Classic cars abandoned for decades in French barn valued at $20 million
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be anything remarkable about a collection of 60 broken-down, rusty cars, some of which date back to before the Second World War.
But tomorrow, this collection -- described as "sleeping beauties" by the Artcurial auction house in Paris -- is expected to fetch around €20 million ($22.85 million) at auction.
These, of course, are no ordinary cars. They include storied brands like Bugatti, Ferrari, Maserati, Delage, Delahaye, Hispano-Suiza, Panhard-Levassor and Talbot-Lago.
The jewel in the crown is a Ferrari 250 GT California Spider with covered headlights, one of only 37 ever made, which is valued at up to €12 million ($13.7 million).
The car accounts for 13 of the 100 most expensive cars ever sold, and was found hidden beneath a pile of old car magazines.
Also in the collection is a 1956 Maserati A6G Gran Sports, with coachwork by Frua, is one of just three in the world. It is expected to sell for about $1 million.
Unearthing buried treasure
The cars were mostly collected between 1955 and 1965 by the entrepreneur, inventor and car enthusiast Roger Baillon.
He had designed and built his own car, the Bluebird, in 1947. In 1953 he bought a farm in western France, intending to convert it into an automobile museum. He even purchased a small train to give tours.
But when his business struggled, he abandoned his plans, selling about 50 of his cars. The remainder of his collection lay dormant ever since in a series of makeshift shelters, exposed to the elements for five decades.
Baillon died about 10 years ago, and his son, Jacques, who inherited the cars, passed away last year.
The collector's grandchildren, who had no idea that they were sitting on such a rare collection, called Artcurial in to value the Ferrari.
Matthiu Lamoure, the managing director of Artcurial, together with senior specialist Pierre Novikoff, received the call when they were on a field trip searching for rare finds.
When they arrived, they were astonished to discover an entire fleet of valuable cars. Some were overgrown with vines, and others had sheets of metal piled on top of them.
"We were overcome with emotion. Probably much like Lord Carrington and Howard Carter, on being the first for centuries to enter Tutankhamun's tomb," said Lamoure.
"It really is a treasure trove. No doubt a once-in-a-lifetime discovery."
After years of neglect, the cars were weather-worn and rusted, and will require much loving restoration to bring them back to their former glory. But they are being sold exactly as they were found.
A long and winding road
Some of the cars have an intriguing and flamboyant history.
The Talbot Lago T26 Cabriolet -- which has decayed so much that its rear has fallen in -- was previously owned by King Farouk I of Egypt, a playboy king said to habitually consume 600 oysters a week, and who owned one of the most famous coin collections in the world.
His main personal vehicle was a red 1947 Bentley Mark VI, with coachwork by the renowned French firm Figoni et Falaschi. The monarch decreed that no other cars were to be painted red.
The Ferrari California Spider has a particularly glamorous past. It was first owned by Gerard Blain, the French actor, and was later sold to Alain Delon, then known as "the male Brigitte Bardot".
The car was immortalized when the American actresses Shirley MacLaine and Jane Fonda were photographed in it, alongside Delon. Historians, however, thought it had become lost forever.
"A collection like this can't fail to arouse the passions of those who love automobiles, as well as art and history enthusiasts," said Lamoure.
"Never again, anywhere in the world, will such a treasure be unearthed."