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Controversial $2M Maserati Barn Find Restoration Has Infuriated Collectors. Here’s Why

Some said restoring the vintage Maserati was like "sandblasting the Colosseum." The owner says critics can buy their own car.
Gooding & Company, Jonathan Segal

Preservation-class vehicles have recently skyrocketed in popularity and price, with collectors appreciating their hard-earned patina as much as the shiny showroom luster of a time capsule. A 1956 Maserati A6G/54—one of four coachbuilt by Pietro Frua—was one such car when it was discovered in 2014 in a barn in France under a stack of books, its mottled paint and cracked leather interior telling the story of its twisting path through postwar Europe. Now, owner Jonathan Segal is fully restoring the car, driving strong reactions among his fellow collectors and online commenters, with one likening it to “sandblasting the Colosseum” and others calling it “criminal.”

For his part, Segal defended the restoration in a conversation with The Drive, claiming the Maserati wasn’t as original as everyone thought. But ultimately, his message to critics is simple: “Go buy your own car.” The A6G/54 is his to do with as he pleases.

To understand why a restoration could be so shocking, let’s rewind. Maserati unveiled the A6G/54 at the 1954 Paris Motor Show as the final GT version of its first post-war sports car. Featuring a detuned version of the 2.0-liter inline-six engine found in Maserati’s A6GCS race car, the coupe won over onlookers. Parisian entrepreneur Roger Baillon may have been among them, but he didn’t buy the car new. Instead, he purchased this example—chassis 2140—lightly used in 1959.

Baillon apparently had too many cars and too little cash, so he mothballed the Maserati, casually parking it next to a Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider, and sold others to pay off debt. After Baillon’s son, Jacques, died in 2014, a cache of roughly 60 vehicles were auctioned from the Baillon estate at Paris’ Retromobile show. This Maserati and its Ferrari California Spider stablemate (sold for a cool $18.45 million) were among the best-preserved, perhaps owing to the closed barn they lived in rather than being open to the elements. The Maserati, Chassis 2140, with its numbers-matching engine intact, brought $2,223,399 at auction—doubling its pre-sale estimate.

Chassis 2140 (right), as discovered in 2014. Classic Driver, Rémi Dargegen

San Diego-based architect Jonathan Segal was that buyer. Amazingly, it didn’t take much to get it running. “When I got the car back to California, I changed the water, changed the oil, changed the spark plugs, points, and condenser, and the car started. After 20 years in the barn,” he told The Drive. His impulse was to restore it right away, but friends talked him out of it. Segal drove it as-is in the California Mille vintage car rally, displayed it at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este and Concours of Elegance Hampton Court, and received second place in the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Postwar Preservation class.

But later, Segal said the Maserati’s condition deteriorated. “The paint wasn’t even staying on the car anymore, the aluminum was really starting to oxidize and having electrolysis.” It was degrading to the point where it could have become undrivable, he said. Segal offered the car for sale at Gooding and Company’s 2021 Pebble Beach auction, where the listing specifically called out its “irreplaceable unrestored patina.” It generated a pre-auction estimate of around $3 million but failed to change hands.

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Following the auction, Segal learned his preferred restoration shop, RX Auto in Vancouver, B.C. had an opening and decided to seize the moment. “My daughter and I flew up to Vancouver for four days. We’ve taken the car completely down to the chassis.”

On March 23, Segal posted a photo of the Maserati’s metal skeleton with the interior, glass, and several body panels removed to Instagram. A day later, he followed up with a photo of the front drum brake and the Maserati’s bodyshell, completely stripped of its original paint. Then, a video montage showed workers disassembling the interior and carefully lifting the rear bodywork off of the car’s frame. Some commenters were enthusiastic about the progress. Others weren’t. “Makes me physically sick that this car is being restored … destroying history!” “Why show it as a preservation find at Pebble then go now and do a typical over-restoration?” Several expressed confusion: “I don’t get why Jonny did this. He had done exactly what was needed until then,” and indignation: “It’s like erasing an Old Master down to the base paint and then ‘restoring’ it.”

Tom Hale is a founding partner at Morton Street Partners, a New York-based gallery and advisory firm that treats collectible cars as drivable works of contemporary art. He specializes in handcrafted rare European racing cars and other vehicles with historic and artistic significance, according to the firm’s website. In a series of Instagram stories, Hale voiced his displeasure with chassis 2140’s restoration, calling it “criminal,” and saying “everyone who respects preservation should be talking about this.” When The Drive reached out to him for comment, he had more to say:

It’s a lesson as old as time. Significant artifacts and highly meaningful points of reference in history continue to be lost, even by the best intentions. To be clear, I am not against restorations, and recognize that patina, preservation, and originality can exist in many forms. In this case, the owner might not even be blamed, as this exemplifies a systemic problem. In the concours circuit, you are rewarded for the shiniest object, and the cost of erasing history is too easily overlooked. However, when we see clear evidence of taking such an intensely rare car and obliterating that preservation, that originality, it vanishes into thin air. We’re at a point in history where the preservation of these artifacts truly matters,” he wrote.

Hale says he commented publicly on the restoration because “someone has to start the conversation,” and he’s received an outpouring of support. “This is about changing times, changing mentalities, and the generational challenging of the status quo,” he concluded. Comments and replies to Hale’s stories speculated that Segal was looking for more money after the car reportedly failed to sell in 2021 and that he hoped a Concours trophy with a restored car would help him secure the price he was looking for. Hale is neutral to the individual comments, which he says he reposted to share the unprecedented response.

Segal sees things differently. He’s been collecting vintage Italian sports cars for 15 years or more, starting with a Ferrari 250 GT Lusso and then moving to Maseratis. But Segal’s introduction to the marque was less than stellar. After he bought his first Maserati at an RM auction in London around 2008, he found it to be not as represented. “It was supposed to be frame-off restored, ready to go—and it was poorly done. The engine was burning oil, [the] transmission didn’t work, brakes didn’t work. It was horrible.” But Segal didn’t throw in the towel. He restored that car and took it to Pebble Beach in 2012, winning his class as a rookie.

That experience got him hooked on Maserati, specifically the rare A6G models of which the brand only built 61. He’s since owned several, including a Frua Spyder, a Zagato-bodied coupe, and this one-of-four Frua coupe. Segal enjoys restoring the cars, doing everything except bodywork with the help of his children.

While taking the Baillon car apart, he claims to have learned the car wasn’t original when he got it. The front and rear of the car were apparently hit at some point early, and Segal believes Frua updated the car’s front end with a concave grille and its rear end with new rear fenders and taillights for a more modern look. After Baillon bought the car in 1959, Segal thinks a tree might have fallen on the roof, triggering the Frenchman to repaint it from black to robin’s-egg blue. Photos of chassis 2140 from the 1956 Paris Auto Salon and a 2018 article by UK Maserati expert Andy Heywood corroborate that account. “I aim to improve the car and the heritage of the car. We’re trying to make it proper and back to exactly how it was when it was in the Auto Show,” Segal says.

But to some, that’s beside the point. The Maserati’s unrestored condition and the alterations made early in its history were just as much a part of its story as the show-car form—especially if those modifications had Frua pedigree. As vintage cars are increasingly treated (and traded) like art, rare survivor examples may come with an implied duty of preservation—or, at least, require a thick skin from their owners.

Segal sees parallels between his work as an architect and his hobby. By building and managing his own projects, he says he likes to analyze and improve on objects as they’re being created. Once the Maserati’s restoration is complete, he says his goal is simple: Go back to Pebble, and win—critics be damned. “They can have their own opinion. That’s fine. Go buy your own car and do your own [restoration].”

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