Hunters, and My Own Finds.

I went straight to chapter two which is written by Peter Egan, one of my all-time favorite motoring writers. Egan also wrote the Foreword to the book. He and Cotter are friends. Eagan’s chapter, “Fetching the Lotus,” is a reprint of his 2004 column in Road & Track magazine—an entertaining piece about his purchase and recovery of a 1964 Series 1 Lotus Elan that was literally in a barn. Egan’s comment at the end of his tale is the perfect summary:

I sat there for a while and tried to think if anything could be more fun on a dark and wintry week than going on a road trip and bringing a nice old car home to restore. I couldn’t think of anything, even after a second cup of coffee.”

Cotter’s Introduction to his book provides tips for would-be hunters of automotive treasures. The one that struck me was: “Let everyone know you are a car nut. You’d be surprised how cars come out of the woodwork just by getting the word out.”

In Chapter nine Cotter features some of his own finds—a 1940 Ford Convertible, an  aluminum Sebring Le Mans Sprite, and a 1940 Ford Deluxe Woody that he found twice! 

Cobras do feature prominently in the book, with four individual chapters on Cobras including the intriguingly titled “The Cobra in the Bedroom.” But stories of finding all manner of other vehicles are told including a custom Cheetah transporter inspired by the Mercedes Benz unit that hauled the company’s W196 and SLR racers. There are Healeys and MGs, Mustangs and Maseratis, Fords and Ferraris, Allards and Alfas, Lotus and Lola, the list goes on. Various creatures and their homes had to be removed from some vehicles before work could start on them.

There is a good Index and hundreds of excellent photos and some neat sketches at the start of chapters.

This is the perfect book to have on your bedside table. It’s not a book that you read from cover to cover. In fact, it’s more likely that you will jump around, as I did, picking out the stories that appeal the most on any given evening. 

A softcover edition was released in 2010.

The Cobra in the Barn, Great Stories of Automotive Archaeology
by Tom Cotter 
Motorbooks/Quarto, 2005
256 pages, 25 b/w & 100 color illustrations, hardcover
List Price: $24.95 / £16.99 
ISBN-13: 978-0-7603-1992-5

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