Why might a classic car buyer want to purchase a car from Australia, Russia or Eastern Europe? In the case of the former, right-hand drive and a kinder climate have an obvious appeal. Furthermore, the Australian market was offered variants of cars unknown to the rest of the Commonwealth – who wouldn’t want the likes of an Austin Lancer, Morris Major or Leyland P76, for example?
Parallel imports may also interest the enthusiast who wants to take advantage of the exchange rate: Something sought after, such as a solid MkII Ford Escort two-door – could until very recently be bought for a lower price than an equivalent UK example. The other great alternative in this regard – South Africa – appears to be holding steady.
Russian and Eastern Europe represent a much smaller niche of the old car world. The products of the Soviet Union and former satellite states are well-regarded by a small group of aficionados – as demonstrated by the popularity of shows like Oktoberfest and Cold War Classics.
In late August 2014 the Australian Federal Government (AFG) concluded its review into the domestic car industry after Ford, Holden and Toyota closed factories across the country. Looking at neighbouring New Zealand’s model, proposals were made to relax the strict quotas preventing secondhand vehicles coming into Australia from overseas.
Advocates of the scheme argued that it would broaden the choice of vehicles open to the public, while its detractors worried about Australia becoming a ‘dumping ground’ for poor quality vehicles that would hit the depressed used car market even further. Under the guidelines that remain under the 2003 Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme (SEVS), fans of pre-1989 classics in Australia are still unable to bring said vehicles home with them; after that date, certain cars are allowed in from a pre-approved list. Suddenly, paying Notification of Vehicle Arrival (NOVA) fees doesn’t seem quite as depressing.
If it’s difficult for an Australian enthusiast to acquire an exotic vehicle, how hard is it for his or her British equivalent to get a car out? Although the export process is relatively painless, the days of cheap, rust-free classics ‘Down Under’ have long gone. “Things were very different two-and-a-half years ago, before the Australian dollar strengthened”, collector Nigel Bickle recalls. His love for the obscure and unloved has taken him all over the world in search of classics for his fleet. In 2012 Nigel found a mint, unrestored Fiat 124 estate from 1968 – for the Australian equivalent of £300. Obviously the roll-on, roll-off shipping fees added to the cost, but for what it was, the car was incredibly cheap. “Now” Nigel laments, “everyone’s cashed in what they could. Anything of interest has been exported back. All the decent, rust-free cars are staying put and are jealously guarded– because the SEVS rules put paid to any chance of bringing a similar car back from Europe. The cars you do see for sale are very expensive.”
Nigel insists that New Zealand is the venue of choice for anyone seeking out a rust-free, right-hand drive classic – particularly Datsuns and Fiats from the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies. Although facilities like the jaw-dropping scrapyards of Horopito are rare, bargains are still out there. Unlike Australia, New Zealand allows larger numbers of imported secondhand and ‘specialist’ (classic) vehicles – meaning vendors have a more realistic appraisal of value, even if they are hanging on to their everyday cars for longer.
What then, of the former ‘Iron Curtain’? A number of historically significant vehicles were rescued from the former Soviet Union in the ‘Noughties. Notably discoveries included a cache of pre-war Auto Unions in the Ukraine, a VW38 Beetle prototype in Lithuania and the only known surviving Toyota AA, found near Vladivostok in Russia. Given the scale of the territory and the sheer number of cars and equipment repatriated after the Second World War, who knows how many more long-lost cars remain hidden there?
For Nigel Bickle, owner of numerous obscure classics, the Eastern Bloc remains ripe for the picking. Despite Russian plans to introduce a scrappage scheme for cars over six years old, our man is unconcerned. In many ways the situation is similar to the one in Morocco, which began incentivising new Renault vans over the traditional Mercedes W124 taxis; getting cars out of Russia would be similarly difficult, if not more so: “The distances involved are vast and the transport infrastructure just isn’t there. Then there’s the back-handers involved, and the innumerable layers of bureaucracy you have to get through. Bringing a car back from Russia isn’t something you can do from your computer at home”, confirms Nigel. “I haven’t bought parts from Russia in at least five years”, he adds.
So, if a certain number of classics going to the scrapheap in Russia isn’t worth the hassle, what of the satellite states? “Much better,” reckons Nigel. Poland, Georgia and the Ukraine (despite on-going political struggles) are relatively easy to collect a car from. “In many cases, you simply drive back”, he says. “Take Poland for example. You pay for a year’s insurance there and then. As Poland is part of the EU, and because of differing legislation, a valid certificate means the car is insured for anyone to drive it around Europe. Then, fill in the NOVA declaration within a fortnight (which is easier with the registration documents) and send Revenue and Customs as much paperwork as possible with a written declaration of the car’s value” advises Nigel.
While local laws may change, it’s refreshing to know that alternative sources remain.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have you imported a car from Russia, the Eastern Bloc, or further afield? We’d love to hear of your exploits, pitfalls and red tape notwithstanding. Whatever your views or experiences, leave us your story below.