There are barely more doors on last year’s discarded advent calendar than there are days left until Brexit – and we still don’t know exactly what the plan is. For car lovers, this could be the last chance to snap up a second-hand automotive gem from the Continent while the benefits of EU membership last.
As things stand, you can import used cars from within the EU without paying either duty or VAT. As long as you inform HMRC promptly, it will leave your lucre alone.
But should we leave without a deal on 29 March, you might as well import from Belize as Belgium, or Sri Lanka as Spain: in any case, you could end up paying 10% duty and 20% VAT. Put differently, this could be your last chance to snare something special from the Continent without paying a hefty premium.
But what to choose? There is a tantalising array of metal on the Continental market that never made it to the UK or has become rare to the point of critical endangerment. Of course, they’re all left-hookers, but that should be no practical impediment for readers of this magazine. And concerns over resale values lessen when the steepest part of the depreciation curve has already been braved or, in some cases, has reversed entirely into the heady realms of appreciation.
Using pan-European used car websites such as autoscout24.com and mobile.de, we’ve chosen 14 contenders for your consideration. Wonderful, weird, ridiculous or rare – catch them while you can.
Alpina B7 (2004-2008) – from £16,000
You’d have thought the E65/66-gen 7 Series range-topper was amply armed with its 6.0-litre V12. Indeed, the 760i’s 438bhp was no trifling matter. But the boys from Buchloe concluded otherwise, which is why the Alpina B7’s supercharged 4.4-litre V8 makes 493bhp and is good for 186mph. We found a one-owner 74,000-miler listed at £16,000 in Düsseldorf and an extended-wheelbase example for £800 more. A big, brawny bargain.
Artega GT (2009-2012) – from £49,000
At least one of the 153 Artega GTs built was equipped with right-hand drive, but none is currently registered in the UK – a sad outcome for a deeply promising German mid-engined two-seater that was styled by Henrik Fisker and had the makings of a Porsche Cayman beater. Like the Lotus Evora, it has an aluminium chassis and plastic bodywork that help limit weight to 1116kg, while a VW tie-up brought the 296bhp 3.6-litre VR6 and dual-clutch gearbox from the Passat R36.
Borgward BX7 (2018 onwards) – from £35,000
Indications are that Chinese-owned and manufactured Borgward will bring right-hand-drive cars to the UK late in 2019, but you can already buy the BX5 and BX7 SUVs second-hand in the firm’s spiritual homeland of Germany. The BX7 is an alternative to Audi’s Q5. Its four-wheel drive is powered by a 221bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and TS launch spec brings heated leather seats, a panoramic roof, 10 speakers and a 12.3in touchscreen to the stylish-looking interior.
BMW 335xi (E90/91/92) (2007-2013) – from £10,000
Despite our rotten climate, the UK market’s first xDrive-badged 3 Series was 2012’s F30-gen model – and even then, you couldn’t get it with a lovely Bavarian petrol straight six. Not so across the Channel, where the E90-gen model offers that winning blend of characterful powertrain and all-weather skills. As some canny Brits have already discovered, therein lies a 302bhp twin-turbo steal in the 335xi: manual or auto, Saloon, Coupé or Touring. Fantastisch!
Donkervoort D8 GTO (2013 onwards) – from £134,500
Like Caterham, Donkervoort owes its origins to the Lotus Seven, but the Netherlands-based company has evolved Colin Chapman’s blueprint almost beyond recognition. The D8 GTO gets five-cylinder turbocharged power from Audi and makes 380bhp. A scant 695kg kerb weight aids 0-62mph thrust in just 2.8sec – or 2.7sec in 2016’s even more potent GTO-RS. Its Certificate of Conformity comes via European Small Series Type Approval.
Fiat Barchetta (1995-2005) – from £600
Although the charming little front-drive, Punto-based Barchetta was retailed in the UK, it was only ever built with left-hand drive, so you’ve even less to lose by shopping abroad. There are currently fewer than 10 for sale in the UK, whereas autoscout24.com alone lists more than 300 on the Continent. Crucially, that means more choice and, in many cases, no rust – the car’s biggest weakness.
Fisker Karma (2011-2012) – from £26,500
An £87,000 car at launch, this US-designed, Finnish-built range-extended plug-in hybrid can now be had for new Toyota Prius money. Like the Artega GT, the Karma was penned by Henrik Fisker, who this time also founded the company. Fisker Automotive had planned to build 100,000 cars annually but filed for bankruptcy in 2013 with just a couple of thousand units shipped. Underpinned by an aluminium spaceframe, the Karma has two electric motors that drive the rear wheels and are supported by a 2.0 turbo four-pot. Combined output of 403bhp is good enough for 0-62mph in 5.9sec. Tidy, engaging handling and a plush four-seat cabin add further appeal. Best check that any battery system recalls have been seen to.
Lada 4×4 (2014 onwards) – from £7600
The Lada 4×4 is ostensibly the same car as the Niva, but a refresh in 2014 added a dash of modernity with the introduction of the vaguely smartened Urban and rugged Taiga variants to the German market. Choose from three-door or longer five-door. Both have an 82bhp 1.7-litre petrol four, low range and a centre diff lock.
Lancia Delta Integrale Evo (1991-1994) – from £38,000
As with the Fiat Barchetta, buyers hunting a solid example of the left-hand-drive-only, rally-bred Integrale Evo will find a far greater selection at their disposal abroad – particularly in Italy, of course. Source a rust-free Evo 1 (210bhp) or Evo 2 (215bhp) that’s unmodified (even enlarged aftermarket 17in wheels can harm the bodyshell) and treat it to some British back roads for one of the great driving experiences.
Qvale Mangusta (2000-2001) – from £38,000
Originally a De Tomaso project, the Marcello Gandini-designed Mangusta was eventually manufactured in Modena by US-owned Qvale and later formed the basis of the equally bizarre MG X-Power SV. A resin-bodied 2+2 with a Targa-style panel and retractable rear glass ‘roto roof’, the Mangusta uses a Ford-sourced 4.6-litre V8 that sends 320bhp to the back axle. Fewer than 300 examples were built. All but one were left-hand drive and some used a four-speed automatic gearbox, but most were five-speed manuals like the green-on-tan one currently for sale in the Netherlands at £38,000. Patient buyers could hold out for lower-priced Mangustas to come onto the European market, but others will find more to choose from across the pond, where prices can dip well below £20,000.
Renault Espace Initiale Paris (2015 onwards) – from £13,300
Renault decided against offering the Mk5 Espace in right-hand-drive form, which means we’ve not only missed out on what has become one of the most handsome seven-seaters around, but also the Franco-suaveness promised by its range-topping Initiale Paris specification. An elegant interior is embellished by an 8.7in touchscreen, Bose sounds, mood lighting and ventilated nappa leather, while four-wheel steering, adaptive damping and up to 222bhp add unexpected dynamic credentials.
Saab 9-7X (2004-2008) – from £6600
While its Volvo XC90 countryman flourished, the Chevrolet Trailblazer-based, Ohio-built Saab 9-7X floundered, shifting just a few hundred units across selected European markets. The identikit Saab restyle fooled no one, and unlike in the Volvo – which was actually the shorter car – there was no seven-seat option. The 6.0-litre LS2 V8-powered Aero version never crossed the Atlantic, but cubes are still plentiful in the cooking 4.2-litre six-cylinder and 5.3-litre V8.
Smart Crossblade (2002) – from £12,100
This roofless and effectively doorless confection is a special version of the Mk1 Fortwo, limited to 2000 examples. Open to the elements and with a 599cc turbocharged triple whipped into a 70bhp frenzy by Brabus, it’s nippier to drive than the standard car in more ways than one. We spotted a single Crossblade for sale in the UK, but all of the 20-plus listed on autoscout24.com are priced lower than the UK car’s £19,750 asking price.
Wiesmann MF3 (2002-2011) – from £96,000
Dormant German manufacturer Wiesmann’s MF3 roadster – an evolution of its earlier MF30 – had already been around for a couple of years by 2002, but that’s when it upgraded to the E46- generation BMW M3’s 3246cc straight six engine. In this 338bhp trim, it was available either with the M3’s SMG II robotised six-speed or a five-speed manual for a more old-school roadster experience. Thanks in part to a 1180kg kerb weight, the MF3 could reach 62mph in less than five seconds and was lauded for its assured yet adjustable handling and good build quality. Those seeking yet more combustive thrills should look towards the 5.0-litre V10-powered version of Wiesmann’s MF5, which was built in coupé and roadster forms and can now be had from £176,000.
Importing used cars from the EU is relatively straightforward – unless the vehicle is less than 10 years old, in which case type approval is required. This can be achieved in one of two ways. The first means getting hold of a Certificate of Conformity (CoC) that confirms the car’s European type approval status, then applying to the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) for a certificate of mutual recognition. The second involves gaining Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).
Castle-Donington-based My Car Import is one of few specialists in this field and processes around 120 cars per month. The company can collect your chosen vehicle from source, bring it to the UK and jump through the legislative hoops required to make your imported wheels legal and ready to drive. We spoke to managing director Jack Charlesworth for the inside track on type approval.
What are the differences between mutual recognition and IVA?
“With mutual recognition, certain manufacturers supply CoCs within a couple of days, but others take up to six weeks and charge as much as £1000. Mercedes is an exception: it provides a CoC with every new car. “IVA is often quicker and cheaper: we can usually get your car tested within two weeks and the DVSA sets the test fee at £199. There is also no recognition of CO2 emissions, so pre-March 2001 tax rates apply, meaning £155 for engines under 1500cc and £255 for everything else. “Both routes require modifications, but IVA also involves a detailed vehicle assessment.”
What modifications are required?
“The speedo must show miles per hour, but that often just involves replacing the face, and the rear foglight should be central or offset to the right. Headlights must dip to the left. Many now have a flat beam pattern anyway, while directional xenon lamps are usually adjustable. LED headlamps often need replacing, however, which can cost around £1500.”
What do you charge for your services?
“The typical admin fee is around £600, including customs clearance, presenting the vehicle for the IVA and all paperwork, including DVLA registration. Vehicle modification costs vary, but a total bill of around £1500 isn’t unusual.”
Used cars imported from within the EU are exempt from duty and not subject to VAT if it has already been paid in another EU state, the car is at least six months old and it has covered more than 6000km. Using the Notification of Vehicle Arrivals service, you must advise HMRC within 14 days of import. Then you can apply to the DVLA for registration, which requires the following:
- Completed V55/5 form
- Road tax fee
- Foreign registration document (failing that, a dating certificate from the manufacturer)
- MOT certificate (recorded against the VIN)
- Certificate of insurance (Northern Ireland only)
- Personal identification
- £55 fee
For cars less than 10 years old, type approval requirements also apply:
- Apply to receive a certificate of mutual recognition from the VCA by providing the following:
- Completed mutual recognition form
- European CoC
- Detailed invoice or statement from a qualified garage confirming vehicle modifications
- £100 fee
- Apply for IVA from the DVSA by providing the following:
- Completed IVA 1C form
- Approval certificate following technical assessment by VOSA (or DVA in Northern Ireland)
- £199 fee
Brexit: what it means for the British car industry
Porsche warns of 10% price rise after no-deal Brexit
Brexit is a problem for UK automotive, whatever your political stance