How To Import A Foreign Car... Legally

Draconian import restrictions make it difficult, but not impossible, to bring lustworthy foreign cars never sold in the U.S. to our shores. Do it wrong and the Feds will take your ride. Here's Mike Solo's instructions for doing it right. — Ed.

My adventure in introducing America to the most legendary and finest product to ever come out of Sochaux, France began in Afghanistan. My 4th tour started to stretch into interminable lengths, to where I spent much time perusing the used car ads in Britain. I began looking for something bizarre and awesome to bring back with me to the US, asmy three year assignment to Germany was coming to an end.

I gave my British friends a mission; find me a unique, 25-year old car that has never been sold in the US, all for £3000. Ford Fiesta XR2iʼs, Escort XR3iʼs, Triumph Dolomite Sprints and many others passed my eyes, yet I fell in love with a little white 1986 205 GTI 1.6 (with 1.9 wheels). Two days later, the little super baguette was purchased and stored in Sheffield, Yorkshire awaiting my return.

The Peugeot 205 GTI made me a better driver. In itʼs native environment, the little Pug encourages you to fling it around wet bends ignoring the hedgerows about to swallow you whole. Yet, when in an new environment never exposed to such a legendary hot hatch, the Pug encourages you to become hyper aware of your surroundings, ready to avoid the next obstacle, lest the now looming pick-ups and SUVs smash your French biscuit tin into a metallic paste to be scraped off the American Interstate.

How To Import A Foreign Car... Legally

Never drive your heroes, unless they contain both "205" and "GTI" somewhere in the label. It truly lives up to all the hype ever bestowed upon it. Tricky to drive smoothly, but rewarding in every regard, I spent many, many laps at the Nurburgring finding exactly what its limits were.

If I had a bad day at work, I would ditch my SEAT Toledo V5, hop in the Peugeot, and 30 seconds later would be on track with all my cares gone. Everything about the 205 GTI communicates to you exactly what how the car reacts to the road. The little shudders through the floor pan, the tugs on the wheel, the back end sliding ever so slightly, warning you not to lift all add up to a driving experience never to be replicated in a modern car deadened by weight and power gizmos.

So regretfully, when it came time to leave my home of three years in Nurburg, I began the long process of exporting the Peugeot. Having attained an age of 25 years in August of 2011, the 205 finally met the age to get around all the NHSTA FMVSS restrictions. I had to check one box on the HSV-7 Importation Form, declare the age, provide proof of the age (date of manufacture or date of first registration), and take it to the port in
Wittlich, Germany.

Picking a registered importer remains the most crucial part in exporting a car. Get a bad one, and you are faced with fees, paperwork, and other myriad details, and a possibility your car will be refused entry. Choose the right one, and the whole process becomes fairly easy. I choose Transcar GMBH, a German based firm with the backing of the US Government. Their quote of $2600 (size and weight are the determining factor) seemed a bit higher than the others, but with a guarantee of delivery to Dallas with no hidden fees sealed the deal.

On a rainy day in November 2011, the Peugeot was delivered to the exporter in Wittlich clean and sparkling. Damage inspection and paperwork took 45 minutes, and I left the car to be loaded on a truck to Bremerhaven. It would then board a ship, and two months

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later, arrive in Georgia to go through customs. After clearing customs, the importer would load it onto a truck for transport to the final Vehicle Processing Center in Dallas, TX.

This February, I was notified of my Pugʼs arrival, and after a short flight from Midland to Dallas I collected the car. True to their word, the process took less than 30 minutes, and I was on my way back to Midland in a UK-plated Peugeot 205 GTI (the original plates serve as temporary ones for 30 days).

The roads are straighter, wider, and full of ginormous trucks, but the hot hatch proved no less fun than on the roads in Europe. Yet, once home in Midland, the largest problem of importation came to a head, the process of obtaining a Texas Inspection Certificate.

A full afternoon of arguing with the regional headquarters in Odessa about what constitutes federal exemption (to where I literally had to read to them their own highway code), I left BMW of the Permian Basin with a sticker attached, a clear US Title, and Texas Plates.

The locals seem to be very receptive to the French transplant, and are most amused by the steering wheel on the right hand side. I get many thumbs up and will appear in several Facebook photos. Yet the long wait, and massive amount of paperwork were all worth the effort at bringing the French version of the Mustang over.

Mike Solo has spent the last few years as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force, an occasional contributor to The Truth About Cars, and a driving instructor at the 'Ring, where he plans to return.