If you’re thinking about importing a late-model left-hand-drive vehicle, here’s some essential information to help with your decision.
NZV8 readers may recall hearing about moves to ease the restrictions on importing late-model left-hand-drive (LHD) cars. After six years of campaigning by enthusiasts, those rules have changed at last. The result is that it is now a lot easier for lovers of modern American muscle cars and the like to import them.
The change is part of an amended Steering Systems Rule, which previously required people to either own the car overseas for 90 days or convert it to right-hand-drive (RHD). Those rules have now gone, and in their place are new criteria tailored specifically for car enthusiasts.
The new criteria come under the definition of Special Interest Vehicle (SIV), a vehicle category first introduced by the NZ Transport Agency in 2008. For most people the changes mean they no longer have to contemplate spending time overseas or an expensive conversion to RHD.
The creation of the SIV category is a windfall for those of us who cherish modern enthusiast, sports or unusual cars, and a major win for industry groups like the Left Hand Drive Enthusiasts Federation, Federation of Motoring Clubs, and others who have lobbied long and hard for it.
A prohibition on enthusiast vehicles?
Most people will be aware that to import a late-model vehicle, it has to comply with a number of Land Transport Rules, including frontal impact safety, steering, and emissions. These rules have been in place for years, since 1998 in the case of the Frontal Impact Rule. Since then, no one has been able to import a car unless it complied with international frontal impact standards. Similarly, no one was able to import an LHD vehicle except through the 90-day overseas ownership, returning citizen or immigrants’ exemptions.
However, imported vehicles older than 20 years are automatically exempt from these rules (or cars manufactured before January 1990 in the case of the Emissions Rule), on the assumption that a vehicle that old is an enthusiast vehicle and would not therefore be imported in large numbers or used as a daily driver, and so shouldn’t have to meet modern safety and emissions standards.
But in a classic case of unintended consequences, in one fell swoop these new rules also prohibited the import of similar specialist vehicles less than 20 years old, like Morgans or TVRs. Why? Because they’re produced in such limited numbers that they aren’t built to modern frontal impact standards.
Then you have the case of new LHD muscle cars, produced in larger volumes — and frontal impact compliant — but not available in RHD and thus not permitted under the Steering Systems Rule. Unless, of course, the owner chooses to convert them, which, besides costing heaps, may not be feasible, could compromise frontal impact safety, or is simply unacceptable to purists.
Thus we had a problem. Suddenly all these newer specialist vehicles disappeared off the market. It’s been that way for more than 10 years — when was the last time you saw a new Morgan or LHD Mustang?
Enthusiasts to the rescue
In fact, that’s how the SIV definition originally came about, with a group of owners of muscle cars and other LHD vehicles like Mustangs, Corvettes, Ferraris and BMWs frustrated that they couldn’t register new or late-model examples unless they converted them or spent time overseas. These people banded together to form the Left Hand Drive Enthusiasts Federation to lobby for a change in the rules, and the SIV definition was the result.
LHDEF co-founder and Federation of Motoring Clubs vice-president Jeff Tobin explained that he became aware of a pending review of the Steering Systems Rule, and felt this would be an opportunity to make some positive changes.
Jeff, already the owner of a 1969 Mach 1, had imported a new Mach 1 Mustang in 2003.
“It didn’t make any sense to have to convert the new ’Stang to right-hand-drive just because I hadn’t been exiled overseas for 90-odd days. Seems a lot of other left-hook enthusiasts shared the same view,” he said.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is that when a rule is reviewed, every part is up for consideration and there was no guarantee that we’d be able to import any left-hand-drive cars in future. Interestingly, the immigrants’ and 90-day rules have subsequently been replaced with a 21-month overseas ownership rule. It’s fair to say that in the absence of lobbying to establish the new SIV criteria, there would be no other way for a late-model left-hand-drive vehicle to be registered in New Zealand.”
The LHDEF developed ideas for an exemption process for what became known as SIVs, and then began lobbying MPs and Ministry of Transport and NZTA advisors, and engaging other influential groups like the Federation of Motoring Clubs in support of its proposals.
The FOMC, which represents more than 120 car and other vehicle clubs covering over 43,000 individual members, was formed in 1994 to lobby on behalf of the wider enthusiast sector against these very rules, which threaten Kiwis’ ability to enjoy their hobby.
FOMC President Ross Hopkins says the Federation “realised that neither the then Land Transport New Zealand nor the Ministry of Transport had issue with people wanting to import and register enthusiast vehicles aged over 20 years. Therefore, it made sense that non-compliant enthusiast vehicles aged under 20 years could also be exempted on similar grounds.
“Credit must go to the owners of left-hand-drive performance cars who lobbied for this positive outcome on behalf of enthusiasts,” Hopkins added. “The work of people like Jeff and groups like the Federation has boosted the options for muscle car fans in this country.”
Initially, the SIV definition exempted certain specialist cars from complying with the Frontal Impact Rule — the standard that all used imports under 20 years of age must meet before they can be registered here. That meant low-volume enthusiast vehicles like Morgans and TVRs were now able to be imported and registered, but it was always envisaged that the SIV category would extend to exempting LHD enthusiast vehicles from complying with the Steering Systems Rule, which requires passenger vehicles to be RHD.
Show me the money
Just what is a Special Interest Vehicle? SIV refers to those cars — aged under 20 years — which otherwise could not be registered because they don’t meet certain regulations, like frontal impact and steering systems, as well as the Emissions Rule.
But just as those rules have always provided a blanket exemption for any car aged over 20 years (on the assumption it was likely to be an enthusiast vehicle), so are the SIV criteria only intended for enthusiast vehicles and not just any late-model LHD or non-frontal impact-compliant car. So specialist muscle cars like Mustang Machs, Corvette ZR1s and Dodge Vipers will be exempt, but not mainstream variants like the entry-level Mustang V6, Chev Malibu or Dodge Ram truck.
In order to qualify for an LHD Special Interest Vehicle permit, the car must not have been produced in RHD, and must meet three of the following four requirements:
- The vehicle (or make, model and sub-model) is identified as a collector’s item in a commercially produced motoring publication.
- The vehicle’s make, model and sub-model was manufactured in annual volumes of 20,000 or less.
- The vehicle is, and was manufactured as, a coupe or convertible.
- The vehicle is, and was manufactured as, a high-performance vehicle.
The owner of an SIV must also meet certain conditions, including not having obtained another SIV permit in the last two years, and not selling the car within four years of first registration here. The car in question must also comply with all other applicable rules such as lighting, seatbelts and tyres, which are not exempted under the SIV criteria.
So the SIV rules make it easier to import two-door sports-style cars, but what about specialist vehicles with other body styles? Fair question. When the criteria were originally consulted on, the FOMC and others took a pragmatic approach to our submissions. Most of these late-model, non-compliant vehicles are of the sports car variety. They are easy to identify and make enforcing the SIV criteria straightforward.
“Prior to the SIV category, no one could import any left-hand-drive car unless they met even stricter criteria,” Hopkins says. “We took the view that ‘some’ was better than ‘none’. For people wanting to import other types of LHD vehicles, like light trucks, they still have the option of converting them to right-hand-drive as before.”
Up to 500 LHD permits can be issued each year and 200 permits under the Frontal Impact exemption. For some cars, owners may need to apply for both permits — for example a Ferrari Enzo, which was only built in LHD and in such limited numbers that it didn’t need to be crash tested for safety compliance.
SIV permit application forms can be obtained from vehicle entry certifiers like the AA, Vehicle Inspection NZ and Vehicle Testing NZ.
An important point to note is that any LHD vehicle more than 20 years of age (in New Zealand or not), or any younger LHD vehicle already registered in New Zealand, need not apply for an SIV permit.
Owners are, however, urged to do their homework before importing a car, and check all the rules it must comply with.
“Not all performance cars may meet the SIV criteria,” Tobin notes, “and not all cars over 20 years can be imported as the Emissions Rule applies to vehicles built from January 1990 onwards unless they meet the SIV criteria.”
For more info, check out www.fomc.org.nz.
Words: Mark Stockdale
This article is from NZV8 issue 62, click here to check it out.