I bought this Fiat 600 derivative overseas a handful of years ago, with the intent of restoring it and then importing it. The restoration seemed like just about any other you've already seen. Getting it here, however, was an event in itself.
My story begins after the boat my car was on had already docked. No progress could be made before customs did an inspection of my car and its container. This being the government, the moment they decide to do the inspection is as predictable as a coked-up squirrel.
Eventually, I get an email from the shippers: it passed inspection! I now had a week to get my ride out of there before the port began charging me storage fees... Usually, a week is plenty of time to finalize paperwork that I've prepared anyway – except this was the end of the year, a period notorious for lots of days off...
I got this email on a Wednesday afternoon. The ensuing Monday was a holiday. Thus I phoned customs (to get the car cleared) Thursday morning.
That went something like this:
"Yeah, sure, you can come down. Just so you know, we close at noon today [it was just after 10:30], we're closed on Friday, and don't open again until a week after Monday."
Some more perspective: the phone call was the first thing I did when I got up...I also live a solid half an hour away from their office.
You know those days that randomly start with a bang? This was one of those.
Arrived with 10 minutes to spare. Papers signed and stamped. The customs officer informed me that I could now arrange dock clearance through the shipping company.
Turns out that the port won't release your container until the shippers pay them a fee, which of course comes out of your pocket.
High-tailed it to the shipping firm's office to sort out this additional clearance that nobody mentioned before. Found out that there's another surprise: the port doesn't do unloading on site, hence I had to arrange drayage too! Went for lunch. Realized that I had six days left now, only three of those being business days.
Later during the day, I found a good trucking company complete with their own warehouse. Perfect! We met the next day to finalize things with the manager...
The dreyage/unloading cost would depend on how much the car was lashed down. Since it was on a boat during winter, it traveled through restless seas and overall harsher conditions. As such, the manager expected it to be lashed down a lot.
I showed him a pic of the container's insides, taken just before it was sealed. His response? "It's almost not tied down at all! I honestly hope we don't find the car laying on its side..."
At least it'd be cheap to unlash... Plus, they were going to take care of the empty container for me, and were able to accommodate my job the next work morning. More papers were signed, and we were set.
Fast forward to the following Tuesday morning, with one more day of free port storage to spare. The manager says there's a huge lineup at the port causing a two-hour delay.
No matter...there was a Starbucks nearby.
Almost at the exact moment when we returned from our morning coffee, the truck was backing my container into the warehouse. We quickly parked the car, grabbed the provided high-visibility vests, and pace-walked inside.
The container's doors were already open, which actually slowed me down. Perhaps it was the worry that the effects of the manager's observation might have come true...so I inched closer, anticipating that with the next step my gaze will meet that of the car's.
Eventually, it did. The car was in one piece. It just seemed to have shrunk in the wa...in transport.
Full disclosure: because plane tickets + full restoration = too much money, I had never seen my car in person until that moment! I had to arrange the entire project from here while family overseas did the legwork. The project was two years in the making.
With a dose of twilight-zone disbelief, I entered the container as the yard workers were busy unlashing it. The car was here. Everything was in its place. It was just so much smaller than I had imagined. I relentlessly made pointless circles around my car until my brain made sense of the (lack of) scale.
While the workers struggled to cut the lashing free (being much tighter than it looked), the manager took us to see a project they had all been working on during slow shipping seasons.
He flipped over a dusty tarp which revealed an olive-green 1937 Chevrolet medium-duty truck that the workers restored themselves over the years. The truck was in use in the area back in its day; long after its retirement, somebody discovered it and decided to do what I did with my car: give it a second life.
A worker called for the manager: they had finally cut the car free. I got in, set down the parking brake, took it out of gear, and steered as they pushed the car out of the container, across the platform, down the ramp, across the railway tracks, through a passage and out into a makeshift parking space, marked by cones in the yard.
Feeling as anxious as a girl at her favorite concert – except I still had my top still on – I dug through the entire car while waiting for the flatbed to arrive (no flammable fluids allowed during shipment). Within the first ten minutes, four people offered to buy the car while every driver abandoned his truck mid-yard and ran over to see my classic up close.
I rode along in the flatbed as the car bounced up and down behind me, like a child that was just told he's going to Disneyland. Not a single person, be it pedestrian or driver, was without a reaction when they saw it pass before their eyes on its mobile parade stand.
There were people driving parallel to the flatbed, staring at the car; wide-eyed folks pointing with their mouths open; confused people who lost all spatial abilities in traffic because they were too busy ogling, among many others.
One observer in particular was so hypnotized that she didn't notice that her light had turned green – cue my flatbed driver, who nonchalantly took advantage and made his left turn anyway.
Arriving at the house, I rolled the car down the flatbed and steered it as its two external horsepower propelled it into its new parking spot – in a driveway half a world away from where it all began.
EDIT: if you're curious about why I picked this car in particular or the rest of its story, I run a blog dedicated to my little project: www.wailing-engine.com