Editorial Features

Trusting Tom Cotter With Detroit’s Lost Cars, in Motor City Barn Finds

by | Aug 29, 2017

Motor City Barn Finds

Author: Tom Cotter

Photographer: Micahel Alan Ross

Publisher: Motor Books

Price: $35.00 / £24.99

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Recently, someone asked me to recommend a book to car enthusiasts. I wracked my brain but, unable to put a finger on a specific work that rose above the rest, I simply said, Tom Cotter. Cotter, a man who has driven thousands of miles in search of the next great barn find or hidden secret of Americana Automobilia, has proven his worth through many great books. He gets it right again, in Motor City Barn Finds, and with a book that explores the hidden but all-too-lively car universe of the city built on cars, the pressure is high.

Of course, we should know by now that we can trust Tom Cotter’s expertise, easy-going personality and choice of photographer to properly capture a universe we may never get to explore first hand. Alongside photographer Michael Alan Ross, Cotter delves deep into the barn find and automotive scene of Detroit. And, like the automotive archaeologist he calls himself, they strike gold.

Unlike the research in his other barn find books, Cotter and Ross actually remain in one city for the duration of their stay, affording them a unique opportunity to follow up on local leads, explore Detroit’s many automotive landmarks and skeletons and the chance to simply be patient, to hear what the folks around them have to say about cars, racing, restoration and life in Motor City.

With his folksy, personal story-telling skills, there is little wonder why people from all ilk open their barn doors, their garage gates and their backyards to a man whose love for the history of the car is pervasive and undeniable on every page. And Cotter invites us into those backyards with him, sharing photos from Cars and Coffees, and stories about everything from kit cars to hidden family Ferraris. We are introduced to Tuckers and hot rods alike, as Cotter and Ross sit back and allow Detroit to tell its story.

And Ross, just like Cotter, is undeniably brilliant at capturing the essence of these cars and their owners. With a gritty, real feel, the photography expertly highlights bright colors and patina, both on the cars and the city itself. Especially haunting are the interior photographs of abandoned and decrepit car factories, once hubs of industry and luxury, and now left to the elements and the city’s whims.

And yet, despite all outward circumstances and appearances, Cotter does not allow himself to fall into the trap of bemoaning Detroit’s fate, as if the deal is sealed. He navigates the tricky waters of the city’s history as expertly as he does the yellow Woody, shipped in from Maine. By the end of the book, we have seen Detroit through the eyes of a car enthusiast, through many eyes of many car enthusiasts, old and young, knowledgeable and curious.

And we end on a sense of hope as well, because Cotter creates a narrative, a weaving arc of passion and positivity that leaves the reader feeling as though Detroit itself might be a sort of barn find, rusty and a little worse-for-wear, but with a value based on history, beauty and innovation beneath, one that has every potential of coming back to the fore.

If you are a fan of automotive history, culture or pictures of great classic cars, or if you only get the chance to read up one of Cotter’s many gorgeous, powerful works, Motor City Barn Finds is the one to pick.