Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider
Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider

Finding Automotive Treasure – Interview

Finding Automotive Treasure – Interview Page Two

And when you arrived, what happened?

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.

Delahaye GFA 148 L et Talbot Lago Baby Cabriolet par Guillore
Delahaye GFA 148 L et Talbot Lago Baby Cabriolet par Guillore
Discovery of Collection Baillon
Discovery of Collection Baillon
Discovery of Collection Baillon
Discovery of Collection Baillon

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.

Discovery of Collection Baillon
Discovery of Collection Baillon
Discovery of Collection Baillon
Discovery of Collection Baillon
Discovery of Collection Baillon
Discovery of Collection Baillon

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Show Comments (17)

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  1. I don’t understand how these cars could have gone undiscovered for such a long time. They weren’t left in a locked, boarded up garage, everything was wide open for anyone to see.

  2. Matt,
    I think Matthieu and Pierre hinted at the reason when they mentioned that the Collection Baillon had been dispersed at auction decades ago to satisfy creditors. No one had any reason to think there might be others, so no one looked.
    Furthermore they were located on family property well away from prying eyes. In France you don’t go poking around behind someone’s chateau on a lark.
    Finally, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the dispersal of this collection coincides with the expiration of a statute of limitations on the debts that led to the public dispersal years ago and puts the proceeds out of reach of any creditors.
    In any event it is pretty wonderful, even if many of the cars are in sad, neglected condition. I hope I can make it to Retromobile to see it.

    1. Couldn’t the Chateau owners afford a thousand dollars worth of plywood and nails to enclose the bloody garages. Terrible shame that these cars were left to rot like they did.

  3. The first sale alluded to took place near Niort on june 23 and 24, 1979, with 58 cars sold at no reserve.

    There is a full report in “Le Fanatique de l’Automobile” N° 130 dated July 1979. There were no really great cars then, apart from another 5 Talbots, and the report finishes with “The second sale, of which the date is not yet known, will surely be even more interesting”.

    So this should be the second sale then …. 35 years after the first one!

  4. I visited this collection in September 1981 when I was touring France following attendance at the Vincenzo Lancia Centenary Rally in Torino.The cars were accessible and in much the same condition as shown now, although there were indeed fewer cars and some of the exotic Delahaye were not visual. I will try to find the photos I took at that time.

  5. There have been people trying to buy the Ferrari in the past but with no result.
    The owners probably told the auctioneers that the could do an auction if they remove all the cars from the property and not just one. Not a real forgotten treassure in my mind but still some nice cars.

  6. I think it’s a manipulation of the public opinion to present this story as a barn find. Whoever the owner is, cannot be stupid enough not to estimate the value of these cars or at least try to find out all these years.

    This leaves us with “expiration of a statute of limitations on the debts” as the only plausable reason for them suddenly being discovered -again-.

  7. I am truly amazed that this collection exists and aghast at the people that have kept its secrets. My only hope is that the automotive historians will find worthy patrons to bring most of these pieces of art and craftsmanship back to there glory so that future generations of of our hobby can enjoy these pieces of an era automotive art.

  8. “We need to take as much care as if we were moving the Mona Lisa.”

    Oh please.

    “For the Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport Coupe Saoutchik, caved in at the rear, I think it should be left in this condition. It is a sculpture.”

    Yes. A ruined sculpture. “Should be left in this condition.” ? Why. Because it is so bad off that it’s not worth restoring?

    I don’t care that the “snarky comments” come from “anonymous”.