Book Review: ‘Barn Find Road Trip’ Takes You Along for the Ride
Take a journey to discover classic cars hidden among the remains of old barns and homesteads
When you watch TV, there are now shows everywhere about finding old cars abandoned in the woods and how buyers fix them up to become new showpieces. While it looks very simple from the comfort of our homes, it’s actually a very involved process if you want to do it right. There is a lot of getting to know people, asking the right questions, keeping your eyes open, and, finally, knocking on doors to introduce yourself.
This book is a great way to see through the eyes of dedicated collectors, and to get an idea of the great community that loves and restores old barn finds left to be eaten by rust. It’s truly a love letter to the American automobile’s historic past.
Barn Find Road Trip: 3 Guys, 14 Days and 1000 Lost Collector Cars Discovered (2015)
Written by Tom Cotter, Photographs by Michael Alan Ross
Product Details: Hardcover, 192 pages, 9.6 x 11.2 inches
Publication Date: September 2015
Publisher: Motorbooks, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group
Barn Find Road Trip: 3 Guys, 14 Days and 1000 Lost Collector Cars Discovered ‘s title is fittingly self-explanatory. The team of guys includes Tom Cotter, an automotive and racing PR professional who has written 11 books about the automotive world, such as 50 Shades of Rust. He is also a vintage car enthusiast and dabbles in racing when he can. Cotter brings along his friends, gearhead Brian Barr and photographer Michael Alan Ross, to find some of America’s old treasures gathering rust and dust in the barns, garages, and fields of America. On this trip they drove an old 1939 Ford Woody, painted bright yellow, and a 2014 Ford Flex on loan from Ford.
Cotter was motivated to take this road trip because he was unhappy with shows that stage how to find a good “barn car,” and he wanted to tell the world how it really happens by knocking on doors and asking people around town where the finds are. In their two weeks, the team trekked over 2,700 miles in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland to look for these cars. Originally, the goal was 100 cars, but they were very lucky and found several large collections to reach the 1,000 car point. The team met the cars’ eccentric owners as well and learned some of the special stories behind the collections.
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The book itself is very well put together by Motorbooks. It is a solid hardback book with a matte dust jacket that would be a great addition to any coffee table or bookshelf. The design of the jacket reminds me of the types of graphics that you find on Pinterest, with a beautiful old car rusting in a barn and stylized text that looks like it is made from reclaimed lumber.
On the inside of the book, the pages are glossy and full color, which serves Michael Alan Ross’ photos very well. The photos range to artsy shots of old cars to more news-style ones of the owners showing the road trippers around the property. The paper is nice and thick, so you don’t feel like you’ll rip a page when reading.
There are graphics throughout the book that set aside important information and text about attractions they visited, like the Hay Castle in Virginia and an interesting vintage gas station. For each major stop, there is a graphic that gives a nickname to the find, how many cars were there, and if they were for sale. The graphics match the aesthetic started on the cover, and are really good at helping you remember key facts from the read.
One complaint about the interior layout, however, are the page numbers. They are situated close to the spine instead of on the outside edges. While they are not essential to enjoying the book, it just seemed a bit odd.
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Barn Find Road Trip is a great way to begin to understand classic car collecting and the work that really goes into finding a prime candidate for restoration. While restored classic cars were given some mention in this book, most of the attention was given to rusted-out models. Cotter spends a lot of time also talking about the parts of their trip not directly related to the barn cars, like accommodations, restaurants, classic car meets, and the old Ford Woody’s issues on the long journey. It truly makes you feel like you’re riding along with the guys, discovering these legendary old cars.
When reading this book, at times it felt like a laundry list, especially when the car owners didn’t really open up. There were a few paragraphs here and there that were mainly sentences saying what the car was, what was under the hood, what the condition was, and how much the owner wanted for it. It felt more like an eBay listing than a description I would think about being in a book. Also, I would have appreciated if there were more historical details about some of the cars they found so I could be as excited as them. I now know that a 1937 Packard looks great, but I don’t have much more information.
Even if you don’t plan on setting out to find an old car of your very own, the pictures alone make purchasing the book worth it. There are so many unique angles, and several times Michael Alan Ross catches the small details and focuses on them instead of just an overall vehicle shot.
At the end of the book, Cotter passes on the rules of barn-find hunting, but they read more like guidelines to help you find the perfect car in the first place. Rule number six extols hunters to send letters of thanks to owners who are not yet willing to sell their cars. I am all for a good thank you note, but then he goes on to say that a good note could help keep you on the top of the list as a potential buyer, because “if an elderly owner is diseased or becomes disabled, relatives will often go through their letters and effects.” Later in the list, he also suggests that you become friends with a lawyer for similar reasons.
This book is certainly a fun read for an afternoon, and I would encourage anyone that loves cars to consider adding this tome to their library.
Barn Find Road Trip is available through Amazon, Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, Indigo, and other retailers.
A Dayton native, Rebecca got her start blogging at the curiously named Harlac’s Tongue while studying abroad in the UK. She loves tooling around town with her Ford Focus named Jerome to the song they’re playing on the radio. On any given weekend, you can find her with her camera at area festivals, concerts, and car shows, shopping at flea markets, or taking an adventure on the open road. See more articles by Rebecca.