All of our custom builds start with a base vehicle, most of these vehicles are sourced in Europe, whether it is England, Spain, France, Italy, the process is almost always the same. First, we start with the vehicle.
We look for the best condition chassis possible, we measure the thickness of the metal at key points using an ultrasonic measuring tool. We ensure that the chassis has not suffered any damage and that if there is any evidence of rust, it has not affected the integrity of the frame beyond repair. One of the most important aspects of purchasing any vehicle is that the VIN number matches between the vehicle paperwork and the stamps on the vehicle itself. Land Rover Defenders / 90 / 110 / 130 all have their chassis number stamped into the front right-hand chassis leg in front of the wheel and behind the front bumper. Normally they are coated with thick paint and rust preventative coatings, so they can take some time to find. If the chassis number is not legible, or even visible anymore, we would not purchase the vehicle. US customs and your local DMV will need to be able to see this stamp to ensure that it matches the paperwork.
The Defender range has a number of different style VIN plaques dependent on the year of manufacture. These are usually located on top of the brake pedal box on the driver side of the vehicle inside the engine bay. Again, it is imperative that this number matches the chassis number stamped on the frame itself, and the VIN number printed on the vehicle paperwork (Title). Some of the later Defenders (1994 onwards) had a VIN tag located in the windshield assembly as well as on the pedal box, so it is worth checking that all are matching.
The Land Rover Defender that you are looking to import must also still have its original engine installed. The number stamped into the block must match the number printed on the paperwork. Again, this will be inspected by US customs when they are determining if the vehicle is eligible for import under the 25-year classic rule.
Original is always best when you are looking to import any classic Land Rover, whether it is the Defender 90, 110, 130, Discovery or Range Rover Classic. If the vehicle has had an updated dashboard installed in the UK, for example, this could set off a red flag for US customs thinking that the vehicle is actually newer than it is, risking it being denied entry into the USA. Always be safe and go for the most original vehicle that you possibly can.
Matching numbers and an eligible date of manufacture are absolutely vital when looking to import any classic Land Rover Defender. 25 years old as a minimum. Many ex-service vehicles were not registered in their respective home countries when they were first manufactured, so the date of first registration can make a 1986 110 look like a 2005 110 due to the year of first registration and date of manufacture being confused. If this is the case with a classic Land Rover that you are looking at, be sure to reach out to the British Motor Museum who can provide you with factory information from your VIN number and can also send you a certificate of heritage, which helps prove the authenticity of the vehicle for import. It isn’t a bad idea to get one of these anyway, for any future resale, it is good to see that everything is as it should be.
Import paperwork is also important. If you are purchasing a Defender that has already been imported to the USA, you will want to know that it was done correctly. There are many documents that you can ask the importer to provide to you, but the most important is the copy of the original title, the sea Waybill, NHTSA and EPA documents with the importers signature and finally the original bill of sale.
Use a good broker that you can trust. We can recommend GWL Logistics and Masterpiece International, both of whom are based out of CA, but offer very good service when it comes to importing the Land Rover Defenders.
Be careful of people in any country, including the USA, who are willing to take advantage of your good nature. Documents are easy to forge, vehicle images are easy to copy and telling a good story is second nature to some people. Do not part with any cash until you have, at the very least, had the vehicle inspected by a third party, or better still yourself. Unless you know the seller well, do not part with any cash, check or wire transfer until the car is able to be moved away from the seller to a secure location (Shipping yard/Port etc). You need someone or a company that you can trust to facilitate the sale if you can not be there in person, this is the most important thing when purchasing any used vehicle.
Overall, only import a vehicle if you know that it is fully numbers matching, with all paperwork to prove it and that it is in its original and unmodified state. If it does not meet these simple criteria, my advice would be to walk away and find a better one. Normally, when something seems too good to be true, it is.
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