I’m nuts about old European cars. All cars, really. I own more than 20. (I know . . . I’m obsessed.) But especially old European ones: Land Rovers from the 1960s. The iconic Citroën DS. And a personal obsession, the 1988 Peugeot 205 GTi. This souped-up hatchback from France was so much cooler—and brawnier—than the kinds sold in the U.S., like VW’s comparatively tame Rabbit. I admired it so much for so long, I finally decided to buy it.
Why? There’s the obvious thrill of having the only one on the block. Cars like this just don’t make their way to the States very often, and if they do, you’ll pay a serious upcharge to buy one here. Luckily, we’re on the favorable end of the euro exchange rate right now and, due to relaxed restrictions on older cars, classics are relatively easy to bring back from the Continent.
But the biggest reason to go car shopping in Europe is that it’s fun. You can try your luck anywhere, but I like to focus my searches in Italy: A lot of auto-obsessives live there, skilled mechanics and metalworkers are plentiful and affordable, and in most parts of the country cars benefit from the absence of salted roads. While you can do the entire job from your couch—find a car online and have it inspected, insured, and shipped with a few calls and clicks—it’s so much more thrilling to make a road trip of it. Experience your new-but-old European car in its native habitat of winding country roads and Vespa-thronged intersections and you’ll bring those memories all the way home to your driveway.
Find the Right Ride
The U.S. government has created an exemption from emissions and safety compliance for cars that are at least 25 years old. This policy change opened up a world of possibilities, so dream big. Browse classic car magazines such as Hemmings Motor News or binge on old Godard and Fellini films until you’re fixated on something.
Simplify Your Search
When you know what you want, browse dealer sites. I like Italy’s Subito.it and Kijiji.it. If you’ve been itching to go to, say, Tuscany, you could narrow your online search to that region. Or open up your range to the whole country, find the car you want, buy it, and then drive it to wherever your dream destination happens to be.
Once You Find the Car
Track down a car club in the area where you’ll be buying and ask them for recommendations of local inspectors who can certify that the car of your dreams isn’t a total lemon. Once the car passes inspection, you can go ahead and wire money to the seller. Then purchase a simple insurance plan for your road trip.
Bring It Back
You’ll owe a duty of 3 percent of the car’s value. Shipping will cost about $2,000, depending on where you ship from. Many U.S. companies—Penbroke, for one—sort out all details with local shipping agents. Just make sure your shipper handles the paperwork on both sides of the Atlantic, which will ensure your car has a smooth journey home.