ML: It was a fairly indescribable feeling. On entering the gates of this property, we had no idea what we would find. We had to go in through the gardens at the rear of the property, to get a first look. Across three hectares, we could see different makeshift structures. Low shelters covered with corrugated iron. From there, we realised that this was something big. We still didn’t know what we were looking at, but could make out coachwork, weathered by time and the elements. Some modern shapes and others that were older.
PN: Incredible! The cars weren’t stored in solid, purpose-built sheds, but completely makeshift constructions. We came closer and realised that there were dozens of cars parked underneath. We soon realised that some of these had been put there 50 years earlier and left untouched. Wooden posts, between the cars, supported the fragile roofs. The sides were open to the elements. We still didn’t realise exactly what we were faced with — the number of cars, the marques, their condition.
It was practically an archeological excavation.
ML: Exactly! However, before the inventory, recording and researching their history, we needed to see everything. We continued our exploration at a second site, at the bottom of a field, then in one of the property’s outbuildings, an old barn that had been converted into an improvised garage.
PN: And there the shocks continued. The artistic and aesthetic shock first of all, faced with the beauty of these metallic sculptures. The emotional shock followed, as we came across incredible models and iconic marques. This was somewhere between a metallic graveyard and a museum. Nature had taken a hold, over the years. Ivy had invaded a car and entirely covered its wheel, while weeds had taken root in a passenger compartment as easily as in a greenhouse. In places, the sheets of corrugated iron were resting directly on the cars.
What is the story behind this treasure?
ML: Of course, this is the first question we asked ourselves! In front of such a collection, how could we not be curious, and want to find out? How had someone been able to amass so many cars? And for what purpose?
PN: Little by little, thanks to the owners, we learnt the story and the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. We were standing in front of the Baillon collection. Well documented, it had given rise to a large sale during the 1970s. It was thought that everything had been sold, and its existence had been forgotten about. And here, we had just found the lost collection! The troupe of red lorries, associated with the celebrated ‘Transports Baillon’ in the mid-20th century, left us in no doubt.