It’s every gearhead’s dream: A little old lady is selling her dearly departed husband’s (insert your favorite classic here) for peanuts. It hasn’t run in years, but it’s been safely tucked away in her (barn/garage/carport) for decades, and with a few weekends of work, you’ll have a true time capsule classic on your hands. Who knows, if you’re not too attached, you might even be able to turn around and sell it at a hefty profit — especially if it was built by Ferrari or Porsche.
But then, the “barn find” phenomenon began to catch on. It trickled down from the “Preservation Class” darlings of Concours events, until it reached cultural saturation, just like Do It Yourself, house flipping, and home brewing. Not long ago, there was the ’37 Bugatti found in England, or the cache of 50 cars in rural France, including a ’61 Ferrari California Spyder and ’56 Maserati 2000. Now we have Barn Find Mustang IIs, Barn Find ’90s Chevy Caprices, even Barn Find Ford Fiestas. Vintage and classic cars are great for a number of reasons, even if some of them weren’t great cars to begin with. They transport us back to a time and place, remind us of what was normal then, and how far we’ve come since. At what point does originality take precedent over everything else, and how much is that originality worth?
Over the past few years, the value of collector cars has spiraled out of control. Cars like early Porsche 911s change hands for twice what they did a decade ago, and others like the Toyota 2000GT command even more than that. If they’ve been well-preserved, then things like torn upholstery, paint chips, or cracked glass can be overlooked. Hell, they might even sell for more that way.
But 2016 looks like the end of the party for the collector car market — not that it’s going to go bust overnight, but it’s beginning to seem like the days when cars double or triple in value in a year’s time are finally coming to an end. And as the dust settles, the absurdities of the market are beginning to feel, well, absurd again. Take the rotten ’69 Dodge Charger Daytona pulled from an Alabama farm that fetched far below its six-figure estimate earlier this year. Maybe big-buck barn finds have finally jumped the shark too.
The Dodge Charger Daytona is about as legendary as muscle cars get. Offered for just one year, the Daytona was a NASCAR homologation special, and with its aerodynamic beak and outrageous rear wing, it was one of the first street cars that could top 200 miles per hour with mild tuning. But despite its legendary racer status and extreme rarity (just 503 were built), it was nearly 19 feet long, had a budget interior, and looks that didn’t exactly win the public over. As a result, many of them sat on dealer lots well into the ’70s, or sold at a discount.
Today, well-preserved or restored Daytonas fetch well into the six figure range, and Hemi-equipped cars are creeping close to the seven-figure mark. And why wouldn’t they? They’re rare, fast, and historically significant. But the Alabama car is more representative of how these cars were treated during the disco era: mismatched wheels and flames haphazardly painted on the front fenders outside, blood red shag carpeting and cheap speakers cut into the door cards on the inside. Add to it decades of sitting on grass in a carport, and you’ve got one sorry — albeit rare — piece of Mopar history.
Last month in Florida, Mecum auctions offered the Daytona with a presale estimate of $150-180,000. For that kind of money, Hagerty estimates that you could get a No. 3 “Good” Daytona, meaning: “vehicles are not used for daily transportation but are ready for a long tour without excuses, and the casual passerby will not find any visual flaws.” A tired runner fetches just over $120K. But preservation purists will remind you that “it’s only original once!” And that’s why the Alabama barn find was priced so high.
Some preservation class cars had their bodies hand-formed by workers hammering sheet metal over wooden bucks, and have interiors hand-stitched by craftsmen. But the Daytona was built at Dodge’s factory in Hamtramck, Michigan. From 1965 to 1978, Chrysler built millions of its 440 Magnum engines. And aside from its nose and wing, its body shell and plastic-fantastic interior is virtually identical to the 90,000 other Chargers built in 1969. The Alabama Daytona is a rare, matching numbers original, but matching numbers aside, it’s a heap that’s been sitting since Gerald Ford was in office. Virtually everything that isn’t metal will need to be replaced — and depending on rot, a lot of that will need to go too. It doesn’t have 46 years worth of history, it has a few years of light commuting followed by decades of decomposition, topped off with a liberal helping of moss, mold, and surface rust.
Mecum said “you will have the possibility to take ownership of this true time capsule, either to preserve in legacy or restore to like-new condition.” But buyers knew better than to confuse neglect with legacy, and at the end of the day, this non-running Dodge crossed the block for $90,000. That’s no small chunk of change, but the new owner will likely pay another several times that to replace 40-plus years of “originality” and make his car drivable again.
The Daytona is an icon, and we’re thrilled at the possibility of having another one back on the road someday. But it doesn’t need to have 1970 air in its tires. It doesn’t need the flames on its fenders that were put on when it was a two-owner used car, and it certainly deserves to have its interior replaced. Every gearhead wants a car with a story, but what many seem to miss is that a car’s story usually falls into the category of sentimental value. Juan Miguel Fangio’s Ferrari will fetch a premium for its provenance, but Dad’s Chevelle probably won’t. Hopefully barns will continue to produce tired classics for us to reintroduce back into the world, but let’s make sure we get them moving under their own power again too.
Follow Derek on Twitter @CS_DerekS