It's been a while since I've updated Oppo on my pet project: Importing an E30 M3 EvoII into the US of A. I believe I started this process on March 18th, which was first contact with the seller. That puts me roughly three months into the process, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. As it stands, I'm now the owner of the car, and it is waiting patiently at the port in Southampton, UK waiting to be shipped, surrounded by brand new Minis, Jaguars, and Rolls Royces. Good company, I guess.
The process has been an incredible learning experience because, unsurprisingly, nobody has yet published the book Importing Old Cars For Dummies. Maybe I should look into that when this is all said and done?
Looking back now, here are some thoughts on the process.
The first important step on buying the car was making contact with the seller and establishing intent. A good friend who traffiks 40 series Land Cruisers around the world once told me "don't just send an email, get on the phone, wave cash around, prove that you are serious". This is the advice that bumped me to the top of the 10 person buyers list when I bought my previous E30 M3 (The White Pearl, now sold). I used the tactic again to secure this car, and it's a good thing I did. Everyone knows that the E30 M3 market is...um... intense right now, and the Evo II (only 500 made) market is even more so. Any reasonably priced Evo can sell in less than a day, and indeed the seller's inbox was piling up with potential buyers from across Europe. I sent an email then promptly purchased some Skype credits and got on the phone with the seller and told him I wanted the car. This early in the process making the commitment to buy is a mix of truth and bluff. Of course you want to buy it, but is the car good, is the seller legit, and what about all of the unknowns of international law? All of that had to be slightly ignored in order to prevent the car from slipping away. I did some quick Googles of the car and found that it and the seller both had a previous internet presence on forums and VIN searches, so that was enough info to make me willing to put down a deposit to hold the car. I asked the seller how much it would take to get the car off the market while I did due diligence. He put out a reasonable number, one that I had to be willing to forfeit should things not go well. I headed directly to my bank and wired the funds. The minute they cleared he marked the for sale ad "pending" and told all other buyers that the car was off the market. At this point I was safe, nobody else was going purchase the car out of under me. I had time to start getting my ducks in a row.
The next step was doing my research regarding importation and simultaneously juggling the nitty gritty of trying to arrange an inspection of the car in the UK. I had to find a reputable shop, and I had to coordinate with the seller's schedule. On the importation side I pulled up DOT, Customs, and EPA websites to start reading if the car complied with importation laws. I know at a base level that the car is just now 25 years old and legal for import, but I didn't know if this was an inexpensive and quick process or a ten thousand dollar pile of paperwork. Initially I freaked out upon reading about registered importers, conversion shops, bonds, OBD, airbags, catalytic converters, and all of that other business, but I later settled down when I realized that none of that was really required because of the age of the car. There are customs forms, brokers, insurance, duties, and paperwork bits that need to be filed properly, but the process largely involves dropping the car off at the port, loading it onto a ship, and driving it away when it gets here. A few friendly Jalops helped me with this info, and a few phone calls with brokers in Galveston, TX also filled in the blanks. There was one point in the process though where I thought the bill was going to be upwards of 15k to get the car federalized, and I thought the whole deal was off. That was a scary point in the process.
Great, so, the car can be imported fairly easily, but what about the car itself? I still needed to determine it's condition. I tried coordinating inspections with no less than three shops, but on one another Evo owner jumped in and warned me of parts going missing, another was too busy, another was too far from the seller, etc etc. I ended up finally finding a good and very meticulous shop near London on the advice of the seller. I sent them a laundry list of things I wanted to have checked on the car, and they went to work documenting it and taking photos of every area that had potential issues. By and large the car is in spectacular condition, but it is a 25 year old car, and a few things popped up that even the seller was unaware of and somewhat unhappy to learn of. That's what inspections are for though, and you CAN NOT skip this step when purchasing an expensive car manufactured in very limited numbers. Is the correct EVO code stamped on the engine? Is the ECU the correct EVO model? Are all the special and rare bits still there? Is the glass original? 4mm or 3mm? Has the car been damaged, repainted, or messed with at all? Is there rust? Where does rust hide on these cars? Is the seller willing to remove bumpers and panels to inspect for rust? The due diligence list can be almost infinite when vetting a potential car. I frequent the S14.net forums and a few very very helpful and generous EVO owners reached out to me and offered very helpful advice as well. One bonus of purchasing a cult car is that there is a cult community of owners looking out for each known example, and they've got your back.
Rust hides under the sills and bumpers. Take them off and inspect or you'll pay dearly for it later!
A peak under the hood. Always makes my heart skip a beat.
The car was brought to a shop and put on a lift to search for corrosion. You can't buy a car like this without putting it onto a lift.
My car has already been through a previous repaint and some restoration efforts, so that's nice to have out that of the way. What is even nicer is having photos of the repaint so that I can tell how well it was done. Just to be sure though, I took all of the photos from the inspection AND the repaint down to Dave Iams at Apex Auto in Denver, CO and paid for an hour of his time to have him digitally go over the car with me, point out flaws, and give me his opinion. Dave knows cars inside out, travels the world looking for solid specimens, and has restored a mind boggling list of some of the most highly regarded collector cars in the world. He knows how to look for bad repair work, he knows how to sniff out originality, and he knows the gotchas of the process. The price of an hour of his time was a complete bargain and gave me huge peace of mind that this was the right car for me.
In the end the car checked out mechanically and cosmetically, with a few to-do items added to the list when it arrives in the US.
What about maintenance history? It's important to know as much as possible about these cars pre-purchase. Just like any high strung homologated race car for the street, proper maintenance can save you thousands of dollars over the life of the car. Thankfully the seller had an absolute encyclopedia of the car's history documenting almost everything ever done to it. Having info like that really puts one's mind at ease when it comes to unknown gremlins lurking in the shadows. It also helps put one's mind at ease when it comes to determining the legitimacy of the seller. Was this just some guy with a made up name and a for-sale ad or could his ownership history and identity be verified repeatedly throughout the process? I revisited that question many many times, always asking myself "could this just be a scam?". Each time I looked through fresh documentation or verified information exchanged through email I was continually able to establish that all signs pointed to the seller being a great and trustworthy person and custodian of the car.
Paperwork? Yus plz! Aside from being good for peace of mind and establishing "provenance", it's also great for nerding out on the car!
So, where are we at?
Importation research. Check.
Miscellaneous due diligence. Check.
I guess it's time to buy the car! This part was more than a little bit nerve racking. I'll skip most of the part where I had to sell the white M3 at just the right time to help pay for this one. If I sold it too soon and this one wasn't a "go" then I'd be left M3-less (oh nos!). If I sold it too late or not at all, I wouldn't have the funds to buy this one and aside from being devastated, I'd lose my deposit. Luckily the market is great for these cars and after a week of initial tire kickers, I ended up selling The White Pearl with, no kidding, four cash backup offers. Now that I had funds in hand, I once again marched down to the bank and made the single largest non-house-related purchase of my life. It was absolutely nerve racking. I re-read and re-checked routing codes and SWIFT numbers so many times I lost count. What if I wired the money and it just disappeared down tubes of light, never to be seen again? What if the seller did get the funds, and this whole thing did end up being a giant complicated scam? What if, what if, what if? I just had to step back, re-examine my process, trust my judgement, and kiss the money goodbye as it instantly left my account. Buh - bye.
Thankfully this wasn't all a scam and the money landed safely in the seller's account in the UK. I was quickly sent confirmation and a congratulatory email (tinged with sadness). The car was mine. I'm now the proud owner of BMW E30 M3 Evolution # 182/500. (and by the way, the proper name for the car is M3 Evolution, as the first gen Evolution was never "officially" titled as such by BMW itself).
Where is the process today? Per the opening paragraph, the car is waiting patiently in Southampton, UK. It will be loaded onto the boat in a few short days, and is scheduled to arrive July 1st, just in time to celebrate it's first Independence Day as a US citizen. In about a month the high strung howl of it's Formula 1 derived block should be heard high in the Colorado Rockies, running free and loud.
EDIT: As a post script. I just saw this on ebay. Apparently the window of "affordability" on this car is closing fast. The vultures are circling.