Like nearly no one else in the US (but a great many jalops) I have a wagon fetish, as does my sister's boyfriend. He and I have a lot in common, as is often the case with Sister's Boyfriends, and the wagon thing is just the tip of the iceberg with this one. At one point when a mutual friend was visiting, we lined up our cars in the yard for a picture because the lineup was 2003 Audi A4 wagon, 2006 Subaru WRX wagon, 2001 BMW 325xi wagon, and of course the punchline of this story: the 1991 E30 wagon. All black (well, the E30 is "diamondschwartz metallic" or something). Real original bunch we are, but at least they're different makes and models.
Back to the origins of the E30: He (sister's boyfriend) one day came across an Ebay listing in Germany for a clean-looking 1991 320iT where the seller was apparently targeting US buyers by generously offering trans-Atlantic shipping as part of the sales price. So he bid on the car something like $4,000 and ended up winning it for around $3,500. Did I mention it included shipping?! It doesn't take a lot of research to learn that importing a car into the US is, well, challenging at best. Some of you probably read a recent post about this, from someone who had the huge advantage of being in Germany to begin with. Still, no matter how you slice it, there's a lot of paperwork. Realizing his family had land in Nova Scotia, he explored having it shipped into Canada. It turns out it's way easier than the US and no more expensive as far as the seller was concerned.
The next challenge was how to get the car from Halifax to New Hampshire, where I live, and ultimately to Maine where he was living at the time. However, he had recently lived in NH, so he could claim residency as far as the DMV was concerned, so he went to get some 20 day plates for the car, thinking this would be an easy way to drive it across the border into the US. But wait, you need an NH license to get plates, so okay he gets that, and they issue him the Worst Thing Ever, an NH temporary driver's license made of paper, printed in black and white. You get your real card in the mail in something like 6 to 8 weeks, meanwhile you have the fakest-looking thing to ever be called a license and they expect you to be able to get into bars with this POS for 6 to 8 weeks. But I digress.
So off we went to Halifax, leaving NH in the early afternoon with a paper driver's license, paper license plate, and our passports. Our transportation was my 2001 BMW 325xi wagon that I had purchased about two months before. We had a trunk full of tools and not much else as we pushed my car hard through the nice open roads of northern Maine, and all was well until the border.
I've been to Canada plenty of times and always sailed right through the border like an EZ-Pass toll booth. But for some reason, at 8 pm on a Tuesday there was a lineup 25 cars deep, so we sat in the car for 20 minutes, 40, an hour; painful, valuable time ticking away. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and we had to be home the following night, an ambitious itinerary considering we had no idea whether the e30 would even run when we picked it up the next day, or really where we needed to go, or if we had all the right paperwork, or if they would allow it across the border with temp plates, or if we would eat so much poutine that we would pass out. But we planned to drive fast and not sleep much, so we passed the downtime by picking fun at each other's passport photos. "What a dork," he says, "nice glasses." "Come on, that picture's like 10 years old I was in high school!" Wait it WAS 10 years ago, HOW LONG ARE PASSPORTS GOOD FOR? WHAT'S TODAY'S DATE? It expires tomorrow. Plenty of time. We'll be across the border by midnight and it's only Canada anyway. I have 24 hours before I'm in another country with an expired passport. We don't know anything about the E30 and I barely know my car at this point. Not to mention missing Thanksgiving... not an option, it's my favorite holiday by far.
We get to the front finally, and they didn't even bat an eye at my nearly-expired passport (oh right, it's only Canada) so off we went to test my speed limiter in New Brunswick. We arrived in Halifax around 1am after 13 hours of intense driving and crashed at a place right across the street from the office we needed to go to in the morning.
7:30 am came way to soon and we visited the Office of Importation Taxation or something, only to find out we could only pay them AFTER getting a stamp from the Auto Port where the car was. So off to the Huge Obvious Shipping Port which turned out to NOT be the Auto Port, a fact that was clearly explained to us upon being detained by the security guards after driving through an OPEN GATE into the shipping yard with no signs telling us not to go in... those silly trusting Canucks. Helpfully, these guys had "no idea about any Auto Port in Halifax" somehow, despite it not being that large of a city, and working at one of the other large shipping ports. Anyway, we eventually found a place where there were literally thousands of new European cars parked in neat rows, including dozens of Porsche Panameras which I had never seen before (this was 2009), and Mercs, BMWs, Volvos, etc. as far as the eye could see. This must be the place, Captain Obvious.
At this point I expected to be escorted to a container with a dead E30 wagon with no battery and no gas, maybe flat tires, to spend part of the day finding out whether I was abandoning my friend so I could get to the border by midnight, or if we were starting a BMW wagon convoy right then and there. After a stamp, a trip back across town to the other office, a random toll booth employee asking me if "I could handle that car," (referring to the 3,700lb 3-series wagon with about 180hp yes apparently all BMWs are supercars and can't be handled by people under 50), then back to the Auto Port, we were delightfully greeted by the sight of the 320iT coming over a hill, under its own power and sounding great! The oil looked like black coffee but it was full and there were four tires with not only air pressure but also nice tread. After a thorough inspection and a fuel stop, we hit the road.
One hour later I got pulled over for going about 120km/h in a 100kph zone... stupidly my friend pulls in behind me. (ALWAYS go to the next exit and get off to wait!) The Mountie was NOT impressed by the paper driver's license, nor the weird registration, nor our speed, but it did all check out eventually. He also asked me if this was my Mom's car (it's not, but my name is gender neutral!?) Why are Canadians questioning my ability at age 25 to own and/or drive a soccer-mom-esque 8-year-old BMW? Anyway, he did let us go but apparently if he had been in a bad mood, he could have pulled our licenses for 7 days on the spot. Soooooo we took it easy to the border which was extremely painful, and when we finally got back into the US without trouble (about 8pm), we pulled over in the Middle of Nowhere, Maine, and each had a celebratory warm Alpine Lager that we had picked up in Canada somewhere the night before. Only 8 more hours to home!
In the end both cars performed flawlessly, and the E30 went to Maine with the NH temp plates, where the Maine DMV kindly issued permanent plates without a lot of questions and the wagon had officially made its way into the States. Funny thing, if you look up "E30" on Wikipedia the wagon they show is a twin of this one. Right now it's parked in a garage for the winter, eagerly awaiting the desperately-needed manual swap. But the M20 is nonetheless a great engine and that car is still pretty fun to drive. But unlike driving a Pagani, it attracts no attention because NO ONE will realize how incredibly rare it really is.
So if you're one of the many Jalops who dreams of an E30 wagon (touring, whatever), I would take the advice given by ANYONE ELSE on how to import one, because although we were successful, and the total cost was very low, I can't say I'd recommend our method. The car, on the other hand, is fantastic.