Meet the Brooklyn-based collector who imports RHD Euro classics

Photography by Jake Salyers

Nov 19, 2021

Automotive niches are where collecting creativity is born. Everyone has their thing. Some are purely victims of a good deal, while others hone in on a specific characteristic or idea that guides everything in their collection. Some like coach-built cars. Some only buy rare colors. But what about drive side? Interesting.

Based in Brooklyn, Raphael Hickling (@double_mint_p) has settled on what could be one of the most unique collecting theories in the car game today: right-hand-drive cars in a left-hand-drive world. Why? Because that’s what he likes — and we think it's a refreshing challenge that reminds us there’s always something new to appreciate in the wide world of cars.

Having learned the ropes of importation with several cars under his belt, Raphael scours European markets, particularly in the UK, for interesting RHD cars in interesting specs that are impossible to find elsewhere. The centerpiece of his RHD collection is a 2.0L manual, green-on-green, cloth interior Mercedes 190E — like we said, impossible to find in the States. The 190 sits on BBS Wheels which tell another part of Raphael’s story as a co-founder of The BBS Boys (@thebbsboys), a collective of enthusiasts celebrating ‘80s and ‘90s cars and Black culture.

We met with Raphael to check his RHD fleet at Floyd Bennett Field in southeast Brooklyn, the defunct airfield once home to notable aviation feats and record flights to Europe during the golden era of flight.

Marqued: Prior to building your right-hand-drive collection, what was your introduction to the car world?

Raphael Hickling: I guess my love for cars started with my father. He was always a BMW guy and had E30s, E39s, and E36s. He particularly loved those three chassis. I think that really influenced me to want to eventually get a BMW. My very first car was actually a 1984 Chevy Camaro, which was given to me by my stepfather. And from that point, the passion grew and I wanted more. I got my second car because I wanted to keep up with my father, so I bought my dream car which was a 2005 BMW 645Ci.

Marqued: Owning exclusively RHD cars in a LHD market is very cool. What made them stand out to you?

Raphael: I was born and raised in Brooklyn and one day I was sitting at a stoplight and I saw this guy in a JDM car with a targa top pull and realized it was right-hand-drive. It was just him and his son, and something about that visual was so different and so cool. I wanted that feeling. Later on, I was offered the amazing opportunity to live in London, and it really opened my eyes to cars that I hadn’t seen as frequently in America, like Fiats, Renaults and Alfa Romeos. I like the challenge of helping grow an appreciation for them in the US.

I like the challenge of helping grow an appreciation for them in the US.

Marqued: Importing cars that were not made for the US market isn’t exactly easy. How did you start?

Raphael: At first, it wasn't the addiction it is now. It was just something I wanted to be cool, different. I want to challenge myself to bring it to America.

I started doing some research and learned they can actually crush your car if it doesn’t meet certain regulations. That’s why I started with something that wasn’t too expensive if they did end up crushing it. I landed on burgundy over tan 1989 BMW 320i. It was very nerve wracking, but once it cleared customs, and I got the new tags, I was relieved.

Once I got it to the US, of course everybody was showing me love and was like, "Oh, what is that? How did you get it? I want one!" And then the admiration for right hand drives grew from then on. At this point I think I’ve shipped over five, maybe six cars.

Marqued: Of the cars you’ve brought over, your Mercedes 190E is a very rare spec and the centerpiece of your collection. Can you tell us about it?

Raphael: It’s most definitely the centerpiece of my collection. It’s the second car I brought over from England. It's a green-on-green 1989 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.0. Funny enough, it's one of the smaller engines for the 190E, and they didn't make the 2.0L’s in America. It has cloth interior, five speed manual, plus the color wasn't made in the US. That color combo, the five speed, and the 2.0 makes it ultra rare here.

I found the listing in the UK on Facebook Marketplace after I’d moved back to New York. I messaged the guy and said, "I'm interested. I'm willing to pay a down payment. Can you take the ad down? ” I was worried someone else was going to swoop in and buy it. And of course the seller saw that I was in the US, so he was very doubtful my interest was genuine. He said, "No, I'm not taking it off. If you want it, come see it.”

So I booked the flight risking that he might sell it by the time I got to England. I flew to London, took a three hour train north, and then took a cab to meet the seller. And the second I saw it I said, "That's my car. I don't care what anyone says." We took it for a drive around the block and I was sold.

Marqued: That’s an awesome story. So I know that you are affiliated with a group called the BBS Boys. Can you tell us more about that?

Raphael: So the BBS Boys is a car club that specifically focuses on ‘80s and ‘90s cars that rock any type of BBS Wheels. I started it with my friends Rich Reg and DJ Thoro. We wanted to start a car club that represents Black culture, Black movies and Black excellence. Before we knew it, we had close to 40,000 followers.

Everyone who has joined the BBS movement shares a few important values: we enjoy cars, we enjoy life, and we respect the culture.

A lot of well known music, sports, and movie industry players are noticing us and supporting our movement. Our brand is becoming popular. And because I have my right hand drive cars in the mix, our car club stands out.

Marqued: It seems like everyone in the group has a pretty eclectic collection, too.

Raphael: All of us have a niche. In addition to the 190E, I’ve got an 1995 Audi 80 Cabriolet B4 with the 2.6L engine, five speed manual in a Kingfisher Blue — another spec exclusive to Europe which really stands out. And then there’s the 1987 Mercedes-Benz SEC 420 with a white exterior and a chocolate cloth interior. I also have a glacier green 1996 BMW E39 523i.

Then DJ Thoro has a Saab from the Paid in Full movie, a Mercedes-Benz SL from a Biggie Smalls music video and a W124 cabriolet from Biggie's Hypnotize video. And Rich Reg mostly focuses on coupes. There are a lot more members with their own collections. We have different chapters — some in Detroit, Baltimore, New York, New Jersey, California. It's really become a movement. If anyone is interested in starting a chapter in their area, they can always reach out to us on Instagram. Everyone who has joined the BBS movement shares a few important values: we enjoy cars, we enjoy life, and we respect the culture.

Marqued: When you go to sell one of the cars you’ve imported, do you include your import costs in the sale price?

Raphael: Yes, especially with the rarity of the specs I collect. I definitely bring in the price of importing it. The paperwork is a hassle. I’ve aced it now, but it’s a hassle — especially with the DMV here in New York.

Marqued: Any advice for enthusiasts who may take a page from your book and look to get into an RHD?

Raphael: I know there are a lot of people who are intimidated by the prospect of a right hand drive car. And I think to get over that fear, you just need to give one a few laps around the block. Everything is the same mechanically — you're just sitting on the right side of the car. You’ve just got to be conscious of where you’re positioned, and after a couple of days you start to get very comfortable.

If any one has any questions feel free to reach out to me on Instagram or if you see me riding in your city, don’t hesitate to flag me down.

More about Raphael and the BBS Boys

You can connect with Raphael via his Instagram (@double_mint_p) and can learn more about the BBS Boys through their Instagram (@thebbsboys) and their website.

More about our contributors

Jake Salyers is an automotive, lifestyle and nature photographer living in Brooklyn, NY. You can see more of his work through his Instagram (@jakesalyers) and website.

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