Whether traversing sand dunes in Northern Africa or making a run to the supermarket, Land Rovers have always represented a unique segment of the auto market geared toward the adventurous. No Land Rover represents this spirit quite like the the classic Series IIA, which would evolve largely unchanged into the Series III and Defender in later years. Sadly, while the rest of the world enjoyed an abundance of Defenders, the United States outlawed the vehicle in 1997 due to safety regulations. Unsurprisingly, a network of illegal importation evolved in the US, with the importers finding a loophole: vehicles 25 years old or more would be exempt from safety inspections. By cleverly scrambling VIN numbers, any vehicle could be made into a “vintage,” and therefore legal, Land Rover in the States.
This past week, however, over 40 vintage Land Rover owners received a rude awakening. As part of a sting operation, police and federal investigators visited private residences early Tuesday morning to seize illegally imported vehicles. In most cases, investigators informed owners of the issue and took away the vehicles. But for one unlucky Rover owner, the Feds tracked down and picked up the illegal vehicle at a residence not even listed on the title. All of the VIN fudging that’s ensued to legitimize the Rovers has backfired on a few unsuspecting owners–one man reported that officials insisted his vehicle was a 2000 model year when it was clearly a 1983 Defender 110. The man claimed to have bought the Rover legally last year in New York, completely unaware that there would be any question concerning its legality. According to a Dept. of the Treasury receipt one Rover owner received, there are a total of 61 VIN numbers in question, but it’s unknown whether another sting operation will occur to pick up the remaining 21 vehicles. The Feds told one owner that the man who imported his vehicle last year blatantly falsified its legal documents, so the list of 61 VINs may all lead back to one or a few shady importers.
It’s also unclear where the seized vehicles will be stored and how the Feds will examine them, but it’s possible that a large-scale trial may take place in the near future. This sting operation comes just over a year after the US Customs and Border Protection publicly smashed an illegally imported Defender after it was discovered at the port of Baltimore. Just like the cars recently apprehended, the now smashed Defender had its VIN swapped to gain legal entry to the port. In addition, 20 valuable Defenders were seized from a North Carolina chiropractor’s home last May without any followup. Lesson learned: if you plan to spend big money on a classic Land Rover, make sure it’s legit.
Please enjoy this TFLcar.com video review of the 1970 Land Rover Series IIA.
Frank caught automotive fever early in life. Hailing from a long line of car fanatics, he was able to recite the year and model of every car that passed him by age five. His passion and love for the automobile have only grown since then. When not thinking about cars, he is reading, writing, learning, or dreaming about them. His area of expertise is in the realm of German and Italian cars, of which Porsche is a favorite. Frank currently resides in the heart of NASCAR country in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his family. He enjoys driving exotic cars in the beautiful Carolina weather.