Barn Find

I sat at a stoplight in nowhere important Rhode Island. Just another day at work; I was on my way to see a customer. While I waited for the light to change, I noticed an elderly man taking out trash. I stared for a moment, and then my focus changed and I saw a TR6 sitting in the woods just behind him…and behind that, another one. Both were in rustic condition, but were potential projects worth pulling into the driveway to ask about.

I introduced myself and asked the friendly gentleman named Robert if he was interested in selling one of the Triumphs. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Oh sure, I guess.”

Both cars needed extensive bodywork. Sections of the frames had holes clean through them, but they did have drivetrains. As I milled around trying to figure out what he would want for these cars, we chatted about old cars and how I was looking for a restoration project for my son and I. Robert cuffed me on the shoulder and asked if I would like to go look in the barn.

I placed a hand against my forehead to block out the sun and leaned against the barn window, coated with years of dust and grease. I saw silhouettes of motorcycles and a car or two, but it was too crowded and too dimly lit to distinguish what they were. There were work benches piled high with tools, cigar boxes no doubt filled with trinkets of the finest form, and junk—golden, glorious junk. “Go on inside, look around,” Robert said.

Past the benches on the backside of two pianos sat a 1972 Triumph Bonneville. Not pristine, or the most desirable year, but a 650 Bonnie just the same. When I was 14 years old I used to ride my bicycle to a European cycle shop several times a week. I browsed the showroom, listened to the chatter of the mechanics, and imagined the freedom and simple coolness of owning a motorcycle one day. This bike was begging to be taken home and loved. I realized I was showing too much interest. I walked away and left the prettiest girl at the dance behind me.

I asked Robert what he wanted for either of the TR6s in the yard. “Heck, I don’t know,” he replied, and then asked if I saw the MGB GT inside. I had not.

At the far end of the barn, a ’73 hatchback was nestled between shelves and an old jukebox. It looked as though it was being prepped for paint. Tail light lenses had been removed, newspaper on the windows and trim pieces taped off. The paint had been sanded down to the primer in spots and the body was very straight from what I could see. This was a sharp car. After inspecting the interior, I could see it was original and in very good condition.

“It ran great and was in like new condition before that damn fire.” Robert explained that the barn had caught fire and a lot of the treasures stored there were damaged by smoke. The building was plenty strong and saw only little damage to its frame, but the MG suffered a blistered paint job. Robert had started a repaint in 1997 when he simply lost his drive and left everything in the barn as it sits today. I looked at the odometer: 57,000 miles. I wondered what he could want for this car, but chose not to ask yet.

My mind racing, I walked over to the Bonneville and stood there. “What would you take for this?” “Hmmm, I don’t know…how about $400?” he asked.

Was he serious? My heart skipped a beat. I told him it was a deal and we walked back out to the TR6s. “Make me an offer on these,” Robert told me. I didn’t know what he wanted and didn’t want to offer too little. “Is $500 for both insulting?” Before I could finish my question the old man said, “That’s fine.” I looked back at the barn and Robert could see that I was smitten with the MG. “How about you give me a grand for all three cars?” he asked.

The Bonnie and MG are now in my garage. I decided they were projects enough for me. Due to the extensive work required on both of the TR6’s, I decided to sell them. I quickly found homes for both, covering the cost of the MG and Bonneville in doing so. The Bonnie is up and running. The MG is a winter project and I hope to be driving it by spring.

Robert’s place was a dream – it was a privilege to be allowed inside and to have the chance to bring home a few pieces of motoring history. I feel no need to go back and gather more of what I am quite sure I could easily obtain. I am more than content with these restoration projects, and I’m sharing them with my children. I look forward to the day when I will drive past the barn and tip the visor of my helmet to old Robert.

Story by Mark Sollauer

Photos by David Arruda Jr.

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