The Land Rover Defender can take a tremendous pounding in the world's harshest settings: jungles, tundras and deserts. But it can't survive the Baltimore claw.
In April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized a Defender illegally imported into the port of Baltimore from Great Britain, a trend that has been bubbling under the radar for years.
The federal government allows vehicles at least 25 years old to be legally imported without having to meet crash and emissions regulations.
Because the classic off-roader is highly sought-after in the United States, it's worth much more here than overseas. Land Rover imported about 7,000 Defenders, both wagons and soft-top models, from 1993 to 1997, but it had to discontinue U.S. sales because the vehicles no longer met safety requirements that took effect in 1998. Those Land Rovers are highly collectible and have retained nearly all their value.
The price of a North American-spec Defender from the 1990s is somewhere between $35,000 and $70,000, according to prices paid on eBay Motors. But the same basic vehicle can be bought in Europe for around $5,000 and shipped to the United States for another $2,000 or so.
Land Rover fans and some unscrupulous old-car dealers know that because the basic look of the Defender has not changed in decades, it has been fairly easy to slip a late-model Defender through customs. They do it by affixing the vehicle identification number tag from a Defender at least 25 years old to the newer model.