The world's most valuable barn find: 60 rare cars untouched for 50 years
Earlier this year, Artcurial's Matthieu Lamoure and Pierre Novikoff came across the remarkable treasure trove of rare automobiles on a provincial farm in the West of France.
Novikoff had fielded a phone call from the representative of a deceased estate, which in turn had been inherited by the deceased from his father a decade prior. Several children had been bequeathed the estate, which included a collection of old cars that had lain untouched for nearly half a century. In an effort to discover the value of the cars, they called Artcurial, best known as France's leading auctioneer of art and antiques.
"On the phone, I gathered from the information I was given, that this could turn out to be something important," said Novikoff (above left), a specialist in the automotive side of Artcurial's business. "Without realizing the scale, I spoke to Matthieu immediately and we arranged to go there, to find out what it was."
Lamoure takes up the story: "On entering the gates of this property, we had no idea what we would find. We had to go in through the gardens at the rear of the property, to get a first look."
"Across three hectares, we could see different makeshift structures. Low shelters covered with corrugated iron. From there, we realised that this was something big. We still didn't know what we were looking at, but could make out coachwork, weathered by time and the elements. Some modern shapes and others that were older."
"We continued our exploration at a second site, at the bottom of a field, then in one of the property's outbuildings, an old barn that had been converted into an improvised garage."
As Lamoure and Novikoff moved around the farm, they found more and more cars under makeshift structures, often open to the elements and almost all of them were rare ... extremely rare.
As the Managing Director of Artcurial's automotive department, Lamoure has the acuity of immense collectible car knowledge, and as the pair of historic car aficionados walked around the farm, they recognized they had found something very special.
"You go into this profession for discoveries like this ... this really is a treasure ... a once-in-a-lifetime discovery," said Lamoure. "When we arrived here, we found ourselves overcome with emotion. Probably much like Lord Carrington and Howard Carter, on being the first person for centuries to enter Tutankhamun's tomb."
As the pair explored the site, they came across significant models from many of the legendary marques in automotive history: Bugatti, Hispano-Suiza, Talbot-Lago, Panhard-Levassor, Maserati, Ferrari, Delahaye, Delage. Along with the famous manufacturers, many of the bodies were built by the most celebrated coachbuilders of the period, such as Million & Guiet, Frua, Chapron and Saoutchik. No less than three Saoutchik-bodied Talbot Lago T26s were found among the sheds, including a very rare Grand Sport Aérodynamique and a Talbot Lago T26 Cabriolet once owned by King Farouk.
Talbot Lago T26 Cabriolet Saoutchik – ex King Farouk
Rare car auctioneers call it provenance, but get a few glasses of vino into someone who knows the business well and they'll tell you it's fundamentally about the story, a story which will be told many times, and if the value of a car is proportional to the story it can tell, the ex-Farouk Talbot Lago (far right in the above photo) should be near priceless.
Farouk's outrageously ostentatious lifestyle saw him overindulge as only royalty can, and the tales of his excesses are too good not to recount here before we move on to the million dollar plus Ferrari and Maserati.
Farouk's immense 100+ car collection included a Mercedes Benz 540K given to him as a wedding present by Adolf Hitler (the Spezial Roadster above had just been released and available imagery suggests Farouk's was identical to the first model above, albeit in red), though legend has it that his favourite car was a red 1947 Bentley Mark VI, with Figoni et Falaschi coachwork. All his cars were red, and other than palace and military vehicles which travelled with him in his entourage, he decreed that no other cars could be painted red, so that the police would not impede his progress.
The only Bentley Mark VI ever graced with Figoni et Falaschi coachwork has twice sold at auction in the last year, fetching GBP£526,400 (US$849,520) at an RM auction in September, 2014, and US$605,000 at Bonhams' Scottsdale auction in January, and both times it was wearing black livery and no mention was made of Farouk in the auction descriptions.
Hence we were beginning to wonder if the legend was incorrect, until we found these images of the same Bentley (Chassis no. B9AJ, Engine no. B65A) winning first place in the Post-War European Custom Coachwork class at Pebble Beach in 1990.
The old pics offer a fascinating glimpse of the early days of the world's most prestigious auto gathering. A quarter century ago, Pebble Beach looked more a school fete than the hyper-elite social occasion it has evolved into. Most tellingly though, the car was presented in Farouk's colours at that time and this snippet from the Orlando Sentinel from 1991 suggests the car is indeed Farouk's former wheels. Any clarification from readers who know the history would be greatly appreciated.
Farouk was an avid collector of almost anything that tickled his fancy. His coin collection was the world's most valuable (it included two of the top 10 most valuable coins in the world – a 1933 Double Eagle and a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel) and when the palace was finally breached by revolutionaries (apparently with help from the CIA, which had internally labelled the orchestrated coup "Project FF" for "Fat Fu*#er"), they found what has been claimed to be the world's most voluminous pornography collection.
The reputation of Farouk's appetite for young female company was only exceeded by his gluttonous devotion to food, which saw him famously referred to as "a stomach with a head." Farouk reportedly ate 600 oysters a week, liked to eat caviar with a spoon straight from the jar and ... as we all know, much of what is written on the internet is unsubstantiated garbage, so we must add a note of caution on the authenticity of these tales. We don't subscribe to the old newsroom adage of never letting the facts get in the way of a good story, but if even ten percent of Farouk mythology is true, the car should be worth a lot more than it will sell for.
Most fittingly, the Saoutchik-bodied T26 mirrors the legend of both its designer's work and its former owner's extravagance in all things material.
A car is only "original" once
There is no doubt that many of our readers are looking at the rusted wreckage portrayed in the image library and wondering if the gloss had been taken off this almost archeological find by the depleted state of the cars.
Yes, it's a crying shame that they have been exposed to the weather for decades, but almost all of these cars are in a completely original and untouched state, and one of the interesting questions surrounding this unique circumstance is whether all of the cars will be restored to their former glory, as there are some, Lamoure included, who believe many will not, perhaps should not, be restored.
"I think some should be left as they are, and others should be restored," said Lamoure. "This is a unique testimony. It is the collectors who have this opportunity to make the successful bid who will decide. If you think about it, there are always restored cars available to buy on the market. These vehicles are unique. This is a very rare opportunity presenting works of art unknown to the market. For the Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport coupé Saoutchik, caved in at the rear, I think it should be left in this condition. It is a sculpture."
There are precedents for historically-important cars being purchased in unusable condition and left that way. In 2010, a rusted 1925 Bugatti Type 22 Brescia (above) that had spent 75 years at the bottom of Lake Maggiore in North Italy was sold at a Bonhams auction for €260,500 (US$324,000), completing one of the most remarkable stories in automotive history.
The car was purchased by the Mullin Automotive Museum in California and it is on display there in exactly the condition in which it was reclaimed from the lake as living proof of the craftsmanship of the era in general, and the Bugatti marque in particular. The underbidder, also an American, had intended to restore the car. I was personally relieved when I heard it was to be retained in its rescued state. What do you think? (let us know in the comments).
"It is no coincidence that Artcurial has a collectors' car department," said Novikoff. "Certain cars, much like paintings or sculptures, are works of art, created by artists! Not only the engineering, but their styling reflects the history of design."
Whether or not the cars are restored, there is some blue sky for restorers. Ask a restorer of rare automobiles if they'd rather restore a car for the second time or the first time and you can guess the answer. A car is only original once, and if a previous restorer cut even the slightest corner, then you don't have an authentic template upon which to draw in returning the car to "original condition."
If you're looking at the original motor, you know that you need to get a hose clamp exactly like THAT. Similarly the patina of the leather upholstery, woodgrain on the dash, and "mother of pearl" on the steering wheel centerpiece can all be replicated if you know what the original looked like. For those unaware of the "way they used to make 'em," whenever one of these vehicles was sent to a coachbuilder, each build was bespoke to the buyers preference, right down to the finest detail, and no two cars were identical. Even those cars bodied by the car's manufacturer would see evolution of the design from month to month.
A matching numbers motor and body, as we expect all of these cars are, is essentially a license to recreate the original car. Find a motor and you could go to a craftsman and have one manifested from scratch, but it wouldn't be a real one, and would not command any realistic value at auction but in the rarest of circumstances. Authenticity is the key to a rare car that will appreciate in value, and all of these cars appear to be the genuine article.
Having the original chassis and motor means it's worthwhile spending hundreds of thousands of dollars bringing it back to its initial delivery specification because in most cases, it won't be overcapitalization.
We suspect that cars which come from the "Baillon barnfind" will be significantly enhanced in value by surviving the ordeal. Cars from the Baillon Collection can be expected to achieve legendary status.
A perfect example of the value of authenticity surfaced last month when a Ferrari 250 GTO emerged from a two-year renovation at Ferrari Classiche. The two dominant marques in the rare car arena are Ferrari and Mercedes Benz, with Ferrari accounting for 53 of the top 100 cars ever sold at auction and Mercedes-Benz another ten.
Not surprisingly, both companies now have specialized restoration departments that will make your car new again, regardless of how old it is, or how rare it is.
As it has exclusive access to the company's original technical designs and molds, Ferrari Classiche has cast numerous new engine parts, including 25 new V12 cylinder blocks and a similar number of cylinder heads, to help restore cars to original specifications.
Rarer than a California Spider, the 250 GTO is the "Holy Grail" of Ferraris. The only GTO to have sold at auction for decades achieved the world auction record of US$38.115 million at Pebble Beach in August this year, and good ones with desirable provenance (i.e. a good story to tell your mates) have been known to sell privately for US$50 million plus.
HAGI (Historic Automobile Group International) tracks the classic car market as an alternative asset class and its figures showed a 54.2% increase in the market value of the rare Ferraris in 2013. "Nothing else has grown at this rate," commented the founder of HAGI, Dietrich Hatlapa, adding that the value of the rarest Ferraris has increased by 15% per year over the last 30 years.
Collectable automobiles are now offering far better returns than almost all other asset categories, traditional or otherwise, and auction prices seemed destined to continue to rise relentlessly. The term appreciation applies in more ways that one. Firstly, there's capital appreciation, and cars are now a legitimate wealth creation mechanism, and then there's the personal appreciation which goes far beyond mere numbers on a spreadsheet. This is an investment you can be very personally invested in.
The GTO in question was participating in a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the release of the GTO in 2012 when it had an accident. In a stunning turn-out, 23 of the 36 GTOs ever produced turned out for a not-so-leisurely classic car tour around France and Italy, but during the proceedings, one of them had a mishap near Blois in France, resulting in considerable damage to the GTO, not to mention said owner's spouse, who ended up in hospital with an unspecified number of broken bones. That's the blue and yellow GTO parked amongst the other GTOs above and below on the anniversary rally.
If looking at this picture tickles your adrenals, the ripping V12 sounds from this video of the GTO's first on-track post-rebuild shakedown will definitely bring a smile to your face.
With a value of $50 million, it's not surprising that GTO owners take good care of their cars. At one stage about two years ago, the Ferrari Classiche department in Maranello contained no less than five of the 36 250 GTOs built between 1962 and 1964.
A Ferrari 250 GT California Spider
Without doubt, the most valuable car Lamoure saw that day was a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider with covered headlights.
Though there are rarer cars, (106 Ferrari 250 GT California Spiders were made – 56 short wheelbase and 50 long wheel base), the rare car market knows every such model, and this is one of several individual cars which were unaccounted for in the Ferrari Register and thought lost.
There are no less than 13 California Spiders in the 100 most expensive cars of all time.
The California Spider is by far the most popular model in our exclusive listing, with a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider having held the world's most valuable auction car record for a period of time. That's the ex-James Coburn Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider (above) going under the hammer at an RM Auction in 2008, where British TV and radio personality Chris Evans purchased the car for US$10.894 million, a world record at that time.
A near identical car was more recently sold by Gooding & Co for US$15,180,000, and 10 California Spiders have sold for more than US$5 million at auction. Follow the links for an appreciation of the importance of the California Spider find, and be sure to put some time aside for our detailed overview of the rare car market.
1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider$10,894,900
1962 Ferrari 250 SWB California Spider$5,115,000
Subsequent research has shown that the car found in the barn in Western France (Chassis 2935) has a spectacular provenance, which will add to its value when it crosses the auction block in Paris in February 2015.
The Spider was purchased new by the actor Gérard Blain, then sold to fellow actor Alain Delon, who was photographed several times at the wheel of this machine, including in 1964 with Jane Fonda during the filming of Les Félins and on the Côte d'Azur with Shirley MacLaine.
By complete coincidence, the sale of this collection will be part of Artcurial's Paris Retromobile auction, which will also feature a number of rare cars consigned which are not part of the collection and will feature a 1966 long nose Ferrari 275 GTB/2 originally owned by Roger Vadim and subsequently by Jane Fonda. The car (pictured below) has never left France, and it is estimated it will fetch €2,750,000 to €3,250,000 (US$3,640,000 to US$4,300,000).
With the collection now consigned to be auctioned during the world-renowned Retromobile exhibition in Paris next February, Artcurial has placed a pre-sale estimate of between €9,500,000 and €12,000,000 (US$11.8 and $14.9 million) on the hyper-rare Ferrari.
The origins of the Baillon Collection
Just how the collection came to be spirited away for nearly half a century is predictably an interesting story. A collection of over 100 cars was assembled during the 1950s and 1960s by Roger Baillon, an entrepreneur who ran a French transport company (pictured below).
"Up until 1977, Roger Baillon had a transport and truck manufacturing business in the west of France", said Pierre Novikoff. "Roger Baillon made his fortune manufacturing trucks, at a time when the transport business was booming, after the war. He had the monopoly on transporters for dangerous liquid chemicals, thanks to the design of a secure, watertight tank. At the same time, he produced a revolutionary lorry in 1950 that featured the first ever 'cabine avancée' (forward-control cab) in the transport industry! It was moving to find the relics of this great era, in the garden of the property."
During the 1970s, before he could carry out the necessary restoration work, his business ran into financial problems and he was forced to sell fifty cars, but he didn't sell them all, leaving the remaining sixty cars in his collection languishing on the French farm.
Baillon's dream was to eventually open a museum of pre-war automobiles but his financial circumstances and eventual ill health prevented the restoration of the collection. He passed away more than a decade ago, leaving the collection and estate on which it was housed to his son Jacques, who died last year. With the continuity and context of the collection's history broken, Baillon's grandchildren had no idea of the worth of the cars and called in Artcurial to value the cars, leading to Lamoure and Novikoff having their Tutankhamun's tomb moment in history.
The importance of the find is quite significant in the world of collectible cars, and the irony is perhaps that if the collection had been sold at the time of Baillon's death, though it would have been in better condition, it would have been worth a fraction of its value today, such has been the growth in the value of rare cars in recent years.
"Not since the revelation of the Schlumpf Collection in Mulhouse, of which Maître Hervé Poulain was the expert, has such a group of emblematic automobiles been disclosed and what is more, in such original condition," said Lamoure.
The Schlumpf Collection was worth far more (it included a Bugatti Royale), and largely fully restored when it came to public notice, though its existence was well known and deliberately kept low key by the Schlumpf brothers.
Novikoff highlighted during the interviews released at the announcement of the collection that the collectible car market has changed markedly since Baillon assembled his collection: "It was between 1955 and 1965 that he amassed the largest part of the models. Although collectors' cars, and particularly post-war French models, are snapped up today in the salerooms, this has not always been the case. At that time, Roger Baillon saved many of these cars from the scrapyard."
"This man was one of the early collectors. He wanted to celebrate the art of automotive engineering and bought a property to turn into an automobile museum. He began to buy key models in France and Europe.
"Having a transport business, it was straightforward for him to have his treasure delivered to the property he had bought in 1953 for this purpose. He even acquired a little train which he planned to use to make a tour of the museum, that would pass by all the cars.
"When the vehicles arrived, he put them away without much fuss, one next to the other. He restored some and left others as they were."
Appropriately, all of the cars in the Baillon Collection will be displayed at the Retromobile Salon in Paris next February in exactly the state they were found. "Visitors will be able to share in our emotion, much like that experienced by Lord Carrington and Howard Carter entering Tutankhamun's tomb," said Lamoure.
"Artcurial will put on show the magic of these sixty mysterious mechanical creatures, like a giant work of art: the unrealized dream of its owner brought back to life."
"These sleeping Beauties are clothed in the precious patina of time gone by. A collection like this can't fail to arouse the passions of those who love automobiles, as well as art and history enthusiasts", said Novikoff who accompanied Lamoure on that initial walk through.
We've cherry-picked some of the cars which will be available for viewing at Retromobile in February for a brief rundown.
Talbot Lago T26 Record coupé by Saoutchik
Artcurial's Matthieu Lamoure was interviewed at the announcement of the finding of this collection, and one of the true finds amongst the farm sheds was this Talbot Lago T26 Record coupé by one of the all-time great coachbuilders, Russian-born designer Jacques Saoutchik. We've previously written about Saoutchik's flamboyant design.
"We had already spotted a few gems during our first tour of the machines, and making an inventory made us start to comprehend the extent of the collection. One mythical coachbuilder after another", said Lamoure.
"I must tell you about the three Talbots designed by Saoutchik: despite their condition, it was impossible not to fall in love with the lines of theTalbot Lago T26 Record coupé by Saoutchik. It is like a work of art by Brancusi."
"When we contacted the marque historian to tell him we had found this car, he couldn't believe it! Once he had recovered from the shock, he bombarded us with questions."
Probably the most powerful production car available at the time it was built, this 170 hp car will sell for a lot of money and will be worth a great deal more when it is fully restored.
Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport Coupe by Saoutchik
Yet another Saoutchik masterpiece found by Artcurial is this Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport Coupe. Coachbuild is perhaps the most knowledgeable of internet resources on the Grand Automotive Masters, with detailed information on Jacques Saoutchik, the T26 Grand Sports Coupe and some wonderful galleries of examples of the various incarnations of the cars available here and here.
One of these models crossed the auction block at an RM Auction at Monterey (Pebble Beach) in 2007, failing to meet reserve with a high bid of US$535,000. That's it above, and when I see one in its full glory, I am torn between hoping it is purchased and restored, or exhibited as a work of art in its current condition as suggested by Artcurial's Pierre Novikoff.
Hispano Suiza H6B Cabriolet with body by Millon & Guiet
An Hispano Suiza H6B Cabriolet with body by famous French coachbuilder Millon & Guiet, which built bespoke carriages for the wealthy for half a century before beginning to produce bespoke automobile coachwork in 1895.
The car was designed by the much celebrated Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt, who was nominated for the Car Engineer of the Century specifically for his design of the H6.
It was Birkigt's remarkable engineering expertise which gave Hispano Suiza its reputation for speed and reliability, as his WWI aircraft engines became legendary for those very same qualities – qualities highly prized in wartime. Following WWI, the Hispano Suiza H6 became the automobile of choice for European royalty and the hyper-wealthy, as it was amongst the most costly vehicles available. For an indication of what this car might look like when it is purchased at retromobile and restored to its former glory, take a look at this Hispano Suiza enthusiast page.
Maserati A6G 2000 Gran Sport Frua
Frua, one of just three Artcurial claims were made. It is estimated to be worth more between €800,000 and €1,200,000 (US$1 to 1.5 million).
Bugatti Type 57 Ventoux
Galibier, Stelvio, Aravis, Ventoux and Atalante, and the Atlantic. In addition, many of the famous coachbuilders created their own interpretation.The most that a T57 has sold for at auction is US$8,745,000 which was achieved by Gooding & Co at Pebble Beach in 2013 for a 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante.
Goodings also sold another 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante Coupe for US$7,920,000 in 2008. Yet another 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante was sold by Bonhams at Retromobile in 2008 for US$4,408,575. In May 2010, Gooding & Company handled the private sale of a 1936 Bugatti 57SC Atlantic for more than $30 million, which at the time, was believed to be the highest price ever paid for a car.
Neither the exact price nor the buyer were disclosed, and it's interesting to note that so beloved are many of the cars in the collector stratosphere that owners would often rather see the car go to a good home than to the buyer with the most money.
The Atlantic was derived from Bugatti's fabled prototype Aerolithe Electron Coupé (pictured above), which was shown at the 1935 Paris Auto Salon. Only three Atlantics were made, and only two still exist (the other is owned by fashion designer Ralph Lauren).
Several Bugatti Aerolithe Electron Coupé concept cars are believed to have been built, but no-one knows where they are, or at least they're not telling anyone. If one of those might surface one day, it would command a world record price.
This (above) is what a similar Ventoux looked like back in the day, and a similar Ventoux recently sold fully restored by RM Auctions for £324,800 (US$510,000).
In 2011, an unrestored "barn find" 1938 Bugatti Type 57 Series 3 Ventoux Coupe (pictured above) was sold by Bonhams for US$337,000.
The full list of cars discovered at the farm:Amilcar C6 berline,Amilcar CGSAriès coach,Auto Union cabriolet,Avions Voisin C3,Avions Voisin limousine, C15Avions, Voisin C7 par GalléBallot 8 cyl limousine,Barré torpédo,Berliet coupé chauffeur,Berliet Type VIGB 10HP Taxi, LandauletBugatti Type 57, VentouxCitroën Trèfle,Delage D6,Delage D8 coach,Delahaye 135 cabriolet, Faget Varnet,Delahaye 135 coach, ChapronDelahaye 235 coach, ChapronDelahaye 235 coach, ChapronDelahaye 235 coupé, ChapronDelahaye Type 43 coupé chauffeur,Delahaye GFA 148 L,Delahaye Type 43 camionnette,Delaunay Belleville limousine VL8,Facel Vega Excellence,Ferrari 250 GT SWB, California Spider,Ferrari 308 GTS, Ferrari 400,Ferrari Mondial 3.2L cabriolet,Hispano Suiza H6B cabriolet, Millon-GuietHotchkiss cabriolet,Innocenti S cabriolet,Jaguar type S 3.4 L,La Buire 12 A,Lagonda LG45 cabriolet,Lancia Thema 8.32,Lorraine Dietrich B3/6 plateau,Lorraine Dietrich B3/6 torpédo par GrummanLorraine-Dietrich torpédo,Maserati A6G 2000, Gran Sport FruaMathis cabriolet,Packard cabriolet Super Eight,Panhard-Levassor Dynamic berline X77,Panhard-Levassor Dynamic coupé X76, Panhard-Levassor limousine X72,Porsche 356 SC ex-Sonauto,Renault AX torpédo,Renault Vivastella cabriolet,Sandford cyclecar 3 roues,Singer Cabriolet,Talbot Lago 11/6 cabriolet,Talbot Lago Baby cabriolet,Talbot Lago Cadette 11,Talbot Lago coach,Talbot Lago T26 coach,Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport coupé, SaoutchikTalbot Lago T26 Record coupé,Talbot Lago T26 cabriolet Saoutchik ex-King Farouk.
This unique collection will be offered for sale on February 6, 2015, at the Retromobile Salon.
As of now, Artcurial has only sold one car in the top 100 cars of all time – a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider owned by one of the world's most famous playboys, noted screenwriter, film director/producer, author and actor Roger Vadim. The car sold for €4,507,104 (US$5,907,325) at Retromobile in 2012.
Early in February (2015), that will undoubtedly become two cars. More than that, Artcurial's role in this burgeoning market appears set to become much greater thanks to its role in bringing this collection to light.