Remember the Maserati Shamal? We’re not surprised if you don’t. Launched in 1991, after Maserati pulled out of the States, it never officially came to the U.S. Today, there’s exactly one in the country, and in the June 2015 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, we take a look at (and drive) that Maserati Shamal. Here’s how it came to the USA.
(Right now, you can’t import cars that are newer than 25 years old to the USA. Or can you? This article from Hemmings details the exhaustive process that is required to bring in a newer exotic car, like a Maserati Shamal. Moral: Want a newer exotic? Be prepared to work. - TO)
But there’s a greater question at play here: How did it get here? (Anyone who says “by boat,” go to the back of the line.) There are considerable federal and state hurdles to import any car that’s less than 25 years old, and this Shamal’s owner, Roland Foss of Fullerton, California, jumped them all. How he made it happen applies to anyone looking to import a car into the States that wasn’t ever meant to be here. Now he tells us how he did it.
Our first question is of the chicken-or-egg variety: Did ownership come first, or did he fight to get one brought in, then bought it once he was cleared? “The car came first,” Roland tells us. “I never intended to import it since I didn’t really think it was possible. I bought it when I was stationed overseas, and thought it would be easy enough to sell there when the time came. Well, when I came back, the economy was bad, and I didn’t want to sell it for a loss—I didn’t want to sell it at all, really, but I couldn’t have a caretaker look after it in Europe indefinitely. Eventually I learned that I had one shot at a Show or Display exemption.”
“I reached out to the DOT in Washington, which handles these applications; there was a specific person there to talk to. I tracked him down, and asked him to look at what I was planning to do. He got back to me, and said I probably wouldn’t be successful. It was really discouraging.”
“Then I reached out to both The Maserati Club and Maserati Club International. Some members there put me in touch with
Doug Magnon, of the Riverside Auto Museum, who has a huge Maserati collection of his own. He had successfully managed this process with an MC12 he bought. He gave me some information, including how to make it street legal in California, and the knowledge that the fella at DOT was a car guy. If I could talk about the car and make a persuasive case, Doug suggested that he might be amenable. I didn’t know how much influence one guy has over the process, but Doug gave me hope.”
The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration’s website covers all aspects of bringing a car into the States. “Thing is,” Roland tells us, “there’s no information as to what the application must look like, or what the components are. It gives limited information—really none—as to what a successful application looks like, or contains. Basically, any car with 500 or fewer made had a shot of making it in, but you still have to meet the hurdle of demonstrating technological or historical significance. If more than 500 were built, then it had to demonstrate exceptional historic or technological significance.”
“And so, I had to choose: Do I focus on the historical significance or the technological significance? It wasn’t in a movie, it wasn’t the last off the line, there was no royal ownership in its history. And, so, I went with highlighting its technological significance. I mean, it’s not a Porsche 959, but there are some interesting aspects to the car’s mechanicals. (For a complete rundown, see the driveReport in the June 2015 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.) So, I included some talk about the design elements that were functional—everything that made this a serious, compelling performance car ahead of its time and unique.”
“I took an academic approach to it, as if I were writing a research paper. I used a variety of sources, including news reports, factory presentations, road tests and books. My writing was packed full of information, but still concise, and rigorously footnoted. I’d like to say it was impeccably edited by all my family members. There were no references to Wikipedia or other websites, only solid, reputable sources. My arguments were original, while based on fact. I was literally creating a story about a car that had never been told.”
The result is what you read in this gallery on Hemmings. “Really, I was winging it,” Roland confesses. “I wanted to create a story—to make it as easy as possible for them to accept my application. I didn’t just give them what they asked for; I gave them an easy-to-read format. I also wanted to introduce the marque to someone who may not know about it, arguing for the significance of this car within the marque. The Shamal was an important car at the time for an important Italian manufacturer, and I thought it would make for interesting reading. Doug was invaluable for helping to provide context.”
“Another important component I think helped: I taught myself the basic functions of a graphic design program. The better the presentation, and the more time it looked like I put into it, I figured, the more they’d put into it.” The result: a six-page document, including cover sheet and bibliography. “I did it over a Christmas break. I had a couple of weeks off and spent two or three weeks solid, just maniacally researching, obtaining road tests. An indispensible source for me … Standard Catalog of Imported Cars. The Shamal wasn’t in there, but it helped confirm two key pieces of information: that this was one of the first 6-speed manual transmissions available, and one of the first twin-turbo V-8s (behind only the Ferrari 288GTO and F40). Having a book like that is critical for any argument you’re going to make.”
“Early in 2012, I sent the DOT a packet of information: the application document itself, which was only three pages or so; a bound copy of the presentation; and a series of photos of the car. I sent prints. And that was it.” Roland got his approval in roughly four months. “The DOT website had prepared me for a much longer wait,” he explains. That said, bringing in the next Shamal might be simpler. “Doug imported several MC12s, but after going through the process for the first one, the rest were easier. I believe the same would apply to the Shamal. For any follow-on importers, as I understand it, they still have to go through the application process mostly for accountability purposes, so it should be a lot quicker and easier to get the DOT permission letter.”
From there, it was full steam ahead. “Paperwork is required to get customs to release the car, but it’s also necessary to get a shipper that would bring it over. Shippers won’t often bring over items that they can’t release, although some idiots do bring things over with no way to get them out of impound.”
The shipper, Horizon Auto Shipping, was highlighted in an early issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, and Roland has only good things to say about them. “The shipping process was very smooth—very easy. The paperwork wasn’t as daunting as you’d think. Some other shippers might not be so savvy. Horizon sailed out of Barcelona, and so I finagled a vacation out of it … in November, I flew to Paris with a friend, took a train to southwestern France, where it was in storage at a Maserati dealership. I took it to Barcelona on a road trip, and dropped it off at the port.” The Spanish exporter needed a vehicle technical sheet, copy of passport, registration, and a letter addressed to Spanish Customs in Barcelona (Horizon wrote this letter). “We tracked down the Spanish customs broker in Barcelona to ensure we had good instructions on entering the port and that the booking and paperwork were all in order. It was a good thing I reached out, because the shipper on that end didn’t have all the paperwork, and I hadn’t been provided necessary paperwork to access the port. I was lucky my friend spoke Spanish!”
The Shamal set sail on November 12, 2012. “Cost was $2,300 through Horizon—this was for the more inexpensive Ro-Ro shipping versus the more more expensive container option. Containers are safer, but there’s a greater risk of detainment, which gets super-expensive. Charges included ocean freight and all terminal charges, customers and agent broker fees on both sides, and importer filing on the U.S. side.
“Paperwork involved in the importation and clearance onto U.S. soil included: letter of instructions (Horizon’s form); EPA 3520-1 Declaration Form, Importation of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Engines Subject to Federal Air Pollution Regulations; U.S. Customs Service CF 3299, Declaration for Free Entry of Unaccompanied Articles (in consultation with Horizon, Roland chose to complete this form as if he was returning from his four-year active duty stint); U.S. Customs Service CF 5291, Power of Attorney; U.S. Customs Service Supplemental Declaration for Unaccompanied Personal and Household Effects; Letter to U.S. Customs stating my intention for importing the car: show or display, personal use, no intent for resale; Vehicle Registration; Vehicle Bill of Sale (and translation from the original French); DOT NHTSA HS-7 Declaration, Importation of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Equipment Subject to FMVS, Bumper and Theft Prevention Standards (this is the important document, with Box 10 checked); DOT Show or Display letter; and a copy of the owner’s passport. “Horizon also put us in touch with the Customs agent in Houston who would be handling our car. We exchanged contact info and got all of our questions answered. Based on the Customs release form, it looks like the Shamal was released the very day the ship arrived! It landed in Houston on December 7, and I had it trucked from there in an enclosed trailer for another $1,000. I got the car a week later.”
“The government did not collect duty; in 2016, when it turns 25 years old, I’ll have to refile paperwork with the DOT and EPA, so it can become a permanent resident.”
So, all of that was just to get it into the country legally. Getting it registered in the state of California, where Roland lives, was another matter altogether. “The EPA has nothing to say about my car—it’s over 21 years old, and it’s exempt. It has an exemption code. But the state of California doesn’t recognize that. Anything built after 1975 has to go through a smog test. I did get it smog-tested, to see where it stood for the year and the ECU, and it failed. They tested the HC02 levels at over 20 times the California limit. I took the car to a smog ref, and they didn’t let it pass either. At one of the only two CARB-certified emissions laboratories in the state, they estimated it would cost $8,500 and take at least three months, with no guarantee of success. They would literally take the engine apart piece by piece to figure out how to clean it up.”
“I wouldn’t subject the vehicle or myself to such a harebrained process, so I tried to look for every alternative. There were just a lot of questions, and back and forth and lack of understanding. I spoke to people at CARB, a couple of local smog referees, the Bureau of Auto Repair, and finally the Technical Compliance Section of DMV. I had at least four different contacts in this department, and they are ones who eventually made it happen, after some resistance. With no apparent exemption from smog certification even for such a special car, I sought a Title Only. They contended I was not entitled to a Title Only because they said they only gave out titles to cars that could be registered. Since mine couldn’t legally be registered without a smog certification, they refused to give it to me. This made no sense, because that’s the whole point of a Title Only. But they said Title Only comes with a PNO (planned non-operational) registration. Supposedly with that, at a later date I or another owner could change the PNO to a full registration.”
“After a few weeks of wrangling, California DMV found a solution. They had me fill out a Statement of Facts (REG 256) attesting to the fact that I purchased the vehicle while a resident elsewhere, and that vehicle conformed to both EPA and DOT standards. They considered it a Direct Import Vehicle, which has specific meaning and allowances in the CVC (12.070).” So Roland’s Shamal is titled, but not registered—hence it’s still wearing its original French plates.
“Throughout the whole process, verifying my ownership was a constant request, made more difficult by having no current title document issued by one of the states. The original French title also doubled as the registration card, and so was long expired. My U.S. Army Europe title document also was a registration card, and was expired. However, these documents along with the bill of sale were deemed sufficient to establish my ownership, although I was always nervous they wouldn’t be enough for somebody.”
“Compliance versus conformance really became an artful distinction. It didn’t conform to the standards, but it complied with the standards, in that it was legitimately exempt from them. I remember this being important language to master. Throughout the process, I had to master the regulations, be ready to anticipate objections and constantly assert myself. Most reaction to my initial requests was boilerplate, or even dismissive, not understanding that I had a truly special case, had done the research, and wasn’t taking no for an answer.”
“Once you get a title, title only with no registration still gives you the ability to use a one-trip permit. This is the one loophole I was able to find to drive it.” The result is that Roland can only drive his car occasionally, and not without permission from the state. “The DOT limits me to 2,500 miles per year. That’s not a problem, with the cost of a One-Trip Permit at $19 each. The California Vehicle Code (CVC 4003) says that each permit is valid for “one continuous trip,” i.e. one-way. If the car is intended as a “display in a lawful parade or exhibition,” it may use a permit for one round trip, so long as the round trip is 100 miles or less. If a trip is over 100 miles one-way, you need a one-trip permit for each direction. I’m thankful that they’re so generous that they even let me do that.”
You’d think that Roland would be keen to set up a P.O. box in Arizona or Nevada, or some other state with slightly less onerous motor vehicle regulations, and register his car in another state, but he has decided against that. “California vehicle code is pretty clear: If you live here and use the car here, you have to register the car here. Any sort of monkeying around would be an automatic loss of the car, and I’m not willing to do that. So, what this means is, I really only drive it about once a month.
“I’m poor. The Shamal still runs great, though.”
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