‘Barn finds’ add picturesque decay to Bonhams’ Philadelphia auction

Rescued ruins among diverse selection of collector cars and automobilia on the docket

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The 1935 Mercedes-Benz 290 Cabriolet A was stored away for decades | Bonhams photos

While crusty, musty “barn finds” have lost some of the popular charm that they enjoyed a few years back, Bonhams has some exceptional derelicts on the docket for its 8th annual Philadelphia auction October 11 at the Simeone Foundation Museum.

Among them, a startling 1935 Mercedes-Benz 290 Cabriolet A with coachwork by Sindelfingen that is splendidly patinaed with a ragged top and rusty wire wheels, ready to be put on artistic display or comprehensively restored using many buckets of cash.  The pre-auction estimated value is $175,000 to $225,000.

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The cabriolet is in reasonably intact condition, but needing everything

The auction will continue Bonhams’ live/online format under pandemic restrictions, with limited attendance at the live auction and most bidding done online or by phone. Bidders can monitor the action on Bonhams “virtual viewing” platform. Condition reports and a one-to-one “walkaround” inspection with a specialist are available prior to the bidding.

The Mercedes, offered from the Petersen Automotive Museum’s Vault Collection in Los Angeles, was purchased by an American in 1957, driven on a European tour and then imported it to Baltimore, according to Bonhams.  It was stored away at some point, obtained by the Petersen, and will be sold as found.

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The interior of the 1935 Mercedes

“This elegant Mercedes-Benz 290 Cabriolet A has been preserved in largely original condition and is an impressive example of prewar Mercedes-Benz sporting luxury,” Bonhams says in its description. “Inside, a very old red interior is in situ, and the classic white-faced VDO gauges adorn the dashboard. The car appears largely complete, with many parts packed into the cabin.”

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An antique touring car in rough condition is also on the docket.  The 1912 Babcock H 7-passenger tourer, described in the catalog as “prominent and powerful,” is in largely original barn-find fettle. Produced in Watertown, New York, it’s valued at a modest $20,000 to $30,000.

A rarely seen 1912 Babcock

Other “barn finds” offered by Bonhams at the Simeone museum are a 1930 Cadillac Series 353 V8 5-passenger sedan, valued at $50,000 to $60,000; a 1914 Detroit Electric Model 47 Brougham, $20,000 to $30,000; and a 1948 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith with James Young coachwork, modestly valued at $8,000 to $12,000.

The Bonhams auction, with 59 cars on its docket, is not all about barn finds, though, with a number of exceptional vehicles offered.  There’s also a fine selection of automobilia, including a large group of terrific pre-war radiator mascots.

Topping the value estimates is an exquisite 1931 Bentley 8-liter tourer with coachwork by Swallow, at $775,000 to $875,000. Just 100 examples of the W.O. Bentley design were built before the original company went into bankruptcy. Bentley claimed the sporty convertible would do 100 mph with hardly a murmur from its huge, 220-horsepower inline-6 engine.

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The 1931 Bentley 8-Liter is a superbly presented example of W.O.’s artistry

“The research reveals that the Bentley retains most of its original components, including of course the chassis, engine, and both front and rear axles,” Bonhams says. “It has a thorough purity in its components, and a provenance which stretches back to the day it was built.”

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Another premium offering in a different vein at Bonhams is a 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 fastback coupe powered by its original 375-horsepower Q-code 429 V8, an engine designed for high-speed NASCAR racing. The car is in immaculate condition after an award-winning restoration by a marque specialist, with just 3,500 miles added since.  The Boss 429 is valued at $250,000 to $350,000.

Bonhams docket runs the gamut in collector car types and values, with a number of entry-level collector cars included.  For more information about the docket and the live/online format, visit the auction website.

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

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