It’s time to reclaim the barn find

Enough is enough – it’s time to reclaim the barn find.

Once upon a time, the two words were used to describe a genuinely exciting discovery, conjuring up images of an old car, sat decaying in the corner, probably covered in moth-eaten blankets, a layer of dust and cobwebs thick enough to require a knife to cut through them.

Today, like the words ‘celebrity’, ‘legendary’ and ‘iconic’, the term ‘barn find’ seems to have lost its meaning. You probably have more chance of finding a genuine barn find in the countryside than you do a genuine barn find in the classifieds. Seriously, it has got to stop.

Ever helpful, PetrolBlog has some sage advice. And it starts here.

This is a barn:

This is a barn
A barn, yesterday

If you happen to have discovered a car sat in a building much like this, then yes, it could be a barn find. Congratulations.

However, it isn’t a barn find if you knew it was there. Listing a Volvo 343 on eBay and stating it has been “kept in a barn since 1999” does not mean it’s a barn find. Granted, it’s been sat in a barn, but unless the barn is so vast you literally lost the Volvo, it is not a ‘find’.

Similarly, listing a Maserati Biturbo as a barn find when it has been sat in your “storage unit for eight years” is just not on. You put the car there, so it is not a barn find.

There are currently 227 ‘barn finds’ listed on eBay. Two-hundred-and-twenty-seven? There aren’t enough unconverted barns in Britain to allow for so many cars. If there were, we’d be tripping over cars when we take our dogs for a walk in the countryside at the weekend.

Here are some other examples of sellers abusing the use of barn find to describe their cars:

  • Volkswagen Beetle “purchased for engine” – not a barn find
  • Austin Allegro “sat in garage for 10 years” – not a barn find
  • Ford Escort XR3 “used at French holiday home” – not a barn find
  • Vauxhall Astra GTE “bought it to restore” – not a barn find

Similarly, a 2006 Ford Focus Titanium or a 2001 Peugeot 206 parked in a disabled bay are unlikely to be genuine barn finds.

It’s quite simple. Putting a Cavalier in a lock-up garage for a few years and then bringing it out to sell does not make it a barn find. Neither does parking an Escort on your front lawn for a decade and then deciding to move it on when the neighbours start to complain. And don’t think you can tow the car to your nearest farmyard to take a few snaps of it on a trailer. That just won’t work, sonny.

Definition of a barn find

I always had dreams of stumbling across an old car in a derelict barn. For some reason I thought it would be a Lotus Cortina, but quite frankly, anything would do. Just to peer through a gap in the barn door to see the outline of a car in the shadows. Maybe the sun would cast a little light as it shines through a small gap in the barn’s roof, just enough to make out some of the car’s finer details. Naturally you’d have to go in for a closer look.

How did the car get there? How long had it been there? Who could I ask to secure its purchase? So many questions.

Perhaps one day I will be lucky enough to find something worthy of the classification. Until then, I’ll be forced to sift through the ‘not barn finds’ on eBay.

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Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.


  1. March 23, 2015
    David Milloy

    Am I alone in thinking how wonderful the ad. for the XR3 would have been if it had averred that said XR3 had been used AS a French holiday home? I dare say that someone, somewhere, has done just that. After all, one of my teachers allegedly lived in her car for several years…

    Oh, and if someone wants to leave, say, an Aston Martin Vantage (or, alternatively, a Renault 17) for me to find in my barn then I should be most grateful.

    • March 24, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Ha! That would be awesome. I could imagine Jackie Stewart staying in an XR3 holiday home.

      Right, so your teacher…need to know the make and model of her car.

  2. March 23, 2015

    Totally agree, I’ve noticed this trend myself. Annoying and unnecessary!

  3. March 25, 2015

    What I want to know is how come all of these barn-owning people (I’m clearly not one of them) have absolutely no idea what their barns contain, until one day they suddenly “find” a Cadillac hiding behind a lawnmower? Or a Volvo underneath a pile of rotting hay? I’m not advocating total anal retention here, but can so many barn owners genuinely be that slovenly?

    • March 25, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname


      Either their barns are incredibly big, or they just don’t open the doors that often!

  4. May 7, 2015

    You make a good point, I just read a new article about a ‘barn find’, but the owner had actually moved the cars from a barn in one state to another one years ago. He always intended to fix the cars up, and finally realised that maybe he should sell them to someone who will.

    I stumbled across a derelict shed (that’s KIND of a barn right?!) on vacation in the south of France a few years ago. The three cars inside (a Ford Consul, MG 1300, and Opel Kadett) were clearly abandoned, so I want to think that this was closer in spirit to a barn find. I scribbled my name and number in the dirt of a cool Ford Consul, and the owner called over a year later saying the barn (sorry shed) was about to fall down and that all three cars were for sale.

    So still not a REAL barn find, but I like to think that I was in the general barn-find pasture…

  5. July 26, 2015

    Completely agree- great article.

    • July 27, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Thank you!

  6. January 7, 2017
    If you want to sell me your car, here‘s what I‘m looking for –

    […] don’t tell me your car is a ‘barn find’ unless you’ve actually found it in a barn. PetrolBlog has already covered this, so I don’t need to add to that. Please also avoid the term ‘future classic’. That seems to […]


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