Editors Note: At our December 2013 Meeting we saw two Morgans, a Plus 8 and a Plus 4 attending for the first time, their proud owners, Bill Emerson and Brian Garrett having navigated the bureaucratic mazes and overcome the tyranny of distance from the UK and had just registered them in Victoria.
In discussions, we agreed that it would be worthwhile getting a record of what they had been through to provide some background for members considering sourcing a Morgan by this means. Bill and Brian kindly agreed and when I got their respective manuscripts I realized I had a fascinating tale of two approaches through allegedly identical regulations and a lot of insight into the motivations of Morgan ownership. Brian has also produced an analyisis of the costs involved in their two imports which may be of assistance to anyone trying to work out their budget for a Morgan import.
This is not intended to be a definitive or authoritative guide of how to import cars into Australia and should not be used as such. It is rather a record of the experiences of two individuals who have done it recently.
Part 1 Bill’s Story
As a total Anglophile when it comes to cars I have journeyed from my first car an Austin 7 through Standard 10s, an MGB, then onto Jaguars of several types. I have cursed the engineers of all of these cars when it came to doing mechanical work on them and the requirement of specialist tools The ability to put nuts and bolts etc in places no normal man can get his hand into without removing the motor has lead me to believe that their engineering courses required a semester on sadism. The greatest example of frustration in this area is replacing the spark pugs on a Jaguar V12 convertible where one of the plugs is so close to the firewall it is almost impossible to remove. I am sure today that there are many V12s running around without this plug ever being changed. These little idiosyncrasies and the use of Lucas “the prince of darkness” for all electrical had left me on more than one occasion hurtling down the Monash in my first Jag suddenly aware of no sound apart from the wheels on the road, total electrical failure. I decided after 5 Jags, you don’t buy them you actually make a donation to the cause.
I had been casually looking for many years to buy a Triumph TR5 PI. I had a friend who had one of these when I was young and it was a seriously quick vehicle. My friend and I had purchased a house in Noble Park that we were renovating and the Trumpee was known for taking on anything on the Princess Highway, especially after a night out at the Botanical, Oh those were the days, but that’s another story. If my memory serves me correctly, they only produced 2,500 of these vehicles with only a hand full arriving in Australia. About 2 years ago I saw a beautiful BRG version of this car and said to my wife ïsnt that the nicest car you have seen” her reply was “Bill!, that is a Noddy car” I was shattered.
I had been involved in Sailing for many years and found ways to spend and tear up a new currency I had invented, $200.00 notes, with the greatest of ease on the yacht. On selling the boat one of my crew said did I ever look back and feel sad, I answered no, our yacht “Current Affair” will be my last affair with Yachts I was discussing cars with a friend who causally mentioned Frank Malerba had 3 Morgan’s. Frank invited me to have drive of his lovely plus 4. I hadn’t driven a car for so long where you actually could feel the clutch and the gears engaging. We drove to Frank’s Gisborne property where he showed me the black sports and the Plus 8. I knew when I saw the plus 8 it was different, and when started the rumble of the V8 was total music to my ears. I drove the car and was reminded very quickly that this car does not have power assisted brakes and that I was back to serious driving, none of this one hand on the wheel with the other resting on the glove box. The rumble of the engine combined with looking down the bonnet of a Plus 8 for the first time led me to feel what is was like looking down the sites of a double barrel shotgun, I was hooked.
Why Import a Plus 8
I started looking around Australia, in particular I was after an EFI model which meant a late 80’s car. I realised quickly that the only way I was going to find one of these was to buy it direct from the UK. Armed with as much information I could find and extremely concerned about the requirements to meet the ADR’s and the pre 1989 rules, I left for the UK for our annual Holiday and to use the time to look for a car. It became clear fairly soon that Plus 8’s were being purchased and sold throughout Europe as buyers could see that the cost of a 25 year distinctive sports car could be registered and taxed more economically than a current manufactured car. When you combine this with the low value of the English pound over the past several years this was a cheap way to get into some fun driving. I visited Allon White’s garage to view a car I was interested in, only to find it was sold and being converted to left hand Drive. At that stage they had 4 Plus 8s being ready for export two to Australia, one to Malaysia, one to France. The comment was made: “We cant get enough of these cars for Australians”.
Buying a car at auction I was advised by a friend that Brightwells Auctions in Leominster had a 1988 Plus 8 for sale which looked pretty good. We travelled down from the North West with as much information as I could find on what to look for when buying a second hand Morgan. Buying a car at auction has many hazards. Whilst the car had detailed information on its service and mechanical repairs over the years, it only tells you a little about the car. The auction house will not allow you to drive the car but you can start the motor and visually inspect the vehicle. I looked for things like stress fractures on the chassis etc, the alignment of screws on the guards to see if it had been pranged, door movement, strange noises, body panels, wood rot, paint work and how the car sat. The only mechanical test I was able to do was pull the hand brake on, let out the clutch and wait to see if she stalled.
My wife Kate didn’t need to go as far as I did with the inspection, one look at the beautiful finish of the indigo blue paintwork was enough for Kate, approval had been gained. The next step is register for the Auction and leave your banking details etc. It was interesting when talking to one of the staff at the Brightwells that Classic cars had become so popular as an investment. One, they are not like a painting, you can use your investment. Two, they give a better return than the banks. He quoted that Plus 8’s were appreciating at about 500 pound a year. I know through reading the records on our car that it was sold on 15/6/2005 for 21,250.00 pounds. We paid, at auction on 15/7/2013, 33,500.00 pounds.
As mentioned previously, auction day was the 15th of July, the only day in the whole of our 3 months stay in Europe and the UK that I am in Germany on business, Kate will have to bid! We worked out with Brightwells how to do a phone bid, Kate and I discussed tactics of bidding , price etc and I left for Germany. Kate felt that she had watched enough episodes of Dickenson’s “Real Deal ” and “Flog It” that she was fully competent to handle the situation. Kate waited by the phone watching the clock slowly move towards 3 pm , the estimated time for lot 107, Morgan Plus 8 price, circa 22,000 to 24,000. Time went well past the 3pm suggested time and Kate was in slow meltdown, then the phone ran. The bidding started off at 20,000, with bids of 200 pound at a furious pace with about 5 participants, the bidding passed 22, 24, 26,000 and Kate is the last bid. We’ve bought it! Its a steal! This is fantastic, but wait!, there is a new bidder! , only two left now Kate and the new bidder, up to 27 it goes in 200 bid lots. We had discussed tactics if this happened to blow the other bidder away with a 1000 pound bid as it was well inside our agreed price range but this was not accepted by the auctioneer. I am sure if we had have been on the floor I would have argued this point. Bidding eventually stopped 30,500 pound it was over , we owned a Lot 107, the next step was how to get it Home. A comment here is that whilst the auction is VAT free the Commission isn’t. Brightwells are used to cars being exported and will assist in claiming back the VAT and having the rebate paid into your account.
If I was to buy another car again I would go armed with a good flash light and something to lay on to inspect underneath. It is worthwhile remembering that an Auction is the true definition of “Caveat Emptor” – Let the buyer beware”.
I later found out that at least 3 garages had been asked to check the car over for overseas buyers.
Getting a car ready for shipping
The first thing is to advise the Australian Government you have purchased a car and they will send you an approval to import into Australia. Date of manufacture is required as well as receipt of purchase and current registration details. I had already arranged for a shipping agent, one who did all Dutton cars from UK and Europe. The next step was to find the right workshop to ready the car for shipment.
Finding the right workshop
As we had purchased at auction I felt it would be difficult to have known professional dealers such as Allon White to work on the car as it was not purchased from them. I contacted them and they advised that it was a 2 month waiting period before they could start and we could not wait that long.
How do you find the right people? As we live in Cheshire when in England and the car was South of us at Leominster, ideally someone in between or near these two places would be ideal. Mr Google to the rescue, I found a specialist garage for classic and vintage cars, especially Morgan’s, TUDOR MOTORS of Market Drayton. I then googled for bad reports of work at Tudor only to find glowing testaments on total rebuild of Morgan’s at Tudor as well as several articles written by the owner Kevin Vernon on what to look for when purchasing a Morgan. Kevin’s articles are a bible on what to do and what to look out for when buying and restoring a car. Anyone who is seriously looking to buy a Morgan will gain enormous benefit from these articles. Kevin is recognised in the UK for his knowledge and work on Morgans.
Having been severely mauled by a rogue when restoring a Jensen interceptor many years ago I went to eyeball Kevin before we went any further and discuss what could be done. A recky of his work shop and a look at what he was restoring made me quickly realize that with the cars he was restoring in his workshop that this was a very good operation, beautifully kept cars in an old but immaculate workshop where even the immaculate pencils were sharpened and placed in order of Priority. On talking to several of his staff I realised very quicky these are not mechanics but artisans at work.
After further discussions we agreed to pick up the car with his trailer, inspect, and consider what work was required. We headed off the next day with my folio of what was required with ADR’s and the Vic RWC requirements. Over the 2 hour drive to Leominster I proceeded to inform Kevin our rules and reg’s which I am sure to this day he has found amusing as well as confusing. I left the car with Kevin and returned 2 days later to see what his appraisal was.
A detailed estimate of work required was presented to me, all moving parts and known problem areas inspected and replaced oil leaks attended, servo brake update, total overhaul of brakes, the car totally steam cleaned and painted underneath, interior cleaned. The most alarming of all the work was replacing the right hand king pin where some idiot had lost the nut and replaced it with a metric nut, stripping the thread slowly allowing the nut to work its way off. I read through the service records on the car and saw when this work was carried out by the previous owner’s service provider. I emailed the previous owner to advise what a lucky man he was to still be with us. On the matter of repairs, I have spoken with Brian Garrett and we both agree that due to the availability and the fact that you can claim back the VAT, that it is well worth while having all repairs carried out in the UK. The only exception I found was the cost to do a total leather replacement was 7000 pound, a 6 week wait period plus 4 weeks to complete, I couldn’t wait that long.
The extras I put on were 5 new tyres. You need to be aware when fitting tyres in the UK that they may not meet local ADR’s, sun visors that were taken off when I had the VASS certification, head rest’s, side impact door beams, (yes they are available), and last but not least a Librand fully stainless twin exhaust. Our car had a single exhaust when manufactured which is an act of gross indecency to a V8, especially a Morgan. The car was ready for shipping late August, I had my first and only drive of the car at this time. Driving the laneways of Shrewsbury in a open top car with an exhaust that would make any racing car envious was a joy, the cackle it made when you took your foot off the throttle was pure pleasure.
We’re on our way
The car was picked up in a fully enclosed trailer that could carry approximately 6 cars and then delivered to a holding yard before shipping. Here it was containerised ready for shipping. My experience with shipping is identical to Brian Garrets, We followed the ship’s progress on “ship finder” a great little app. Customs and clearance are again the same as Brian’s with the only differences being I slipped into the horrible luxury car tax area and paid a tax on a tax on a tax, darn good system this; it gives a whole new definition to plunder and pillaging. One point here as the car had been fully painted underneath, I was not charged for Quarantine.
The car arrived on the Wednesday before Cup Day which meant I had the small chance of delivery on the Monday but more like the following Thursday. The saying “everything stops for The Cup” was never truer. Pick up was a arranged for Thursday morning but before you can do this you need 2 important documents.
1 PERMIT TO DRIVE AN UNREGISTERED CAR from Vic Roads . This is straight forward and allows you to drive to specific destinations such repair shop, etc.
2 INSURANCE: I looked at 3 different companies here Lumley’s, Shannon’s and RACV. Of all I found RACV the most useful with the tipping point being roadside assist. The policy I used was Insurance for a non registered car that could be converted to Insurance for registered car when this was achieved. The policy covered me for 12000 kms a year plus a 10% discount for being a member of RACV .My only snag with this policy was that I could not validate the policy until I was actually going to pick up the car. The line between insurance as a cargo item is totally different to Insurance for a road vehicle. What this means is whilst I drove the car on the customs agent yards it was covered by my shipping insurance, once it crossed over the driveway to a road it was then my RACV insurance. I had to advise RACV before I left home, before they would give me the policy.
On arrival at the yard we proceeded to the shed where the car had been rolled out of the container and there she was, a little dusty but in pristine condition, no black dirty big marks off a wharfie’s size 10 on the carpets or anywhere else, the only foreign thing on the car was a note saying the isolator switch had been turned on. I should make one point if you intend to transport your car, put the hood down and use your Tourneau cover as you don’t know what gorilla might attempt to drive your car. this way they should not wreck your roof etc.
This was it! With a group of about 5 workers staring at me I got into the car turned off the isolator switch, thought of all the things such as, do you pump the pedal on a EFI car, has the fuel volatilized in the lines with the variation of temperature in the container when going through the various climates, will the battery be dead, what will I do if it wont start. I looked at Kate, who was reading my mind and then back at “The Boys” and then I realized I WAS THE FLOOR SHOW, if it didn’t start , Oh giggle giggle poor B…….d his car wont start, what a shame. It’s at this point the greatest of agnostics finds a reason to say a prayer. It started, just as if it had only been used yesterday, the floor show was over the boys went back to their work, Kate jumped into the Lexus and followed me home. The first drive of Lot 107 on Aussie soil. Driving under the Westgate Bridge listening to the roar from the Librand exhaust, it was just like doing the draw back on a Marlboro cigarette just after a great meal.
“TO BE OR NOT TO BE’: To register road or club, that is the question
I was in 2 minds here, I really wanted to do road but was really concerned about emission controls. I had been in contact with several RAWS people about this prior to leaving Australia and the cost to gain approval could be astronomical. I had pestered several people in the club about the requirements on this and all had said just do club. To compound my concern further I had contacted Vic Roads before leaving Australia who confirmed that I would need a VASS statement even for club plates, this was getting serious, what should I do . Once again I phoned Vic Roads when back in Australia who, once again said I needed a VASS report.
I have discussed this with Brian Garrett who didn’t need VASS for his club plates and have just verified this with my VASS inspector that Brian is correct. The problem is in the written word , or “the devil is in the detail”. The guidelines as written by Vic roads can be construed to have more than one meaning. The 2 people I contacted read the same information I was reading and looked at my import as a customised car which must have a VASS. I argued this point but as I said on two occasions I was given the wrong info. Good on you Brian you didn’t give in as I did.
I discussed this with a good friend Phil Stewart the owner of Stylemaster Panels in Richmond. Phil is a member of the Chevrolet club and has just imported two 1947 Chevs ,( one beautiful woody van ) that will be a stunning car when finished. Phil advised me that they used “Autoteam”, Mr Sanjay Bhide an Approved VASS engineer . Sanjay is a fully accredited Automotive engineer who has worked with Tata , GMH, Ford etc. The first assessment was at my home with inspection for the following items head rests, retractable seat belts (approved), door lock, side collision bars, wipers, lights, approved glass, etc . Tyres, I had replaced the tyres whilst in the UK with continentals with the same rating as the factory specs. This was a mistake, our standard can vary on this point but I was lucky he approved them. I had also fitted sun visors that he asked to be removed.
Points to check for next that inspection: That exhaust!!!!!!! – better get a decibel reading, Emission control, fit an oxygen sensor and carbon canister, fit catalytic convertors. This was bad, It could have been worse, I could have been asked to have the car go through a CO2 test after all this was fitted and if it failed, fix it or forget! All that money to get a wonderful sound all wasted, the whole system would have to be bastardised, that great note would be like a whisper and not a roar, all hope is lost.
Now this is when you must start to be resourceful and look for comparative situations, who else used Rover motors circa 1988, Range Rover, Land Rover. Both these vehicles had been imported and passed the emission control standard. I phoned several parts suppliers asked for cat convertors only to be told “Mate, that motor was not fitted with convertors. This was strange. I contacted a third company one who claimed to be the largest spares holder for Land Rover and Rover in the world. Once again I was told they didn’t have convertors. I asked the contact would he advise the VASS inspector of this and he said he would and that Jag Rover came to him for knowledge on spares etc for cars over ten years as they did not keep records back that far. I was saved , yes there is a God and he is looking very kindly over me at this time, I will beat this thing yet. Full cost for VASS $790, two inspections.
Its interesting to note that whilst these motors came to Oz without all the emission junk, the same motor for Europe and the UK at this time had it on????? strange. The other items carbon canister, no that wasn’t on , oxygen breather , no: Sanjay wanted that on but where do I get it? and where will it fit. This is where my resourceful RWC mechanic showed his skills, Off to the wreckers, this looks like it will fit, take it off the Commodore. Look it fits nicely beside the heater fan, the job’s just about done.
Noise test, requirement 90 decibels at 3000 rpm, my car, is somewhere above 110 decibels, that means a 20% reduction in noise level. Is this exhaust my Achilles heel? Have I pushed my luck too far? No I’m in luck once again as my mechanic finds a way. It not as good as it used to be and has dropped a little power but at my age I’m not interested in smoking the wheels on this car. Within 2 hours I have passed my VASS Inspection, have my RWC certificate and given full on the road registration.
If anyone says to you ” do you know who that old man was driving a blue Morgan down South Road one day last November with the hood down singing as the rain pelted down……..IT WAS ME!
I can’t leave this without saying thankyou to the many people I pestered from the club for information during this journey, they will know who they are. I would like to give a special thank you Frank for making me see the dream and then live it. To Lyle for his guidance on the nasties of importing, I am sure he felt at times that I was a serial pest. Kate, my wife for thinking that maybe I wasn’t quite over chemo when doing this, I thank you one and all.
I realise this reads like Coronation Street to our Expat members or Blue Hills to the local natives but I couldn’t tell the story any other way. So in closing if you want to buy a car and import it, a rough guide to the final cost is take the price you paid for the car, convert it to Aussie and the double it.
See you on the road
Bill and Kate Emerson
Part 2 Brian’s Story
After we took our 1949 Series 1 to Gympie earlier this year we decided that we needed a newer Morgan to enable us to be more secure / flexible in driving long distances on major roads with better brakes.
We decided on a more modern Morgan 4/4 but not a new one. It had to meet certain criteria. No rust or rot. Hence a galvanised chassis, alloy body and cuprinolised wood were must haves. Other lesser considerations were low mileage, scuttle roll bar, colour, stainless exhaust and whatever other options that were included with ‘for sale’ cars. EFI was not on my list as a must have.
There are not many Morgans that match these criteria in Australia, so importing became an option.
It had to be pre 1989 as it is basically impossible for an Australian resident to import a later secondhand vehicle. 1986 was the year of cuprinol for all Morgans, it was optional before then; galvanising and alloy were also options. This limited the time period from 1986 to 1988 for guaranteed wood preservation treatment, or an earlier car that had these options installed.
Consideration of Australian importing regulations and registration requirements then became a major issue.
Australian Import Regulations
A Vehicle Approval Certificate is required from Department of Infrastructure at a cost of $50. Their timing is 15 working days, mine took a week longer and 2 phone calls.
Several shipping agents told me that they had not known of an application for an importation certificate for a pre 1989 vehicle being rejected and suggested that you could start the import process with confidence. I did not take their advice.
Customs and Duty
Australia charges GST (10%) and import duty (5%) on all costs incurred before the vehicle arrives in Australia or you get an approved valuation. There is also Luxury car tax on vehicles exceeding a threshold $ value.
The underside and the inside of the car are inspected by AQIS for any mud, dirt etc. I had the car pressure washed in the UK before shipping but this was not good enough. It had to be steam cleaned on arrival.
Before considering importing I had investigated the regulations in Victoria for registration/VASS/club permit plates with VicRoads and VASS members.
For Full (normal) registration, a pre 1989 vehicle must have a compliance plate fitted by a VASS member. They are listed on the VicRoads website. The vehicle must conform to the ADRs in place at the time of manufacture. I had a quote of $770 by a VASS member. Other VASS members told me to find a member who had undertaken compliance on a Morgan as it would be much simpler and cost less. I have not found anyone yet. Global Classic Cars Mount Barker SA. (Stefan Wolfe) has compliance done in Queensland and then transfers vehicles to other States.
Pre July 1988 ADRs (Edition 2) were the responsibility of each State. Australia wide ADRs (Edition 3) were introduced in July 1988. They are much more strictly controlled.
Victorian Club Permit Plates are obtained with a Victorian RWC and evidence of Club Membership. VASS compliance is not required provided it is unmodified.
This has been of some concern to Queensland Mog owners because if they purchase a Victorian Club Plate car it may have to go through compliance if it had not been previously fully registered. The Queensland club scheme is a lower cost concessional registration scheme but still requires full compliance. Victorian vehicles with Club Plates are NOT registered but have a Permit to drive on Victorian roads. Interstate driving needs to be checked with the other State regulators.
Selecting a Morgan
I had been looking at 4/4s for the last few years on the web. www.carandclassic.co.uk seems the best site for used Morgans. It currently has 271 Morgans of which 75 are 4/4s, and 11 of these from the 1980s. (Feb 2014)
I found online a car in Dorset UK at Newelms-Morgan Workshop (Tim Ayers) that fitted my criteria and was about the price that I considered acceptable to start negotiations. I considered going to the UK to inspect the car but decided not to, but to get an independent inspection. I arranged for a RAC inspection to be undertaken to identify any other issues that had not been identified in my discussions and emails/photographs with Tim. Split upholstery and a small spot of corrosion on the rear mudguard had been identified as issues by Tim.
The RAC inspection identified in addition the tyres and brake pads as in need of replacement, exhaust brackets defects, minor oil leaks, wheel bearing, seat belts not recoiling, perishing bushes and the need to replace all fluids. They were identified as either essential or desirable items.
Repairs included upholstery, exhaust, oil leaks, wheel bearing, seat belts and new brake pads.
As XR3 motors were not sold in Australia I had a new cam belt and tensioner fitted instead of Tim’s offer of new tyres, as part of the negotiations.
The tyres which were originals and perished after 27 years, I replaced in Australia. Some UK tyres are not acceptable in Australia.
Transferring $A to UK was found to be much more economic through a broker than a bank. It did include a few after midnight calls from the broker as the A$ conversion rate was dropping rapidly and I was waiting on the RAC report. We were on holiday in Port Douglas and our mobile kept dropping out. It became a stressful couple of days, until it was sorted.
VAT is refundable on any work undertaken in the UK provided the vehicle is not driven on a UK road after the work is undertaken.
Container v RORO
There is a considerable difference in shipping Roll On Roll Off and a container. Unloading costs are also reduced. An overall cost saving of $2000 is possible for RORO. A container on the deck is also subject to a more marine environment than a car in the hold of a RORO ship. However considering security concerns of an open car I decided on a container.
Several websites such as MarineTraffic.com and VesselFinder.com allow the tracking of the vessel carrying the car. Other sites let you track the container.
The ships arrival was about one week later than estimated on leaving the UK. The car spent a week on the wharf in Singapore due to a change of ship.
Payment of GST, import duty, port and depot charges were required before arrival in Melbourne. The container was moved to the depot within one day of arrival.
AQIS found a small amount of soil under one of the mudguards, even though it had been pressure washed in the UK. Steam cleaning had to be arranged, extending the time in the import depot by 3 days.
I picked up the car from the depot in my covered car trailer 10 days after arrival in Melbourne. Registration –Victoria
The RWC was undertaken at our local garage. They identified a loose bolt in the back suspension, no rubber footpads on the pedals (I had two spare new ones for the Series 1 that fitted perfectly) and a perished fuel filler pipe which needed to be replaced. They also fitted a set of new tyres that I had previously ordered.
I registered the car in Benalla later in the day after obtaining the RWC. The next day we were off to the VICMOG AGM.