Tom Cotter meets an engineering genius with a thing for British cars | Barn Find Hunter

by Hagerty
20 November 2020

Rare cars are nothing new to Tom Cotter and the Barn Find Hunter team, but how do the intrepid explorers find all the rare and exotic machines they share with us? The same way that you could – by getting to know the locals when you’re a stranger in town.

That’s what plays out in the latest episode of Barn Find Hunter. Tom sips coffee and talks cars with welcoming faces at a cars and coffee gathering, and soon enough he is onto a lead.

That lead is actually more of an invitation that steers him to collection of a dozen cars, all owned by Fred Puhn who, it transpires, has spent much of his life designing and engineering sports cars and racing cars in San Diego, California.

Take for example the home-built racer powered by a Hillman Imp four-cylinder engine with 90bhp. The 1970 ‘Quasar’ racing car weighs in at only 365kg with all fluids on board, an absurd number achieved by the intensive use of aluminium in the construction process.

The car’s engine was paired with a six-speed Hewland gearbox, and was bought from Alan Fraser of the Alan Fraser Racing Team. Based in Hildenborough, Kent, Alan Fraser was something of a legend when it came to preparing and campaigning the Sunbeam Rapier and, later, the Hillman Imp. So much so, word of his reputation reached racing circles in America, which is how Fred Puhn came to deal with the British outfit.

The real find of the collection is hidden beneath a blue cover. Tom’s favourite game while out on the road is to try and guess what’s underneath a car cover only by feel. This one proves to be a challenge. With a rollbar standing proud over the left-hand seat and a shape that’s similar to a few other cars, Tom narrows it down by asking questions about what powers it and where it was produced. In the end he gives up and pulls the cover off without guessing correctly. A rare Santee SS (with Buick 215 aluminium V8) greets him, one of just three examples ever made. The 1963 roadster was designed to take on the mighty AC Cobra, but the company went under during the recession of 1964.

Last but by no means least, a Morris Minor Traveller reveals itself from beneath a rolled-back car cover. Owned by Tom’s wife for about 50 years, it was bought for her by Fred just after they married.

As is often the case, Fred the friendly owner is advancing in his years and feels the time is right to slim down his collection. It comes to all of us, of course. Hopefully the rare cars can go to a good home and be brought back to life for future generations to enjoy.

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  • Ms. Terry Clark says:

    Dear Tom Cotter,,
    Fred Puhn, my brother, passed away on Friday, May 13, 2022. I was reading your article of 20 November 2020. He will be missed.

    • James Mills says:

      Terry, our thoughts are with you, your family and Fred’s family and friends. We so enjoyed hearing of his story and the cars he brought to life.

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