From Corvettes to Aston Martins, the rising prices commanded by classic cars — especially unrestored, mostly original examples — has created a goldmine for those who hunt for old vehicles rotting away unattended in some barn. Today, a French auction house revealed a discovery it called the King Tut of barn finds; a treasure trove of 60 European cars, including a rare Ferrari missing for decades, that had been slowly decaying in western France.
The Artcurial auction house says the cars belonged to a shipping magnate, Roger Baillon, who collected fine vehicles in the 1950s as part of a plan to build his own museum. When his business faltered in the 1970s, he sold off roughly half of his cars and simply left the rest parked in various states of exposure; some were in fully enclosed garages, but many were slightly protected from the elements by corrugated tin lean-tos.
"This was somewhere between a metallic graveyard and a museum," said Pierre Novokoff, a senior specialist at Artcurial. "Nature had taken a hold, over the years. Ivy had invaded a car and entirely covered its wheel, while weeds had taken root in a passenger compartment as easily as in a greenhouse. In places, the sheets of corrugated iron were resting directly on the cars."
And about those cars. The most valuable is the one that's also been the most sheltered, albeit covered in books and papers — a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder that once belonged to actor Alain Delon. Only 37 were built, and a well-cared-for example fetched $15 million in August at Gooding & Co.'s sale in Pebble Beach. Parked nearby was a Maserati A6G Gran Sports with coachwork by Frua, one of only three made. Baillon's tastes ran to other high-end models — Talbot-Lago, Hispano-Suiza and Bugatti — often picking cars with custom coachwork and other amenities.
Artcurial will sell the cars on Feb. 6 at its Retromobile sale, and while many will need extensive restoration judging by the photos provided above, many will likely find buyers willing to spend a multiple of what they will likely pay at auction bringing them back to life. When the Egyptians buried King Tut, at least they knew they were locking him up with rooms full of treasure.