Sunday Times, Oct 24th, 2004.
Cars like the new Mustang are a roaring bargain in the US. Emma Smith explains how to import some cut-price hot metal.
You may have noticed the price quoted on the previous page for the Mustang Jay Leno was enjoying. It was not a misprint. In America this iconic sports car costs just $19,410 for the V6 version — that’s £10,610 at last week’s exchange rate. In other words £385 less than the cheapest Vauxhall Astra over here. Even the full-blooded V8 Mustang costs $24,995 or £13,667 — £1,623 less than the cheapest Ford Mondeo.
It is far from the only bargain enjoyed by American drivers. The latest Chevrolet Corvette, another US legend, starts from as little as $44,245 or £24,186. Even the mighty Dodge Viper with 500bhp — enough to rival a Ferrari — starts at $85,295 (£46,627).
So now you are probably asking yourself how you can get your hands on a Mustang. There are two ways. First and simplest is to buy from a specialist importer. Ford is not planning to make the car in right-hand drive and is not going to import it into Britain. However, independent importers have sniffed an opportunity and are taking orders.
Kent Car Imports is offering the cheapest V6 Mustang for £18,866 and the V8 version for £22,735. American Car Imports quotes £39,995 for the cheapest Corvette and £72,500 for the Dodge Viper.
Mike Etherington is one of those determined souls who wasn’t about to let 3,000 miles of ocean stand in the way of him and his dream motor. “I’d managed to buy a Jeep Grand Cherokee from a dealer in the UK, but after a few months I hated it,” says the 41-year-old publisher and father of two from Basingstoke, Hampshire. “It’s actually quite small, and with the kids kicking the back of the driver’s seat I was more determined than ever to get my hands on a decent 4×4.”
Step forward the giant 5.4 litre, eight-seater Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer, the car of Etherington’s dreams, which is only available in America. Mike spoke to Driving back in March this year as he prepared to import the vehicle. How did he get on?
“The car is sitting outside and I love it,” he says. “It can seem daunting if it’s the first time you are doing it, but it was no trouble. I ordered it on April 16 and was driving it on June 4 — my birthday.”
The car was priced at $39,894 (£21,835) in America. After all the import duties and taxes its on-the-road cost in England was £29,723. Etherington has also created a website — www.import-car.info — to help others do the same. Here are the basics of how it’s done.
Before you start, get hold of a copy of the DVLA’s car import pack, a free guide which includes information on all the forms you will need as well as a list of useful telephone numbers.
Etherington bought his car in person while on a trip to Boston, but you can simply ring a dealer to arrange the purchase, and move funds via a bank transfer. Cars bought for immediate export avoid US sales tax.
Next you need to arrange shipping. Many companies will organise collection from the dealer and delivery to the American port for you. Try the Shippers 2000 website for prices. Shipping insurance is essential and often charged at 1.5% of the cost of the vehicle.
When the ship arrives in the UK the transport company should oversee the disembarking but will charge an extra fee for removal, storage and paperwork. The biggest costs will be VAT and import duty. This duty is set at 10% of the value of the car, including shipping and insurance. The VAT is then calculated at 20% of the total value of the car including shipping, insurance and import duty.
The next step is to make sure the vehicle passes the Single Vehicle Approval (SVA) test, introduced in 1998 to make sure all non-European vehicles conform to British road safety standards. It includes a string of minor adjustments such as fitting separate rear indicators and second indicator bulbs on the side of the car.
The test itself costs £150 plus VAT, and it is best to consult a specialist garage in advance such as Mildenhall Auto Centre (MAC) in Suffolk (www.mildenhallautocentre.co.uk, 01638 713 962), to find out the cost of the modifications the car will need. An average bill at MAC comes to about £600-650, including parts, labour and VAT. Most customers do not bother converting to right-hand drive as this would add thousands of pounds.
Finally, as with any other vehicle, you’ll need to register and tax the car. For Etherington, delivery to port worked out at £316, shipping £656 (including insurance), dock handling and customs clearance cost £115, duty £2,318 and Vat £4,483. The SVA conversions were given as a birthday present by MAC for advertising its service on his website.
The American Auto Club International (www.aacint.com, 08700 683 447), an enthusiasts’ club based in Shropshire, also offers advice. Board member Steve Shane, 52, from Rugby, recently imported a two-year-old Chevrolet Camaro SS. “It was absolutely no trouble,” says Shane. “The only problem I had was because someone left the lights on so the car had a dead battery when it arrived.”