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Just How Far Gone Is TOO Far For A Car?

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On: Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 2:01PM | By: Andrew W Davis

Just How Far Gone Is TOO Far For A Car?

You may not have noticed, but in today’s car-selling market there’s nothing hotter than the “barn find.” For whatever reason, people—mostly Europeans—are paying the same price for any car-shaped hunk of corroded scrap that drifts in front of their noses as they used to for a similar vehicle in concours-quality condition.

Now I’m not talking about those weathered-but-all-there “unrestored originals,” as I can completely agree that an all-original as-built car in decent-but-not-perfect condition should always be worth more than the same car “restored” as “they are only original once” and—and this is the crux of the argument—anyone can buy a restored car, so the “survivor” cars are by definition more rare—and they’re getting rarer by the day.

But does that mean that each of the three “cars”—if they could even be called that—I’m about to cover should be worth the fortune paid for them because they are, due to their decrepit condition, “unique”?


I now present three very different projects that all pose the same basic question: "What the hell am I going to do with this thing?!"

Example 1: The $364,700 Bugatti barrier reef

What you see here is the famous 1925 Bugatti Brescia Type 22 Roadster that apparently spent the better part of seven decades at the bottom of Lake Maggiore in Switzerland. You can read more about this fascinating tale here, but long story short, divers recovered what you see in 2009 and Bonhams sold it at their Paris auction soon thereafter for the mind-warping price you also see here.

Most price guides—if they even mention this model—will tell you that the absolute ceiling for one of the 2,000 or so Type 22s that were built 1914-1926 is $400k, and that’s only for the desirable ones in perfect condition. So, why would someone spend that kind of coin for a full-size aquarium accessory that has NO chance of ever being a car again?

Because it is THE “lake Bugatti,” and everybody loves a good story. And irrespective of the kind of car it was (or could become in the future), this object—in all its corroded glory—is an archaeological masterpiece on the order of the similarly-submerged Antikythera mechanism.

And in the art world, $400k isn’t all that much to pay for something so famous, unique and interesting. That this used to be a car hardly matters at all….

Example 2: The ultimate eBay find: a Ferrari 340 for under $27k

You know that joke about Penthouse’s letters section, wherein the opening line is always “I never thought it would happen to me, but…”? Well, I can’t vouch for the veracity of any of those claims, but in this case someone did unknowingly buy the basic chassis of an ultra-rare—and very genuine—competition ’52 Ferrari 340 America Spider (that was actually used-in competition) for less than $27k.

Now lots of people will jump ahead to the fact that—once “restored”—this car would be worth somewhere near $4M. But as you can see from the pictures, there just isn’t anything TO restore apart from the chassis (and its ultra-valuable even-number).

It’s not unheard of in Ferrari circles to “rebuild” an exceptionally valuable model from nothing more than the numbered chassis plate and a few rust flakes. This “car” isn’t THAT bad, but the reality is that there is at least a million-bucks-worth of recreation work that would have to go into this project just to get it to “car” status.

That this chassis would be quickly resold by its lucky eBay winner—the auction closed June 20, 2006—to a wealthy Ferrari collector was a given. That it was resold at a tremendous profit, even more so. Well, back to searching eBay I go. You just never know what you’ll find out there….

Example 3: The $13k Jaguar-shaped box of rot

And now we get to the “car” that started this ball rolling for me feature-wise: the rotten remains of a 1954 XK 120 Coupe that Bonhams sold “strictly as viewed” for US $12,798 to some unfortunate buyer at its recent Harrogate, England, auction.

Its auction description—in a supreme fit of British understatement—terms it as being a “barn-find” that was “laid up in a less than entirely weatherproof garage” since 1973. Seems it’d still be there today if “a passing vehicle” hadn’t “collided with the garage and demolished it.”

Now most will tell you that there were less than a dozen Vignale-bodied ’52 Ferrari 340 Americas built—and even fewer raced at Le Mans in-period—so it’s easy to justify performing a mega-dollar restoration/recreation like the one our aforementioned eBay “find” Ferrari is surely experiencing.

But this Jaguar wasn’t a Ferrari competition car, isn’t rare—2,678 were built between 1952 and ’54—and would only be worth around $70k, MAX, even if it was the finest example extant.

And it obviously isn’t THAT.

So what could one do with a vehicle in this state (besides forcing anyone nearby to get a tetanus shot)? Think about it: You can find XK120s of all kinds readily and for less than it would cost to resurrect this hulk—if it’s even possible.

Even Bonhams hedged its bets on this one, calling it a “challenging yet potentially most rewarding restoration project.” Well, let’s just say I can see the “challenging” part, but I can’t see subjecting some poor soul to the task of doing ANYTHING with this wreckage to be “most rewarding,” “potentially” or otherwise….

They say that you can do anything in this world with enough money and time, and I’m sure that with HUGE measures of each all three of these “cars” could be wrangled into as-new condition.

But speaking for myself, I don’t seem to have enough of either to keep the cars I already own on the road, and they’re practically as-new as it is. So even if you handed me a box of bits and told me that they could be turned into a multi-million-dollar supercar, at best that box would serve as a paperweight until I could pass it along—as quickly and lucratively as possible, naturally—to someone else.

Still, feel free to send me all of your supercar-in-a-box projects, regardless of contents or condition. All I ask is that they be valuable to that “next guy”….

Photo Gallery (click a thumbnail to enlarge)



RoadKill | 3:49PM (Mon, Nov 28, 2011)

be my guest and buy all the roached out cars that you want...I will pass


Stephy21 | 9:41AM (Tue, Nov 29, 2011)

great article makes a good point.

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