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

Finding Automotive Treasure – Interview

Finding Automotive Treasure – Interview Page Three

How did it come to be lost?

PN: I must tell you the story! It is essentially that of a great inventor and automobile enthusiast, although the collection was put together over several generations. Up until 1977, Roger Baillon had a transport and truck manufacturing business in the west of France. In 1947, this guy who was crazy about machines made a name for himself — he exhibited a car he had designed himself — the Oiseau bleu (blue bird). It was an ingenious vehicle, sculptural. It was the work of an artist, built to the highest standards.

ML: Roger Baillon made his fortune manufacturing trucks, at a time when the transport business was booming, after the war. He had the monopoly on transporters for dangerous liquid chemicals, thanks to the design of a secure, watertight tank. At the same time, he produced a revolutionary lorry in 1950 that featured the first ever ‘cabine avancee’ (forward-control cab) in the transport industry! It was moving to find the relics of this great era, in the garden of the property.

PN: It was between 1955 and 1965 that he amassed the largest part of the models. Unfortunately, during the 1970s, he suffered a reverse of fortune and his business went into decline. Which explains the large sale at the end of the decade.

Delahaye Coupe Chauffeur
Delahaye Coupe Chauffeur
Discovery of Collection Baillon
Discovery of Collection Baillon

But why collect the cars?

PN: This needs to be put into context. Although collectors’ cars, and particularly post-war French models, are snapped up today in the salerooms, this has not always been the case. At that time, Roger Baillon saved many of these cars from the scrapyard. With many significant models amongst them!

ML: This man was one of the early collectors. He wanted to celebrate the art of automotive engineering and bought a property to turn into an automobile museum. He began to buy key models in France and Europe. Having a transport business, it was straightforward for him to have his treasure delivered to the property he had bought in 1953 for this purpose. He even acquired a little train which he planned to use to make a tour of the museum, that would pass by all the cars.

PN: When the vehicles arrived, he put them away without much fuss, one next to the other. He restored some and left others as they were. He passed on his passion to his children and grandchildren. They continue to be very attached to this collection that they had watched expand, with the cars they had grown up around.

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”.