DriveLife readers may remember back in 2016, my wife and I were going to buy an old muscle car in the USA, drive it from LA to New York, and then ship it home.

That didn’t quite go the way we planned. Thoughts of an old, mid-sixties muscle car overheating at the side of the road in the desert of New Mexico in the middle of summer put that plan to rest.

However, we still went, and instead bought a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and drove that across the USA instead, covering 8,500km. That car now sits in the garage at home, as a sunny Sunday cruiser.

In September this year aim to return to do a 5-week, 8,000km trip from LA, following as much of the old Route 66 as we can to Chicago, then across to Philadelphia and New York, then to the New England states, like Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts – the last states in American that we’ve never been to. We’ve yet to nail down our route, but loose plans are in place.

This time, we aren’t going in the middle of summer. This time it will be autumn, and much cooler. Could we do what we planned to do in 2016, this year?

Totally.

That means this year, we are planning to buy something – a muscle car, or a big tank like a Lincoln or a Cadillac, and drive it across the USA and then ship it home.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Hard Part

So with loose plans in mind, the hunt for ‘what car’ has started. I’ve already spent far too many hours trawling Craigslist and other sites like classics.autotrader.com looking for that perfect car.

What do we call perfect? That’s the problem right now, trying to decide on our car selection criteria. Well, not really a problem – there are far worse things out there than having to make this sort of decision – but we want the right car for us.

  • Two-door or four-door?
  • Muscle car or yank tank?
  • Or something more a ‘personal luxury car’ like a Buick Riviera, Mercury Cougar XR-7, or Ford Thunderbird?
  • 1960s, 70s, 80, or 90s? Later?

Of course, it has to be a V8. If we’re going to follow Route 66, there’s no other choice.

At the moment, all the angst is around what decade of car to buy, which will help determine which car we buy. Since we already have a 1965 Sunbeam Tiger in the garage, I’m leaning towards something from (yes, shock horror) the 1980s, or maybe even later than that.

I’ve always been a Corvette fan, and love the look of the last of the C3 models in 1982. But 5.7-litre V8 and 190HP? I struggle with that. It’d be too embarrassing to be passed by almost everyone while still sucking a huge amount of fuel. Plenty of C3 Corvettes from 81/82 have been modified, but I’d prefer a totally unmodified car – much less chance of a breakdown, and easier to get compliance when it gets back to New Zealand.

Love the rear of the C3 Corvette as much as the front

What about the 1990s? The Camaro and Trans Am of that era had the LS1 Corvette engine, so over 300HP. That’s a much more attractive idea, but the look of them…not exactly pretty. The designers in the USA in the 80s and 90s seemed to lose their way, and that’s putting it nicely.

It has potential…
Not sure about the look of this one though. Would it grow on you?

And then, you look back at a late 60s Lincoln Continental four-door with suicide doors – now that is a car I’ve always lusted over. That’s not to say a Caddy isn’t in the mix. You can still pick up a mid to late 60s Cadillac with under a 100K miles for under US$10,000. That’s got to be good value, if it’s any good. The only problem is how bloody long they are. Ditto the Lincoln.

Always had the want for a Lincoln Continental with suicide doors

A 1971-1973 Buick Riviera with the boat tail? Top of my list, if I found the right car.

One of the best rear ends, ever

And there lies the next problem – finding a car that will get compliance here, with minimal or no work required. I’ve heard too many horror stories about people buying cars in the USA, only to find they are rotten underneath, or have been modified so much it costs so much more money to get compliance.

But I do have an ally in this department. The crew at Kiwi Shipping in LA will, for a small fee, go and check out any cars I am really keen on, to see if they will get compliance, or are a piece of junk. Craig from Kiwi Shipping once told me, “90% of the cars I look at will never get compliance”.

That scares me, as the clock starts ticking down. But I do have Kiwi Shipping and their pre-purchasing service on my side, and believe me I will be using them.

That means:

  • Coming up with a final list of potential models
  • Finding the right car that’s worth looking at, and is within our budget of under US$15K
  • Getting Kiwi Shipping to check the car out
  • Assuming it’s a go, buying the car and storing it with Kiwi Shipping until we arrive

Left-Hand Drive Permit: Yes or no?

One thing I need to keep in mind is what year of car we buy determines if we need a left-hand drive permit (and depending on the car, a Special Interest Vehicle, or SIV permit) or not. If we stick to cars 1999 or older, we don’t need to apply for a permit. Anything 2000 or newer (i.e. less than 20 years old) and we’ll have to pay and apply for a permit. This also means we’ll need to own the car for four years, if we buy something that is year 2000 or newer. Not the end of the world, but something to take into account.

We’ve also got to consider insurance. In 2016, it cost me US$500 a month to insure our Challenger, and a minimum of three months. I’d like to get that price down – especially if we buy something six months in advance, simply because we’ve found the perfect car.

Although we didn’t buy a used car in 2016, we still compiled enough information for me to publish a book called, USA2NZ: Buy It, Drive It, Ship It. I’ll be using all the information I gathered to write that book to make this process as simple as possible – if that’s possible.

So stay tuned, and feel free to offer constructive advice on what car we should be looking to buy.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

2 COMMENTS

  1. HI Gordon. Actually I did see the Viper (and some other ones) were *almost* in our price range but here’s the thing; that one is a scam. Any Viper around that money will be. I’ve wasted too much time emailing people selling cars on carsforsale.com or Craigslist, and they are cheap…because they are a scam.
    The “seller” emails back to say yes it’s still for sale and that’s the price, but the car is in Norway/some other foreign country but can easily be shipped back to the USA, etc etc.
    The old say too good to be true could never be more spot on 🙂
    Keep the suggestions coming though!

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