The Automotive Gray Market

An Inside History


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About the Book

In the 1970s, as car enthusiasts in the U.S. grew bored with models manufactured under tightening pollution and safety regulations, some innovative dealers exploited a legal loophole—designed to allow U.S. soldiers and diplomats to return from abroad with their vehicles—to import exotic cars never intended for sale in America. During the 1980s, a rise in the value of the dollar made car shopping in Europe a bargain hunter’s dream. A network of unauthorized “gray market” importers and conversion shops emerged, bypassing factory channels and retrofitting cars to meet U.S. regulations and emission standards—at least in theory.
These cars had to pass through U.S. customs, a system equipped to handle only a few independent imports annually. As applications ballooned, the regulatory system collapsed. This is the story of a misunderstood but fascinating period in the automotive industry, when creative importers found ways to put American motorists in new Ferraris while the EPA and DOT were backed up with mounds of paperwork.

About the Author(s)

John B. Hege is retired import auto mechanic from North Carolina who worked in gray market “conversion” shops during the peak years of 1985 and 1986. He wrote this work because he wanted to share some unique stories about a very poorly understood period of automotive history in America.

Bibliographic Details

John B. Hege
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 191
Bibliographic Info: 17 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2022
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6373-2
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4410-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface 1
Introduction 5
1. Congress and Cars 7
2. Small Importers and Their Reactions 17
3. The First Compliance Shops 28
4. Making Them Pass 47
5. The Stoichiometric Closed Loop Electronic Feedback Controlled Breakthrough 66
6. The Boom 78
7. More Fuel on the Fire 89
8. In the Workshop 98
9. The Independent Labs 113
10. The Shine Rubs Off 128
11. Meanwhile, at Lamborghini 133
12. The Factories Push Back 143
13. An Inaction of Congress 156
14. The Market Winds Down 164
15. Lessons of the Gray Market 171
Chapter Notes 175
Bibliography 177
Index 181

Book Reviews & Awards

• “Clearly written first-hand account. It’s readable and enlightening.”—Speed Readers

• “Readable and enlightening”—Antique Automobile