Disclaimer: If you like cars, don’t watch this video.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) caught the shiny Land Rover Defender being shipped into Baltimore, and dutifully crushed it because it because it was imported illegally. If a car isn’t authorized for sale in the United States, CBP will do its darndest not to let it in.
The all-business Defender is a true “SUV” and is prized by Land Rover fans, but it hasn’t been sold in the U.S. since 1997. Exports stopped because new safety regulations would have required Land Rover to fit front airbags as standard equipment and meet stricter side impact standards.
The cost of modifying vehicles to meet American safety and emissions standards often prevents desirable models from being sold here. More recently, Lotus stopped selling the Elise and Exige models in America because it would have had to fit the lightweight sports cars with weighty dual-stage airbags.
However, cars that are at least 25 years old are exempt from all regulations, because they are considered antiques. The importers of this Defender were trying to take advantage of that loophole. Since all Defenders look basically the same, they backdated a newer model to look like one built before 1989. Customs agents were not fooled.
According to Motor Authority, Defenders can be worth up to $100,000 in the United States, while a used late model sells for about $2,000 in the United Kingdom, so there is a lot of motivation for resellers to modify and sneak them in.
Land Rovers aren’t the only grey market imports out there. Older Japanese sports cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 occasionally show up in U.S. ports, as do kei micro trucks.
Bill Gates and several other prominent Porsche fans imported the legendary 959s illegally in the 1980s. Gates eventually got the car legalized under a new “Show and Display” waiver, which allows for significant cars to be imported as long as they are driven sparingly.
As long as foreign markets get cars Americans want, there will always be people trying to sneak them past customs. Maybe Land Rover should hurry up and bring its redesigned 2015 Defender our way.