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Steve Purdy Book Review: Barn Find Road Trip


3 Guys, 14 Days and 1000 Lost Collector Cars Discovered
Book by Tom Cotter
Photos by Michael Alan Ross
Published by Motorbooks, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA, Inc.

By Steve Purdy, Senior Editor
The Auto Channel, Michigan Bureau

What a great concept: a writer, a photographer and an automotive archaeologist (that’s a euphemism for a special kind of car guy) – Brian Barr, Michael Alan Ross and Tom Cotter, in that order - hit the road for 14 days to find and document all the old cars they could, whether they be in barns, open fields, warehouses, car lots or anywhere else. One thing we intuitively know is reinforced over and over in the book – that every car has a story.

Iconic auto writer, editor, auto aesthete and Renaissance man David E. Davis, Jr. often pontificated on the importance of place, people and cars to round out an interesting story. In fact, when he founded Automobile Magazine in the 1980s that was to be its focus. That philosophy has guided most of this auto writer’s projects and that’s exactly what we find in this book. Yes, every car has a story. And so does every owner and every place.

These three guys spent two intense weeks covering 2,700 miles throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland foraging for any old cars they could find to prove to skeptics who insist they’ve all been found that plenty of great old cars are still out there. Of course, whenever they found old cars, most with a patina of age, they found interesting people with what we could call a human patina. The stories flow like a river after a downpour.

This nearly 200-page book is about half text and half photographs. Shooter Michael Alan Ross provides not only shots of these wonderful old cars and their most intimate details but he also adds great shots of the people they’ve met and artifacts that sort of colorized the trip. I’m sure you’ll agree there is beauty in rust and ruin and trees growing out through open hoods. Not all the cars were in dismal condition, though, so we look over their shoulders as they discover well preserved and an occasional restored car as well.

Barn Find Road Trip tugs at my heart. When I was a lad in south central Michigan my brother, some friends and I used to cruise up and down our country roads for this very purpose. Sometimes we’d hear a rumor of and old car in some farmer’s woods and we couldn’t wait to search it out. We once discovered the carcass of a 1920 Overland roadster pickup along a wooded creek near Clarksville and fantasized about making it into a hot rod. Then we’d explore junkyards envisioning what some of those cars could become if only we could get our hands on them and could afford to make something of them. Junkyards, you’ll probably agree, are for optimists.

The book is organized chronologically covering each day in order one-by-one. Some days, of course, were more productive than others but every day was an adventure. The fellas traveled in a 1939 Ford Woody wagon and a new Ford Flex. The Woody, as you might surmise, became sort of a calling card projecting instant credibility assuring some of the owners that the intruders were not from the local zoning commission. Everywhere they went – hotels, restaurants, bars, etc. – they asked the locals if they knew of any old cars nearby. Most of their discoveries began that way.

And they discovered everything from a Cord to a Trabant, Triumph to Citroen, Camaro to Jaguar, Buick to Studebaker. They added up over a thousand cars documented in those couple weeks. Some were so tattered and rusty they could never be resurrected. Many had such intriguing potential that, if only the right person with deep enough pockets fell in love with it, restoration would be possible. Quite a number of them needed little or were actually in service today. The text is detailed enough that you could probably find many of these cars if one tickles your old car fancy.

Just about any old car guys and gals – that is, old guys and gals who love cars and guys and gals who love old cars – see the restoration, or simply the preservation, of a “barn find” as close to a religious experience as you can have outside of church. Even prestigious car shows like Concours events are beginning to feature unrestored cars, “survivors” as they are sometimes known. In fact, car care product companies now have sealants that will preserve that irreplaceable patina of rust and crust.

This book will make a great holiday gift for just about any old car lover you know. And, think about it, these guys just covered 4 states. Perhaps this book will inspire adventures around the country.

Barn Find Road Trip is a large format, 10X11-inch coffee table book retailing for $35 US available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and anywhere fine books are sold. Or find it at

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved