Only a car enthusiast would think the US gets shafted in terms of choice in the automotive market — but, then again, only a car enthusiast understands that across the Atlantic and Pacific lie automotive gems like the Nissan Skyline, Land Rover Defender and Lancia Delta that were never sold on American soil. The reason? The US has different standards for safety than the rest of the world — the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) — as well as different emission standards (regulated by the EPA). In order to sell a car here, foreign manufacturers need to bring their cars into compliance with these regulations. But often a manufacturer will determine that bringing a model into compliance with US regulations is too costly and a car won’t sell well enough to make up the expense. Thus, some machinery built abroad stays abroad.
However: It’s common knowledge (among car enthusiasts) that once a car turns 25 years old, it is eligible for importation. That doesn’t mean that a car can just be put on a boat and shipped over to the United States — there’s a procedure in order, and as you can imagine its a complicated and convoluted process. But for those hell-bent on importing a car from overseas, you can ring up Dutch Safari Company, who will help you bring the forbidden car of your dreams right to your door.
Importing a car is nothing like walking into a dealership or following through on a Craigslist inquiry. And part of what makes bringing a car to the US so difficult is the initial purchase. “Imagine you’re trying to sell a $2,500 car on Craigslist, and someone from Poland emails you in broken English and says they want to do a Western Union wire transfer,” says Erica Plumlee, co-founder of Dutch Safari. “[It’s] not going to happen.” Because being taken seriously and avoiding getting ripped off is difficult, Dutch Safari hires people to travel Europe looking for and inspecting the right vehicles for import. “[There’s] lots of driving around tiny towns in the European countryside, shaking hands, hearing stories, inspecting cars. It’s very much a cash-only, on-the-ground sort of thing.”
Dutch Safari Company’s experience in Europe is a serious advantage for customers. “We start by searching online, and then by tapping into our network of contacts,” says Plumlee. “Most of the time the gems are not online.” Dutch Safari’s experience in Europe also makes business transactions go more smoothly. “The nuances of doing business vary considerably in different parts of Europe, so we have to take into consideration the mechanical issues, business customs, and negotiation tactics of each region.” Having someone seeking out cars in person also means they can do inspections, thus making sure the car you’re importing is 100 percent legal. “Legality and originality go hand in hand,” says Plumlee. “If a car looks to be modified from stock, or does not have the period-correct parts, we steer clear.”
“Once your dream Defender is in your driveway and you decide you want an aftermarket winch added, we will get it for you at cost.”
Once a car is acquired, the company will ensure its arrival at a port in Europe before it is bound for the United States. But dealing with the European ports is another matter. The regulations vary from port to port, and if you go through the wrong one you can be put through the wringer. “Some have red tape, some don’t. Some are more expensive than others. Some require documents that others don’t.” Knowing where to go and which ports to avoid can save time, money and headaches.
Once a car has been shipped across the ocean, it’s at the mercy of US Customs. If things aren’t in order at this stage of the game, it could result in your car getting seized. If the car has had sketchy repairs, a VIN swap or an engine/transmission swap, the car won’t make it through Customs. Sometimes you can get away with it, but it isn’t worth taking the chance. “It all depends on what Customs finds, what sort of mood Customs is in, etc.” But even if your car is 25 years old and 100 percent original, there’s still the possibility of seizure if all your paperwork isn’t in order. This includes a bill of sale, a title, a DOT declaration form (HS-7), an EPA form (3520-1) and eventually this all culminates in a Customs release form.
Dutch Safari Company takes care of all of that and will even help you register the car at the DMV which — as if dealing with the DMV weren’t bad enough already — requires translating European documents to English and having the car inspected. But once that’s finished, they will deliver your car to your door. “We aren’t an import company, we are a classic car concierge,” Plumlee says. “That means we are on the phone with the European shippers at 2 a.m…It means that once your dream Defender is in your driveway and you decide you want an aftermarket winch added, we will get it for you at cost. We are accountable throughout the entire experience and are available to help all of the time.”