Posted on: November 12, 2015

by Sumra Manning in the September 1995 RootesReview

Have you ever wondered what’s involved in shipping a Sunbeam back from England to the US? It’s surprisingly easy and economical. My shipping costs in August ’95 from Southampton to Newark were $800.

How to Do It

Working in England for the last 4 1/2 years, I bought a Tiger 3 years ago to enjoy while I was there and bring with me upon my return. I chose the car for all the familiar illogical reasons but used several other arguments on myself and my understanding wife:

  1. Cars from 1967 and earlier are exempt from EPA and DOT compliance when imported to the US. This makes it easier and cheaper.
  2. Most British sports cars (MGs, Austin Healeys, Jags, Astons, etc.) are for the most part, cheaper in the US than England. By the time you ship one back to the US, you’re well over the US value of the car. Sunbeams, on the other hand, are one of the few that sell for about the same in England that they do in the US.
  3. And, of course, I loved the car. It is LHD and spent most of its life in Ohio. Doug Jennings even remembers the original owner and worked on the car years ago. It went to the UK in the late ’80s when people made money by buying British sports cars in the US, shipping them to England, converting them to RHD and then selling them. The UK market collapsed before the UK owner got around to converting it.

Documentation

After buying the car, I began collecting US government documents on importing a personal car. They generally discourage you from doing it but, if you decide to, they suggest you do so through an authorized broker. I eventually determined that I didn’t need one since the car was exempt from EPA/DOT regulations. In fact, one of the brokers told me, “Why use us? Deliver it yourself to a UK shipper and clear it through US Customs in the States yourself. It’ll be cheaper.” So I did.

Shipping

One of the most popular shippers is Wallenius Shipping Lines, sailing out of Southampton. They specialize in below-deck “RORO” service (roll on-roll off) for personal vehicles. Their ships are special purpose car carriers holding up to 5800 cars, and were described to me as “an 11-story car park on the ocean” with movable floors, to accommodate semis, tractors and other tall vehicles. When I drove the car down to Southampton, I was surprised to see several hundred other personal cars in their staging area. Most of them were late model LHD cars that people had shipped to Europe to use while there and were returning to the States. Not all of them though; there was a Series II Alpine in the lot as well.

At Southampton they measured the car with a tape measure, asked me how much it weighed and gave me a receipt for COD pick-up in Newark. Then I caught the next train back to London.

Arrival

The car arrived at Newark 8 days later. My wife drove me to the US Customs office 10 minutes from the dock. I brought my arrival notice from Wallenius, UK and US titles, temporary Pennsylvania tags and a screwdriver (for major repairs). The agent stamped my papers and did NOT charge me the 2 1/2% duty I was expecting to pay on the car’s value. He determined that the car was originally imported into the US in 1966 and that duty wasn’t due a second time.

Then we drove to the Wallenius dock where I paid $800 and got the car. It was a relief to see it sitting there in the staging area, dirty but undamaged. It started right up and we drove back to Philadelphia without a hitch. Along the way, I filled the tank with the first unleaded gas it’s ever burned. Over the winter, I’ll change the French oil for some Quaker State.

So, if you find the Sunbeam of your dreams in England, don’t let questions on shipping stop you! It’s easy.

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