CLA-2 RR:CR:GC 961279K

Lindsay T. Thompson, Esq.
Joel R. Junker, Esq.
Attorneys at Law
520 Pike Street, Suite 1510
Seattle, Washington 98101

RE: Classic Automobiles; Collector’s Articles; William T. Connor, II, Living Trust

Dear Messrs. Thompson and Junker:

The following is in response to your request of December 23, 1997, and subsequent submissions dated March 16 and April 8, 1998, and descriptive literature, for a tariff classification ruling concerning two automobiles.


The Connor Living Trust (Trust) holds a collection of approximately 40 rare and unusual automobiles, the majority of which were produced during the late 1920's through the 1950's which may be shown at exhibitions of rare automobiles or in museums. The Trust wants to import two automobiles to add to the collection; a 1929 Bentley Supercharger (Blower) 4 1/2 liter racing car and a 1936 Mercedes-Benz 500K “Special Roadster”.

Extensive descriptive literature was submitted concerning the collection of rare automobiles as well as the catalogue, Moving Beauty, produced by The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1995). The literature indicates that similar “collector” automobiles may cost several million dollars. Some of the literature depicts the automobiles subject to this request for a ruling with the original registration plates.

The Bentley is registered in the Isle of Man and the Mercedes is also registered in the United Kingdom, and will maintain these registered numbers as unique identifiers which is a common practice with rare automobiles. Such “collectible’ automobiles are driven no more than a few feet to comply with show requirements that entered vehicles be started and driven a short distance to prove that they work (that is, for exhibition purposes only and not for utilitarian purposes). Because the automobiles will not be used for utilitarian purposes or for the conveyance on public roads, there is no requirement for automobile registration in local jurisdictions or the need for the typical automobile insurance coverage such as liability or collision insurance. Of course, they will be insured during shipping by ocean transport and other insurance for the protection from losses.

Only 50 “Blower Bentley” cars were produced; the first five for racing purposes and the rest for public use. The one registered as YU3250, and subject to this request for a ruling, was the first of the five supercharged Bentley Blowers built. It serves as the basis for models made by Matchbox, Corgi, the Franklin Mint, and others.

The 1936 Mercedes Benz 500 K, “Special Roadster”, United Kingdom registration number CXT20, is stated to be one of the two cars delivered to England from Germany which was found in a butcher’s shed in England in the mid 1980's. It is estimated that less than 15 of these automobiles still exist.

A great deal of background information was submitted to show the extensive use of these types of automobiles in racing contests, and the excellence in design and engineering.

We are satisfied, from the information submitted, that the Trust (not a trust for non-profit purposes), maintains a “collection” of automobiles of a non-utilitarian nature, which may, on occasion, be exhibited at museums and public exhibitions. You requested that we issue a ruling that the two automobiles as described, are classified as collections and collectors’ pieces, under subheading 9705.00.00, Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), free of duty.


Do the automobiles as described, to be added to a collection of automobiles, qualify for free entry under heading 9705.00.00, HTSUS.


Heading 9705.00.00, HTSUS provides for the free entry of collections and collectors' pieces of zoological, botanical, mineralogical, anatomical, historical, archeological, paleontological, ethnographic or numismatic interest. Based on the information submitted, we are satisfied that the Trust maintains a “collection” of automobiles. However, not all “collections” qualify for classification in heading 9705.00.00, HTSUS. You suggest the two automobiles that are to be added to the collection are of historical interest and are classified in heading 9705.00.00, HTSUS, and our discussion is limited to this area.

The Explanatory Notes (EN's) to the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, which represent the official interpretation of the tariff at the international level, facilitate classification under the HTSUS by offering guidance in understanding the scope of the headings and General Rules of Interpretation of the HTSUS. The EN’s for heading 9705, states that “these articles are very often of little intrinsic value but derive their interest from their rarity, their grouping or their presentation.”

Rarity, grouping and presentation are guidelines. Value is not a controlling guideline for rarity but it may be considered to show rarity. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1987) defines grouping as “the action of placing in groups, a manner in which things are grouped”, and defines presentation as “a display, show, exhibition”. The Random House Unabridged Dictionary (1993) also defines presentation as “an exhibition or performance, as of a play or film”. These guidelines indicate that the articles must be rare, placed in groups indicating more than one article, and consist of articles for exhibition and not for utilitarian use. From the information submitted, it would appear that the two automobiles meet these guidelines.

The EN’s for heading 9705, further state, in part, that the heading includes:

(B) Collections and collectors’ pieces of historical, ethnographic, palaeontological or archaeological interest, for example:

(1) Articles being the material remains of human activity suitable for the study of the activities of earlier generations, such as: mummies, sarcophagi, weapons, objects of worship, articles of apparel, articles which have belonged to famous persons.

(2) Articles having a bearing on the study of the activities, manners, customs and characteristics of contemporary primitive peoples, for example, tools, weapons or objects of worship.

(3) Geological specimens for the study of fossils (extinct organisms which have left their remains or imprints in geological strata), whether animal or vegetable.

The guidelines of the EN’s indicate a narrow interpretation of coverage under heading 9705. We are of the opinion that the automobiles do not fall within the above samples. The background of these two automobiles has been fully described. However, we do not agree that they are historical articles that belonged to famous persons (or that they are ethnographic articles.) There is no claim of a specific incident or occurrence involving these automobiles in a significant historical event and there is no specific claim that these automobiles “belonged to famous (historical) persons”. Accordingly, we conclude that the articles are not classified in heading 9705.00.00, HTSUS. This is consistent with the Customs position in New York Ruling Letter 815818, dated December 7, 1995.

You noted that collections of automobiles are exhibited by museums. Subheading 9812.00.20, HTSUS, provides for the free entry under bond for articles imported for exhibition by any institution or society established for the encouragement of agriculture, arts, education or science, or for such exhibition by any State or for a municipal corporation. The U.S. notes applicable for this provision excludes articles imported for sale or for purposes other than exhibition and it applies only to non-profit institutions. If the articles are sold or used contrary to the terms of the provision within 5 years after entry, lawful duties are due. Although the terms for free entry under subheading 9812.00.20, HTSUS, are more restrictive than for articles entered under heading 9705.00.00, HTSUS, there is a broad coverage of articles under heading 9812.00.20, HTSUS, and the provision is not subject to the narrow EN’s guidelines for heading 9705.


The classic automobiles intended to be added to a collection of automobiles as described above, do not qualify for free entry under heading 9705.00.00, HTSUS.


John Durant, Director
Commercial Rulings Division