Barn Find Hot Rods: Hidden Treasure or Simply No Pleasure?

Barn Find T-Bucket

“Barn find” hot rods seem to be turning up everywhere today. It seems that with the Internet, every significant barn find sends hundreds of guys spreading out across the country searching every barn, shed, vacant warehouse, backyard and “old man’s open garage” looking for the next long-lost Ed Roth Orbitron. Hey, it’s fun and the possibility exists that you can always find a long-lost hot rod treasure. All you have to do is see one of these rare finds cross the stage at a Barrett-Jackson auction and be snatched up for a mind-boggling six-figure sum by some dumb-ass like Ralph Whitworth with more money and ego than common sense.

The next thing is that the French term “provenance” comes into play and before you know it a practical nuts and bolts kind of guy thinks he’s standing in line at the “Antiques Roadshow” taping ready to hear how he shouldn’t have used that drugstore Tarn-X to shine up the 18th Century silver service his great-aunt left him — thus, reducing its value to almost nothing.

But, what escapes many of the younger barn scroungers is that not every old hot rod possesses true significance or value for anyone other than maybe the guy who originally built it, and in many cases he could care less. Back in the 60s, any $1.50-an-hour grocery store bagger could throw together some kind of hot rod, which was a hell of a lot of fun, but in reality may have been a hack-job that was eventually sold to somebody else for next to nothing.

Recently, a younger guy found what appeared to be an old T-Bucket bodied Altered drag racer and suggested, “I don’t want to alter it from what it originally was.” And immediately he had a chorus of others agreeing and suggesting he leave it as he found it and shouldn’t even dare consider polishing this lump, lest he diminish its value. Being the outspoken, sometimes cantankerous, guy I am I felt obligated to weigh-in with my two cents worth of sage advice:

It’s a nice find, but I’m hoping you didn’t pay more than a couple hundred bucks for it. It looks very much like a 60s Altered, as previously noted re the push bar and other chassis elements– although the radiator is perplexing because most any alterered back then did not run one because they were typically push started, spent no time staging and were towed back to the pits.

What you have to understand is that in that era a lot of guys were bucks-down and built low-budget hack jobs to go drag racing because:

1) it didn’t cost more than a couple of bucks to enter,
2) depending on the strip, tech and safety were often pretty loose, and
3) as long as it was light and had an engine that ran it would move down the track nicely and, on any given Saturday night, you might have been the only guy running C/Altered, or whatever, and you could take home a trophy to put on the mantel.
4) On the other hand, if you had some engine-building skills (or if you were just lucky enough to pick up a hot stock engine, like a 409, 413 or whatever at the junkyard) you had a chance to even make it into a money-paying eliminator bracket (i.e., middle or comp.) and if the really hot guys broke or red-lighted (or 2 out of 3 false started) you might take home anywhere from $25 to $50, which was big bucks considering your investment

What I’m saying is that a ton of old cars were built that really don’t deserve preservation, if you can much more easily clean them up and make more useable. The analogies of putting lipstick on a pig or polishing a turd come to mind, unless you’re able to find out the car was more significant otherwise.

Can’t tell you how many posts I’ve seen over the last couple years looking for some exotic “provenance” that would produce the diamond in the rough. Sure, they’re out there but don’t be disappointed if you learn that the car you found wasn’t great shakes to begin with. Chances are, if it was significant, the older guys here will quickly identify it as such.

What you don’t want to do is sink a lot of time and money into something because it was supposedly the “Muncie Shriners clown car in 1969”, and you might end up finding out that nobody cared too much then and might not care at all today.

Not trying to be a buzzkill, but just hope to offer some advice to help you take what you’ve been lucky enough to find and have fun with it — in your own way.

John Morehead
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1 thought on “Barn Find Hot Rods: Hidden Treasure or Simply No Pleasure?”

  1. The only thing I see of value here is the metal body, windshield, and front axle. The rest is scrap iron. Perhaps the value here is photos in a scrap book to show what you started with. It would make a nice Rat Rod if you left the paint as is, made a decent frame, and used an ancient hemi or lincoln V-12 for power. Just my thoughts on the matter.


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