Vintage USA – Homecoming

So 2014 is over, what a year, I feel like it went forever. This time last year the Hilux was on a boat destined for NZ and the filming process of Dream Build Drive was well and truly underway.

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The finale of the Hilux build hit home when it arrived at the docks in Melbourne, 3 whole years of relentless planning and hardwork had come to a close when I cleaned the Hilux down of all the spent rubber and pushed it into the garage.

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It didn’t stay in there for long as my wife and I got married just a few weeks later and that kicked off the adventure of a lifetime, I dont have to tell you all about that though as the blog I ran while I was away tells the full story.

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What you haven’t heard though is the story that ended that journey, the process to ship the Econoline and the Motorcycles home, I have had a few people ask me how I went about it, so here goes!

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I’m going to take you wayyyy back to the start of the obsession, funnily enough it started with the KTM build, searching for inspiration on simplified motorcycles I kept coming across vintage Harley Davidsons, I didnt have a clue on the differences between engines, models ect, I just liked what they represented as much as how they were put together. The more I tried to shake the fact that I wanted one the more I seemed to need one, so the American adventure on two wheels was born!

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Long story short I ended up in another country, with a 1965 Econoline registered in my name, 3 motorcycles in the back of it and a need to get them all home. This is where I contacted Extreme Global, the guys who shipped my Hilux to and from NZ for me. I had got a quote before leaving on a 20 foot container leaving from Long Beach California and arriving at Melbourne, it was around $4,000 so I kept that in mind when budgeting for the honeymoon.

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When I registered the Econoline in Rhode Island I got the paperwork I needed to allow me to receive an import approval, I had a hand written “Bill of sale” that stated the amount I purchased the vehicle for and a title, the title states the owner and the details of the vehicle and you need the title to fill out the import application, now an import application approval is the Australian Governments way of policing what comes into Australia, you need one of these approved before any vehicle can be shipped, the Econoline was approved right away under the pre 1989 import application process, it was easy but as I found out it wouldn’t be that way for the motorcycles.

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Over the other side of the country in California the night before the Born Free motorcycle show I found a 1967 Harley Davidson XLCH Sportster, in all of my research on vintage Harleys the pre 1970 Sportsters were always a favorite of mine, such a versatile bike that was modified in every way possible, from flat track racing to psychedelic showstopper they were a huge part of the classic American motorcycling scene. The deal was done at the show, the bill of sale was written and the night after I completed the paperwork for the import approval.

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The 2nd bike out of the 3 that would eventually make its way inside the Van was a little 1970 model Bultaco Matador, not particularity attractive in its stock form the Busch brothers hand made a tank, seat, modified and polished this little Bultaco to be a really amazing machine. I wasn’t sold on it at the start, I mean I loved it but we didn’t need it, Celia agreed that she would sell her little KTM to make way for this, so a few days later we picked it up. Those early round case Bultaco’s just look amazing dont they? That night I filled out the next import approval application, this time I used the “Trail Bike” option instead of the pre 1989 option I used for the van and the Harley.

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The third bike came after a few emails to my dad, he agreed that wasted space inside the container was “not on” so I went shopping again, trawling through some pretty badly built bikes and untrustworthy salesmen on Craigslist I found a 1969 XLCH Sportster modified in the mid 1970’s, I sent my dad some images and he agreed it would be a goer! So we squeezed all three bikes inside the van, all of our luggage and I filled out another import application under the pre 1989 rule.

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If you ever do something like this you can wait till you have everything and fill out the forms all together, its $50 an application but you can group them together, its something I wasn’t aware of at the time.

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So for a few nights I was a little nervous having everything stashed inside the van outside the cheapest motel we could find in LA, but we made it to the shipping depot and I handed over all the Titles of the vehicles, the bills of sale, removed the number plates (and put them in my luggage, dont leave them on as its required by US law to remove and destroy them) and said goodbye to the cargo.

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That cargo sat outside the shipping depot for a total of nearly 10 weeks, in that ten weeks and after I returned home I recieved an email from the Australian Government stating that all of the bikes were unfit for import under the rule that vehicles cannot be modified, now I knew this would be a grey area but I fought it none the less, weeks of emails, calls and deliberation with the Australian Government almost had me flying back over to the USA to remove the bikes, strip them down and ship the parts in three separate packages, luckily it never got to that stage, I persisted and fought against their ruling that was mostly based on false facts, the Harleys were held up because I couldnt obtain a date of modification from the DMV in California and the Bultaco was refused entry because it was simply painted and polished unlike its factory specification, the Australian Government even had senior engineers deem the Bultaco a road bike simply because it was too clean. In the end I applied for discretion to the administrator of the import committee and they ended up giving me approval for everything, but it came at a cost, I was banned from ever importing anything ever again under the pre 1989 rule.


So long story short they were all on the sea and on their way to Australia, I received a call from the port of Melbourne that the container arrived and I was relieved, then I received another call saying the container was full of spiders and would undergo a 7 day fumigation course, once that was cleared and the container was opened I was told the cleaning job that was performed in LA wasn’t sufficient, there were issues with Customs aswell with the bikes import approvals not matching the numbers, it seemed that the import approvals sent to customs wore the incorrect numbers so after weeks and weeks of stuffing around I finally had the Van and bikes home, it was exciting.


Two months on and I have loved every minute aboard and behind the wheel of our Vintage American machines, I have worked on my Harley a lot since then and will share the final outcome of its Aussie resurrection in a special post dedicated to everything I have rebuilt on it.


I know its long winded but I felt this story had to be shared and for anyone that wants to do something similar to understand the risks and delays associated with importing modified vehicles.

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