If you’re a car lover like me then you’ll know there’s something special about your first car — your first true love. For me it was my 1985 AW11 MR2. Mid-engine with a fiery little 1.6 Toyota twin cam behind my ears. A quick shifting 5 speed manual sat below my wrist. Pop-up headlights and a snug cabin for two that was all angles and switches. Not very fast but with bucket loads of charm and personality.
I bought my first MR2 sometime between high school and university. It was already pretty old with 200,000km on the clock, no electric windows, no air-con and a cassette player — but it was unique and I loved it. I created so many precious memories with that car — learned to drive manual, road trips with friends (one at a time of course!) as far north as the Bay of Islands and as far south as Wellington. It set the stage for my independence and my freedom. No expense was spared maintaining it and I cleaned it every weekend. It was my pride and joy.
Like all material things the shine eventually wore off, the maintenance bills mounted and the time came to upgrade to something newer. In a neat little ending to the story, I sold the car back to its original owners, a retired couple who bought it NZ-new way back in 1985. I hunted them down through the original ownership papers, looked them up in the phonebook — and an hour later they were around at my place signing on the dotted line. With a tear in their eye they were reunited with a long lost friend.
Fast forward another 15 years or so, and just like that crazy retired couple, I too found myself longing for another MR2. Since my first car, I’ve been lucky enough to own a number of awesome machines over the years — faster, more shiny, more capable — but there’s something about that ridiculous 80s angled design that has me coming back from more. The time had come to scratch the itch…
I spent the next year or more searching Trade Me and various other online classified sites (goo-net-exchange!) every night before bed — determined to find the perfect example. Nothing decent ever came up, and I all but resigned myself to the fact that three decades since the car’s debut they had now all found their forever-home or were rusted out, distastefully modified and destined for the scrap heap. Then one day, there it was…an immaculate low-milage example with a small number of careful enthusiast owners. Perfect. There was just one small problem — it was a long long way from home — half way around the world in the U.K.
Although this was not the first time I’ve bought a car sight unseen, it was the first time I’d imported a car myself from another country. It was listed by a private seller in London with a full service history from new. I sent him an email explaining that I was from New Zealand half expecting him to brush me off as too much hassle. To my surprise, he was happy to help make it happen, and while he did comment that what I was proposing sounded like “an awful lot of money to spend on a relatively affordable Toyota” nothing was going to put me off — with plenty of encouragement from my irresponsible car-loving friends “Dyl — look how happy it makes you. Furniture and other possessions are nice but they don’t give you an expeirence. The MR2 will make you a more complete person lol” — sold.
The process of buying the car and shipping it over was a lot more straightforward than expected. The car had just received a brand new MOT (the UK equivilient of a WOF) so I decided to take my chances and skip an independent vehicle inspection. I figured that the car looked great in the photos, the seller sounded genuine and anything small that would be pulled up by a mechanic would be predictable and wasn’t going to put me off (I had been assured there was no rust). These days you can wire GBP online with ASB, so within a few days I had secured the car and all that was left was organising the shipping.
My first challenge was actually getting the car from its home an hour or so out of central London, to a port in Southhampton so it could loaded onto a container ship. This job was undertaken by a great service in the UK called Pick Up My Car and a friendly chap called John who organised the whole process for me door to door. Google was my friend when it came to finding a shipping company too — and after receiving a couple of online quotes, I just went for the cheapest option, held my breath, and paid for my little toy car to be put inside a container and sent on its way through the Suez Canal onto New Zealand.
A couple of months later and countless nights refreshing MarineTraffic.com my MR2 finally landed in Auckland, ready to be transported to an NZTA registered compliance centre for inspection. The process for getting imported cars registered and warranted for use on New Zealand roads is rigorous and any rust found will stop compliance in its tracks. Admittedly by this point I was getting nervous and starting to question my decision to skip the inspection in the UK — but there was no going back.
While on the boat to New Zealand I did my research on compliance centres and settled on CCW in New Lynn — they had a website, a Facebook page and seemed like a good company to do business with. As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more happy with my choice, and Chris looked after me every step of the way — taking a special interest in the car and keeping me fully updated at all times. My only hurdle in the process was the car needed new brake pads and rotors, and sadly they were unavailable in New Zealand. Chris found some on eBay — and while the shipping time meant I missed out on driving the car over Christmas, it was on the road with a fresh warrant and registration in early January — yay!
Since taking delivery from CCW I’ve taken cheap classic car insurance and driven the car at least a couple of times a week and it hasn’t skipped a beat. The paint and bodywork are all original so I’ve had paint protection applied to keep it looking new and I’ve had the alloy wheels repainted and refurbished. I even splurged on my first ever personalised plate to truly customise the car and make it my own.
While I can’t say for sure how long the feeling will last, I love my MR2 and the whole journey, the experience of finding the car and figuring out how to own it has truly been half the fun. There is something satisfying about searching the classifieds, negotiating a deal and solving all the little challenges to get it onto the road that’s both rewarding and fun. Slipping into those 80s bucket seats, turning the key and hearing the 4AGE fire up behind you as you pull out of the driveway is the icing on the cake.
Funnily enough I’ve owned two of most of my favourite cars — two MR2s, two E30 BMWs and two MINIs. Clearly I know what I like, it just takes me a while to figure it out. I adore my MR2 but history would suggest the love will eventually fade and I’ll soon be looking around for the next car to welcome into the family. No idea at this stage what that will be, but I do miss my 1M…