Hidden away for over 40 years, a one-off Delahaye Cabriolet, a custom-bodied Rolls-Royce, and a Packard hearse are uncovered and reintroduced to the light of day.
Fishermen have become notorious for their uncanny ability to over exaggerate details while skillfully regaling stories of their exploits. If you are familiar with the term “Fishing Story” (an exaggerated or overly incredible story), then you know exactly what it is like trying to hunt down barn finds. All too often, the “old Porsche in the barn” turns out to be a decrepit 924 with a blown motor or the old Ferrari stashed away is a Fiero with a body kit haphazardly bolted to it. Stories of cool cars greatly exaggerated beyond their reality, are bountiful in the sea of the classic car world. While these mundane finds are still exciting, they leave you longing for the big one, the one that offers significant value to the car community as a whole, the “whopper you can hang on your wall.” The difficult part is that in order to locate that one whale of a find, you have to pursue all the other minnows. With persistence and hard work though, every once in a while you haul in a significant find, and that is exactly what we were lucky enough to accomplish with our latest adventure.
It all began much as most of our barn find adventures tend to; car guys trading stories about cars they had lost over time, cars they wish they had kept and cars they had heard stories about throughout the years. When the mention of 3 cars sitting in an underground parking structure in Manhattan for the past 40 years was made, it peaked our interest, to say the least. With numerous phone calls back and forth to a multitude of different people, we finally made our way down the line to the supposed owner. He explained that he had put the cars in the underground storage area approximately 40 years ago with hopes of one day being able to restore them but unfortunately time had got the better of him. As he ran down the list of the three cars, our jaws hit the floor. He stated that the three cars were a 1937 Packard hearse, a 1937 Rolls-Royce with a unique body, and most astounding of all, a 1938 Delahaye Cabriolet. We had to remind ourselves continuously about the “Fish Story” nature of many of our previous barn find experiences, but it was impossible to contain our excitement fully. We were able to get an address and a time that we could come check out the cars but not much information past that. As these car stories so often go, the cars were not located in Manhattan but about 30 minutes away in the heart of Long Island. We prepared ourselves for a letdown, packed up everything we might need to move the cars, and headed towards the most unlikely of locations for automotive archaeology to see if this “fish story” would pan out.
After navigating the inherent traffic that comes with traveling anywhere in the vicinity of New York City we were left standing outside of a nondescript industrial building in the middle of Long Island wondering if someone was playing a joke on us. A modern office complex is certainly not the setting you usually picture when you think of old forgotten cars. Our point of contact eventually showed up and led us towards a set of roll-up doors. As the chains rattled away, dragging the tired metal door up, the inky darkness of a subterranean parking structure revealed itself on the other side. We moved forward into the darkness, fumbling for the lights only to flick them on and reveal a scene that only dreams could comprehend. Sitting before us, partly obscured by boxes were three cars, covered in dust and dirt that had clearly been sitting there for quite a long time. As the dust swirled through the air and our eyes struggled to adjust to the dim yellow light, it was clear that we had just stumbled into something quite special. At first glance, it seemed the “fish story”might be real. As we carefully clambered over the boxes to get to the cars, it became apparent that what the owner had stated was true indeed. Before us lay a Packard Hearse, a prewar Rolls-Royce clearly wearing a unique body, and most importantly, a cabriolet Delahaye. We poured over the cars, opening doors, inspecting engine bays and peaking underneath till we were thoroughly convinced that the dreamy sight that lay before us was real. We took a few steps back and began the discussion of purchasing the cars with the owner as there was no way we could let this find slip away. After much back and forth we reached an agreeable deal which was sealed with a handshake. It was official, these three cars were going to finally move after almost half a century of being stagnant. We made sure to properly document the scene with both photo and video to preserve the memory for ourselves as well as to be able to share it with the public. It is always of utmost importance for us to be able to help people to be to see and experience the scene as closely and most accurately as we can provide. With all the documentation thoroughly completed, it was on to the hard part, the one that every tv show and magazine article tends to leave out.
Everyone has come to romanticize the barn find, but one thing they always leave out of their dim lit, dust filled dreams are the removing of the cars from their places of entrapment. See, a car that sits will naturally begin to return itself to the earth from which it was originally crafted, and these three were no different. We have taken part in the extrication of our fair share of barn finds over the years, so we came prepared but that didn’t change the fact that these three cars were not going to leave their place of rest without putting up quite a fight. We decided to remove the Rolls-Royce first as it was in the middle of the three and getting it out would provide us access to the other two cars. Well, a car that weighs close to 6000 pounds with flat tires is not going to move with ease. However, with a bit of ingenuity and a lot of cursing, we managed to get the car to the bottom of the ramp down into the parking structure at which point we were able to tow it up the hill and into the trailer. Moving that one, very large vehicle cost us the better part of an entire day and we decided to come back the next day to remove the other two.
Our second day found us still questioning the reality of the situation. With the Rolls-Royce out of the way, we finally had an unobstructed view of the Delahaye and its beautiful coachbuilt lines. We chose to tackle getting the Packard out next and save the Delahaye for last. Once again, after a good deal of swearing and moving jacks and dollies around, we were able to get the Packard to the point where we could have a tow truck pull it up and out of the parking structure and carry it back to Philadelphia. That left us with the Delahaye which it turns out was significantly easier to extricate. With great care, we attempted not to disrupt the years of sediment and debris that had found their way onto the body, we wanted to keep it as close to how we found it as possible. We placed the car on rolling dollies and moved it to the bottom of the ramp, hooked it to our company Jeep and prayed that the bumper supports would hold on its way up the hill.
Seeing the Delahaye emerge into the light for the first time in almost a half-century was immensely gratifying. Watching the light illuminate the inherent beauty peering out from under years of neglect left us feeling warm and accomplished. This beautiful car was now going to be introduced back into the world. Surely it’s going to take a few years before its back to its true former glory but it will undoubtedly happen and we are beyond excited that we were a part of bringing that process to fruition. With a few more photos and a bit more elated expressions, we winched the French beauty into the trailer and headed on our way home to Philadelphia.
Once back in Philadelphia we began to do a bit more research on the incredible finds we had just made. We confirmed that the Packard was indeed built in 1937, bodied by the Silver-Knightstown Body company of Indiana and was used as either a hearse or an ambulance. It is hard to determine which, as it could have easily served both rolls at various times throughout its life. It was, however, reported to have last been used as a cemetery vehicle in Brooklyn for which it seemed perfectly equipped. The Rolls-Royce, it turned out, was a 1937 and currently wears a body by Franay which had been the 1937 show stand car at the Paris Auto Show. We learned that it originally wore Barker Open Coachwork and was delivered to a Sir Phillip Sassoon who was a socialite and member of Parliment. The Rolls had also spent a bit of time inTexas before coming to the East coast nearly 50 years ago.
The Delahaye was a bit of a murkier story. The owner had told us that it was a prewar car, a 1938 to be specific, but, unfortunately, it turned out to be a postwar car built in late 1947, not a terrible thing but this fact does cause a slight decrease in significance. The big revelation, however, was that the car was a one-off coach built 135M designation cabriolet by the Belgium firm Vesters & Neirinck. It was built in 1947 but called a 1948 and had been displayed at the 1948 Brussels Auto Show. It next appears in 1948 when it won Best of Show at the Concours D’Elegance in Vichy, France. After this, the history gets a bit cloudy but it is believed to have spent some time residing in St. Martin in the Dutch Caribbean before finding its way to a collection of Pre-War Mercedes-Benz in the Hamptons. The collection was later purchased from the Estate by Ed Jirst from the Vintage Car Store, in Nyack, New York, who was one of the earliest classic car dealers in the United States. Finally, it was sold for $350 to its long-term owner who soon found a dry subterranean home for it on Long Island. Even as obscure, rare, and unknown as the car is, we were able to track down some period photos of the car and gain a bit of history on it. All which served to cement the reality of this being one of our most important finds to date.
We count ourselves extremely lucky to be able to do what we do on a daily basis. We get to play the role of automotive archaeologists, extracting rusty gold from secret hiding places, effectively living out one of the ultimate car lovers dreams. It takes a great deal of hard work and persistence to make finds like this happen. You have to follow every lead and sometimes reel in a bucket of minnows before you find the trophy car but being able to reintroduce unique vehicles like these to the classic car world truly makes all that hard work and persistence worth it in the end.