Classic Logistics

December 1st, 2014 - What you need to know when importing a vintage car to Europe from the U.S..

For many European classic car dealers and collectors, the U.S remains an attractive and lucrative hunting ground.

One recent buyer in France, for example, purchased a prestigious 1937 Delahaye in New Jersey, U.S., for around $150,000 and shipped it back to France to be restored. The car will then likely be shipped back to the U.S. and sold for around five times that amount, says Philippe Creignou, head of SDV’s import department at Le Havre, France.

“The classic car market is booming with buyers looking for cars from Jaguar E-Types to Bugattis, MGs and Ferraris,” Creignou says. SDV expects to transport around 540 vintage cars from the U.S. to France, this year, with around 70 percent of those cars acquired by individuals and the rest by dealers, he adds.

But buyers need to understand the logistics of shipping their cars back to Europe.

Firstly, new owners buying a vintage car in the U.S. and shipping it to say France must obtain an expert opinion stating that the automobile qualifies as a classic car and therefore enjoys reduced customs and value-added taxes.

“To be classed as a classic car, the vehicle must be over 30 years old and in its original state,” explains Creignou. That means the car must have its original seats and engine, for example.

As a classic car, the importer pays only the 5.5 percent value-added tax but if the car is not classed as a classic then the buyer is liable for a steep 10 percent in customs duties as well as 19.6 percent in value-added tax.

Most French buyers purchasing a car in the U.S. go through a dealer, Creignou continues. Once the buyer has transferred the money, the dealer typically sends the car to be shipped from the ports of Long Beach, California, Miami, Houston and New York.

Shippers pack three or four cars in one 40-foot or 45-foot container, says Thomas Assemat, import operations manager for SDV in Le Havre. Custom-built wooden frames hold the cars in place during the crossing.

It typically takes around two months from the time the payment is made to final delivery, says Creignou.

On arrival in Le Havre, SDV arranges for the car to be assessed by an expert in France. It then transports the car to the new owner unless the buyers come to the warehouse. “That often happens,” says Assemat. “Many enthusiasts are keen to get their cars on the road.”

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