Meet the woman who gets that US$30m Ferrari to Pebble Beach

Grove has built a reputation of being able to move blue-chip cars safely and reliably around the world as well as deal with the cross-border paperwork.  — Bloomberg

SAN JOSE: The Rimac Nevera is a US$2.5 million electric hypercar with 1,914HP and a predicted 0-100kph sprint time, 1.8 seconds, that would earn it the title of fastest production car in history. Set for delivery this year, just 150 Neveras will be made.

Naturally, you don't trust just anybody to move the thing.

You get Robin Grove to do it. The chief executive officer of Classic Automotive Relocation Services (CARS), Grove moves most of the blue-chip cars that descend on the world's most prestigious car show and auction event, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance this weekend in Carmel, California near here.

Bugatti, Koenigsegg, McLaren, Pagani, and Rivian trust her to move their multimillion-dollar wares; so do RM Sotheby's, European banking billionaires, and the Kuwaiti royal family. If there's an old racing Ferrari being ogled by stillettoed ladies on some misty verdant fairway, there's a good chance Grove was the one who got it there.

"We are like travel agents and lawyers for cargo," Grove says. Last year the company moved 1,000 of the world's most valuable vehicles worldwide.

Vivacious, with Joan Jett hair and an Instagram-perfect smile, it's not surprising that Grove, 62, wanted to be a rock star growing up. (The electric violin was her specialty.) It's more of a thrill to hear her deal with the daily challenges of moving millions of dollars' worth of vehicular legend.

She set aside her typical warm demeanour the day this writer visited and firmly ensured that the driver who had arrived to load a Porsche 993 GT2-not the usual guy-did the job right.

"Unbelievable," she said, walking into her 20,000-square-foot garage in Gardena, Calif. "It's a US$2 million car, and he has no idea what he's doing."

Her headquarters is temperature-controlled with extensive security cameras and closed-circuit TV running 24/7. It holds dozens of cars triple-covered (cotton sheet, plastic sheet, top cover) and connected to battery chargers.

Under wraps, for those eagle-eyed enough to recognise their shape: a US$31 million Ferrari, a US$10 million Jaguar D-Type, a few US$13 million Zagatos, a US$35 million Alfa Romeo, and a US$2 million Koenigsegg Regera, among others.

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"We deal mostly with billionaires," explains Tony Rackley, the British-born head of the specialties division at CARS. "We very rarely see these guys; we see their people."

August is a busy time for their 11-person Los Angeles operation, thanks to the upcoming annual car week in Monterey. (She also has offices in Amsterdam, Dubai, London, and, soon, Miami. CARS employs 200 people worldwide.) But shipping never stops, Grove says.

Rates range from around US$10,000 to get a short-wheelbase Porsche 911 to LA from, say, Amsterdam — the smaller size means the car can fit on the cheaper lower deck of the cargo plane.

To move a Bizzarrini from London to Carmel can run US$40,000, because it'll need to be inside its own wooden crate. It can cost as much as US$67,000 to air freight, say, a Ferrari F40 into LA from Hong Kong — to be sure, the far-flung distance and special cargo-box air freight command a high sum, but it's just a fraction of its US$1.6 million overall value.

Importing cars from Europe and Asia means clearing them through the myriad National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and US Environmental Protection Agency safety and air requirements for cars entering the country; navigating international trade treaties; sorting through customs policies; and paying associated duties, surcharges, taxes, and fees.

"Sometimes, clients call us a year ahead of time, but ideally they call us at least four months in advance, because whether the car is going by air or ocean, you never really know what is going to go on," Grove says.

"Then we immediately start talking with their restorers, who might say they need this or that amount of time, or they want to ship it really early because they want to do a stop in New York on the way to get work done there."

Size matters. Twenty-foot containers are standard for most collectible cars, though one private customer requested a more expensive 40-foot container to house his tiny Porsche Speedster alone. It also matters whether the car can be driven or must be rolled onboard.

Grove asks clients things like whether the steering column works, since vintage cars tend to wear out, and whether a cargo plane or ocean liner will do.

She also needs to know the car's age and how long it will be in the country, since different import rules apply depending on the car's age and reason for entry. Cars over the age of 25 have more lenient standards for entering the US than do modern ones.

Understanding nuances such as how to handle vintage aluminum bodies while being able to navigate the complex computer systems of modern hypercars requires experience, skill, and on-the-ground savvy.

"As portable assets, the coachwork (on the cars) is now considered and valued as artwork, like that done by Picasso or Renoir," Grove says.

A licensed customs broker, Grove has a US$15 million insurance policy on all of her trucks — it's been the key to winning those auction house clients who can't find another provider to promise total coverage in the event of an accident.

Additional industrial-strength coverage comes in handy when, as was the case with the cracked front splitter on a Koenigsegg recently, airline workers aren't as careful as they should have been. "That's why you buy insurance!" Grove says.

Then there's the matter of physically loading and unloading the car, the most fraught portion of all. Some cars are pushed on using a series of dollies and ramps; others are put into wooden crates and rolled inside on a system of ramps; others can be driven-slowly, slowly onboard the semitrucks that take them up the road.

Rackley personally meets cars coming in at the airport and inspects them himself — often climbing like a cat burglar through the windows of the still-boxed vehicle inside the storage container. He does it in stocking feet so as to not leave even the faintest mark. "His other name is ballerina," Grove says.

Then Rackley whisks the vehicle in a covered truck either for holding at the CARS warehouse or straight up to Pebble Beach, where he keeps them under extreme watch inside the trucks until their final unveiling at dawn on the golf course. In true dramatic fashion, the final reveal starts under cover of dark.

"I unbuild the crates myself; I don't even let anyone else take the straps off," Rackley says.

"The guys on the ground don't like me, but I'm forceful-to them it's just another piece of cargo." — HANNAH ELLIOTT
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