After deciding to give biodiesel a try, I had to get a diesel car. It’s not the easiest task in the world to find a good diesel in San Francisco. Because of current regulations, you can’t buy a new diesel in California. So cars like the Jeep Liberty CRD, or the various new diesel Volkswagen’s are out unless you can find a used one – check diesels on Craigslist to see what’s available, they tend to run in the $15-30k range. If you want to spend less (like I did), you can find used Mercedes diesels (check Craigslist again or eBay). There are lots of well preserved 80s models in the $5-10k range. All of the above will work with biodiesel with either no or minimal conversion (replacement of fuel lines might be required on older models). Finally, there are also some diesel pickups and SUVs that show up in those listings. I dismissed those because they are on the large/inconvenient side for San Francisco.
In my quest to find a good diesel, I did test drive a couple of early 80s Mercedes. They were pretty clunky and not very fun to drive. So I ended up passing on the above options and ventured into more exotic choices… I decided to try and find a used diesel Land Rover or Land Cruiser. I started with Land Cruisers because I read that there are plenty of them in Canada and you can find importers who will bring them into California (they were never sold directly in the US). I searched the Land Cruiser forums and found several guys who offer to import diesel Land Cruisers. I also started watching Craigslist Vancouver for used ones. In particular, I wanted a mid 80s BJ or HJ60. Here’s what I found: there are decent looking used diesel BJ/HJ60s in the $5-10k range in Canada. However, none of the 4 or 5 importers I contacted ended up following through. I also found a few people with import horror stories (any car newer than 25 years gets imported as a grey market vehicle which apparently can cause all kinds of issues with the DMV or trying to find mechanics to work on them). If you are looking for older BJ4x style Land Cruisers, US based ones do pop up on eBay and I found some dealers who specialize in them.
Given my slow progress with Land Cruisers, I then checked into Land Rovers and finally found what I was looking for. I started by checking a couple of sites for US based used land rover dealers and eBay again. I ended up finding two places in the UK that specialize in sending old Land Rovers to the US, Land Rover Centre has more original and slightly pricier models ($10-15k range), and UK Landrovers who have more affordable, daily driver type cars ($5-10k range). UK Landrovers sell most of their cars via eBay. They always have a few diesels sitting around, so selection is OK. The drawbacks are buying a car without seeing it and that most of them are right hand drive.
I ended up finding a nice looking 73 short wheel base Land Rover at UK Landrovers (via a Land Rover enthusiast/importer in Oregon):
It has an updated diesel engine, ready for biodiesel. It was reasonably priced and it’s on its way from the UK at the moment. I’m picking it up in a couple of weeks and will report back on how the importing went and what the car is like in person.