Since I am staying in the USA for the spring semester, I have to buy a car (though renting a car is cheap here, it is much less expensive to buy one.) At first, I thought I would just buy a car and sell it when I leave – either a very cheap one that I could just get rid of, or something nicer that I could sell back to a dealer.
Then it occurred to me – why not buy a car which I could take back home to Norway when I am done here? After all, cars are expensive in Norway, and shipping one across the Atlantic is $2000-3000, depending on the size and type.
Now, this is more complicated than it sounds. Import duties on a new car average 200% in Norway, they are prorated for age, but the larger the engine and heavier the car, the higher the duties. So even though nice used cars are ridiculously cheap in the States, the taxes would make the car more expensive than just getting it in Norway.
But there is one loophole: Cars older than 30 years are called "vintage" and subject to a mere 25% sales tax. So I have been trying to find a nice 30 year old car, which I could drive for a few months in the States (so I find out whether there was anything seriously wrong with it) and then ship back to Norway. The requirement was that a) it should not be too expensive (so a Ferrari or something more exotic is out of the question,) b) be reliable (that rules out Jaguars and American cars,) and c) have more than two seats, since there are children and dogs to be transported (and that rules out all those nice Mercedes SLs which are quite easy to come by.)
So what did I end up with? Well, here it is, a 1977 Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9 (known to car enthusiasts just as a "6.9",) silver paint with a nice blue leather interior and a truly fearsome engine. It has 140K miles on it and a few spots here and there that will need to be fixed, but it as been well maintained, runs really well and will allow me to tool around Boston and environs with some style. After all, this particular model was more costly than a Rolls Royce when it was launched.
The car handles like a sports car although it is a rather large sedan. This is the first time I have had a car capable of producing instant tire squeal and effortless (and silent) acceleration past 100 mph. As for gas consumption, let’s think about that some other time. I still have to take it to a body shop to deal with some dings and a few rust spots that need welding, but if things work out, I should eventually have a rather stylish vehicle for summer driving back in Norway.
Update February 23: Have now driven the monster for three days (including going through a hail storm in Connecticut.) It does take a bit of getting used to – especially the large steering wheel, which feels like a bus wheel though it has power assisted steering. The climate control is excellent: Set it and forget it. And I find that, despite the zip, it induces the same kind of driving that I used to do with my old Chevrolet Caprice Classic model 1980 back in the mid-90s: Low-stress ambling down the highway, listening to WBUR (one of Boston’s PBS radio stations) and eventually getting there. But this time without the seasickness in curves and with plenty of power to pass other cars, should I feel the urge. Aahhh, relaxation…. I have ordered a chauffeur hat, so I can sneak into the limo line when picking up people at airports….
Incidentally, the picture on the left is of Tom Rossiter, who runs The Stable Ltd, where I bought the 6.9. He has a wonderful collection of what he terms "interesting" cars, so a visit to Gladstone, NJ, is highly recommended.
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