There are barn finds, and then there are barn finds. Okay, technically this was a warehouse find, but it falls under the same category. And it's remarkably awesome: the Mercedes-Benz race car piloted by racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio to victory in both the 1954 German and Swiss Grands Prix. It can be yours if you have a couple million dollars burning a hole in your pocket.
The car is a Mercedes-Benz W196 with chassis number "00006/54", powered by a 2.5-liter straight-8 engine. Bonhams, the folks who are putting it up for auction, say that this particular car was the first open-wheeled "slipper body" postwar Mercedes to ever win a postwar Formula One race.
If that's somehow not cool enough for you, it was driven by Fangio, a guy who's on every shortlist ever for greatest racing driver of all time. Check out some great video of the car in action here.
Despite the car's greatness, it met with a rather inglorious fate until recently. According to Yahoo!, the car had been kept in a warehouse in some undisclosed place and forgotten about for 30 years. It's not in fantastic shape anymore, but it will go to auction in its current, unrestored state. From the story:
"The first time I saw this car I needed oxygen. It's landmark technology and it was driven by a landmark driver," said racing historian Doug Nye, who said that the car's relatively poor condition was actually a plus point.
"Some people think it looks grotty - that's not the point - the really rare cars today are the unrestored ones," he added. "Every car that's restored has lost a part of its history because it's been obliterated by repainting or by rebuilding. Nothing's been obliterated on this, it's just a beautiful survivor."
A beautiful survivor indeed. Yahoo! Says the car could fetch £5 million, or about $7.6 million, or more when it goes up for grabs at Bonhams' Goodwood auction on July 12. I think it's hard to put a price tag on a find as incredible as this.
UPDATE: Okay, so it may not be entirely true that the car "lay in a warehouse and 'largely forgotten about' for 30 years before being discovered," as we quoted from Yahoo's story.
After our post went up, a reporter familiar with the classic car world emailed us to say he believes the Yahoo story was inaccurate, as he said the car was not forgotten about in a warehouse for three decades. He said it was sold to a U.S. buyer in 1990 and then back to Germany in 1998, and then raced at Monaco in 2000 and then sold again.
I emailed Bonhams about this discrepancy. James Knight of the auction house's motoring department told me "There has been some confusion."
He said the car was owned by a Frenchman in the 1990s and sold to another European, who did in fact show it at Monaco. That person sold it to a previous owner who kept it privately in a warehouse. Still, Knight said, "The car has hardly seen light of day in over 20 years and it has been kept in a warehouse for many of those years."
So it doesn't sound like it's some random barn find after all, but rather, a very special race car that has changed hands multiple times over the years and hasn't been taken care of in the manner it deserved. If I get more information on this, I'll update.
UPDATE 2: A Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman confirmed that the W196 "was not kept in a warehouse for 30 years." That's all the detail she offered.
Photos credit Bonhams
Thanks for the tips everyone!