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Barn find cars are not dissimilar to buried treasure. They are often surrounded by rumor, mystery, sabotage, and double-crossing. Rare, original vintage cars can be worth serious money; because of that, there are barn finds that have been jealousy guarded for decades. However, every once in a while, a car is found stashed away in a garage, under a tarp, or even under a pile of hay in a barn, and the finder can buy it and bring it into the light. Here is the story of the most expensive brand find ever discovered, a Ferrari 250 GT. 

What is the most expensive barn find car? 

Nearly 10 years ago, a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider was discovered under a pile of rotting magazines in a French barn. The unrestored car in its rare black paint is only one of 37 ever made of its kind. So to say this car is rare is almost silly. It is beyond rare. Furthermore, these are one of the most desirable car models in the world. In fact, according to The State Journal-Register, Ferrari 250 GTs occupy 13 spots on the list of most expensive cars ever sold. 

This unrestored car sold for an unfathomable $16.2 million at Artcurial Motorcars Auction House. As rare as valuable barn finds are, cars like this rarely sit in a barn alone. This Ferrari 250 GT was one of 60 cars left from a collection built by French transportation mogul Roger Baillon. 

Sometime in the 1970s, Baillon came on hard times and was forced to sell most of his collection. However, as any good collector might do, instead of selling all of his cars, he tucked away a few of his favorites around the farm. Eventually, the cars were covered in junk and forgotten about. 

How did they find such a rare and valuable vintage car? 

We often forget the parallels between lost treasure and barn finds. These things don’t occur naturally. The only way a chest of pirate treasure ever gets found is if pirates hid it first. The same is true for legendary barn finds. 

This unbelievable Ferrari 250 GT California barn find came along with many other amazing, hard-to-believe cars. Baillon had impeccable taste and the money to support it, at least for a time. According to Classic Driver, Baillon didn’t just like cars; he knew them. He even once showed a handbuilt roadster at the Paris Motor Show in 1950. So not only did his taste and wealth build his fantastic collection, but his misfortune was also key in dismantling the collection (in part), leading to the cars getting buried and forgotten about. Significant barn finds like this are beyond rare because the confluence of factors needed is extraordinary. 

“This sort of thing doesn’t happen often enough,” Matthieu Lamoure, managing director of Artcurial Motorcars, said in a press release. “In our jargon, we speak about ‘barn finds’ as cars that are intact, that have remained untouched for years and are found again. I have to say that when we arrived here, we found ourselves overcome with emotion.”

Finding the Ferrari was a whole other thing. It’s hard to believe that you could lose track of a $16 million car, but the owner’s family had no clue they had it. The wife of the Baillon’s grandson was under the impression that it had been sold years ago. So when the Aritcurial team found it, the shock was real. 

What other cars were found with the Ferrari? 

1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider in profile against a white background.
1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider | Artcurial MotorCars

Lamoure and the rest at Artcurial discovered a collection of cars that stunned them. “Never again, anywhere in the world, will such a treasure be unearthed,” says Pierre Novikoff, motor car specialist at Artcurial auction house. 

2014 upon returning from the site to shoot the property, the photographer (Rémi Dargegen) from Classic Driver said, “It’s amazing, just amazing. The place is incredible… the most impressive thing is the sheer quantity of cars hidden in the barns.”

Among the make-shift buildings, barns, sheds, and other such rural structures, the brands found in the collection include Bugatti, Hispano-Suiza, Panhard et Levassor, Delahaye, Delage, Maserati, and Ferrari. There are even a few Talbot-Lago T26s strewn about the place. As if this collection needed any more praise, not only are these cars obscenely rare, but prominent figures also owned some. The Ferrari 250 GT barn find was allegedly owned by actor Alain Delon. One of the Talbots is a very fancy coachbuilt Cabriolet once owned by King Farouk of Egypt. 

This barn find was a real treasure 

Lamoure likened being one of the first shown the barn finds to “Lord Carnarvon entering Tutankhamun’s tomb.” In his opinion, “Not since the revelation of the Schlumpf Collection in Mulhouse has such a group of emblematic automobiles been disclosed and, what is more, in such original condition. The magic of these 60 mysterious mechanical creatures is more like a giant work of art: the unrealized dream of their owner.”

Despite these cars’ overall condition, it’s their originality and rarity that makes the rust and crumbled parts less of an issue than you might expect. If a car is rare enough, the condition is only one of a great number of value-creating factors. For instance, The McClaren F1 is said to be an untotalable car since they are worth so much. This is also true of a Ferrari 250 GTO California.

Please check out Classic Driver to see the breathtaking photos of the exploration of the property as the barn find was discovered.