Incredible Barn Finds; The Highly Entertaining Stories Behind 50 Treasured Cars
By Wallace Wyss
Published by Enthusiast Book, Hudson, WI.
271 Pages, Softbound 6″ by 9″
Available at Amazon.com
Review by Pete Vack
Wallace Wyss’s latest book, Incredible Barn Finds; The Highly Entertaining Stories Behind 50 Treasured Cars, comes on the tail of Jerry Heasley’s Rare Finds books, and Tom Cotter’s The Cobra in the Barn. Apparently both books were successful, and it seemed clear to Wyss that he really ought to be doing the same thing, and he did.
So what makes his barn book different…aside from his unique style that when diligently edited often provides delightful reading? Wyss chooses to separate the boys from the men in terms of interesting finds and ups the ante quite well, deciding to concentrate on dream cars or ultra-rare race cars, rather than the wider scope of other books. That made his Barn Find book more incredible, as virtually all of the cars have been through the auction blocks at well over a million dollars. On the other hand, as he freely admits, many never saw the inside of a barn or even a shed, but like the Simeone Cobra Daytona coupe, have one hell of a great story to tell.
Wyss is like his own antihero Alessandro De Tomaso; often brilliant, totally into cars, multi-talented, hopping from one discipline and project to another without quite finishing up the last. Wallace has been a magazine writer, author of numerous car books, novels, self-perpetuating self-salesman, incorrigible critic of the upper classes, fine artist, Montana cowpoke, ad copywriter, radio broadcaster, army weapons specialist, thoroughbred horse seller, and mystery man. Not to mention selling a TV miniseries option on one of his Shelby books. And come to find out that over the years Wyss has been a bona fide barn finder, chasing down leads and turning the finds over quickly to those who have a good deal more money but less knowledge.
And therefore his latest- and perhaps best book yet – is happy to the extreme. He’s on home turf most of the time and you can tell. Wyss is cruising down Woodward Boulevard, happy as a Lark, on a roll, remembering the good times and the cars and people he grew up with. Goes to show you – as he remarked in his coverage of the Palos Verdes Concours this week, – you can take the man outa Detroit (and send him to California) but you can’t get Detroit outa the man. He chooses his favorites, the Shelby cars, special Corvettes, Ford GT40s, but of the 50 chapters, 22 are devoted to either French or Italian cars, so there is plenty to keep our audience happy. Note that it is not easy to write the often long and tortured histories of these cars and encapsulate their lives into two or three pages. Writing short is always more difficult than writing long. But he does this well, and there are a full fifty cars to highlight but for the most part the histories are clearly set forth.
In this reviewer’s opinion, his many years of doing books and articles and research on Cobras, Ford GT40s, Ferraris, and a lot of American-engined Italian cars such as De Tomaso, just came together into one easy-to-read and interesting book. He can jump from a Ferrari 212 to a prototype Mustang and not miss a beat. Wyss writes fast but has done a credible job in doing his homework and listing sources.
Although there is no index, footnotes or bibliography, he has managed to deftly include important sources into the appropriate sentences. There were only a few cases in which I was left wondering ‘where the hell did that come from.’
Not that there is a particular need for indexes and footnotes in a book like this for it is primarily entertainment. It does not have to be absolutely perfectly correct or accurate to a T…but it does have to relate the story in an entertaining manner. No one is going to consult his barn find book to verify the number of taillights on a prototype Corvette. But a lot a people may get inspired enough to do a bit of barn finding themselves, and in the process get hooked on the cars we love. And, if the truth be known, Ken Purdy was not the last word for facts either, but he sure kept us entertained for years. That said, we didn’t catch any factual errors in the French and Italian car chapters.
Wyss’s latest book would be a perfect book for traveling on trains and boats and planes and it would be wise if Enthusiast’s Books could get a few copies at LAX or O’Hare. This might be difficult though because the cover is a bit of a letdown, though the scene is good, the colors don’t jump. And if it doesn’t jump, it will not sell on the stand.
While Cotter’s book was both on glossy with color and black and white photos of the subject cars, Wyss and his publisher decided to opt out of publishing many photos.
Barn find photos are not always romantic. Wyss lets the imagination run wild and the story is the better for it, as we imagine that Ferrari 121 hidden under the tractor trailer to be much more romantic than it probably was at the time. So the lack of photos…there is only one thumbnail per chapter…is in this case a blessing in disguise. Please note that we have decorated this review with examples of Wyss’s own artwork, using cars that were part of his book. We have encouraged him to sell signed copies of his book with some color inserts at a bit of a premium. You can contact Wyss directly if you want a signed copy or special art; he’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To the chapter on “How to Find Them,” we might add: Have long term storage in a conditioned facility. Long term as in twenty years or so. For example, if you are in your forties now, find nice 308s for a song, put them in long term storage and wait until you retire. If you are really lucky, you’ll have made some money. Maybe. But one can’t go about buying and selling and expect to make it big. That is really why most of us who found these cars in the past but sold short are still broke and wondering why. And keep in mind the costs of restoration. The cost of entry is often affordable, but once it’s yours, you have to do something with it; restoration is out of the question for the average enthusiast. Then you become just an active broker, and that is a different game.
With each story, Wyss wraps up the commentary with “Lessons Learned”.
Next time you hear about a classic looking car in some low rent neighborhood, don’t be snobby and turn up your nose…it could be a Delahaye V12.
Burned out racecars, as sad and sorry as they look, can be a good investment…especially if it is the first Testa Rossa.
Don’t be skeptical when someone says, “I saw an old racecar parked under a…truck.” It might be a Ferrari 121.
Our own Lessons Learned? We picked a chapter at random from the book and began reading. Like Cheetos, you can’t have just one and the book was finished the next day.
A good go, Wallace.