MASERATI’S INAUGURAL Global Gathering was soured by the Australian Border Force's refusal to release six valuable classic vehicles to compete in the event.
They demanded an asbestos inspection be performed, although, as we understand, the cars arrived with supporting paperwork stating they were free of the substance.
This fiasco is the latest example in a major crackdown by the Federal government department that introduced fines up to $900,000 in March 2017 for asbestos found in cars and it’s endangering an industry, businesses and jobs.
Two of the impounded Maseratis, owned by Queenslander Stephen Dowling – a 1971 Ghibli SS Coupe and a 1972 Bora – were previously registered in Queensland and had Australian Design Rules compliance plates. According to Dowling they were in the same condition as when they left Australia apart from restoration in the UK, that involved the removal of asbestos.
To understand how this debacle occurred we have to go back to September 2017 when the organisers of the Maserati Global Gathering applied for exemption for Dowling’s cars with the Federal Minister. They received a computer-generated receipt from the Minister’s office acknowledging the request.
Having heard nothing more and with a shipping deadline approaching, Dowling shipped his cars with as much supporting ‘asbestos free declaration’ documentation as possible.
This included commissioning McGrath Maserati in the UK to research, obtain and prepare files from their suppliers refuting claims of asbestos in Dowling’s cars. Some large suppliers provided laboratory grade scientific certificates showing the absence of asbestos in parts they had supplied for his cars. Smaller suppliers with less resources provided the best documentation they could. But we are dealing with 50-year-old cars and some suppliers no longer exist.
Meanwhile a verbal assurance that the exemption application would receive a favourable response was given from CAMS, which was representing the classic car industry. But from the time of the application to the refusal of the exemption, there was no communication from the government, apart from the computer-generated response receipt.
Then with the event start just hours away Dowling’s cars were refused clearance and not released.
Dowling says, “I was at Gibson’s Freight Depot at Melbourne Airport on the Tuesday of the event, with one couple from Switzerland, one couple from USA, two couples from UK, others from Italy, and Australia, with luggage in tow. We idled away several hours waiting clearance so they could load and drive their allocated vehicles of mine.
“Gibsons advised us that they expected Quarantine inspection and Import Entry clearance imminently. The quarantine officer arrived in yellow hi-vis coat and briefcase. He gave the cars a cursory inspection, verified VIN numbers as correct, passed favourable comment on the excellent condition of the cars, listened avidly to their history and departed, apparently satisfied without a single utterance about asbestos.
“Thinking clearance was minutes away, I arranged for re-gassing (at considerable expense) of each car’s airconditioner (they had to be de-gassed prior to shipment – a requirement peculiar to Australia). We refuelled the cars from jerry cans and started them to warm up, waiting for Gibsons to tell us we could load the cars and head to Torquay and join the event.
“That announcement never came. Instead, at approximately 2.00pm, Gibson’s advised that ABF had rejected the paperwork I had submitted asserting the asbestos-free status of the cars. The cars either had to be tested by a National Association of Testing Authorities accredited hygienist, with the risk of possible invasive testing or I could arrange to ship them back to the UK immediately.
“No personnel from the Australian Border Force ever physically inspected the cars apart from the aforementioned quarantine officer.
“I chose the latter option as there was no time to arrange testing and determining the result before the event ended. Gibson’s had previously informed me that ABF had advised them that they wanted the cars tested before they could be shipped out still in bond without theoretically having even entered Australia.
“However, in the end the six cars in question did leave Australia without testing.
“After announcing that six cars were being shipped back and the two modern cars may be released, the group hired a mini bus to get to Torquay and then spent the next five days being chauffeured by other participants all the way to Sydney.”
With no release of Dowling’s eight cars, Maserati Australia Chief Operating Officer Glen Sealy contacted Minister Peter Dutton’s department about plight of the vehicles.
“Eight cars that came in from overseas were caught up, said Sealey. “Two were released, a 2009 Bellagio Quatroporte 5 and a 2004 4200 Spyder, the other six were held. I got involved towards the end of the issue and I have to say Minister Dutton’s office was extremely helpful towards us. I was glad to see the two cars released for day two of the event but sad the other classics didn’t.”
Left idle in a bond store and unable to compete in the Maserati Global Gathering were a 1974 Frua Quattroporte built for the Aga Khan, 1964 5000GT owned by Eagle guitarist Joe Walsh that inspired his legendary lyrics: ‘My Maserati does one-eightyfive, I lost my license, now I don’t drive’.
Also impounded were a 1971 Ghibli SS, a 1972 Ghibl SS, and a 1972 Bora. held as well was a 1972 Indy owned by one of the visitors from UK. The excellent condition of this Indy earned it the trophy for “best of class” at last year's Maserati International Rally
The ramifications of the Australian Border Force’s actions could have global implications according to Sealey.
“The ripples of this will go around the world. Classic car owners are well connected with other classic car owners, it's a well connected community," said Sealey.
While he acknowledges the tougher stance by the Australian Border Force requires a rethink by importers like Maserati keen to showcase their classic models here at events like Motorclassica, he also believes greater clarity is needed to prevent future impounding of cars.
“Based on this experience, customs agents and overseas shippers need clarity on what has to be done before a car arrives in Australia and what the Australian Border Force requires in terms of proof that there is no asbestos in the car before it arrives here," he said.
From a tourism viewpoint, this is disastrous.
Perceived or otherwise, the Australian Border Force stance means the chances of events like a Goodwood Revival or Festival of Speed being held are virtually nil. Even an event like a Pebble Beachstyle concours will be almost impossible to attract overseas owners and their cars.
And motoring events like the Maserati Global Gathering, that drew owners from around the world, spending thousands of dollars will also be difficult to stage, with anything other than local cars. And that would be a tragedy.
"The Australian Border Force is simply enforcing policy and doing its job," Sealey added. "However it might be time to look at the policy to see how it can work with classic cars on a temporary stay."
For anyone thinking of importing a classic into Australia for an event or to drive here Stephen Dowling has some timely advice.
Do not just trust conveyance of a shipment to a commercial shipping company until you have done a due diligence personally.
Given you have to use National Association of Testing Authorities-accredited hygienists, consider flying one to UK and accommodate them while they perform their tests and fly them back.
Allow double the normal estimated time for shipping and receiving to accommodate the myriad delays for testing etc that might occur.
But for Dowling, it is a case of once bitten, twice shy; “For this car owner – never again under current laws. It is akin to playing “Russian roulette” with one’s cars.”
Seeing this reminded me of a series on TV called the Sandbaggers?They used the their big Rover limo to ferry diplomats and politicians about London.In very good nick, this one was spotted in a suburban carpark, so my guess is, it's a daily driver.
BARRY COIL - IVANHOE, VIC
Healesville is known for its wildlife sanctuary, but I have now learned it's also a regular stopover for classic car runs and it's where I spotted this bright pink tank Fairlane, while on hols. It certainly grabbed plenty of attention.
REG SMITH - GRANGE, QUEENSLAND
On my way into Crown Casino I spotted a familiar car in an unfamiliar setting. A Grand Prix function I guess, it was on the same weekend. Once steered by the King of the Mountain, Peter Brock, it brought back many happy memories.
COLIN PHILLIPS - FREMANTLE, WA
This Premier reminded me of the one in Unique Cars a while back. Same colour too. It had been lovingly restored and parked where no other car could touch it. Hard to believe it's been 30-odd years since these majestic wagons were all the rage.
SIMON BARRY- PENRITH, NSW