Rust Never Sleeps

A famous rocker once said “Rust never sleeps” and if you’ve seen firsthand the Barn Finds and Hidden Gems section at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (MCACN), you’d agree with his assertions. Automobiles are a small part of the overall cycle of life and if uncared for, they slowly rot and crumble back into the earth with their planet-based raw materials such as steel, aluminum, rubber and the numerous petroleum-based interior parts. While there are varying degrees of this slow death of a car, it’s never too late to save these mechanical mastodons that once ruled the avenues and boulevards across America in an era of Top-40 AM radio and drive-in restaurants. Luckily, there are still many rare examples of these machines whose body surfaces are covered in rust, mice droppings, faded paint and pitted chrome, but have enthusiasts staring in amazement, like gawkers driving past an accident scene. Regardless of the muscle cars’ poor state, there’s always a home for these once-shiny examples of Detroit’s finest in the Barn Finds and Hidden Gems section of the MCACN show. 

The person who’s been the ringleader in rounding up these well-worn vintage hot rods is Ryan Brutt, also known in the classic car circles as the Auto Archeologist. This 40-year-old Chicago native cannot claim the phenomenon of “Barn Finds”, but he’s moved the needle in this hobby in many ways. Ryan’s authored a couple of books with vivid photographs of these buried classics while writing a monthly column in Hot Rod magazine. Ryan’s journey on the highways, byways and back roads of America discovering the rarest of the rare out in fields, garages and, yes, barns is well detailed. “The Barn Finds phenomenon took off well before me. There used to be a site called that was very popular. That’s what started everything for me on this quest of traveling around the country documenting cool cars that have been neglected over the last half-century. I write for multiple publications on these poor cars and I’m usually a few weeks out every month doing something related to hunting down these cars. I really enjoy it,” said Ryan. 

Another interesting aspect of this offshoot of the vintage car hobby is how it’s gained a ton of traction over these last few years. “When it comes to reaching out to owners of these cars, we don’t really put a call out to people anymore. They just have to sign up to be part of our show and since ‘Barn Finds and Hidden Gems’ is a yearly thing at MCACN, the word has gotten out. Bob (Ashton) and I travel around the country looking for cool vehicles to discover and personally invite the owner and their cars to the show. We look for things our attendees would find unique and interesting,” noted Ryan. So, what does it take to drag an old rusted muscle car out of the grips of death and bring it to Chicago for the MCACN show? “There isn’t a set of parameters to strictly follow, but we try to narrow it down to rare and unique cars that have been sitting for a very long time and haven’t been shown to the general public before,” commented Ryan. 

During this year’s MCACN show, there were plenty of cool worn-out muscle cars from GM, Ford, Dodge, Plymouth and even some obscure brands like AMC. Even though Ryan is an acknowledged “Mopar® Guy” whose daily driver is a B5 Blue 2009 Challenger R/T that has racked up over 200,000 miles scouring the country looking for rare and buried muscle cars, he appreciates all makes, brands and nameplates. Ryan puts his heart and soul into the Barn Finds and Hidden Gems display where diehard fans trek to MCACN to get a closer look at these tattered and frayed machines. “We had 36 cars in the Barn Finds section at year’s show that included 18 rare Mopars,” said Ryan. When asked what his top three favorite Mopar vehicles were from this year’s show, it was a tough call for Ryan as he loves them all. 

“One of my favorites was the barn find of the 1970 ‘Pilot’ ‘Cuda that was one digit off in its VIN from RTS (Rapid Transit System) ‘Cuda that was also on display in the show. Like the RTS ‘Cuda, the ‘Pilot’ ‘Cuda was powered by the 440 Six Barrel engine and had the Shaker hood. I knew about the ‘Pilot’ ‘Cuda through my friend Seth Degenhardt who was a friend of the owner. We both convinced him to bring the car to MCACN as it had not been seen by the general public in decades. As of right now, the current owner has no plans to restore it and after the show, the ‘Pilot’ ‘Cuda just went back into the storage shed,” said a somewhat shocked Ryan. 

Another cool car Ryan turned us on to at the show was a 1969 Charger 500 HEMI®. “This was a legitimate barn find that was drug out of storage just before the show. It still had the numbers-matching 426 Street HEMI engine under the hood, which is rare since this Charger sat for over 40 years. With any HEMI engine-powered muscle, it’s rare to find one still with its numbers-matching engine since these things led a hard life among their abusive owners. Despite being covered in various shades of primer, the trunk still retained the original green paint and white bumble bee stripe. Luckily, this rare Charger 500 is destined to be restored and unveiled at MCACN in the next few years,” noted Ryan. 

Among the worn-out machines, a rare gem stood out. It was a special-order paint 1969 Coronet Super Bee. Powered by a 383 Magnum with a four-speed transmission, this was not your average bargain muscle car Dodge built in large quantities for 1969. “This rare Bee left the plant emblazoned in a unique pink color. Despite being repainted orange decades ago, there were still major sections of the original pink paint still on the car. Since the data tag denoted ‘999’ for the special-order paint option, we had a noted Mopar expert onsite at MCACN check the confirm the Bee’s original color and it confirmed it was pink. However, we had other Mopar sleuths check out the Super Bee and they all concluded it was not the same shade as Panther Pink that Dodge had introduced in 1970. What’s also cool, this Super Bee was ordered without the bumble bee strip, thus making it even more unique,” exclaimed Ryan. 

The popularity of dragging vintage muscle cars out of the grip of near disintegration and showing them to the world has increased in popularity as noted by Ryan. “Since the Barn Finds and Hidden Gems section started in 2012, this year was the largest in the show’s history. The area where these cars were shown had to be expanded and was constantly mobbed with attendees clamoring for a closer look. Many are surprised there are still so many cool and rare cars being discovered and brought to MCACN. We’re already working on the 2024 and will have some vehicles unearthed and displayed at next year’s show.” So, mark for calendars, the dates for the 2024 MCACN show are set for November 23-24, and make your plans now to attend this awesome event!