What is a Barn Find? What is a Survivor Car?

‘Barn find’ and ‘survivor car’ meanings have become blurred over time and HotRidesUSA.com wants to share some insight into two such terms that are quickly be evolving.

What is a barn find?

The concept of a true barn find is really as it says. It’s a word-picture,  where you can imagine discovering rickety a old barn behind a farm house, roll some rusty 44 gallon drums aside and peel open double barn doors that have been overgrown by vines, finally you reveal a fully intact 1964 and a half Ford Mustang with a 289 V8. You drain and refill the fuel tank, drain and replace the oil, and next this sleeping beauty cranks over and fires in a few turns.

Not all barn finds follow such a script. A barn find may be covered in bird and rat droppings, be a little on the corroded side and it might have a seized engine. Some ‘barn-finds’ are sitting in overgrown paddocks with trees growing through the open engine bay.


Barn find classic in Idaho.
Classic 1956 Buick Special appears to have been kept in a barn since it was last driven. Will restore nicely, but you could leave most of it as is and repair the running gear and engine.

In general terms, a barn find is really an old wrecker that is in dire need of restoration, but the truest of barn finds is one that has been under cover and might just be an easy restoration. It doesn’t have to be a classic barn find to result in a lucrative investment.

What is a survivor car?

Survivors differ from barn finds. They have usually been cared for and last decades as a daily driver, or are carefully stored and maintained enough where you can start it with nothing more than a new battery.

A survivor car may be in perfect condition. It may have been kept undercover and only driven to town for weekly supplies. They usually have very low mileage and are often left in the most original state, with factory fitted accessories, original engine bay labels, and factory finished paint. The perfect survivor car is still owned by the first owner who might have log books, service history, receipts and even the original delivery docket.


Photo of what would be the proper definition of a survivor car. A 1967 VW Karmann beetle convertible.
This 1967 Volkswagen Karmann convertible appears to be completely original since new. Paint, trim, chrome, light lenses, glass and wheel covers appear to be as they were from the showroom. This is a true survivor car.

A car that has been restored to running condition and without any modifications from the manufacturer’s specifications as a ‘survivor car’. These are great, but the ones that have a history of only one or two owners, original paperwork, and original paint are the real survivors.

Does it matter if it’s a true barn find or a true survivor car?
We think it’s okay for any car stored and dusty in a barn, a shed, a garage, a back paddock or a backyard and in any condition to be a barn find. It’s not crucial to the value of the car or motorcycle that it have an episode of discovery that tells a more dramatic story than the one found in a wrecking yard. The true value of a car is what happens to it after the discovery. The ‘barn find’ label is more useful as a description in the first ever photo taken after decades of storage.

We would love to see your comments in the comment area below.

What about the value of true survivor cars?

A car that is untouched, has low miles with original paint, engine, and upholstery will likely be worth more than a wreck that has been restored to the same condition. Although the next purchaser of the newly restored survivor might have a different opinion.

True survivor cars present a difficult quandary for many classic car owners.

A survivor car might have just one crack in the tail light lens. If everything else is in perfect condition, replacing the one tail light with a new one that was not manufactured with the car might diminish the value. The finish might not be the same and some survivor car lovers prefer to see the original manufacturer name stamped on the part. It is a personal preference, but sometimes this personal preference is desired by the higher bidder. If your highest bidder loves original, then you will get the highest in value for your survivor.

Why does originality in a survivor car mean so much?
Worn paint and slight imperfections in the upholstery tell a story of how the car has been maintained over its life. The general condition of the vehicle reveals many secrets to the classic car’s past. Stone chips on the front of the hood might visually describe the early history of the vehicle being driven by it’s original owner in a time when roads in the area were unpaved. A dealership delivery sticker from the day the car was displayed in the showroom reveals the moment the car was proudly driven for the first time by the original owner.

Which would you prefer to own?

Vehicle 1: A perfectly kept original 1965 Mustang survivor car with low miles and a complete portfolio of documents. It might have original paint, slightly scratched and minimal damage to the upholstery.

Vehicle 2: A full restoration vehicle 1965 Mustang. Fully restored in every way with new paint, new decals, new upholstery and reconditioned engine and drive train. The car is perfect, but it was a once a complete wreck.

Tell us what you think in the comments box below.

I’ve found a couple of videos (displayed below) which help describe the difference between barn finds and survivor cars. Enjoy!


Post Author: Alan O'Neill

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