My Car Quest

March 2, 2024

Barn Find Road Trip – Book Review

by Wallace Wyss –

The original idea was a natural—you take three guys who have been collecting cars for years, and you put in a budget for travel, and start from North Carolina and drive around to neighboring States to more or less see what you can see.

The goal: to find collector cars that are out there. Oh, this expedition wasn’t to buy, just to prove that, dad gummit, you can go out there and find cars, that not all the good ones are gone.

The leader of this expedition was Tom Cotter of North Carolina, who retired early after selling his PR firm that represented a lot of NASCAR drivers. He is the acclaimed author of a series of books with cars in the title like “Corvette in the Barn”, “Cobra in the Barn”, etc.

Barn Find Road Trip by Tom Cotter

In the introduction he says the book originated out of a conversation with Zack Miller, an editor at Motorbooks Int., who more or less dared him to quit writing about other people’s discoveries and go out there in the hustings (whatever those are) to see what he could see.

The trip lasted fourteen days and they found over 1,000 cars.

Now this was not , to make it clear, a buying trip. It was just to see how many interesting potentially buyable cars they could find.

They are a trio with wide interests which is good for the reader. They aren’t just domestic car guys, but one minute were entranced by a Porsche, the next a prewar Cord. Cotter himself has owned probably 100 cars including a genuine AC Cobra; and the others owned various cars from British sports cars to prewar American tin.

They say if you go into the jungle, one thing you gotta do is wear the right warpaint. So the first brilliant stroke was to drive a ’39 Ford Woody that was stock on the outside but had a much newer drivetrain underneath; in short a hot rod. That car “broke the ice” wherever they went, sometimes if they were at a local restaurant, customers would pour out to look at the car. (By the way they always picked local eateries because the locals are gonna know where the cars are…)

They also had decals commemorating the expedition and handed those out and sometimes Cotter would hand out one of his books to establish his writer creds, if they were still a mite suspicious.

Personally I think they found more congealed rust assemblages that once were cars. But I am prejudiced, writing from California where every day I see 50-year old cars driving about.

Then, too, I wonder at the objective of finding over 1,000 cars. I’d rather that they were actually buying and narrowing down the cars to a mere 100. A thousand is a big number but meaningless if most weren’t for sale or you wouldn’t want it if it was for sale, like a ’51 DeSoto.

If they had included the buying, that is a book I would buy instead because just like Donald Trump would say “the art of the deal” is the most interesting part, the bargaining, and I bet this trio are great bargainers.

I said in another review that this book reminds me of a trio of nerd high school sophomores going to Virginia Beach with their Brownie Starflashes and coming back and saying “Look how many pretty girls we saw”. So what? How many did you meet and go out with? Seeing is only step 1 of car collecting. But it is the first step. We don’t just want our face pressed against the window, we want to go inside the store.

Barn Find Road Trip by Tom Cotter


When I perused the original stated intention of the expedition, i.e. to go out bereft of information, just headin’ out to see what’s findable, I think they betrayed the original concept a tad whenever they visited people they already knew on the old car trail.

Why would I consider this cheating? Because a reader,say from Holland or England, inspired by reading the book, wouldn’t have known those people so he wouldn’t have been able to find some the cars they found and pictured when visiting their friends. It should have been all complete strangers they chronicled, leaving out the old timers in the collector biz they already knew (though I do recommend that as a follow up book — the same guys going on a trip where they visit all their old car buddies and milk them for information on leads).

Will their buddies reveal their best barn finds? Maybe, they can’t buy everything so maybe for the publicity they’d throw them a bone (“Well, there is this old Rolls Royce with gold plated trim up yonder…” etc.


A couple times Cotter asks people how it was they were told by a local at a restaurant to expect hundreds of cars at a location but when they got there, there was a lot less cars.

Well, we can blame that on Lady Bird Johnson (and we can blame the Vietnam war on her husband) because she got it in her head to “beautify” America and that meant a lot of states passed laws forbidding old cars not licensed to be stored out in the open.

Barn Find Road Trip by Tom Cotter

Several collectors told the trio that there used to be more old cars in their fields but “beautification campaigns” resulted in them having to “cull the herd” so to speak. In one state someone told them that the local law has the right to go onto their property and issue citations for cars not licensed! So there is a knock down drag out war against old cars, all right, the Beautification people determined to remove them from public view, even if the car is not on public property.

The trio included Michael Alan Ross, who is a talented photographer. I have to admit that he did the best he could under the circumstances, on occasion even focusing tightly on the deterioration that paint can go through. Those were artful indeed. But you can’t make cars that have been sitting for decades look that good. This book could have been printed in duo-tone with the third tone rust brown.

Which in turn brings me back to the price–$35 (much less on by the way). Now, maybe it’s just me, but if I am going to pay that much for a book I’d like to see it full of pictures of restored cars so I know what they look like in their best shape. But page after page of color pictures of rusto bucketoes with rust already popping through the body isn’t worth $35 to me. If it were say a $20 paperbound (maybe there will be a paperbound edition) this book is worth buying solely for what you learn on how to smoke out cars.


Everybody collects cars for different reasons. A lot of the people just kept it when Granpa died. But some bought them for appreciation potential. I personally can’t see spending say $12,000 restoring a Karmann Ghia coupe when for the same money if I looked harder I could find a ratty Porsche 356 which would be worth $100,000 when done. There were over 15,000 356 Porsches made so there’s plenty out there in the barns.

You never know when you might have to bail out of the car game so it would be nice to have a car that you could sell for $100,000. That way if you have to sell it, you have enough for a down payment on a 3-bedroom house (or if we’re talking South Dakota, maybe a whole house). But one minute this trio is waxing eloquent about a ’51 Chevy, the next minute a 1936 DeSoto. A lot of the cars they show wouldn’t fetch $500 at a melt-down junkyard, let alone be worth fixing up, which is perhaps why they have been sitting for 10,20,30, or 40 years. They had no standards, no line in the sand on what they’d look at. To go back to that boys at the beach analogy, they were shooting pictures of the ugly ones too.

Barn Find Road Trip by Tom Cotter

Matt Stone has taken more my approach in his new book from Car Tech Publishing, entitled Exotic Barn Finds, and I anxiously await it (available Oct. 15, 2015) to see if he establishes a “price threshold” in choosing the cars he chose. If he puts in Fiat 850s I’m gonna send him the written definition of “exotic.” Such common econo-drek are only exotic if you never ventured further than five miles from Strawberry Point, Iowa.

Cotter proves in the book that he is a world class tactician in ferreting out leads. From him you can learn enough to go on your own expedition.

In fact the part of the book you should take out and frame is the two pages containing Cotter’s Top 10 Rules of Barn Finding, These are techniques he has developed over 40 years, and which got him cars like an AC Cobra.

What is also interesting is the people they photographed, a portrait of country America you might say. I’d like a little more background, say if a guy was a war veteran, what his occupation was before he retired, but sometimes the pictures alone tell you a lot about the people and the cars they chose to keep.

Cotter spares us from the details of restoration for the most part, I mean there are plenty of books and magazines for that. This is a book about the joy of the hunt.

The printing is excellent and the cover picture does a good job of evoking the image we have in our minds when we envision going on a barn finding trip.

Maybe they’ll do a follow up and if they pull a trailer and buy the best car they find, I want to hear about the dickering! I am sure these “good ol’ boys” know a thing or two about that, talk the birds out of trees to use a Southern phrase once used to describe Carroll Shelby.

Barn Find Road Trip by Tom Cotter

Barn Find Road Trip: 3 Guys, 14 Days and 1000 Lost Collector Cars Discovered – available from Amazon Click Here.

Author: Tom Cotter

Length: 192 pages

Type: Hardbound

Publisher: Motorbooks (September 28, 2015)
ISBN-10: 0760349401
ISBN-13: 978-0760349403

THE REVIEWER: Wyss’ three books in his Incredible Barn Finds series can be bought one at a time or together from the publisher, Enthusiast Books, Hudson, WI.

Incredible Barn Finds: The Highly Entertaining Stories Behind 50 Treasured Cars (Valued today at over 50 million dollars – available from Amazon Click Here.


Connecting Buyers With Sellers Of Classic Cars – All On-Line 

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Barn Find Road Trip - Book Review
Article Name
Barn Find Road Trip - Book Review
A review of Tom Cotter's latest book, "Barn Find Road Trip".


  1. Do people still buy hardbound books?

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