“Is your visit business or personal?” – Canadian Border Services Agency.
“Personal” – JR.
“How long will you be here?” – CBSA (the agent may have been all of 26 years old).
“1 day” – JR.
“Where are you coming from?” – CBSA (Her name was Audrey).
“California” – JR.
“You will conduct all of your personal endeavors in only one day?” – A of CBSA.
“Yes, that’s correct” – JR.
“What will you do while you are here?” – A of CBSA.
“I might buy a car” – JR.
“You came all the way to Canada to buy a car?” – A of CBSA.
“Yes! It’s a very special car, would you like to see it?” – JR.
“Sure” – A of CBSA.
<JR fumbles with phone; finds picture>
<A of CBSA drops brutal millennial eye roll>
“Whatever” – A of CBSA.
<makes a note on customs receipt and hands it back to me>
<the disapproval is palpable>
<eye contact is broken>
In 1996 I graduated with my Bachelor of Science. Every summer during my undergrad years was spent working the docks in Montauk. Surfing and living the beach life when not swinging bait and diesel. The same characters usually showed up year after year. Julian was one of those guys. Privileged and annually fresh off some end-of-school-year epic surf trip to some distant, exclusive, destination. His dad was an executive mucky-muck at one of the world’s largest entertainment corporations.
This year Julian showed up at the yacht club with one of his two graduation gifts. It was a green SUV. 2-door. Not a jeep. Square. Soft top. Different from any other SUV that I’d seen in my time in upstate New York. So damn cool. We watched the videos of the Camel Trophy when we were younger. This marked the first time I got up close to a Defender 90. Instant admiration. I started noticing defenders more often. There were a couple rolling around town. The white 110 with the exo-cage was by far the alpha male of the monkey kingdom. Dream rig.
Incidentally, the other graduation gift had been made-fast in its slip. A brand new, center console, Grady White. <drops savage Gen-X eyeroll>
Matt & Nancy along with their three children left the Land Rover dealership in Sydney in their new (new to them) Defender 110. After a few years in Australia, and before heading back to Canada, they began a trek around Australia. Loaded for an extended adventure, the family experiences became chronicled in an online video series.
In 2009 the family returned to Vancouver, Canada. Importing their Land Rover with them. Matt and Nancy set up shop in the southern district of Delta. The Defender continued to be the adventure horse; making trips to the OEW, Coastal Oregon and California, Los Angeles, and Northwest Overland Rally.
Eventually, their eldest son, Tyson, became the owner of the Defender. Over the years he made several rounds of modifications, improvements, and retrofits. Mostly maintaining the vehicle by his own hand.
The family had been making plans to head back to Australia for an extended holiday around the end of 2018. Tyson’s desire was to upgrade his platform to the larger, more capable, Defender 130. That model was never sold in North America, but available down under. Selling the 110 would, in part, provide the investment capital for the next step.
For years, OK… maybe 2 or 3 years, I have been casually perusing Craigslist across the country looking for vehicle invest in and build out. Defender, Unimog, Landcruiser; all vintage age. Getting excited at times. Darla shut me down when I became too serious. “What do you mean you’re going to buy a Unimog camper?” “There is no way you are buying a Unimog.” “I don’t care how much it costs.” “How much does it cost?” “What!” “NO!” “I mean…… NO!” “Are you kidding me!?!?”
The Landcruisers seem to have much greater availability and require quite a bit less investment. I’ve always been torn whether to chase after an 80’s 60-series or a newer, built-out, 80 or 100 series. Defenders overall are outside of any realistic budget number for me. They seem to always be either north of $50k, fully restored, and shameful to put a new scratch in or they have been beaten into submission by previous, dispassionate owners.
During one of my casual, yet increasing frequent, tours of the Craigslist universe in September I spotted a bush wagon posted in Seattle, located in Vancouver. A Defender 110, 200 TDi. Not too polished, built out as I would plan in my mind, and a price ask was within my spending range.
I hit send on the “is this vehicle still available” email before I could even begin to think through how I could really pull this off. Forget getting Darla to OK the deal and making the financial arrangements, that was the simple part. My concerns centered around how I could import a vehicle into the USA (something I’ve never done), let along one that was never sold here.
While waiting for a reply from the Canadian seller, I made introductions through my Toyota connections to a Land Rover expert, named Matt (here forward known as Land Rover Matt). Matt generously shared all his experience and guidance with importing Land Rovers into the USA. Vehicle age that makes it acceptable/simpler to import; what to ask the seller in terms of maintenance and wear; setting expectations & limitations for state registration and all those good times.
On a side note – there is an increasing number of ‘Matts’ involved in this story. Let’s review to make sure we keep it straight:
- Matt from Vancouver is Tyson’s dad. (previous) Family owner of the Defender 110 purchased in Sydney and proprietor of a camping/off-road outfitter in Delta, BC;
- Land Rover Matt is a guru in Paso Robles, CA and my Sherpa on this acquisition journey;
- Matthew (aka Bear) is my little guy who plays many roles as travel buddy, co-pilot, camp-director, trip photographer, and driving DJ.
The seller responded to my email. We made the virtual introductions and start to talk about the specifics of the Defender. What’s its history, what are all the modifications, repairs & maintenance, documentation & provenance, etc. etc. Tyson and I started sharing emails daily.
Along the way, I had been sharing the info with Land Rover Matt. His thoughts were on-paper this looked like a nice build, well maintained and that if I was serious then it was time to go and check it out for myself.
The charm of traveling through RNO is the characters you meet along the way. The flights themselves aren’t any different, but the sum experience always seems richer.
Four days later I found myself touching down at Vancouver International Airport. YVR happens to be one of the most beautiful and efficient airports I have had the pleasure to travel through. The architecture and interior design serve to inform, entertain, and educate. I found the Pacific Northwest cultural presence engrained in the décor of the facility enjoyable. CBSA was polite, professional, and entertainingly snarky.
The sight of Tyson and Matt pulling up to the curb in the Defender seemed surreal, that this machine may end up being mine. The introductions were a bit of a formality; I felt like I knew them both after a few weeks of email conversation. The discussion drifted between the Defender, the flight into Vancouver, what we all enjoyed doing in our travels, Canada, Australia, Tahoe and California. The underlying silliness that we were secretly interviewing each other wasn’t lost and came out over dockside fish and chips not long thereafter. “Are they being fully upfront?” “Has it been well cared for?” “Who is this clown from California?” “Would he be a worthy owner?” Laughable.
We drove it around a bit. Tyson and I crawled underneath for a close inspection. He shared the history of every seal and drip. I was looking for active leaks and rust in all the right places. A Landy of this age is expected to show its mileage. Legacy evidence of leaks. Pretty much rust free. Leaks are easy enough to fix.
In my mind, this was pretty much a done deal if we could get the pieces to fall into place. Over dinner, on the bay, we got down to business and came to an equitable agreement of price, spare parts, and handoff repairs. Afterward, we sat and wrote the agreement and plan of action for exchanging payment for paperwork. I was confident that we were all going to walk away with what we each wanted.
The rest of the conversation on the way into downtown where I’d booked a room for the night revolved around the history of adventures that the 110 had been on in its travels around Australia and then here in North America. The family had never really named it, as many Land Rover owners do. We all agreed that it was a male. I had some ideas for potential names that I needed to think over a little more.
We parted company after an evening that I enjoyed very much.
The ball was now in my court. If this was going to happen then I had work to do. With notepad in hand, I sat in a bar adjacent to the hotel; gassed several pints, put my plan together, then went off to bed.
Early the next morning the wheels that move money were set into motion. Over the following weeks, multiple phone calls with insurance companies, US Customs and Border Protection, Department of Motor Vehicles, and Land Rover Matt, dropped all the chips into place. I amassed a volume of forms and historical documents of the Landy’s ownership and movements from 2009.
About a month had passed by the time I returned to Vancouver with Darla for the pickup. I carried all the paperwork, my temporary registration/movement permit and a mentally rehearsed routine for CBP to ensure no missteps in the federalization process.
In the weeks leading up to the 2nd trip to Canada, several of my mates made the commitment to join me on the mission to bring the Landy home. At one point I was afraid that I would show up to meet Tyson and Matt with a full 5-man entourage, packing the defender with a gaggle of trash talking fools. One by one they dropped off “I’m on call”, “My kids have soccer”, “I’m going to Mexico for the weekend” until I was once again going it alone and Darla had pity and decided to join me.
Matt was nice enough to pick us up and bring us to his business where the 110 had been staged. There we met Nancy, she and Darla developed an instant rapport. Nancy shared their family travels pictures of the crew with the 110. They had used their family photos in the marketing materials for the Australian brands that they sold.
Matt and I started on an engine checklist and he walked me through all his mechanical experiences, which were incredibly helpful to me. Matt and Nancy showed us around their shop, which was packed with inventory and Series III that he was starting to restore. We shared our travel experiences and plans for the Defender – at least those in the near future.
We waited for Tyson to return from work before we departed for the US border. He and I did a final walk around with the Defender, which I’m sure was bittersweet for him. We all shook hands and bid farewell. The whole family watched from the window as we drove away.
It has been almost 20 years since the last time I’ve driven an RHD vehicle, and the first time in the western hemisphere; therefore, on the wrong side of the road. A short, steep learning curve. It was Friday. We desperately wanted to get to the US border before the afternoon rush hour. We crept past the Peace Arch and approached the CBP booth. Game time. Yes sir, heading home. Quick visit, yes. We have just purchased this vehicle and are bringing it to the US for personal use. Pull into the left lane? Park in the holding area and bring all our paperwork inside? Ok, will do.
The next 90 stress filled minutes dragged by. We waited patiently on a bench while several CBP agents handed off our paperwork from one to the next. Despite providing all the appropriate documents and correctly prepared forms there was clearly a knowledge challenge surrounding the process with which to complete the single page computerized summary form that would permit us to federalize the Defender.
The third and most competent agent to work with our information, completed the work in only a matter of minutes, stamped several documents, and called us back to the counter. He handed us our paperwork, the stamped import summary, the orange card to release the 110 from the holding lot, and an import duty invoice – which we were happy to pay! To be honest and fair, CBP was always professional and 90 minutes in the realm of border crossings and vehicle imports might well have been 10-minutes.
No time to waste. Darla and I jumped back in and headed for the exit. The thrill of success was fantastic. The next agent took the orange get-out-of-jail card and opened the gate. Turning south on I-5 towards Seattle it was time to put some miles behind us before nightfall. Our normal guiding principle of not traveling on interstate highways was shelved for the moment. We had a long way to go and a short time to get there – reminds me of a song. The day ended in the dark and in the rain somewhere in the vicinity of Tacoma, WA. The victory was celebrated with copious libation.
Travel resumed before sunrise. Exiting the interstate as soon as reasonably possible we chose a route over Willamette Pass traversing the Cascades and continued down the eastern flank of the mountains all the way back to Tahoe. Vancouver Matt had told me to be prepared to explain the Defender at every gas station. He was 100% correct. It was eye-fondled by every pump jockey that filled the tank.
Our long road discussion turned to what we should name our new rig. I shared my witty thoughts with Darla, most of which she thought were kind of puerile. The idea of a name that was based on the truck’s original service in Australia seemed to resonate for both of us. Sooo, what is a good Australian male name, Max (as in Mad Max) Wally (Dundee sidekick), Wolf (short for the band Wolfmother and tied to the Pac Northwest culture too), or Angus (as in Angus Young)? BANG! Winner-Winner! Angus it is!
Arrival at the North Shore was late in the evening. 15 hours on the road makes for an honest day behind the wheel. Over the next week, a fair bit of time was spent cleaning, arranging, lubricating, and setting our own configurations. DMV hoops were leaped through con bravado and the grace of 10,000 gazelles.
So, it begins. New travels and experiences in the truck that we’ve been chasing for so long. This winter I expect there will be a few additional modifications but none too significant. We are all looking forward to taking Angus on new adventures as soon as the snows taper off.
Hopefully, Tyson brings home a new (new to them) Defender 130. Before we departed Vancouver, we made the loose promise that we might see each other again at one of the Northwest rallies in either BC or WA. It would indeed be most excellent to unite the clans on the road.
Note – Some names in this story have been changed to protect the awesome.
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