Bringing a French Car Back To Wisconsin
It looks as if the improved value of the dollar against the Euro has
spurred new interest in buying cars overseas to enjoy here
in the United States. While some of you have been through this before,
it won't hurt for me to tell you about my experiences. Perhaps it
will help you avoid pitfalls and perhaps not. But I have long thought
about putting the experience into prose. So here goes.
Since seeing several Citroen GS's and GSA's while attending meets in
Niagara Falls and Nashville, I had been working my way
up to selling my very nice 1968 Citroen ID 19 and getting one of my
own. The sale of my D was very difficult. I had poured years of time
and love into her and she was really near to being a trouble free,
car. Not having a lot of spending money meant it took every year of the
ten I owned her to get it there. But when Richard Griffin flew up from
Charlotte, North Carolina and cheerily bought her sight unseen, I knew
I had done
the right thing. He drove her back without incident. We exchange
experiences regularly. His care has been unflagging and the car
continues to improve. Still, it has been hard to put her out of my mind.
Saying goodbye to my D was very difficult.
Rene and Christiane Mari parting with their GSA.
I first tried to find one here in the New World, but soon discovered
that there were not very many of them around, and the nice ones were
being held close. I ultimately came to the conclusion that to get
quality, I would have to go to Europe and bring one back. I initiated
the process with only a loose idea how the process works. It turned
out that each separate operation in the process had its own life, so
the only way to do it was to complete one task before moving to the
next. Also, looking back I wish I would have waited until now. When
I did it the value of the U.S. Dollar was at its lowest in history. But
then, I have never been one to avoid mountains to climb. And I did not
have the advantage of a crystal ball.
Knowing I could never be able to go to Europe myself, I chose to buy a
car through a reputable agent. For me, Citroen Andre in the
Netherlands was a good choice. I bought parts from him before with
great results and his reputation for finding good cars made the choice
simple. I emailed him with my desires and he sent me several choices
within my price range. He rejected out of hand all of the cars I found
on Leboncoin, which is the
"Craigslist" of France. I think this was partially because of his
experiences and partially because he felt he would have less control
over the process if we bought that way. I quickly realized that in
make the sale work, I need to entrust the entire process to Andre. I
have no regrets.
As he would have to travel to actually look at the cars, there was some
bantering about the positives and negatives about the various cars. The
first batch of cars he could find were all rejected, but the second had
2 cars that appealed to both of us. We settled upon a car that had
rather low miles and was owned by the daughter of an older man who got
the car from his brother shortly before he died, a complete traceable
history. The pictures they sent were of fair quality and showed no real
issues. Andre sent me an estimate of the price, which included
purchase, flatbedding the car from Lyon to the Netherlands, an expense
account for repairs and the shipping. In other words, he would take
of everything up to the point the car went on the ship to come over.
we decided upon a car, the entire process took about a month. I
him the money through my bank and the car was soon mine.
Moving the large amount of money overseas could have been done in
several ways. It may have been more convenient to use a charge card,
but the cost of doing so was just as high as using our banks to
directly move money. He supplied me with the IBAN and SWIFT numbers,
unique numbers used to identify his recieving bank and the account into
which the money was to be deposited. This process took about 2 working
days to complete, the price was not exhorbitant. I was far safer and
cheaper than using private wiring sevices such as Western Union.
In France, the Gris Carte, or Certificat d'Immatriculation represents
both the title and the registration papers we use here. It is really
more like a birth certificate. It follows the car throughout its life.
To sell a car in France, the former owner merely writes, "Vendue",
which means, "Sold" in French, the date, followed by the owner's
Of course as here, a wise buyer also demands a bill of sale to prove
that money has exchanged hands and that the deal is closed.
Once the car was flatbedded to his shops, he replaced the battery and a
questionable exhaust pipe, both wise repairs, as I was planning on
driving the car straight off the docks back to Wisconsin. Another
option I took was dock insurance. Say, the car rolled off the edge of
the pier into the drink. Dock insurance would reimburse me for my loss.
I thought the $75 was worth it. Is insurance reverse gambling? Perhaps,
but it is peace of mind too. If the car were to get damaged, the $75
would seem a bargain.
|My Gris Carte, or "Grey Card"
I told Andre aproximately when I would be able to pick up
the car and he picked a shipper and date that would fit the calendar.
We discovered that the shipper had to be set at least 5 days before
shipping. There had been trouble with scheduling because the shippers
were reluctant to embark with partial loads. We finally locked on to
September 3rd, 2009 via "K" Line's
Georgia Highway from Zeebrugge, Belgium to Baltimore, Maryland. I chose
Baltimore over New York because of geographics and ease of access.
The Georgia Highway is in immense ship capable of holding over 6000
smaller cars. It looks like a tall pair of walls with
curved stern and bluntly pointed bow. There is little in the way
of superstructure. In the side is a built-in deployable ramp, so
it can pull up close to a dock and unload rapidly. She was at
sea for only 5 days. This is perhaps the most exciting part of
the process when you imagine your little car bobbing about in the
middle of the Atlantic Ocean! I had some fun tracking the position of
on Vesseltracker and Sailwx. When
the car was offloaded, I received an email. The paperwork, with
included a bill of sale, the original Gris Carte (French Title and
registration paper) bill of lading were already in the hands of my
import broker, my agent entrusted to get the car through customs.
|The Georgia Highway
I will now say a few things about the customs broker and the importing
process. First, you do not actually require an agent, but without one,
you have to make sure all of the paper work and forms are made out and
are run through the bureaucracy correctly. This can be a daunting task,
taking several days. There is a form to be
submitted to the EPA to prove that the car is either old enough to be
exempt from emissions control compliance or has been checked out. In
my case the car was older than 21 years old, so it was exempt from
meeting requirements. Visit
the EPA site for information. For my car I had to submit form 3520-1.
The DOT has requirements as well, such a compliance with safety
requirements. They stipulate that a car has to be over 25 years old to
be exempt from restrictions. I used form HS-7.
The DOT has a
website that covers imports. Here is an
independent website that covers the matter quite well. Occasionally
a car will be more thoroughly inspected and then the delay can take a
long time. To do this yourself could tie you up for weeks. Unless you
really know what you are doing, I strongly suggest you use an agent.
The one I used was
E.H. Harms. Another I would
recommend base upon hearsay would be J.A.
The broker will want you to pay them a fee for their services, plus the
amount required for duty. Harms charged $175 and my duty was based upon
the value of my car. Here was another issue which I chose to remain on
the straight side of. You can make agreements with your seller on the
selling price of value of your car and it may save you some money on
this and your dock insurance, but there are risks involved. If your car
does get damaged or lost, you will not be able to recover your
full loss. Plus, should customs question your claim or make further
investigation, you could find yourself in hot water with them. These
people are not
customer oriented in the least, so you do not want to get on their bad
side. I would strongly suggest you pay up and put up. In addition, I
to pay a $75 "escort fee". This covered the service for taking me
security at the dock, to my car.
Getting the car here was not by any means the last bout. Had I not
chosen to drive the car straight off the dock back to Wisconsin, I
could have simply taken the car via a dolly or other conveyance
and had no issues with registering the car when I got home. But my
goal was to fly out and drive the car back, seemingly the easiest and
cheapest way. Unfortunately I was thwarted by the process of getting a
license plate in a timely manner. Getting insurance was no problem. All
I needed was a VIN for that, but the Wisconsin Department of
Transportation wanted fully completed importation papers, the duty
paid. In other words, the car had to be actually here and through
customs before they would
issue a title. I thought that I could get this done at a licensing
but when I arrived, I was told that this could not be done onsite. All
the paperwork had to be submitted to a reviewer in Milwaukee and the
process would take upwards of 2 weeks. I had already booked a flight
for the next morning! Leaving the car on the dock for another 2 weeks
was unthinkable. For one thing, I had already wasted one plane ticket
due to customs delays, storages fees would have begin to accumulate and
I was going to start a new job the following week. I was between a rock
and a hard place.
When I went to the registration station to get my plates,
I got a huge shock. I had assumed that I did not have to pay any sales
tax. Not so. I was told that the car was purchased intended for use
the state and therefore it was subject to tax. The law says, "sales AND
use", not just sales! That meant I had to fork over 5.5% of the value
the car. I nearly fell to the floor. But I must have had a Guardian
with me the day. The people there were extremely accommodating and went
at least an extra mile for me, calling in to the office in Milwaukee
that handles imports. They put me on a phone to a gentleman there who
heard my plight and sent back an approval over the phone. This was
irregular and none of the registration people had ever heard of it
before. But Milwaukee got a huge fax and I walked out with license in
Much poorer, but I was finally ready!
The flight to Baltimore was uneventful. I took a cab from the airport
to E.H. Harms office, where I paid the fees and was given the paperwork
to release the car. The next step was to make
the connection with the escort service which was to take me through
dock security. This is a relatively new process, a result of 9-11 and
heightened security on the docks. I was to meet the escort at a motel
on the other side of a bay, actually across the bay on which Fort
lies, barely 2 blocks away from Harm's office. People familiar with
American history will know that McHenry was site of the battle about
which Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner in 1814. But of
course, I could not concern myself with such trivia: I had a date with
Because I had some time to kill and because I had spent every dollar I
had to get this far, I thought I could save myself some money and hike
around the bay to the motel. Unfortunately was
was given the wrong directions by two people, one of them in the Harms
office. I quickly found myself totally lost. Again, my Guardian Angel
was there. One of the people in the Harms office had just left the
office and saw me wandering down the road and gave me a lift to the
motel. I arrived with time to spare, and was even able to find a place
to get lunch.
A beat up old Dodge van pulled up and that was my escort service. I
began to wonder just where this mandatory $75 escort fee was a good
investment, but I soon found out how it should have been twice the
amount. Getting through the security was an unbelievably complicated
and difficult task. Before we even saw another human, we had to go
though one phone check point with an electric gate. That took 5 minutes
of shouting over the crude phone system. I hear my name spelled 5
different ways before everyone was satisfied that we were who we
claimed to be. 3 more check points with ever more careful screening,
and I was finally
allowed onto the dock, where our van was escorted by a security
in whose truck I had to ride. I was allowed to make a quick inspection
of the car, put the plates on then drive the car in convoy up to the
final release gate, where the paperwork was checked for the last time.
Suddenly I was out onto unfamiliar streets with a totally unfamiliar
car. I headed straight for the city limits. Every stop was announced by
a howl from the rear pads, which hadn't seen regular operation in
years. It took me several miles to figure out even a
few controls. For those who do not know, the controls of a GSA are
concentrated onto 2 pods, one at each hand as they hood the steering
wheel. Any operation can be performed without letting go of the wheel.
It took me several hundred miles before I could relax enough to realize
that this car
was running better with every hill and that it was not going to die.
Where were the turn signals? I found that in 50 miles. Where was the
dimmer switch? I didn't find that until the next day.
|My GSA, safely home after over 800 miles of
flawless driving. The 5 speed transmission gave the car a perfect
blend of speed and power, with minimal revving of the windy 4 cylinder.
Handling was precise and confident with the ride of a much larger car.
My original plans were to go to Mechanicsburg and visit Brad Nauss, but he was out
of town. Instead, I headed straight towards Clarion, Pennsylvania
to overnight at Andrew Harvey's place. I had met Andrew at Botham
in August 2009. He was the only easterner to make the trip to my Fall
Meet in Botham,
where he was only the second Citroenist to earn a prize, his for coming
from the farthest distance. The car was running merrily and I was
gaining confidence in it. Getting it to Brad's would have been
reassuring, but now I was sure Andre had done a good job prepping the
car for the trip.
The brake noise was not going away, but I knew it would be a routine
and one of my first projects.
Andrew was the perfect host. He had gone out for fish fry and had a
takeout waiting for me when I drove up. Being from Wisconsin, we think
we know all about fish fries, but I can guarantee you that I have never
seen piece of fish like they served in
Pennsylvania. It hardly fit in the box! I was so exhausted from my
journey so far, After attacking that fish it was all I could do to find
a pillow to flop my head on.
The next day he showed me his haunts. There is little Andrew doesn't
know about older American cars. His collection spans 4 decades, from
the rare, a Canadian spec Lincoln Zephyr to the mundane, a Dodge K car
wagon fake woodie, to a Jeep fire truck and several other big American
cars which I was able to see peering out from under their covers. His
basement is chock full of old automobilia and equipment, such as a
distributor tester that predates me. After a nice breakfast and helping
me clear up a few issues, such as how to operate my headlight dimmers,
I was again on the road. I drove up to my house late that night, having
only stopped 3 times for gas and having only used 50 gallons of fuel to
drive one third of the way across the continent.
|From left, Hilliard Goldman of St. Louis, Andrew
Harvey and my wife, Marianne with Andy's neat '87 CXA at the Botham
Meet, Barneveldt, Wisconsin in August, 2009. CXA's were prepared by
Andre for export.
|The pods on either side of the steering wheel
place nearly every control at my fingertips. The dash looks like
it was taken from a spaceship. The radio is in the center console.
Having completed the import process, possibly in record time,
I have a few comments that should prove useful. First, make sure
you have plenty of reserve money. For every motion, there is an
equal and more expensive counter motion: reaching for your wallet. Do
not be dismayed by growing expenses, but be aware that the final cost
will most likely far exceed your initial estimates unless you plan more
carefully that I did. Even so, you can't figure in everything. Don't
forget sales tax. And the face value of your car should be
approximately equal to your expenses unless you are doing it straight
from the heart.
Make sure you know the car before you buy it. Do not buy based upon
emotion and do not buy under duress. Do not buy unless you can see and
touch the car yourself or you have a trusted agent. The markup cost of
a good buyer is easily worth it when you realize it's
a hedge against a bad situation. Prepare the car thoroughly before
shipping if you plan to drive the car right away. It will save you a
lot of grief and you won't have to pay for shipping of parts later.
Use import brokers. They know the pitfalls of getting cars through
customs. Even if you have lots of time and money, they can save you a
lot of grief. There are also title and registration processing
services, which can be found online, should you not wish to deal with
Since completing my import, a recently passed law has added another
step to the import process. A new document must now be generated and
submitted to Customs called an "Import Security Filing." This form must
be submitted not less than 24 hours BEFORE the import item is boarded
onto the vessel
for transport to our shores. The purpose of the form is to provide
information to Customs as to what type of goods are coming in and from
and where they are intended to wind up, whether they be intended for
consumption or for re-export. This rule was enacted on January 26,
but Customs allowed a grace period of one year for importers to come
compliance, and has added an additional extension for some.
goods would be impounded and hefty fines would be assessed. For more
go to http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/newsroom/publications/trade/import_sf_carry.ctt/import_sf_carry.pdf
The most likely reason I did not know about it was because I was within
the grace period, but from now on, importers should be aware that a
broker must be selected and contacted well before their intended
Importing a car is the ultimate experience for the foreign car buff if
you are patient. Do everything in prescribed order, and give yourself
enough time for all of the processes to take place. If you have any
questions, consult people who have done it before. Most of us are glad
Copyright 2013 Mark L. Bardenwerper, Sr.