The Lost Barn Find Collection

The Lost Barn Find Collection: Amazing discovery makes Oom Louis Coetzer biggest known individual car collector in SA history

Amazing Discovery Marks Final Chapter of Oom Louis Coetzer’s 50-Year Automotive Journey

The sale of a nondescript tract of land near a settlement between nothing and nowhere was the unlikely catalyst for a series of events that led to the chance discovery of South Africa’s largest ever automotive “barn find” treasure trove going under the hammer in a 10-day long online-only Creative Rides auction starting at 8am Central African Time (CAT) on Monday, March 25th.

And with this discovery bringing the total to more than 600 vehicles, it also cements the late Oom Louis Coetzer’s place in history as amassing the biggest individual car collection ever chronicled in South Africa.

Creative Rides Classic & Collectibles Auctions CEO Kevin Derrick says the astonishing 334-lot Lost Barn Find Collection auction features approximately 200 cars that include never-before-seen Mercedes Benzes, Chevrolets, Holdens, Fords, Cadillacs, Alfas, De Sotos, Porsches and BMWs.

Barkly East Main Barn
Barkly East Main Barn

“The remaining lots comprise hundreds of items of automobilia, scores of engines across makes and models from 4 and 6 cylinders to monster V8s, enough classic car spares, car books and original manuals to stock a retail store, and a wide variety of original body parts from bumpers to tail lights.

“The Louis Coetzer Lost Barn Find Collection sale will also mark the inauguration of Creative Rides’ new online-only auction series that will become a regular feature on car collectors’ calendars.”

Derrick says in December 2020, international collectors were introduced to the unassuming Oom Louis’ 50-year automotive affair when Creative Rides held the first of two Coetzer estate sales that together saw 286 remarkable vehicles pass into the hands of a new generation of classic car lovers. 

At the time the Coetzer estate was known to comprise more than 450 vehicles and among the auctioned classics were numerous rare models from one of the world’s largest private collections of Mercs.

But that was before the find last year.

Joff van Reenen, Lead Auctioneer of Creative Rides Classic & Collectibles Auctions, says it’s been an eight-month labour of wonder and love to document and catalogue into 334 lots the immense automotive cache that lay undisturbed for decades.

“It’s difficult to put into words the emotion I felt taking those first steps over the threshold into the dim expanse of a barn at least the size of three tennis courts, and seeing row after row of cars disappearing into the distance like a slumbering regiment awaiting a call to arms.

“As it turned out, more than 200 cars were hidden in the shadows of that barn and subsequently also across several farms near Barkly East in the Eastern Cape – a discovery made more than three years after the untimely passing of Oom Louis and his beloved wife Hermien.”

Twist in the Tale

Van Reenen says like all the best books, this final chapter in the story of Oom Louis’ five decades of quiet but consistent classic car collecting, delivers an astonishing twist.

Chevrolet Brookwood Station Wagon
Chevrolet Brookwood Station Wagon

“The opening lines of the chapter were written in May last year with a call from one of Oom Louis’ three children, Lida van der Merwe, who explained that a routine estate disposal of a remote parcel of Eastern Cape land had suddenly become a lot more complicated.

“Lida said when the decision was made to sell the property, the Coetzer siblings knew an inspection of its rambling barn was warranted. 

“To the Coetzer children raised by a passionate collector who was renowned for turning even mundane routines like afternoon school runs into surprises with a constant parade of exciting and different vehicles parked at the pick-up point, the word ‘barn’ raised suspicions of another cache of cars.

“The Creative Rides team was humbled that Oom Louis’ children opted to put their faith in us again, and we were delighted to accept an invitation to join them in Barkly East.”

Dusty Secrets

Van Reenen describes the moment he first stepped into the barn as “both surreal and staggering”.

“It literally took my breath away stepping over the threshold, sunlight behind me and ahead disappearing into the gloom row after row of cars; all coated in decades of undisturbed dust. I stood speechless for the longest time, blinking to adjust my eyes and thinking over and over that with the next blink this impossible vision would disappear like a mirage.

“That first day, the dust lay so thick that we couldn’t even begin to guess at paint colours, never mind makes or models.

“What was clear, though, was the historic importance of the stunning find. Litte did we know at the time, that this was just the first secret the barn would reveal.”

Pristine Interior
Pristine Interior

Derrick says the true scale and global significance of Oom Louis’ Lost Barn Collection became evident soon after the mammoth cataloguing process began.

“I’d struggle to name a single undiscovered, completely unknown barn collection of this size ever found outside of the United States. It’s crazy; more than 200 cars!

“Collectors don’t know about any of them; they’ve never been on public display.

“And in the auction preparations, we have intentionally left the vehicles in as close to discovery condition as possible so that collectors across the country and the world can appreciate for themselves the historic magnitude of this incredible find.

“It’s taken months of sorting, documenting and research to catalogue the collection for the online sale, which has been as much a privilege as it has a challenge.

“It astonishes me to think that more people have walked on the moon than have had the honour of personally viewing Oom Louis’ Lost Barn Collection in its entirety, and our team is among them.”

Labour of Love

Van Reenen has been the principal barn archivist leading up to the auction, amassing some 5 000 images to create a comprehensive record of the collection as it was found.

“One would think that after the initial thrill of discovery the sense of awe would fade, but it hasn’t. If anything, it’s grown over the months, and the more I’ve seen the more incredible it’s become.

“The highlights of cataloguing the collection are too numerous to list, but one specific memory will stay with me as long as I live, because it was so incongruous and incredible.

“Imagine walking among dozens of cars in the dimness of a huge barn in the middle of nowhere, and as far as the eye can see, decades of dust settled on once shiny paintwork now camouflages glorious design and creates a patina of age.

Chevrolet Nova Convertible
Chevrolet Nova Convertible

“Then, you reach out to open a random door and ‘whoosh’ – you’re hit by a scent wave that scrambles your brain, because your nose and eyes are suddenly at war. By the time you open the third car’s door, your mind finally catches up to your senses and you realise that the ‘whoosh’ is in fact the heady aroma that’s unique to quality leather interiors of new cars – time capsules of scent hidden under layers of grime and preserved untouched for decades.

“I’ve probably auctioned 10 000 cars or more in my 30 years on the block, but this was a first.

“Preparing for this auction has been a Herculean task, but every minute was worth it to bear witness to such a momentous event in automotive collector history.”

Van Reenen says the 10-day, online-only auction will go live on the Creative Rides app at precisely 8am CAT on Monday, March 25th.

“The app is a free download on both iOS and Android. Quick links are also available at www.creativerides.co.za. The app is the only platform on which bids will be accepted and the bidding currency worldwide will be in South African rands (ZAR).

“Classic car lovers should download the app soonest, because it’s also the platform pre-auction on which to view the catalogue, receive auction updates and register to bid.”

Van Reenen says the Louis Coetzer Lost Barn Find Collection auction will close at 8pm CAT on Wednesday, April 3rd, and successful buyers – those with the highest bids at the end of the sale – will be notified the following day.

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