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Importing the American Classics

Importing the American Dream Published: 26th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Importing the American Classics
Importing the American Classics
Importing the American Classics
Importing the American Classics
Importing the American Classics
Importing the American Classics
Importing the American Classics One of the inevitable forms
Importing the American Classics
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In the late 80s, there was a flood of cars imported from the USA. With the spotlight now switching to Japan, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Stateside market has nothing left to offer. Wrong! There are still loads of bargain classics out there, but how do you go about taking advantage of them? Jeff Bailey has the answers

What classic do you want?


If you want an American car – which can be great value - the choice is only limited by your budget. Choose from the fifties be-chro m e d monsters, through the late sixties ponycars to the nineties technocars. Note the absence of the eighties – it was a dismal period in American car history when the industry lostits way. The benefit of buying an American car in its home country is that it will have been looked after by garages that fully understands it: and that is good news. One advantage of going there in person is that you can search out a wealth of rare and classic machinery that would be impos- sible to locate in the UK. Not only that, you can be choosy as there is something there for everybody. First-timers should stick to the tried and tested popularmodels such as the classic Mustang, Firebird, Trans-Am and Corvette. These have a very good following in the UK and not only will it be straightforward to obtain parts, it shouldn’t be painful come resale time. When looking for these, make sure you only entertain fully loaded versions. Avoid lesser-known cars such as Lincolns and Plymouths unless you are an American car buff, as these are difficult to obtain parts for back in the UK and have only a limited market appeal overhere, making them difficult to sell. On a recent trip to Texas I went searching for a classic and here were some actual examples of such cars for sale (conversion rate $1.90/£)

All these were totally rust-fre e and viewed in dealers in Dallas and Fort Worth. The most amazing thing about all of these was the fantastic detailing and the obvious care taken by previous owners. It must be said that there were many cheaper examples in the classifieds, but experience tells they tend not to be top-flight cars. The chief thing to watch when buying in a ‘dry’ state is the effect of the sun.Whilst it sure keeps the rust at bay, it can play havoc searing the paintwork and trim but thankfully this will be pretty obvious to any potential buyer! It needn’t put you off a basically sound car if the price is right.


The other potential treasure chestis the classic car market and there’s a huge selection to choose from. The comments regarding rust and sun still apply, but remember some of these cars will be over 20 years old and condition, as ever, drives the price. Some of the actual examples seen in Dallas/Fort Worth are as follows, giving a guide to what you can expect to pay for popular models: Curiously, Mercedes models seem to be very expensive out there, with a 1988 560SL at £17,000 and 1970 280SE coupe at £20,000. This, coupled with the left hand drive situation renders them uneconomic. Similarly, Beetle convertibles were scarce at anything under £7500 having achieved something of a cult status in the US.

Finding them

So, the cars are out there, but how to find them? Once you have chosen the sort of car you want, the next step is to track it down. This is actually easier than it sounds thanks to the growth of the internet and magazines such as Autotrader. It would be impossible in this article to include the many web a d d resses, but a good place to begin is the nationwide publication, Old Car Trader. The wealth of juicy pickings here is amazing and they even have a web site, www. traderonline. Com w h e re it is possible to search not just the old stuff, but also contemporary models. The sister magazine, A u t o t r a d e r, has the newer Americans, too and can be found at www. These will give a good idea of what is available and where, but as before, it is best to stick to the dry states. There are some sites that specialise in certain marques – Corvettes are particularly well served. Tr y www. proteam- corvette. com for a particularly good selection. If you don’t have access to the internet, don’t worry. Many larger city centre book stores and newsagents in the UK will stock Hemmings Motor News, which again is a States-wide publication and features older cars and classics.

Getting there

Once you have located your dream car, what next? Do you go over and view it, incurring air and hotel costs, or do you get someone to look at it on your behalf? The easy answer is do it yourself, especially if it is a private sale. However, it is recommended that you look at larger dealer stock as they will have a reputation to protect and you will have someone to talk to if there are any problems. T h e re have been some horro r stories of people buying on description alone (yes, really!) and getting severely blowtorched in the process. Most people who personally import their car treat it as a busman’s holiday at the same time, there b y mitigating the flight and hotel costs. In any case, it is possible to keep these to a minimum by choosing the best time to go. November, December and January are top months to get a cheap flight. £250 should be possible to destinations in Florida, for example. Hotels need not cost too much, either.
Try the Howard Johnson national chain – they are very reasonably priced where it is possible to get a double room for £25 a night in some areas. Their web site provides more details at

Dealing with the natives

OK, once you’re there and ready to view your heart’s desire, you’re now about to start dealing with some very good salespeople, so it helps to understand what dealing with US dealers/individuals actually entails, what kind of psychology to use, and what to do – and what not to do. First and foremost, take your time. Check everything you want and don’t be hurried. Ascertain the car’s history and ask for sight of the registration document or “title”. When you are sure the car is the condition and specification you require, with the correct history, you are ready to barter…and believe me, the Americans just love it! You can, too, because it takes only a bit of tenacity and daring to come away with a “win-win” deal. The rules are; know what you want to spend, stick to it and unless the car is a rarity, go elsewhere if you can’t get the deal you want - and make sure the dealer knows this; they will certainly be aware of the fact you can spend your hardearned at his competitors so most will be likely to deal. As a general rule, expect to be able to knock off at least 10 per cent from the asking price; play hardball, but make sure you have done your price homework first! When the deal is struck, a
deposit will generally be asked for – usually at least $500 and it will be expected in cash. The balance can be wired through using international money transfer, costing between £20 and £50 depending on your bank. Obtain a receipt and invoice for the deal and then set about arranging getting it home.

Shipping it

Most reputable dealers will have a shipping connection, but if you prefer, you can arrange this from this end in the UK. I spoke to Ray Hyland, an import agent at Anjon Freight in Liverpool who has years of experience with importing yanks and he says they use correspondent shippers in the US that they trust and it costs no more to do it this way. There are two ways of shipping: The first is by container and if this option is taken with the wholecontainer for one car FCL (Full Container Load), it could cost £1500. The other container option is ‘groupage’. This means the container is shared with other items and is therefore cheaper. How much cheaper depends upon the number of other items, but the shipper can advise on this. Finally, there is Roll on-Roll-off and this means literally the car is on deck for the journey. Apart fro m being four weeks at sea open to the elements, this can actually be a better bet than a container. Ray says that most claims he has seen originate from cars moving around in the container, so recommends RoRo – it just means a filthy car on arrival! The cost of RoRo is around £500. T h e re ’s one more item that is indispensable; insurance. For a c o m p rehensive marine policy covering the complete journey from the dealer to the UK dock on a car valued at £12,000, it will cost in the region of £250, but if you opt for just fire and theft cover that reduces to £60. The shippers can arrange this, or it can be arranged d i rect with a reputable commercial insurance bro k e r.

The Tax man

The rules on duty and VAT are complex and there is not enough space to go into every detail here , but this is the general rule:

For cars under 20 years old, take the purchase price, add shipping and insurance costs, then add 10 per cent import duty and then 17.5 per cent VAT on the lot.

For cars over 20 years old, there is no duty payable and it may be possible to levy a “nominal” VAT f i g u re, say five per cent, but each case is on its merits. If you have such a car in mind, check with the UK shipping agent or C&E so you can budget correctly. Ray advises it is possible to pre - agree the VAT with C&E on any car before you go, which could save arguments later if it is a borderline case. Obviously, this makes such cars very attractive – the concours ’67 Mustang 289 convertible in our ist above starts to look good value at about £9500 fully landed in the UK – and the RHD MG TD at £7000 looks even better.

Type approval and MOT

Now it’s here and the duties are paid, what more needs to be done? The SVA type approval test has to be carried out next. Basically, this is a t h o rough MOT-type test and the rules are quite complex. It is amazing how many testing centres are still unsure of the rules. You need to get it done properly or risk getting attention from the police. Basically, all cars coming in from outside the EC under three years old on a personal import are subject to this stringent test (10 years old if imported as a business). Outside these parameters a straightforward MOT must be carried out, but in either case, lighting and emissions must be brought up to UK regulations. Detailed rules can be obtained from the DVLC.

In the case of American cars, emissions are not a problem as most have one or two catalysts as stand a rd. It’s the lighting that can be tricky, depending on the model. The red indicators have to go as do the interrupter lights (brake lights and indicators all in one). Rear fog lights have to be fitted as do side indicators. Specialists charge around £450 for this service to MOT standard, so it needn’t be the big problem it seems and older British classics should need very little work. American Car Imports in Wood Green, London is highly experienced in SVA regulations and it’s well worth a chat with them if you’re thinking of importing a Yank.

Registering it

Once you have the vital SVA and MOT, all that’s necessary is a registration form V55/5 from the DVLA and send or visit in person, along with VAT form 414A, the customs certificate, MOT, i n s u r a n c e certificate and a cheque for the road tax. Got all that? U s u a l l y, they will not need to inspect the car and will issue a registration number there and then, meaning a quick trip to Halfords for new plates and then you’re driving your dream, satisfied in the knowledge that you did it all yourself!

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