Barn Find: Be Careful What You Wish For

You’ve heard the story, right? A guy buys an old farm. On the old farm there’s an old shed that hasn’t been opened in 30 years. Somehow the family selling the farm just forgot about it (!!). Inside the shed are a bunch of dust-covered, but otherwise perfectly preserved classic cars that were worth pennies when they were locked away, but are now worth a fortune.

Barn find!!!!


Above: NOT the barn find in this story

Well, I went and saw my first ‘barn find’ on the weekend. It wasn’t a forgotten collection sold absent-mindedly by a family. It was a group of cars collected by a Hobart local who passed away a few years ago, which is now being sold bit-by-bit by the family.

Specifically, I went to look at a Series 1 Lancia Fulvia – exciting enough merely because it’s one that I don’t have to transport from interstate! Or overseas (which I’ve seriously considered).

But here’s the thing I learned about barn finds over the weekend:

The unspoken excitement of the barn find is preservation. You subconsciously think “Wow. A perfectly preserved Fulvia! All I need to do is change the fluids, slot in a battery and I’m in a fully functional automotive time machine!”

Well, not quite.

Barn finds, by their very nature, are cars that have sat for ages…. and ages…. and ages. Even if such a car is relatively new, that can create problems. When the car is 30 or 40 years old, it can mean things like rust and a seized engine, both of which are sadly present in this Fulvia.

In fact, of the dozen or so cars I saw in the ‘barn’ on the weekend, there were only a handful that looked like they’d need minimal work to get moving again, providing all the internal are OK. The cars I saw ranged from the 1940’s (I think) through to the 1980’s and it was the younger cars that looked the most likely to get going the quickest.

So what of the Fulvia? I went down on Sunday with a deposit in my pocket. I came back having not handed over a cent of it.

The big downside is that the car has been in a minor accident at some point in its life and there’s evidence of this down the right-hand side of the vehicle. The fix involved some new paint, which changed the colour from blue to red. The interior looks tired and some of the brightwork, which is basically irreplaceable, is in bad condition. And then there’s that seized engine. I feel very confident it’s just from the car sitting for 18 years and not from hardcore mechanical failure. In other words, I’m confident it could be freed up. But it would still have to be disassembled and inspected. Hoses, brakes, gearbox…… the list goes on.

The good news (aside from the sheer fact that it’s a Series 1 Fulvia and it’s local) is that the subframe looked solid.

If I had some space to store the car at home I could disassemble at my leisure and prepare it for the body shop. But I don’t, which is endlessly frustrating. I’m looking into the cost of some replacement parts and panelling and I’m also looking for somewhere to store the 968. If those things can come together quickly, I might just have my dream project. If not, it might be (yet another) opportunity lost.

Either way, I learned a valuable lesson on the weekend: have serious respect for those who take on a barn find. It’s not all beer and skittles with these cars. Not at first look, anyway.


And no, I can’t really talk about the other vehicles stored with the Fulvia. It’s a little bit secret-squirrel and I don’t know how much I can give away. I’m hesitant to even show a photo of the Fulvia here. Sorry.

You may also like


        1. I figured, but the BMCA bit threw me.

          I don’t think there was any British Leyland stuff there.

  1. I wish you the best with it. Just last night I ran across a post and video of a SAAB Convertible that had been parked for nine years in the same spot — when the new owner came to inspect the car; all the tires were completely flat, to the point that the rims had actually sunk into the pavement and the brakes were seized up. It had a few small issues, but it all came to together rather simply and cleaned up really nice.

    Keep us updated!

  2. I’ve been perusing the local ads for a daily driver lately, and I’m still amazed at how the owners of some rather pedestrian iron can have such a high opinion of their cars. “Perfect condition” is followed by the revelation that the car doesn’t run; “minor issues” turn out to be main seal leaks.

    I can’t imagine the dissonance between fact and romantic emotion when it comes to cars like these. Telling someone that the car is hardly worth what they want for it must be a tough conversation.

  3. Swade, in the absence of a fairy godmother finding your Fulvia, you choices are:
    1. Sell the Porsche and buy the best one you can
    2. Rob a bank and……. ditto…….
    3. Win Tatts and ……….ditto
    4. Invent a time machine, go to WH Lowe’s in Camberwell and order a 1.6HF for local delivery

        1. I already have, but you probably won’t experience that for a few years (by the way, you really ought to avoid the pink pants Julie suggest you buy in a few years from now. They do you no favours 🙂 )

  4. If the price is right and you can afford the laundry-list too, this sounds like the opportunity you’ve been waiting for – a Fulvia to make your own. The restoration required actually sounds fairly reasonable – you’d rebuild the engine eventually, anyway. No to spend your money for you, but if the rust is only cosmetic and the interior passable for now, this could be that rare chance. Remember, it doesn’t have to be concours level to enjoy it!

  5. I really like the mantra ‘be careful what you wish for’. For lots of automotive reasons.
    Pulling my E21 down bit by bit is giving me real cause for the collywobbles. And I don’t even barrack for the Magpies, not by a long shot. Take off a piece of trim and there is the ferric cancer monster staring back at you. And you have just set it free and literally given it oxygen. Not what you want.
    Rust under bubbling paint is always fixable though. Chrome can always be redone. Trim can always be reupholstered. It just comes down to three things. Money, time and as you say…space. I have two of those at this point.
    Buy the Fulvia and expect the worst. You will end up doing everything on the body and in the engine anyway, as others say. The condition of the chassis and frame is really the main question. If it has any rot in it, walk away.
    Did the car evoke an emotional reaction when you first saw it?