In 1983, Medway, Ohio, residents Robin and Mike Barry purchased the property adjoining theirs for a single reason: Long abandoned and overgrown, it had become an eyesore, along with a potential public health and fire hazard. Clearing the lot and razing the structures would give them a better view, enhance their property value and deliver a premium residential building lot for resale. Even after cataloging the dozen or so classic cars on the lot, the Barrys had no way of knowing that automotive history, in the form of a 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz “Raindrop” prototype once used by Harley Earl, lurked beneath the decades of overgrowth.
As Robin Barry related to us, tracking down the lot’s owner proved to be a challenge. It had been part of a divorce settlement two decades before. The owner’s “crazy ex-husband” had continued to pile junk on the property, in the house and in the barn, long after the marriage was terminated. Content to be rid of the land and the problems associated with it, the woman was eager to strike a deal with the Barrys.
After receiving the keys to the house, Robin and Mike became the first people in 13 years to set foot in the buildings. All 12 rooms of the circa-1873 farmhouse were stacked floor-to-ceiling with magazines and car parts, and the barn was also crammed full of scrap. Enlisting the help of an automotive enthusiast friend, the Barrys took inventory of the vehicles on their newly acquired land, which soon became known as the “Cadillac Ranch” for its trove of Cadillac models and parts.
One such model, stored under the barn’s overhang, seemed to defy description. Missing the front end body work, the convertible boasted a fiberglass rear, and tailfins that were neither from a ’58 nor from a ’59. It lacked the Cadillac Eldorado’s rear fender vents as well, and by all appearances, never carried such ornamentation from the factory. With little time to research individual vehicles, they dug out the mystery Cadillac and dragged it to the edge of the property, where it sat alongside a host of other classic cars.
Time has blurred the details, but Robin remembers that the backyard yielded five Cadillacs, all from the 1940s and 1950s, along with a 1969 Pontiac Firebird convertible, a 1933 Hudson Terraplane, a Snap-On Tools panel van, and other assorted vehicles. Once cut free from trees and bushes, the cars were unceremoniously dragged curbside, where they attracted almost non-stop inquiries from passersby.
One such visitor was Jim Walker, an owner of Walker Brothers Oldsmobile and Cadillac in Dayton, Ohio. Perhaps recognizing the mystery Cadillac as one of the five 1958 Eldorado Biarritz convertible prototypes built, each equipped with a moisture-activated power top, Walker began negotiations on the car, along with five others on display. As Robin puts it, he paid “a hefty price” for the collection, which helped to fund the ongoing work on the property.
Eventually, all of the cars were sold off, and the contents of the house (“worthless and valuable,” in Robin’s words) were sorted. The 4,000 magazines, including a debut copy of Hot Rod, were sold at flea markets, raising enough cash to rewire the house and barn. The sale of other items funded further restoration, and three years after taking over the property, the Barrys sold the renovated house, barn and land for enough money to buy an old farmhouse of their own.
As for the mystery Cadillac, research by later owners showed that the car was almost certainly the one used by Harley Earl, and one of just two examples known to survive today. Partially restored during its time with Jim Walker, the prototype was sold to the Wiseman Collection, which finished the work sometime in 1998. In December of 2007, the Cadillac prototype sold at auction to Paul and Chris Andrews for $330,000, and in May of 2015, it traded hands again for a fee-inclusive price of $324,500.
Robin, whose husband, Mike, passed away in 2005, remembers the reclamation project that ultimately saved the Cadillac, and other cars, with fondness. “The eyesore turned into a darn good investment,” she said, “We did all the work on the place, and I can’t remember ever being that dirty before or after.”
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Kurt Ernst.