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Dave Creer

April 12 2009


Here's the car I imported. Not the Ferrari nor the Rolls; the 1958 Pontiac behind them

How to Import a Car into Canada
A Fictional Story by Dave Creer

In his article “California Bound in a 1954 Cadillac Convertible, Feb 16/2006, Bill Sherk describes how a few people have had problems importing American cars into Canada. This is the story of a 1958 Pontiac Chieftain sedan that I successfully imported in 1970.

In the summer of 1970, I flew from Hamilton, Ontario to Fort Lauderdale to work at an Amoco station on East Las Olas Blvd in Fort Lauderdale. Although I was still a British citizen, I applied for a City Work Permit, giving my address as Genessee Street in Buffalo. Applying for a work permit was a prerequisite for any job in Ft. Lauderdale. If you didn’t have at least a receipt from the city showing that you had applied for a work permit, there was no point even applying for a job. In fairness, the receipt may have mentioned that your application did not imply acceptance, and at any rate was out of date after 30 days.

After about 60 days on the job, the next shift failed to show on time, so I was in a foul mood. A few minutes after midnight, somebody ordered 50 cents worth of gas, and paid with a $1 bill. I told him if he wanted his change, he would have to come in and get it. Surprisingly, after waiting a few minutes at the pumps he pulled away. After about ten minutes, all hell broke loose!! At least 3 cop cars came blasting into the gas station with lights flashing and sirens blaring along with my $0.50 customer. I quickly put the two quarters on the counter, and when the customer stormed through the door, I said, “Oh, you’ve come back for your change”. Funnily enough, the officers seemed to have no sense of humour about this. One in particular spoke to me, trying to impress me with the seriousness of it all. He asked to see my City Work Permit (fortunately not a birth certificate, draft card or proof of citizenship, none of which I had). I produced the application receipt; he noticed it was out of date, to which I responded that it wasn’t my fault that his city had ‘t processed my application yet. In fact, I had to lean back hard against the Coke machine to stop myself from shaking during this “interview”. In retrospect, the city may have mentioned something about not sending my application to the FBI until I supplied my Social Security Number. The officer strongly suggested that I get my paperwork in order, because he would be back in about two weeks. I took this as a sign that I should perhaps leave Florida; it was way too hot for an English man like me. I decided to buy a car, and drive back home.

The car I was expecting to drive back to Hamilton was a 1955 Olds for sale at $100. It was in very good condition, except for some faded paint, and one cigarette burn in the brocade interior. But the owner traded it on a Pontiac Firebird. I ended up with my black and white 58 Pontiac for $125. It had no rust, good paint, and a chassis that looked like it was made from railway tracks. Only the interior showed its age.

I drove nonstop from Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore (1000 miles – remember those), stopping only to pick up hitchhikers and to eat. After spending a day or two there, I drove another 500 miles north to Buffalo. At the border, I got the same story as so many other folks: the only cars you could bring into Canada were current model year, or at least 15 years old. My 12 year Pontiac failed to qualify! I had to return it to the States. One border guard offered me $100, but if I couldn’t get $125, I wasn’t going to sell. I parked the car at the Buffalo Airport, until I could devise a plan. I was determined not to be buffaloed!!

A few weeks later, a few friends and myself went to retrieve the Pontiac. I had borrowed a set of Ontario plates from a car that didn’t really need them for a few days. My driver Steve was quite proud of his new Duster 340, and told me to hide the “borrowed” plates under one of the front seats, as the border patrol probably wouldn’t check there. Upon arrival at the border, we found that every car was being searched for drugs. No exceptions! First place they checked was under the front seats, then the trunk, but found nothing. As we drove away, Steve wondered loudly where on earth (actually, he was more colourful than that) I had hidden the plates, as he had almost wet his pants. I told him that they didn’t fit very well under the front seats, so I had hidden them under the rear seat, which turned out to be a lot safer. He was somewhat relieved, as he had had visions during the lineup that his brand new car would be confiscated and never seen again, along with the possibility of a little personal jail time. Then we drove to the airport and picked up my Pontiac. On the way to the border, we stopped in a deserted industrial area, to slap on the Ontario plates and remove anything that might make anybody suspicious (University decals, Armed Forces Parking, etc.). As we were finishing, and I was just pouring the last of my spare gas into the tank, a Buffalo patrol car pulled up, probably curious why any car was in this part of town, never mind one with four doors, trunk and hood all wide open. Steve, a clean cut appealing young fellow if ever there was one, stepped up to the officer, explained that I had run out of gas, and thanked him for stopping. I tried to flood the engine so that the car would at least be hard to start, but the machine had a mind of its own and started right up. I did a 3-point turn in front of the patrol car, stopped to thank the officer personally for his concern and drove off to the border. I told the border guard that I had been to one of the local dancing clubs for the evening. “Anything to declare”, said he. “Not a thing” said I.

Of course, this left me with a minor problem. I still had to register the car. A few weeks later, Steve and I were driving down West Main in Hamilton, when a gold and white 1958 Pontiac Stratochief 4 door sedan stopped at a red light ahead of us. It looked pretty beat, with lots of rust and a wire hanger holding the rear bumper on; but to me it was the Holy Grail! The dumbfounded owner couldn’t figure out why anybody would want his car! He was willing to sell, but he wanted at least $25 and to keep it until he could find a replacement. A few weeks later, he handed over the car and ownership.

Changing the serial number was easy; they were both stamped on small metal pieces held on with rivets. I told the Registration Office that I had painted the car black and white and changed the straight 6 to a V8. A scrap dealer removed the gold car for free. My Florida Pontiac was so appealing that Mom preferred it to Dad’s newer ‘65 Dodge sedan. The Pontiac lasted until I bought my first new car, a 1973 Plymouth Duster, with a 318, three speed floor shift, and a sunroof.

While I had it, the old Pontiac served me well. It had a 370 (in 1959,the 370 became the legendary 389), which gave surprisingly good performance for such an old car. I was stopped a few times, but nobody ever questioned the registration.



First published in Old Autos April 6th 2009

Just in case you wanted to know more about doing this for real, and legally, check out:
http://www.tc.gc.ca/roadsafety/safevehicles/importation/index.htm
http://www.riv.ca/english/html/how_to_import.html
Thanks to Victor for the links
D. Wood, BSCCoC Web Guy


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