By Tom Cotter
One day this January, I received at least ten forwarded email attachments to a web site that featured photos of an eclectic collection of old cars in a decaying building. For the next week it seemed the web was literally blanketed with these images, each giving a similar story:
“Imagine moving into an old farmhouse in the Portuguese countryside, and, while walking around “the lower 40” of your new investment, you come across an old building. Curious as to what may be inside, you pry open the rusted door and for the first time in decades, one of the largest hordes of old cars ever discovered is exposed to sunlight.”
I didn’t believe that story for a moment.
Huge collections of cars don’t just happen. Cars are accumulated—sometimes lovingly, sometimes not—by someone with a purpose. I was sure this collection was not assembled by accident; nobody would simply sell an old farm and fail to mention to the new owners the stash of old cars in the barn.
I decided to investigate. I searched the web and ultimately came to an English language dead end at the Mazda Miata Club Norway web site. But I kept going, sending emails in English and hoping that some kind recipient would take a few moments to answer some questions. All indications were that the cars were hidden somewhere in Portugal, so that’s where I focused my investigation.
Through a Cobra buddy, Don Silawski of Washington, DC, I contracted with a Portuguese translator, Clara Dixon. Clara would be my tour guide and try to unearth some of the naked truth regarding this huge stash. Clara also checked the Internet for news stories that may have been written in Portuguese newspapers about the cars. I was beginning to feel like a CIA sleuth…
I must admit that for me, a lifelong barn-finder, a collection this large would be the discovery of a lifetime. My 15-year-old son, Brian, even tried to convince me to hop a flight to Portugal to see if I could actually find the collection myself.
I was eventually able to contact the photographer who was contracted by the cars’ owner to shoot the photographs that would ultimately appear on millions of car-guy computer monitors beginning on January 20.