On the edges of the car trade live those who try to sneak in vehicles forbidden from these shores due to a lack of safety equipment, emissions controls or both. In years past, this game's biggest target were sports cars like the Nissan Skyline, the predecessor to the GT-R. Under federal rules, any car newer than 25 years old must meet the U.S. standards from its year of birth — or it's contraband.
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, dozens of importers have tried to flout those rules in recent months — so much so that the agency held a public crushing of a Land Rover Defender earlier this month to emphasize its crackdown.
Rugged Defenders have a global appeal in this SUV-crazy world; imagine a cross between the previous generation Jeep Cherokee and the old International Harvester Scout, and then consider how many people you know would pay good money for an any-terrain, bare-bones truck with some British class. The Defender, based on Land Rovers of yore, has changed little from the introduction of the current chassis design in 1983 — no airbags, inward-facing seats in some older models and soot-spewing diesel engines.
While a few Defenders have come in under the 25-year exemption and by modifications from legal importers, they're few and far between, with prices that can hit $100,000 for desirable models. Meanwhile, Europe and Africa are rife with used Defenders that can be bought for a tenth of that or less, making it worth a gamble for some importers to attempt a circumvention of the rules. In the case shown here, U.S. Customs says the unlucky Defender had its VIN tags tampered with in an effort to make it seem more than 25 years old.
Customs says it's intercepted similar vehicles at ports around the country, from Philadelphia to Tacoma, Wash. Given how the U.S. economy remains stronger than many of those overseas, it's no wonder illicit vehicle smuggling appears to be on the rise. Still, it's a shame to see a good truck get crushed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.