I love my Renault Twingo, and if you don't, you're wrong. But thankfully, a lot of people do, and this gave me an idea. Mk1 Twingos are pretty rare over here in the UK, in fact, they're pretty much impossible to find for sale most of the time. Whenever I take mine out to shows, meets or classic car events though, I'm always faced with people asking whether I would sell, and then when I say no, asking where I got mine from.
This gave me an idea. Most people aren't willing to go to the effort of finding an available car on the continent, driving over to view it, buying it in a foreign language and then shipping it back only to find that the process of getting it registered in the UK is yet more hassle. I, however, have done this before on a car from Japan, and it can't be any more difficult than that. So, I set about finding some cars, and getting them shipped back over here to register and sell to the niche market that I believe exists in the UK.
I'd lined up around 20 cars at a few different dealers in Holland. The used car market in France is pretty poor as a lot of people hold on to their cars for long periods, hence the reason why when driving through France, most cars you see are 10+ years old and pretty battered. Belgium is a somewhat transitional country, and finally once you get to the Netherlands, the prices begin to drop enough to turn a small profit on the import and sale of these cars. The other advantage is that the cost of getting them transported back isn't too bad - most vehicle transport companies utilise the ferries from Hoek van Holland to Harwich, keeping the road miles, and therefore cost, down. Viewings were organised, crossings were booked, and a few days ago, we left for Rotterdam and Soesterberg to see if we could find three Mk1 Renault Twingos to buy and get brought back home. What followed, however, was an eye-opener into the risks of going into a foreign country on a car buying mission somewhat under-prepared.
The first port of call was De Groot Cars B.V., a car supermarket in Soesterberg. I'd imagined I'd be buying them here due to their far more pleasant manner in organising viewings and better reviews on the internet. Upon arriving, everything looked okay - a large lot full of different cars, with a proper showroom and large barns full of cars. However, upon getting within 20ft of each car, my optimism was decimated. Not a single vehicle out of the 400 or so they had in stock was bereft of significant damage - never in my years in the motor trade had I seen such a massive collection of absolute rot-boxes. The six Twingos in stock there were all completely different to the photos, with bits missing, damage on every panel and in a frankly abysmal state of cleanliness. I didn't even bother talking to the staff, dressed in casualwear and seemingly uninterested in talking to us as we walked around the lot, we just got straight back into the truck and left.
The second place was very much a second choice option - Jet Cars B.V. A quick google of Jet Cars will tell you much of what you need to know, but with so many cars in stock - 23 Mk1 Twingo models, to be specific at the time of writing, there surely must have been something worth considering for shipment? In a word? No.
The first place was pretty bad, but Jet Cars was a hive of scum and villainy the likes of which I'd never before seen. It was more reminiscent of a scrapyard than a car supermarket, and the staff were razzing around in the cars like we were in some kind of destruction derby. Cars were all full of loose wiring, missing doorcards or trims, and all exhibited evidence of severe damage at some point in their life. Walking around, it was actually upsetting that so many cars, over a thousand at a guess, had managed to find their way into this automotive cesspit. Some looked like they had been sitting for months, with trees growing through them, flat tyres and strange fungal interior growth. After a bewildered hour simply taking in the pure horror of the place, we made for the exit before getting locked in for the evening and came home.
I'll not be deterred though. I still think it's worth trying to find some and bring them over, even if more of a passion project than one for profit. Both would be ideal, though, of course. No point being a motor trader if you're not making a profit.
Germany, here I come.