My Car Quest

February 23, 2024

Dirt Is Not Patina And Rust Is Not Desirable

by Mike –

Dirt is not patina and rust is not desirable patina on a car. So why do so many experts go crazy when they find a “barn find” that has dirt and rust and paint that is falling off and they don’t want to even clean the car?

They also don’t want to remove the rust because “it is original only once”.

This sentiment can be seen on American TV car shows and read in big name auction company catalogs – like these examples below:

Gooding’s description of a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB Alloy Long Nose sold in Monterey in August 2011:

Desirable Alloy-Bodied 275 GTB

Believed to Have Less than 60,000 Miles from New
Marvelous, Untouched Condition
Beautifully Preserved Paint, Interior and Engine Bay
Long-Term Ownership
Prime Candidate for Preservation Display
Documented by Ferrari Historian Marcel Massini
One of the Most Exciting 275 GTB Discoveries in Years

Ferrari 275 GTB

Notice the dirt on the Ferrari and the rust on the bumpers – original Ferrari rust!

While “Marvelous, Untouched Condition” sounds desirable a little cleaning and metal maintenance in the history of this car would be more desirable for this Ferrari 275 GTB.

The “Beautifully Preserved Paint” would be even better if the owners would have taken care of it properly over the last few decades. Proper paint maintenance could have really left beautifully preserved paint.


Here is another example that just happens to also be a Ferrari 275 GTB sold at auction by Gooding in Monterey in August 2012.

The Gooding catalog said this:

A Significant Automotive Discovery
Early Long-Nose 275 with Transitional Features
Fascinating Period Competition History
One Owner for the Past 43 Years
Stored in an Illinois Garage for Several Decades
Wonderful Barn-Find Condition
Genuine Matching-Numbers Example
Documented by Ferrari Historian Marcel Massini and Factory Build Sheets

Ferrari 275 GTB at auction in Monterey

A very dirty car and rust too.

The Gooding car cleaners were not allowed to dust off this car like they were dusting off all the non-barn find cars.

The wonderful barn find dirt and rust were also left in the engine bay, below, and there is Ferrari rust on many of the chrome pieces.

I wonder if they left the mouse nests in place?

Ferrari 275 GTB at auction in Pebble Beach

Dirt is not patina and rust is not desirable patina

I have been saying this for a long time here on My Car Quest and I have been making fun of those experts who love dirt as patina and don’t want to remove the rust – see these Posts below:

Patina – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Car Collector Clichés And Contradictions

Experts agree with me!

I have found experts who agree with me! They probably always agreed with me but now it is documented in a book that I recommend, The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles by The Simeone Automotive Foundation.

On page 101, Dr. Fred A. Simeone says this,

Dirt is not patination. Dirt is something that was not added by the creator, or intentionally by the subsequent owners. Unlike patina, which can be the result of exposure to the elements or ordinary time-related chemical change, dirt is added to the object by an unfavorable environment or simply poor care. Similarly, under certain circumstances, corrosion can destroy the “meaning” of the automobile, thereby representing not a mellowing aging process, but a threat to the integrity of the surrounding metal.

Dirt was not “added by the creator” of the car. Many owner’s manuals that I have read will tell the owner how to best remove dirt because it can and will damage the car. Shouldn’t we properly clean original classic cars even “barn finds” to protect them from further deterioration? I believe we should.

“Corrosion can destroy the “meaning” of the automobile” is a phrase one doesn’t hear often – maybe never before.

My paraphrased definition of the word “meaning” (focused on automobiles) from the book mentioned above is,

The effect of the work of the constructor that has been introduced to an automobile so that it conveys a specific concept, even if it is as small as the lettering on the side of an automobile. The observer will try to understand the intention of an object. In circumstances where external forces have obscured this image, such as through paint loss, destruction of observed items, the damage can be so significant that the meaning is lost because one’s attention is diverted to the flaws. The term is frequently used when the preserver attempts to revive the meaning which usually involves some form of restoration.

I would like to read your thoughts in the Comments.

Dirt Is Not Patina And Rust Is Not Desirable
Article Name
Dirt Is Not Patina And Rust Is Not Desirable
Dirt is not patina and rust is not desirable patina on a car. So why do so many experts go crazy when they find a "barn find" that has dirt and rust and paint that is falling off and they don't want to even clean the car?


  1. Thank you for this article, Mike. I’m no expert, but I’ve always been a bit annoyed with the current attitude about these barn finds as you described. I think it’s great when an old car is in less than perfect but decent condition and totally original, but I’ve seen some that were completely original but awful. I want to yell: Please restore it because it just looks awful. I’m sick of the word patina being used to describe a car that just looks like total crap.

    • Exactly why I wrote this article and I have written others with the same message.

      I am so tired of hearing how important the dirt is on a “barn find”. It is dirt! It is not meant to be there.

      Dirt is good for farmers but not for cars.

  2. I would also ask when is a barn find a “barn find”? Does it have to be found in a barn? Maybe not, but what if it sat in a mechanics garage with a car cover over it for a few decades with it’s location known by many, buyer calling every year to see if the car is for sale, is that a barn find? Thats what happened to one of the cars above, yet it was gassed up then driven on a dusty road for the auction photo shoot, acquiring a good amount of “Patina” then paraded around Monterey as a “barn find”.

    What if the same car sat at a car dealership with a cover over it for thirty years, then it was sold. Is that a barn find?

    IMO the term “Patina” is now used to take a negitive attribute like rust, corrosion, rips , tears, dings, dents and transform it into a positive. What could be any better in the car world?

    Collectors like original cars and the excitment of a great barn find story………. so the market delivers.

    • I agree 100%.

      Patina is an overused hype word to sell cars and I am not sure we have enough barns in the world to hold all the “barn finds” that have appeared over the last few years.

      In my opinion a barn find can be found in any location but it should be unknown and forgotten for a few years (decades) – not in the corner of the restoration shop that did not get around to it but everyone knows it is there.

  3. Paul Harvey says

    The book Mike mentions is an excellent tome for which I was an early purchaser.
    The point about ‘barn finds’ is that they suggest the discovery of an ORIGINAL AND UNRESTORED car – and this is indeed the Holy Grail for a true classic car enthusiast. You cannot blame salesmen for using the phase, and such tactics as described above do no harm to the vehicle during the sales process. This is better than a quick ‘touch-up’ to hide the obvious blemishes which leads on to a brutal restoration.
    Once in the hands of a knowledgeable and caring new owner, original cars can then be dealt with in a truly sympathetic way which of course involves proper cleaning and treatment of anything that will allow the car to degrade unnecessarily in the future.
    For my money, I would far rather see the car sales industry promoting originality in any way they choose if it highlights the rarity and absolute value of unrestored cars over restored cars.

  4. I agree with some of what you say but not all:

    I can blame a salesman for not telling the truth about a car.

    How does a buyer know the dirt is “original” and not artificially added as Mike C. suggests in an earlier comment?

    Even if it is “original” it should be properly removed as soon as possible to stop the corrosion and damage that dirt causes.

    Would you want a mouse or rats nest to remain in place with the little creatures eating away at the wires and other items that they like to chew on?

    What if there were moisture causing corrosion and mold – would you want that removed? Is moisture part of the valuable patina? Is mold part of the valuable patina? Mold is toxic to people and can be located in a long neglected classic car.

    I have a feeling we are not finished with this subject – more to come later this week.

  5. At the Greenwich (Conn.) Concours de Elegance several years ago, I saw an old Jaguar XK120 in the auction tent. If you want to talk about “patina”, it was not only covered in rust and the leather was completely rotten, but it has also had suffered a fire at one point. So, the fire damage and rust were left as is, as were the holes throughout the body. There did not look to be any paint actually left on the car at this point, and the springs were popping out of the seats. I later read in Hemmings Exotic Sports Car, that this heap actually sold for about $13,000! Yes, it was “all original”, an all original heap of garbage, that I would not have paid $50 for. Glenn in the Bronx. NY.

  6. Jeff Dreibus says


    I agree with your post: entropy is the enemy, and — while it inevitably wins in the end — the thought of deliberately permitting a car to deteriorate for the sake of what I call “buzzword cachet” is unfathomable.

    None of my cars are “that nice” . . . but I can at least maintain them and try to keep them presentable, as opposed to creating the illusion of abandonment for props or profit.

    Jeff Dreibus

  7. Its the new “Bubble” fad. The dirty is better antique furniture like collectors now drifting into car hobby.
    Couple self appointed experts on TV reaching into the collector car hobby–says to same family ownership
    of a very desirable 1920’s sports car in good running condition(avg overall)—You should not had redone the
    seats(orig seats not useable/restored to use car) that made car 70% less. This 65 year collector says,
    Patients car collectors the bubble will bust—have $$$ ready. Seen All the bubble busts……..

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