An American Exotic in Europe

Importing a 2007 Indy Pace Car was no mean feat for Belgian enthusiast Jan Decancq

Photo: An American Exotic in Europe 1
August 3, 2023

Though Corvette has been the consummate (and sometimes the only) American sports car since its birth more than 70 years ago, the marque’s appeal is universal, and consequently many examples have found their way around the world. Owning a Corvette outside of the United States in general, and outside of North America in particular, has never been easy or inexpensive, however. As such, it takes a particularly high level of devotion to import and then enjoy one in most foreign lands. Nobody knows this better than Jan Decancq, the Belgian owner of the pristine 2007 Indy Pace Car Edition featured here.

Decancq’s (pronounced, roughly, “de-KONK”) interest in Corvettes actually has its origins with a Pontiac, not a Chevrolet. “In 1987 my best friend bought a black, 5.0-liter Pontiac Trans Am,” he recalls. “Once in a while he let me drive it, and the power of the engine and sound of the exhaust made me dream about one day owning my own American car.”

This general interest in owning an American, V-8–powered muscle car evolved into a desire to bring home a Corvette after Decancq saw a variety of them at Belgium’s historic Zolder circuit, home to Formula One racing in the 1970s and ’80s.

Photo: An American Exotic in Europe 2

“The Zolder racetrack was about one mile away from our house,” Decancq explains, “and from time to time we went to have a look at the races [there]. One day there was a Swiss Corvette club at the track, and I could admire a mix of various Corvette generations. Also, later I saw the Corvette C5-R run at Zolder, the first privately owned chassis run by a team called SRT. All of this sparked my interest for the brand.”

The attributes that made Corvette enticing to Decancq are the same ones that appeal to most enthusiasts. “It’s a very good sports car that gives you supercar performance for a fraction of the price,” he says. “I love the C6 in particular. It has the classic Corvette design, with the round tail lights and the shape of the body. I love how the gauge package is very traditional, which is to say, ‘not digital.’ I especially like the HUD, and the Z51 package is a plus. For me it’s the sweet spot for value, performance, and design”

While the C6 was always his favorite generation, Decancq’s first Corvette was a C3, bought locally in 2000 through a vintage-car website. He enjoyed the car, a 1976 coupe, and kept it for around 15 years. “In general, that car was OK. We changed a few things and also did a full re-spray. What I loved most were the side pipes and the sound they made.”

Photo: An American Exotic in Europe 3

While the rumble of the side pipes was alluring, Decancq’s desire to own a more comfortable Corvette grew as he got a little bit older. And since he only had garage space for one fun car, he reluctantly sold the ’76 in 2015 and began looking for a more recent generation.

While browsing through AutoTrader he came across two 2007 Indy Pace Car Editions, and these immediately got his attention. One was offered for sale by a dealership in Oregon, and the other was with a dealer in Las Vegas. Each appeared to be in excellent, original condition, which is not unusual for Pace Car Editions, which tend to be very well cared for by collectors and other meticulous owners.

When the dealer in Oregon proved unwilling to contend with the hassle of exporting his car, Decancq’s focus homed in on the Nevada car. It had traveled only 29,700 miles from new, had a clean Carfax report, was undamaged, and was accompanied by all of its original paperwork. Decancq soon struck a deal to purchase the car, at which point the more challenging task of getting it from Nevada to a U.S. port, across the Atlantic, into Belgium, and then legalized there began.

Photo: An American Exotic in Europe 4

For assistance with this monumental operation, Decancq turned to a Belgian company that specializes in importing American cars into Europe. In early September of 2015 the firm sent a transport truck to the dealer in Las Vegas, Findlay Chevrolet. After their driver inspected the Corvette to confirm that it was what it was represented to be, the car was loaded up and taken to a warehouse in Long Beach, California. About four weeks later it was carefully loaded into a shipping container, which was then placed on a cargo ship heading to Antwerp, Belgium.

In mid-November the ship docked in the Port of Antwerp, and the car emerged from its container in the same near-perfect condition it was in when the ship set sail. There were still some painful steps to go through before Decancq could take it home, however. As required by law, the import agent presented the Corvette to Belgian customs authorities. Decancq paid 21 percent of his initial purchase price for his nation’s Value Added Tax (VAT), and then another 10 percent of the purchase price for the required import duty. These taxes rendered the actual shipping cost of $1,700 almost insignificant.

After the required VAT and import duty were paid, the importation company contacted the Belgian automobile-homologation authorities to initiate the technical-compliance portion of the process. Inspectors from this government office examined the car to determine whether it complied with all laws and regulations in Belgium as well as throughout the European Union. Incredibly, even used cars imported into the country by private citizens undergo the same inspection procedures that a manufacturer has to go through when certifying a new model for sale in the European market.

Photo: An American Exotic in Europe 5

The exact requirements for a car being imported depend on the year of manufacture. Fortunately for Decancq, nothing had to be modified to legalize his newly acquired Corvette for Belgium. Even so, the whole process took many months, but when it was finally completed the dealer received the required registration documents from the government.

The last requirement for making the Corvette road legal was license plates. As with the VAT and import duty, the task of obtaining the plates and registration proved fiscally painful. The actual cost varies widely, but because these fees are tied to the car’s engine displacement and emissions rating, Corvettes of all years tend to be quite pricey The sole, small consolation is that 75 percent of the total is paid only once, while the other 25 percent is required each subsequent year.

Though older Corvettes are penalized because their emissions numbers are comparatively poor, even the low-polluting C8 is very expensive—around $19,000, according to Decancq—to register thanks to the size of its engine. Between the VAT, import duty, and registration costs, owning a Corvette in Belgium (or any other European nation) is not for the faint of heart, or the weak or wallet.

Photo: An American Exotic in Europe 6

While Decancq’s stunning C6 doesn’t have the same savage sound as the side-piped C3 that he loved so much, it does have a louder-than-stock Bassani exhaust system to stir his passions. He drives the car about 2,000 km (1,200 mi.) per year, using it from April through October and then storing it for the winter months when the roads are salted to deal with the snowfall.

During the fair weather months he’s taken the Corvette to many nearby car events, as well as meets as far away as Germany and Luxembourg. The trophies Decancq and the car have garnered along the way are interspersed in his garage with the impressive collection of Corvette and Indy 500 memorabilia he’s acquired at local fairs, from online purchases, and during three extended visits to the States.

Wherever it goes in Europe, Decancq’s Atomic Orange pace car tends to be admired, thanks to its beauty and rarity. “When I go to meets I get approached by a lot of people who ask me about the details of the car—where I bought it, how I imported it, and so on,” he shares. “Even on the motorway people give me the thumbs-up when they see it. It is the only 2007 Pace Car Edition in Belgium, which is quite cool.”

Also from Issue 164

  • C1/C2 Fuelie Duo
  • Restored ’69 L36 Driver
  • Market Report: Performance Deals
  • LS7 ’65 Restomod
  • LM Racers Reign at Amelia
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