Barn find of the century
Imagine stumbling across a vast collection of rare and valuable cars, hiding in the grounds of a romantic French château. This is what it feels like
Words: Glen Waddington, Photography: Matthew Howell. February 2015.
It's fair to say they look more like cattle sheds than barns. And some of the cars are secreted in stone outbuildings; two in particular are hidden in a garage. But the effect is the same. Stashed away in the grounds of a sleepy chÂteau in the rolling rustic splendour of western France is a collection of cars that would be remarkable in any circumstance. Their decrepitude only serves to make the scene all the more romantic. You see, while rarely a week passes by without somebody unearthing something in a remote shed, less often do you come across a collection nearly 100-strong. And even less frequently do you find gems within it such as a Ferrari California Spider, a Bugatti Ventoux, Maserati A6G Gran Sport Frua, Facel Vega Excellence, pre-war coachbuilt grandes routières from Talbot-Lago and Delahaye, even a fairly spectacular coupé of the late collector's own making.
The barn find of the century? That doesn't overstate the case by any means. 'Roger Baillon was a mechanic in the French Air Force and, after the war, he created lorries for transporting chemicals from a factory to the Paris Métro, where they were used to clean the tunnels. He bought the chÂteau around 1950 and started to collect cars – he wanted to build a museum on land opposite the chÂteau,' says Pierre Novikoff of auction house Artcurial. Octane is there while Pierre and Artcurial director Matthieu Lamoure catalogue 60 of the cars for their Paris Rétromobile sale on 6 February. The grandchildren of Roger Baillon approached Artcurial following the death of their father Jacques Baillon last year.
The collection was housed piecemeal in shelters that were built in the grounds as the numbers flourished. By the mid-1970s it was 200-strong – but then Transports R Baillon lost its main contract and was driven into bankruptcy. Two bank-enforced car sales followed, one in 1979 and another in 1985. Yet while such treasures as a 1938 Talbot T150 LM found a new home for FF160,000 in an auction room described as 'full to overflowing' by La Vie de l'Auto in August 1979, there were still 114 cars that escaped the clutches of the creditors.
Most of those are what you see in these pictures. Walk through the chÂteau gates and the first glimpse elicits a gasp of disbelief. Explore further and your credulity is seriously tested. Artcurial plans to display the cars in all their dusty, cobwebbed glory, and you can find out more at www.artcurial.com. For now, simply feast your eyes here.