Barn finds and beaters — heartbeats of hope for the enthusiast

From “Cuba’s Car Culture”: What’s down the next side street? (Motorbooks photos)

Tom Cotter is a barn-find revivalist who has made a career of finding and telling us about cars that “ran when parked,” no matter how mundane or bad they smelled. The hunt and discovery of a tired old car just makes the heart beat faster in the chest of an enthusiast. And Cotter has written a shelf of barn-find books, including “Cobra in the Barn,” “Vincent in the Barn, “Barn Find Road Trip” and also his “The Barn Find Hunter” web series.

Cotter has sniffed out tales of a guy who knows a guy who once knew where there was this cool old something-or-other under a tarp. Or it could be in a dilapidated barn or an overgrown back yard. Each book is a page turner, a heartbeat of hope that there is still one more out there for us to find.

His latest coffeetable-book series is “Motor City Barn Finds: Detroit’s Lost Collector Cars,” with photography by Michel Alan Ross, who has shared much seat time with Cotter when not working on his other car projects.

Most of his finds are beyond the financial resources of caring adopters to resuscitate these battered beauties and return them to a glorious rebirth. But it’s sure fun to read their stories. Among them, the complete but ratty 1966 Lotus Europa Type 46, bought from the original owner and stashed in a garage for 30 years. Cotter called it “a real time capsule,” still shod with 13-inch American Racing Libra aftermarket wheels.

There is a lot of American iron on the pages of Motor City, most of which had been salted away in storage before the road salt ate the entire car. But there is shadowy intrigue in the occasional marque from Europe or from a race shop or an old chop job.

Cotter tells a good tale and Ross has an explorer’s perspective in capturing the visual storytelling.

Info: “Motor City Barn Finds: Detroit’s Lost Collector Cars,” published by Motorbooks; $35 hardcover; 208 pages.

Can-do spirit of Cuba

I’ve missed the boat — or even the plane —to get to Cuba to see a vibrant car culture and all of its workarounds to keep old cars working. Images of the cobbled-up cars abound on our Facebook pages and in the phones that our island-touring friends bring home to share.

For years, all I saw of Cuba’s cars were in photos and now there are at least two glossy coffeetable books to chronicle the can-do spirit of Cuban drivers.

With the takeover by communists in 1959 and the subsequent trade embargos, whatever cars were on the island stayed on the island without access to parts. But that didn’t stop the locals from driving those beaters and keeping them on the road with creative alternatives to factory replacement parts.

Tom Cotter, known largely for his barn-find car books, went back in time with Bill Warner (founder of the Amelia Island Concours) to learn the island’s automotive history. The initial assignment was a focus on early auto racing, which had a start in 1903 and continued in the mid-1950s for the three Cuban Grand Prix. Sir Stirling Moss, who won two of the three race, wrote the foreword. “The kidnapping of “El Maestro” Juan Manual Fangio, in 1958 somewhat defined the direction the country was to go,” he wrote.

Cotter and Warner visited Cuba just as the country was again opened to the U.S. But Cotter urges that it will be too late to experience the old ways once they start building McDonald’s restaurants and Home Depots.

The photos in “Cuba’s Car Culture” are familiar from others that I’ve seen online and in other books, but it is the storytelling of Cotter and Warner that weld fresh metal into the story.

Info: “Cuba’s Car Culture: Celebrating the Island’s Automotive Love Affair,” published by Motorbooks; $35 hardcover; 192 pages.

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