Car Culture: Redefining the Barn Find

When parents in my rural Michigan town want to raise money for the local school system, they don’t hold a traditional bake sale or car wash.

Instead, they unlock the barns and outbuildings, and haul out their special vehicles for an under-the-radar August car show that’s our modest version of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance or the Woodward Dream Cruise.

car show 2

I think of it as a new spin on the “barn find,” except these aren’t undiscovered derelict classic cars, but exotic and expensive wonders that are kept under the hayloft in farm country for most of the year.

car show 4.jpgThe lineup this summer included about $3 million worth of vehicles, including three Ferraris, two McLarens, a Mercedes-AMG GT, a BMW i8, a Marcos Mantula and an Audi R8. There was a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS Pro Street from a Barrett-Jackson auction, a Fiat 500 Abarth and an Austin-Healey 3000, along with several Porsches and Corvettes.

Showgoers participated in a silent auction that included rides in select cars, including the McLaren 650S.

“Best $20 I spent all summer,” said my neighbor, as she described the rocket-like launch sequence of the McLaren after her ride last weekend.

car show 5.jpgThe little gathering reminds me of the beginnings of the Woodward Dream Cruise in Michigan, which started as a local effort to raise money for a soccer field in Ferndale and has since blossomed into a juggernaut said to be the largest one-day auto event in the world.

Like the upcoming Dream Cruise, our showgoers can get up close and personal with these cars — and families love it.

One mother told me how her little boy got yelled at for accidentally touching a vehicle at a Barrett-Jackson auction as he stood on tiptoe to see the car’s interior. But there was no “hands-off” policy at the neighborhood car show, which is held in a subdivision about 70 miles from Detroit. Toddlers darted among the Ferraris and Corvettes as their parents munched on goat-cheese appetizers. Many owners put signs in the windows of their fancy cars that said: “You are welcome to sit in this vehicle.”

car show 6.jpgThe car show is part of an ambitious attempt to raise $100,000 for a nonprofit group called Excellence 4 Dexter Students. Last year, car-show participants raised $14,000.

The concept is the brainchild of parents who are pushing to hire more math and science teachers, and to “create academic opportunities that are not currently possible.”

Car-themed events clearly are the way to go for parents seeking to raise funds for school programs and don’t want to see their property taxes skyrocket.

car show 7.jpgBesides, who knew that there was such impressive hardware tucked away among the cornfields around here? Most of the time, parents ferry their kids to school in minivans and mundane SUVs. But this tiny hamlet is clearly ground zero for car lovers with deep pockets.

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