One never knows what may lie in an old barn. Sometimes it is nothing more than dust, mice and bird droppings but on occasion the find can be extraordinary. That is what Artcurial’s Matthieu Lamoure and Pierre Novikoff came upon in a barn in western France in 2014.

The owner of the barn had died and a relative called Artcurial to get an appraisal done on the cars in the barn. The estate had been bequeathed to several children and Artcurial is France’s leading auctioneer of arts and antiques. For the duo even they were not prepared for what they found.

They knew that what was in the barn was valuable. It belonged originally to Roger Baillon, a French transportation entrepreneur. He had made a fortune building transportation vehicles including a secure, watertight tank for transporting chemicals that gave him a monopoly on that kind of vehicle in France. Baillon used his fortune to begin amassing a car collection. His collection at one time had been even bigger but his company ran into financial problems in the 1970s and he was forced to sell about 50 of the cars. He had intended to open a museum of pre-World War II automobiles and have visitors ride a train around his property (which was built), but his financial situation and his health were deteriorating. Upon his death his son Jacques inherited the collection until he died in 2013.

The barn had been converted into a garage and the cars were stored there. When the barn was filled the new cars were placed into other nooks and crannies on the farm. Any available space was filled. This meant that some of the vehicles were exposed to the elements and may have been for up to 50 years. But upon looking at them they all had one thing in common: all of the vehicles were rare.

Some of the greats of the automobile industry were represented: Bughatti, Maserati and Ferrari as well as some of the most famous European manufacturers like Hispano-Suiza, Talbot-Lago, Panhard-Levassor, Delahaye and Delage. Some of the more famous cars found include the Talbot-Lago T26 Cabriolet Saoutchik owned by King Farouk of Egypt, an early Delahaye Coupe Chauffeur, and a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Spyder belonging to actors Gérard Blain and Alain Delon (only 106 were made and they have fetched over $5,000,000 at auction at minimum when restored).

This find has been compared to the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter. In a bit of irony had the collection been sold when Baillon died it would have been worth only a fraction of what it is worth today. The rare car market has changed and it is possible that had the collection been sold upon his death some of the cars would have been scrapped. Instead the cars were put up for auction. As of 2015 Artcurial had only sold one of the 100 most valuable cars at auction. That changed. The Ferrari Spyder sold for $23 million. A 1956 Maserati fetched $2 million and several others fetched six figures. Not a bad barn find!