The UK’s hot rod, custom and American car scene is thriving and the “for sale” sections seem busier than ever. With so many great rodded and modified cars for up for sale, now’s the time to keep an eye out for the one you have been looking for!

Cars change hands as drivers hanker for something different or their circumstances change, and new people get involved by buying their first project or turnkey car. But whatever make, model, year or style you are drawn to, your prefect car is either waiting to be built or already out there. Car club forums, Facebook groups, magazines and online marketplaces are all great places to get ideas and begin making your dream a reality.

But sometimes, the lure of buying a custom car or hot rod from abroad is just too much to resist. It may be that you are wanting a particular style or stance, perhaps something that’s historic or nut and bolt original, or it could even a car built or customised by a specific builder or rod shop. When you can’t find exactly what you are looking for here in the UK, buying a hotrod, custom or American car abroad and importing it back home could be an option.

We caught up with ClassicLine client and fellow NSRA member, Mark Dunn, to hear his experiences of buying and importing a car from America.

Guest Blog by Mark Dunn

Getting involved in hotrodding

Back in 2009 I found myself looking for my first hotrod. Like an excitable puppy I didn’t actually know what I wanted. I’d been a petrolhead since I passed my test at 17 years old, mainly 70’s fast Fords and suchlike, and my exposure of hotrods, custom cars and American muscle was limited to what I’d seen on TV, ZZ Top music videos and a couple of local shows in Scotland. As a teenager I did have a few supercar posters, the mandatory AC Cobra plus one of a black pro street Morris Minor Traveller and the ZZ Top 34 Coupe.

A friend suggested I join the National Street Rod Association (NSRA) and frequent a few of their big shows first, so I could get an idea of what I liked (and didn’t like). The first show I went to was the NSRA Fun Run at Billing Aquadrome, and I remember being completely blown away with the number of cars and trucks there! I was used to local shows with a dozen American cars mixed with some English classics.

The first hotrod

Soon after that, I’d saw a fiberglass bodied black 1932 Ford Roadster in the “for sale” section of the NSRA forum. With flames down the side, a loud exhaust, and no roof, I bought it sight unseen on the spot. Not recommended! I travelled down to Ipswich the following weekend and drove it 7 hours home to Edinburgh. The drive home was not good, I nearly crashed several times due to some dodgy steering work and a powerful V8 in the pouring rain. Absolutely bonkers when I think back now.
It didn’t last long unfortunately, especially living in Edinburgh with our climate, the novelty and cool factor of not having a roof soon wore off. I was however already addicted to the V8 sound and the smell… I was definitely hooked. The other problem was I couldn’t shake the feeling that the ‘32 Roadster felt more like a fiberglass kit car, it wasn’t put together that well and for me it wasn’t the authentic original hotrod I wanted. So, I sold it and started looking to the USA for my next purchase. I didn’t know where to look or what to do if I found something, I was riding by the seat of my pants to be honest!

Searching for an American car

eBay US was my first stop, which led me onto a few websites like Hemmings, Cars-Online and Classic Autotrader. What I immediately noticed was the sheer volume and choice of vehicles available in the USA, and the prices were good too. I became a member of a few forums including the Jalopy Journal, who have a great forum called the HAMB. I was in hotrod heaven; I couldn’t get enough and I became obsessed!

After three weeks of spending what felt like every waking hour searching, I eventually located my hotrod. A 1929 Model A Coupe in Arizona with a chopped roof and running a 5.8L Chrysler Hemi V8.

I remember it was after midnight and being a complete nervous wreck pacing the floor, my heart pounding as I plucked up the courage to call the seller. After an hour on the phone asking countless questions, it became apparent the seller was a decent honest guy and had been a “hotrodder” for over 30 years. Impulsively I decided I was buying it…Eek! Over the next few days, I bombarded him with emails every time I thought of a question, but he appreciated I was buying this car unseen so was cool about it.

The importation process

So now what? Another friend suggested from previous experience I contact Kingstown Shipping to take care of things going forward. They were brilliant, explaining the entire shipping process from start to finish, including explaining the importation duty process, and really put my mind at ease. So, I took the biggest leap of faith of my life and sent the money to Arizona.

From memory it took around 8 weeks from door to door as it landed in between Xmas and New Year. When it finally arrived at my house at 10pm, I will never forget the feeling when opening the door of that enclosed transporter. It felt like every Christmas and birthday all rolled into one moment (and I can confirm that feeling for me has happened every time since).

The Model A was everything I expected and more, it was to me exactly what I’d been looking for… a proper old steel hotrod.

Insuring an imported car

Next step once it was safely in my garage was to arrange insurance. All my friends were suggesting different insurance companies, but ClassicLine were by far the most recommended so I gave them a call. I’m so glad I did as it was the start of a long and drama free relationship!

The Model A was insured under the NSRA members insurance scheme using the chassis number. I had an agreed valuation; UK and EU breakdown cover and unlimited mileage, and the premium was fantastic value. Yes, I could have found it cheaper, but why compromise on cover?

I have always said that you don’t know how good your insurance company is until you need to make a claim. I know a guy who always went for the absolute cheapest quote, and unfortunately, he had to make a claim. It took over 7 months of arguing and countless emails and phone calls before being paid out for a repair. I also have a friend who claimed with ClassicLine and it was resolved in 13 days. I’ve never gone anywhere else for my insurance since 2010.

Registering an import

The final step was to register the car with DVLA, and back then we had an actual office in Edinburgh where you went IN PERSON. Ah the good old days.

I took the insurance certificate, Arizona title dated 1929, a few pictures and the letter from HMRC saying I’d paid my duty/vat and headed to the local office. They were very helpful, with their help I completed a form and 2 days later I received a phone call (yes really) to say my registration number was ready!

Nowadays it’s all done by post, but the process is the same. I call ClassicLine to get a cover note, complete a V55/5 form and send it along with the US title and the letter from HMRC (called a NOVA) to DVLA. It takes around 2-4 weeks and sometimes they come to inspect the vehicle first.

10 years on and 10 cars later!

So… fast forward 10 years and I’ve literally just purchased my 9th hotrod last week, a 1949 Ford Sedan from Houston, Texas. With the exception of one vehicle, all my purchases have been from overseas and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

My buying notes:
2010 – 1929 Model A Coupe, Arizona
2011 – 1947 Plymouth Coupe, UK
2011 – 1950 Chevy Pickup, Missouri
2012 – 1949 Chevy Pickup, California
2014 – 1950 Chevy Styleline, Tennessee
2018 – 1941 Pontiac Streamliner, Oregon
2019 – 1951 Chevy Fleetline, Belgium
2019 – 1951 GMC Suburban, California
2020 – 1949 Ford Deluxe, Texas

How to insure your newly imported car with ClassicLine Insurance

In order to register your newly imported vehicle, it must first be insured. As your imported vehicle will not have a registration number yet, you can insure your vehicle based on the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or Chassis Number. Once you have received your full registration number, give us a call to arrange on the road cover or a laid-up policy.

For further information on insuring your imported car based on the VIN number, contact the ClassicLine team on 01455 639 000 or email client.services@classiclineinsurance.co.uk.

ClassicLine would like to thank Mark Dunn for his help and contribution with this article.

All details are correct as of 19th March 2020. For further information and up to date changes on vehicle importation, go to Importing vehicles into the UK – GOV.UK.

You may also be interested in reading:

Return of the coupe!
How to buy a classic Saab abroad
Hot Rod Insurance