If you love cars like we do, there’s almost certainly some forbidden automotive fruit that’s always piqued your curiosity from across the pond. Perhaps it’s from a brand not sold here. Maybe it’s a specific model or body style. Could be an engine choice or manual transmission option we didn’t get. Whatever the car or reason, you’ve always wanted one. Well, it’s not completely out of the question.
Importing a car is definitely possible and not as expensive as we originally thought. After some research into shipping, tariffs, entry fees, importer paperwork, final destination in the United States, etc. we found that $5,000 was perfectly reasonable and possibly more than you’d need. That’s not cheap, but when you consider you otherwise can’t get the car at all and that used car prices in Europe sure seem cheaper than here, it’s really not that bad. (The Autopian recently did a solid breakdown of it all.)
As such, I’m giving our editors $30,000 to import a car from Europe, with $5,000 automatically earmarked for shipping. Essentially, they can spend $25,000 fake American or, at current exchange rates, 23,596 fake Euros, 20,427 fake British pounds, 22,747 Swiss fake Francs, 274,027 fake Swedish Kroner, 577,372 fake Czech Koruny (that would’ve sounded more impressive) or … you get the idea.
Why only Europe? Basically, we’ll do Japan some other time. Maybe Australia? Seemed easier to keep it localized a bit.
- Must be built more than 25 years ago, which is the minimal requirement for importing a car into the United States. So, basically 1998 or earlier.
- It must actually be for sale somewhere in Europe, including Great Britain.
- You don’t need to spend everything
- If you spend more than $25,000, your new car will be dumped overboard mid-sail
Citroen CX 2.5 GTi Turbo 2
Senior Editor James Riswick: If I were to import a car for real, it would probably be something like a Saab 9000 that you could technically buy here, but that you’d have an easier chance finding in better condition with manual transmission or more interesting color in Europe. For this exercise, though, that seems boring. And there’s absolutely nothing about the Citroen CX that’s boring. As Doug DeMuro so perfectly labels it in this thorough overview of the CX, it is “amazingly quirky and weird.” From the design, which is so clearly a “modern” reinterpretation of the DS, to the most basic controls (the door handles are a trigger, the turn signals a little toggle button), it would provide endless opportunities to explain to friends, neighbors and strangers all the delightful indiosyncracies of my delightfully French car. There’s also the hydropneumatic suspension. Besides providing a wafting ride, it was self-leveling and height-adjustable to four heights, from “slammed” to “Outback Wilderness.” Admittedly, there’s an awful lot I don’t know about this car (including why values are so wildly different), which means it’s difficult to know exactly which model year or trim level I’d want difficult. A newer version from the mid ’80s onward seems like a good idea, though, and I have to imagine a trim level dubbed “GTi Turbo 2” with 166 hp is more up my alley than the “2.0 Pallas” with 106. I went with this one. Bonjour mon faux ami!
Rover P6 3500S
Senior Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski: This is basically a British muscle sedan, powered by Rover’s 3.5-liter aluminum V8 engine (derived from an original Buick design) and rear-wheel drive. It was quite technologically advanced when it hit the scene in the early 1960s, with unit construction and high-tech suspension designs front and rear. It was also an extremely comfortable cruiser that was surprisingly capable when the road gets twisty. The example I went with is in a lovely shade of red with a black leather interior and a manual transmission. It’s the desirable 3500S edition, which sat at the top of the range for performance-minded buyers. It’s kind of strange for most cars, but the trunk-mounted (sorry, boot-mounted) spare tire is both an oddity and a desirable feature for these cars. As an added bonus, its price of less than 14,000 euros means I have some money left over to make sure it’s in tip-top shape.
Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG Wagon
Associate Editor Byron Hurd: This actually ended up being a lot harder than I initially expected. It’s easy to spend $25,000 on a used car this old from Europe, but most of my ideal candidates were sold either here or elsewhere, and hey, pulling an unobtainable Japanese import through Europe is a totally valid strategy for real life, but it’s not the point of this challenge. But after a couple hours of browsing, I had a bit of an epiphany: this is Europe we’re talking about. I should pick a wagon.
So here we are. While both the C43 AMG sedan and the C-Class wagon were both sold here (and in the case of the C43, continues to be), the Venn diagram never overlapped. There’s no stick, sure, but even by today’s standards, a 300-horsepower compact wagon is plenty punchy. And V8 noises too? Oh yeah. That’s the stuff.
Volkswagen Type 2 Camper
Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: This 1977 camper would look good in the garage next to my ’74 Beetle, and would be more comfortable to sleep in (yes, I’ve slept in the Bug). Its 1.6-liter air-cooled engine boasts a full 50 horsepower, and might even do 0-60. As tempting as it would be to get a first-gen bus, this one is already equipped for habitation. That Porsche Service livery is pretty unique, too. I’m sure Jeremy Korzeniewski would approve of this decision. He might even have some spare parts to offer me. I could probably find one Stateside, but I’ve got free euros in this exercise, and just look at this thing.
1982 Alfa Romeo GTV6
Managing Editor Greg Rasa: Yes, you can buy an Alfa GTV6 in the States. (Cars that can be found in the U.S. were a bit of a problem for this assignment — I found a dandy Volvo P1800E with a 10/10 interior that was barely within our budget, but we have those here too. Ditto some Defenders and Jags.) But I’ve never seen a British Racing Green GTV6 until now, and that’s because this car was rebuilt from the ground up 30 years ago by Chaparral Motorsport in England, one of about 15 Alfas it did up this way. There’s a video about the car’s history if you’re interested — the video presenter doesn’t like the wheels or body cladding, but I like them fine. The stylish cream-and-green leather interior (“British Connolly hide with Wilton carpets”) is also quite nice, and the GTV6’s head-turning style is augmented by Chaparral’s mods. The fact this particular Alfa is right-hand drive has some appeal. It would be cooler to have a RHD car be British, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of importing an old car from Europe, RHD adds that exotic touch. A rebuilt 3.0 V6 was installed in the 1991 overhaul with upgraded components, with a claimed 210 horsepower. Suspiciously, the car isn’t started in the video, but the presenter said he heard it run “on a jury-rigged fuel system.” It apparently sat for decades, so maybe that means … rusty fuel tank? Or worse, who knows.
But above all, the green is awesome. Picked it for that alone. Though yes, the restoration is showing its age.
The bidding site suggests its value is somewhere around £12,000, or under $15,000. That means money left over for repairs, and this being an Italian car, it’ll undoubtedly need it.