2. Let the fun begin…or not.
The excitement began when Kingstown Shipping – or rather their agents in the USA – sent an e-mail telling me that my new car had been ‘containerised’ (posh word for ‘locked in a metal box’…) and was due to leave the USA late in February. In fact, there was a delay of a couple of weeks, but the fun bit was learning the name of the vessel and the container’s unique serial number. Both pieces of information allowed me to do real-time tracking, showing the progress of the container ship (quaintly named ‘Ever Lucky’!) as it chugged down America’s eastern seaboard to Charleston, South Carolina, and then back across the Atlantic to Southampton.
Before I go any further, I will tell you a faintly amusing story about paying for the car. Well, maybe not really amusing but in some ways reassuring – but still quite funny in retrospect. After e-mailing the owner and agreeing a deal on the 914, I logged onto my bank account and sent him $500 as a gesture of intent. No problem. A few days later, I went to forward the remaining amount. The transaction wouldn’t go through. I tried again a few minutes later, with the same result. OK, let’s ring the bank and find out why?
‘I see you’ve been trying to send $18,000 to an account in America. Can I ask what this is for?’ To buy a car – an old Porsche. ‘Have you seen the car, sir?’ Well, no, I haven’t, but I’ve seen photographs. ‘How did you know about the car?’ Ummm, on an Internet forum. ‘Have you met the owner?’ Well, er, no… ‘You do realise, sir, that there are a lot of scams on the Internet at present. If you decide to go ahead with the transaction, you will have no comeback if the deal proves fraudulent.’ I, er, am happy to go ahead… ‘As long as you’re sure, sir.’
The bank was doing its duty, trying to protect a fool and his money from being parted, but there was nothing that was going to stop me from getting my hands on the Nepal Orange 914 I’d fallen for. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut instinct, right? I’m currently in negotiation to buy some prime arable farmland in the Antarctic…
A few weeks after leaving Charleston, the ship docked at Southampton and I had a frustrating few days waiting for the e-mail telling me that I could go and collect it, once I paid the final bill for shipping and customs charges. On the latter, there was no import duty (it is, after all, a car built in Germany) and reduced rate VAT (5 per cent, due to the vehicle’s historic status). In total, shipping, with costs, came out at under £1500, meaning the car ended up costing me about £15,700 all in.
Once it was cleared for collection, I borrowed a trailer and headed to Southampton to catch sight of my new toy for the very first time. This was the seventh time I’d imported a car from the USA, but the first time I’d ever done it blind. Was I going to be disappointed? Let’s put it this way: I was in a far better frame of mind when I spotted the 914 in the shipping yard than the new owner of an E-Type Jaguar restoration project who’d come to collect his eBay purchase. I’d always been under the impression that E-Types were meant to have floors and sills. This one didn’t…
At first glance, the 914 looked good – very good. The paintwork was better than expected, and there were no dents or dings anywhere. The interior was as good as I had hoped, although the hastily repaired seats would need sorting. But I already knew that. Hooking up the battery and a set of jump leads, the engine fired up and I was able to back the car onto the trailer, ready for its trip back to Cornwall. By now, I was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Once home, I unloaded the car outside the front door and spent the next few hours looking at it from all angles – as you do. I sat in it, started it, checked it had all five gears (and reverse…), got out, looked at it again from all angles and smiled some more. I just hoped it would be as good underneath as it was on top.
Over the next few days, I checked over the car in more detail. There was a lot of up and down play in the steering column, the taped-up seats didn’t really do it for me, and the throttle linkage was very heavy. The notorious ‘hell hole’ looked sound, as did the inner and out sills. Under the front and rear lids, the paintwork was generally very clean, although the spare wheel had rubbed through the paint, leading to a bit of surface rust.
The engine was very clean – but then, it had covered less than 1000 miles since being rebuilt – and what other mechanical bits and pieces I could see seemed in good order. I’ll need to replace the majority of the roof seals, though, as they had hardened and split with age, but I’d expected that to be the case.
So, where to start? I decided to have the car MOT’d, even though it didn’t actually need it due to its age, as I believed it would help speed up the registration process (around one in five cars are ‘pulled’ for examination by DVLA to check their historic credentials, leading to a delay in being issued a UK registration number). That meant I needed to swap the headlights for left-dipping units (a cheap conversion as they are regular 7-inch sealed beam units), and sort out the red rear turn signals and US-style front marker lights.
The all-red rear light lenses look great and are in good condition, so I decided to try a little trick I’d discovered on line, which is to install hi-intensity LED amber bulbs in the indicators – these are bright enough to show amber through the red lenses and work a treat. At the front, I had to swap some wiring and install a new bulb holder in the side-light/indicator units, along with new Euro-spec lenses I’d bought at the Retro Classics show, so that I now had separate white side lights and amber flashing indicators.
The windscreen washers refused to work (they run, Beetle-fashion, using pressure from the spare tyre) so I decided to convert them to electric, using a column switch conversion purchased through a DDK forum group buy and an eBay-sourced pump. That was simple enough, but while I had the column apart, I decided I’d tackle cause of the excessive play in the steering column.
On a 911, this is often due to the spring and collar behind the steering wheel hub being incorrectly fitted, but the 914 is different as it uses a VW column (well, the four-cylinder cars do – 914/6s use a 911 column). The play is usually caused by the disintegration of a bearing at the top of the column, and which looks to be a pain to replace. But help is at hand, courtesy of the Porsche 928 – yes, really.
Porsche made a split metal collar which slips over the column and is tapped into place to ‘repair’ the broken bearing. It carries a 928 part number and installation solves the problem in a matter of minutes. I got mine from Design 911.
And so to the MOT… I dropped the car over at Williams-Crawford, who are about 25 miles from me, and left it there while I disappeared off on a photoshoot. On my return, I was delighted – a little amazed – to learn the 914 had passed first time, the only advisories being a split windscreen wiper blade and poorly-aligned headlights. Result!
Next stop: getting the car registered. That should be easy, right? After all, I had an MOT, insurance cover (done on the chassis number through Hagerty), proof of customs charges being paid in the form of a NOVA certificate and the original US title to prove the age of the vehicle. I filled in the forms I’d already got from DVLA and sent everything off, along with a cheque for £55 to cover the first registration fee. What could possibly go wrong?