Everyone has a dream car. A machine that when those lottery numbers eventually pop up will be the first thing on the shopping list, after a shed load of champagne, obviously.
The actual dream car varies from person to person and is heavily influenced by both age and upbringing – or to put it more precisely, what was on TV when you were a kid! As a mid-forty year old man, and therefore a child of the 1980s, my choice of dream vehicle is down to American TV shows and movies.
Obviously l had the Athena poster of a Lamborghini Countach on my wall, all teenage petrol-heads did, but when it comes to dream cars I’d love to open the garage and see a GMC Vandura like the A-Team had or the GMC K-2500 Sierra Grande Wideside that The Fall Guy drove. Or Face’s Chevrolet Corvette C4, Starsky & Hutch’s Gran Torino, Michael Knight’s Pontiac Trans Am, the Dukes of Hazard’s Charger (maybe minus the confederate flag…) or Smokey and the Bandit’s Firebird. I’d also like Airwolf, but that’s not practical, or Daisy Duke – but that’s a different matter.
However for me there is one vehicle that stands head and shoulders above them all when it comes to a childhood dream car, the DeLorean DMC-12. Or as everyone calls it – the Back to the Future car. So, in the midst of a mid-life, pandemic-inspired, crisis, last year I decided to saddle myself with a huge amount of debt and make my childhood dreams come true. It was a rocky road, but one I’m glad I took. If you are considering doing the same, here’s the harsh reality compared to the dream expectation of importing, owning and affording to run your dream car.
Expectation: Finding your dream car will be tricky
Reality: Obviously this is very much dependent on the car you are searching for but in general, thanks to the internet locating a car is actually easy. There are lots of different routes you can take but a car dealer won’t be worried at all about selling a car to someone in a different country, they will take the cash and await the transport company turning up. A lot of big dealers, or ones that specialise in ‘collectable’ cars, can even organise shipping for you.
Before you start, however, the first thing to do is to contact a UK-based owners group, mainly to see if anyone has one for sale and save yourself the hassle of importing another, but also to see who the UK-based expert is. Often there is a go-to guy in the UK who works on the cars and they will generally have contacts in America who can be trusted. And that’s a big deal because you will be spending a lot of cash on a car you are unlikely to see in the flesh until it turns up on your doorstep. If this fails, there will be people on the forums who have imported cars and will know places to buy them such as the Beverly Hills Car Club, which is a big US-based dealer that stocks loads of cool cars. You can go down the owners club route to locate a private sale as most clubs have worldwide membership but that’s risky.
Tip: Find the go-to contact in the UK and enlist their help. They may charge a ‘finder’s fee’ but it will be worth it for a bit more peace of mind.
Expectation: I’ll be ripped off
Reality: This is a very real worry, but again, being smart can alleviate the chances of this happening. Buying from a dealer adds some degree of security (especially if you have a UK-based trusted person backing you up) and you need to do your homework. Look for common faults and ask the seller to send pictures and/or videos and provide any service history. It’s no different to buying a car in the UK, the only issue is that you won’t be able to return it! Picking the right car is the most terrifying part of the whole process and you need to be quick to secure it (good ones tend not to hang about) but also cautious to ensure you don’t buy a lemon. Then again, some would argue buying a classic car in the UK is just as risky.
Tip: It’s very hard but try not to get too excited and just buy the first car you see. Another will pop up, it’s just a matter of time. If you have been waiting since you were 15 years old, what’s another few months…
Expectation: Importing a car will save me money
Reality: Generally speaking, importing a car should save you money. However there are a huge number of factors in play, most of which are out of your control. Obviously the bigger the market, the lower the price tag and as many dream cars tend to be US-built, there are loads more over there so prices are lower. The reality is that most buyers don’t want the hassle of importing a car, which is why cars already in the UK cost more. And then there’s the strength, or right now the weakness, of the pound to be taken into account.
Next, remember that the price you pay for the actual car is only the start, you then need to factor in transport to the docks, shipping, insurance, import tax, converting to UK-spec, MOT and registering it with the DVLA. All of these tasks on your dream car To Do list quickly add to the price. And as well as exchange rates, since the Suez issue, covid and the rising cost of fuel, shipping is in a bit of a mess and prices have skyrocketed. You will need to run through the sums carefully to see whether you will save money by going down the import route, rather than snapping up a car already here.
Tip: If you are transferring money, compare the rates of exchange from a variety of banks, they can be quite different and this can add up to a saving of a few hundred quid. Also double-check the bank details given to you (some banks have a verification system), ideally by speaking to the seller directly – there are scams and emails can be intercepted.
Expectation: Getting it here will be a costly nightmare
Reality: Amazingly, it is harder to post a parcel in the UK than import a car from America. Honestly, it is. There are lots of specialist companies that deal with the whole process for you from start to finish, which can be quite complicated so is best left to professionals. They will sort a transporter to pick the car up and take it to the docks, get it loaded, shipped over and then taken to a location of your choice in the UK having paid all the import costs. But there is a charge.
The first thing you need to know is that currently the worldwide shipping scene is in turmoil and prices have gone through the roof, a situation not helped by the current fuel crisis. When I imported my car in 2021 it cost £1920 to get from Illinois to the UK, that same trip would now be over £2500 (it is going up literally by the day) with delays common. You then need to add insurance to this, which is generally done on a percentage of the vehicle’s value (I paid 1.25 per cent – remarkably good value) and then there is import tax. Yep, the good old government want their part of the action and if you import a car you need to pay tax on it. Happily, if the car was built in the UK such as the Belfast-built DeLorean, it is only 5 per cent as you are technically reimporting it! If it’s a big old US-built V8, they story isn’t quite as rosey so always check before you buy how much it is likely to be. Import companies take care of the whole process so you just pay them and await the release papers a few days after the car lands and clears customs.
Tip: The import tax is on the value of the car, which is how much it was sold for. Obviously if you buy a car and then it subsequently has a lot of work done on it by the US dealership such as a service, parts changed etc, these bills can be separated out. It’s worth considering.
Expectation: It will arrive and be perfect
Reality: This is the greatest gamble. Remember, the vehicle is picked up by a transport company, taken to a port, loaded into a crate, unloaded and then finally taken to where you want it. In that whole process, which can take a month or more, you have no idea where it is stored or who is driving it on and off the transporters, which is why you want insurance. My DeLorean arrived covered in dust (I still have no idea how…) and with damage to its bumper. Frustrating but easily sorted and that’s why you have insurance. You hear horror stories of cars not being strapped down properly in containers and thrashing themselves to pieces while on the Atlantic but by the same token you hear many more of them arriving in perfect condition. Keep your fingers crossed.
Tip: Always request a 360-degree walk around video and pictures before shipping so you prove any subsequent damage was caused during the journey.
Expectation: Converting it to UK-legal spec will be hard and expensive
Reality: Nothing could be further from the truth, although some aspects are age dependent. The main items that need changing are the lights, which obviously dip the wrong way, and then there needs to be a fog light. This is a simple on/off light so is easy to fudge. It cost less than £100 for the DeLorean to get new lights fitted and a fog light attached. Obviously the rest of the car needs to then pass an MOT but in general it is an easy process. But there are some things you need to know. You can legally insure a car on its VIN plate (chassis number) and drive it to and from an MOT minus its licence plates – the actual distance isn’t specified, I drove over 100 miles home from the MOT! That’s the good news. The bad news is that once you have the MOT, it is illegal to drive it again on the road until you have a licence plate. I may have not 100 per cent understood this…
With an MOT certificate (done on its VIN plate) you send this, a copy of your insurance, a V55/5 form and the title (US V5 document) alongside proof of the import tax being paid (NOVA) and more to the DVLA. All the info you need can be found online. You then need to wait, and wait a long time. The DVLA is in a mess after Covid and it took a frustrating 12 weeks (and one rejection as I got the tax code wrong) to be issued with a UK licence plate.
Tip: Read the guide and ask questions if unsure when it comes to the V55/5 form. I put ‘historic’ as the car was 40 years old, but it turns out it needed to be 41 years to class and that added six weeks to the process as the whole application was rejected! The pen-pushers at the DVLA could have just called me or SORNed that car but they play it by the book.
Expectation: It will drive like a dream
Reality: Most classics are not great to drive and hands up, the DeLorean isn’t that joyous. On the narrow UK roads a big, lefthand drive, US-designed car is a challenge and much happier at 60mph on wide A-roads. Does this matter? Not at all, you are driving your dream car and the fact it is hot, you are terrified about ripping the front righthand corner off and, in the case of the DeLorean, there is no power steering to help you makes not a jot of difference. And mine is ‘only’ a V6, I’m terrified to think what the fuel economy is like on a classic performance V8. Who said dreams come cheaply?
Tip: Don’t load up the car with the wife/kids/dog on your first journey in your eagerness to show it off. Go for a gentle few solo drives to get the hang of it first.
Expectation: Everyone loves the car at shows
Reality: It’s not just shows, it’s everywhere! If you have an instantly recognisable car, be prepared to add 30 minutes to every journey you take. Anytime I stop with the DeLorean, people come and look and want to chat about it, which is lovely – unless you have fish and chips going cold on the passenger seat. Cars just do that and aside from the odd comedian shouting ‘Hey McFly’ it is great to see people genuinely excited about seeing your car.
With the DeLorean I’ve had some great experiences from a newly-wed couple posing in it when I happened to park at a hotel they were getting married in, kids who have just watched Back to the Future and can’t believe they are seeing the car, older people who remember the whole debacle being on the news in the early 1980s and of course, 40-year old men like myself who are just excited to see one in the flesh – or stainless steel. In fact, I’ve even had two chaps come up and say ‘I built that part, my company never got paid.’
My favourite, however, is the the common scenario of a 40-something dad who pushes his kids up and tells them to pose in it; you sense they don’t care but he is dying to get in, so I always ask if the parent wants to sit in it afterwards.
Tip: Always go for the biggest parking space you can see. Everyone will be watching you so make life easy so you don’t look a prat.
Was it worth it?
A year and a half down the line, was buying my dream car worth it? I have a DeLorean parked in my garage, of course it was! The initial buzz has reduced slightly, my wife is (only very marginally) closer to forgiving me and has christened it the De’Bore’an as she’s fed up hearing about it, and the DMC has gone up in value. I call that a win/win situation.
There is no denying it was stressful at times, I’m told it was the closest I’ve ever come to a divorce and I have a lot of minus numbers on my bank statement but when that door opens (upwards…) and I get in my DeLorean, hell it was most certainly all worth it.