BenzWorld Junior Member
Date registered: Dec 2006
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I remember the gray market well. In the late 70's through the 80's it was a growing industry (as the article points out) for a number of reasons:
1) Some cars simply weren't available in the US - such as six cylinder 3 series BMW's.
2) The exchange rate / pricing combo made arbitrage possible - you could get a car cheaper in Europe and import and convert it for less than a similar model in the US.
The challenge was finding someone who would do the conversion the right way; then getting spare parts was not always as easy as going to the dealer or NAPA.
It was a way to get a car for less or one that was not available in the US, but it wasn't a hassle free process; and resale value was questionable.
Today's cars, with the increased safety and emissions requirements, plus complex electronics coupled with a weak dollar probably makes gray market importing less lucrative; especially for models that don't have a US version.
Another market was importing older performance cars that didn't require conversion (I believe that may be anything 73 or older since a car only needed to meet the specs at time of manufacture not at import). I had a friend in the 80's that bought cars in Europe and shipped them to the US; it was profitable given the conversion rate and the low value of used cars in Europe at the time. One factor that helped him was Germany and Switzerland's strict inspection laws. He could buy a car that wouldn't pass that the owner didn't want to fix; ship and fix and still make a good profit. He was working in Europe with me so he could scout and ship the cars and his US partner handled the repairs (if any) and sale. He did a number of MB SLC's as I recall, along with 911's. His biggest challenge was shipping - he'd container a car, other wise it would arrive stripped of any valuable pieces. As a result he'd also ship antique furniture since the car wouldn't be a full container.