Did you ever wonder how difficult it would be to drive and import oldtimer/classic cars in other parts of the world? This will be a series of articles on searching, buying and importing a (Japanese) classic to the Netherlands. Will it be harder, or easier than in the US; or other parts of the world? How expensive will it be? What are the rules and laws? Here’s the first part: finding the car worth all the trouble.
A little introduction to the Dutch laws and legal stuff:
The Netherlands used to be very oldtimer- and import-friendly. The law stated that any vehicle older than 25 years would become tax-free. So no more monthly or yearly taxes – ever again. That law was based on the idea that a particular car would’ve brought in taxes for the government for 25 years, and that was enough. But there was a big loophole in that law. What about imports which are older than 25 years? Those never brought any income to the Dutch government, but according this law; they would be tax-free anyway.
The Dutch government realized their mistake, but left it like it was. They thought that people with oldtimers wouldn’t drive big distances anyway, and would never use such cars as dailies. Man, did they make a huge mistake… Car imports (especially US Classics) grew like never before. Import companies were founded like never before. People realized that they could drive very cheap all year round if they bought a car that was more than 25 years old.
The Dutch vehicle taxing system is based on the weight of the vehicle, the purpose, and the fuel. They used to be called “road taxes,” and the weight was involved because the government said heavier vehicles wore the roads down more than light vehicles. Fuel was involved because they said that people with diesel and LPG cars would drive a lot more than people with gasoline cars. Simply because the fuel was cheaper. [Hear that, US gearheads? Diesel is cheaper in Europe. Go figure. -BD]
Today, you can get a qualifying, 25+ year old car from the late 80’s; some of which could be used as daily driver quite easily. A lot of them are already equipped with air conditioning, cruise control, power steering, central locking, and so on. More important; a lot of them are VERY reliable and the engine longevity begins improving. As a result, a lot of people decided to just buy 80’s cars and use them as dailies.
That didn’t go unnoticed by the Dutch government. They decided to change the law. The government at that time decided every Dutch car would have to get a little computer in their car, that knew exactly how many miles the car drove every day. That was calculated at the end of the month, and the driver would get a tax bill in the mail. They called it “pay per km/mile.”
The government fell, and that idea never made it into reality. But since they already expected that, they quickly changed another law. From 1987 on, vehicles would ever become tax-free anymore. And, more important, vehicles imported from 2012 on would never become tax-free either. Not even if the car is from 1920. This will result in massive tax costs for those particular vehicles.
And this is the start of MY story.
I decided to grab the last chance I would get to import a classic, just before the end of 2011, and be able to have a very cheap car on the side. I’m not planning on using it as a daily, only in good weather. With the current laws, that means I only have to pay insurance for it, which results in about €125 (US$170) a year. That’s all!!
Importing a car from within the European Union (EU) is a joke as well. I estimate the costs at +/- €200 (US$275), mainly just paper work. The technical side of the car won’t be checked, because it’s from an EU country. Only the VIN and such will be checked.
At first, I really wasn’t sure what to buy.
Would it be a US classic or a Japanese one? Because I live in Europe, European classics can be seen everywhere and at every car meet; and I don’t want to drive a car that 20+ people have in a 5 mile radius. Since the majority of my cars have been Japanese, and I’ve got some good contacts in New Zealand and Japan (for parts), I decided to buy a Japanese classic. So began my toughest challenge.
I had to start searching, selecting, eliminating, and deciding which car to buy. Most of my cars have been Mitsubishis, so obviously I started there. A lot of beautys to be found there, and I looked at a mid 70’s Galant Sigma. Very beautiful car, but it simply needed too much work. Months passed, and I couldn’t make a choice. I looked in Germany, Belgium and in the Netherlands itself, but every car either needed too much work or was very overpriced.
After my dad mentioned how much he liked his Toyota Crowns back in the day, I decided to do some research on them. Surprisingly, I came across a few Crown models I really, really liked. After looking at this model, I knew it for sure – I was going to buy an early ‘70’s Toyota Crown.
After that, it all became a lot easier.
It seemed that particular model was quite rare here in western Europe, and there weren’t too many candidates. I selected a few very interesting ones and decided I didn’t want to pay more than €5000 (US$6900) for it. After looking at a few on my list, I wasn’t happy. The majority of them had pretty serious rust issues, a couple of them were completely rusted-out, and still had the guts to ask €3500 (US$4800) for something like that.
Not much later, I ended up on a very small Belgian website, where I saw something that was VERY interesting and looked very promising. A 1973 Crown, with 105k , for €2750 (US$3775). Very little rust, a few small dents, tidy interior, and it just had a service maintenance. Only downside was that the car was located in Lokeren (Belgium), which is about 200km (125mi) from my place. I decided to make an appointment and check the car out.
I was nearly there, only 5 km left to go
But then the navigation system pointed me to a part of the city I wasn’t very happy with. A suburb of Lokeren where you wouldn’t want to walk in the dark, let alone drive with an expensive car. But I did, and I saw the car standing at the side of the road.
The underside had a few spots of starting rust, but nothing like holes. I really was doubting whether I would turn around or go through with it at the moment. At that moment, I doubted the car would be as good as the seller advertised it; the neighborhood wasn’t exactly inspiring any confidence, and I promised I would make a down payment if I decided to buy it.
The seller saw me, came outside, and appeared to be a really nice guy. He only lived there because he bought an old factory on that street because the building really appealed to him. He only had the car four months and it was simply too big for him. The first owner bought it new in 1973 when he sold his business and had driven it until three years ago. By then he had reached the age of 80 and his kids didn’t want him to drive that big car anymore. It sat for three years in the garage, the guy died, and his neighbor bought the car.
In the last few years the old guy made quite a few (small) dents and scratches, but nothing serious. Every bill, every insurance paper, and even the original sales bill was present. He even documented every time he filled it up and noted the litres and price. The owner’s manual and service book are like new and completely filled in. 105k on the odo, and the interior is like new.
And it got even better; in Belgium it’s possible to have vehicles inspected by the state before selling them. This way buyers know exactly what they buy. They check EVERYTHING, from the interior lights to the brakes, from the clutch to (possible) rust issues. The Crown had this checkup two months ago and the papers stated everything I already thought; the car is perfect, aside from a few dents/scratches, a few starting rust issues, and the brake light on the dashboard stays on (low brake fluid).
I didn’t give it a second thought. I made the down payment.
I drove back home and started organizing the transport of my Crown.
And this brings us to the end of Part 1. Next time, I’ll share some pictures of the car on the trailer ride home, and some more detail pictures. I also need to get it ready for import before the ending of this year and need to solve a few minor issues for that (turn signals don’t flash but stay permanently on, etc., etc.) Part 2 will follow soon.
- How much do you know about importing a vehicle into your country?
- What do you think about governments taxing vehicles by the mile/km?