Brad Bowling
May 1, 2004
Photos By: Lek Hennie

The next time you have to wait two days to receive a Mustang part by UPS or stand in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles for an hour to register a new car, consider it a blessing. Being a Mustang owner in the United States is a breeze; all it takes is a good credit rating and a stack of parts catalogs to put a cool Pony on the road.

Not so for our friends overseas, where getting an American car legalized can be an enormously expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating chore on par with elective dental surgery or an IRS tax audit.

In the Netherlands, about 15 miles from the 700-year-old capital city of Amsterdam, lives a floral-arrangement wholesaler whose passion in life is all things Ford, but especially Saleens. Hennie Lek, who says he came by his weakness for Fords genetically-his father's affliction began with the purchase of a '61 Galaxie Starliner and eventually led to a new '80 Mustang Cobra-bought an Amsterdam-assembled '66 Mustang in 1984. Yes, the Ford plant there built Mustang coupes for sale in the Netherlands and France during 1966-1967; only a dozen or so are known to still exist. It was an extremely rough car, but Lek's enthusiasm was boosted by the original 289 and four-speed transmission. At the time, he had no idea the factory-installed sliding sunroof was an unbelievably rare and valuable option, so it was eliminated during restoration.

Lek enjoyed his classic performer, which he still owns, but was convinced that late-model Mustangs were the way to go in the modern world. Since European Ford factories stopped producing Mustangs in the '60s, his collection of high-performance Fox and SN-95 ponies reveals Lek to be a man of great patience and perseverance.

His first late-model was a black '87 GT hatchback with a five-speed he quickly traded for an automatic-equipped '88. Lek attended an All-Ford Nationals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and fell in love with one of Steve Saleen's early Mustangs on display; so, when his '88 was destroyed in a wreck, he went shopping for a similar ride. Hemmings Motor News led him to a dark blue '88 Saleen hatchback with an automatic transmission and only 16,000 miles. After flying to New York and driving to Long Island for a testdrive and inspection, Lek and his father bought 88-0543 and made shipping arrangements.

"My wife and I so thoroughly enjoyed the Saleen," Lek recalls, "that during the next decade we drove it 52,000 miles through Italy, across the Russian border and into Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Belgium, France, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway. Our '88 has even visited North Cape in Norway-the northernmost point you can reach by car!"

Lek's enthusiasm for the Saleen was rewarded with nearly trouble-free mechanical performance. As of its semiretirement in 1999, when an imported '96 SVT Cobra assumed its daily driver duties, only the transmission required any repairs.

Lek let his parents check out the next Saleen to enter his collection: a '97 S-281 former Budget rental car he located in Dallas. The red convertible, number 97-0018B, was shipped to the Netherlands in a 20-foot container filled with various pieces of high-performance equipment from the Saleen parts department, including a hard Speedster tonneau, chrome wheels with new tires, and a Series II Eaton supercharger. The dark charcoal Recaro seats were back-ordered and eventually arrived separately.

In 2003, Lek realized he needed a more practical vehicle for his growing family, something with all-wheel drive and room for four people with luggage. He discovered a Saleen XP8 Explorer advertised in New York with V-8 power, and flew to the East Coast to inspect it in person. Blizzard conditions prevented a proper testdrive, but Lek was impressed with 99-0013's condition and the fact it had once worn the coveted "01" bumper decal as a SEMA display vehicle. The Explorer has been the family's daily driver since its arrival.

The intrepid Mustang enthusiast was recently enticed once more into Saleen ownership after reading that 97-0017B, a blue Budget S-281 convertible, was for sale in California. "It was in such great shape that I couldn't resist reuniting the blue No. 17 car with my red No. 18," Lek says. "After all, what are the chances of seeing two sequentially numbered Saleen Mustangs together 7,000 miles from Irvine, California, and 20 feet below sea level?"

About as slim as seeing a '60 Galaxie Starliner, a '61 Galaxie Starliner, a '62 Galaxie Sunliner, a '63 Galaxie Sunliner, a '63 Galaxie four-door, and a '64 Galaxie XL two-door fastback (the other cars in Lek's all-Ford collection) on the roads around Amsterdam.

Editor's note: The Lek collection is featured in Brad Bowling's new publication, The Saleen Book: 20 Years of Saleen Mustangs. For more information about the book, which is scheduled for release in March, visit www.thesaleenbook.com.

Just How Much Trouble Is It to Import A Mustang?Taking a car through inspection and certification is an ordeal I go through with each of my imported Mustangs, and it can be ridiculous at times. For example, the Dutch motor vehicles department won't even recognize "U.S." imports, so I have to take them to Germany for approval by Technische berwachungs Verein (TUV, an independent group of inspection agencies). Before the Germans can sign off on it, I have to install European Community (EC)-approved headlights, taillamps with separate fuses for the left and right sides, orange turn signals, a foglight in the rear, two extra reflectors mounted on the rear bumper, standard wheels and tires, standard brakes, and a speedometer that reads in kilometers per hour. Also, if the car has a supercharger, it must be disconnected, but does not have to be removed from the engine compartment.

Once I've met EC standards in Germany, I can return the car to its original condition and get a license plate in Holland with no hassle. Transferring it from Germany makes it an "EC" import, which is recognized by my country.

Before you start thinking this sounds like a reasonable amount of suffering to own a car as nice as the Saleen, I need to mention the matter of taxes and import duties. For each Mustang or other American car I import, I pay 10 percent of the invoice value as an import duty; a 19 percent value-added tax over the combined invoice and transport, and a luxury tax that amounts to 45 percent on new cars but decreases with the age of the car. For instance, on the '97 Saleen, the luxury tax was about $3,500 by itself-quite a discount when you consider the tax would have been $13,000 when the car was new.

If this weren't deterrent enough, be aware that it takes three to five months before you can legally drive the car because of the slow pace of government paperwork. And it doesn't really get any easier the more you do it.-Hennie Lek