In an effort to combat imported cars that allegedly violated EPA standards, legislation was instated that required registered imported cars to be at least 25 years old, barring newer cars from being imported. One article on Jalopnik commented on the problem, stating that the issue was never about emission standards. The author of the article, Patrick George, theorizes that the import law was instead, related to protecting car dealers, who in the 1980s, had been losing out on profits due largely to foreign imports. Mercedes, as well as other manufacturers, successfully lobbied for pass of an car import ban in 1988. It's a shame too, as this law that was essentially instated under false pretenses: it really wasn't ever about the environment and has always been about the money in the car industry.
Anyways, America's collectors have been plagued by this issue for what feels like forever, but by 2018, there are plenty of 80s and 90s cars that are just "coming of age." Additionally, there are plenty of amazing foreign cars that are either just on the cusp, or years away from being old enough to be legal in the US, so I've collected a list of 10 awesome imports that we can drive and 10 we can't.
Many of the cars on this list are 90s models from countries like Japan, France and Germany and all of them are relics from automobile history, while others are new models that have been restricted to sale in certain countries. Its a shame too, because all of these cars are awesome models, ranging in different styles and varying levels of power, but whatever the case, let's get started.
20 Can't Import: Nissan Skyline R34
Unlike the stellar R32, the fifth generation of the Nissan Skyline GTR, the R34, isn't quite old enough to pass import laws, thus leaving it the best foreign car on this list that can't be exported (into the US anyway).
The R34 comes equipped with a 2.6L in-line, twin turbo, 6-cylinder engine that can output 276 horsepower.
The car was originally introduced in 1999 and saw production until 2002, when Nissan released the final version of the Skyline, the GTR V-Spec II Nür, was released. Being the last model in a line of amazing sports sedans arguably makes the R34 Skyline GTR the rarest GTR, if not one of the most legendary JDM vehicles of the century.
19 Can't Import: Alpine A110
Orginally introduced in the 1960s, the Alpine A110 made a name for itself as an incredible, French-made sports car that was especially successful in rally competitions. It was discontinued in 1977, but was reintroduced last year at the Geneva International Motor Show. The new A110 is incredible: beautifully designed and packing a turbocharged, petrol, in-line 4, 1.8L engine that can output 249 brake horsepower. While the car was actually developed by Renault-Nissan, it was refined by Alpine and I must admit, pushing well over 200 horsepower with a 1.8L engine is incredible. This is definitely one car that we wish we could import but sadly, can't.
18 Can't Import: Ford Focus RS500
Limited to the European markets, the Ford Focus RS500 is a limited edition Focus trim that features a series of upgrades from the stock Focus. The engine, a turbocharged Duratec 2.5L has been tuned to output 345 horsepower, with the help of other upgrades to the intercooler, air filter and exhaust system.
Really, there are too many improved features on this trim to list, so it's no surprise there was only 500 made.
The models were even numbered, as pretty much all of them went to specific collectors. Its rather unfortunate that this particular trim of the Focus is not available for import, as I think it would be an awesome upgrade to the domestic Focus RS.
17 Can't Import: Mazda Cosmo
The Mazda Cosmo, also known as the Eunos Cosmo, was based on the 1985 MX-03 concept and came to production in the 90s. Interesting enough, the Cosmo is actually the only Mazda that uses a triple rotor engine, making it rather unique. The engine can output about 300 horsepower, meaning this coupe packs a serious punch, but the most notable additions are the luxury features. The Cosmo comes equipped with power features that include touch-screen controlling, navigation and a list of other features. The earliest models of the Cosmo are actually old enough to be imported, however, all models will hit the 25 year mark pretty soon.
16 Can't Import: Lotus Elise S1
The Series 1 Lotus Elise began production in 1996 and ceased in 2001, when the Series 2 was introduced. Despite its relatively low power output of 118 brake horsepower, the Lotus Elise S1 is an absolute speed demon due to its curb weight of about 1,600 lbs.
In addition, the low center of gravity and weight displacement of the mid-engine design allows the car to be nimble and quick, so needless to say, it's sought after by adrenaline junkies all over the world.
Unfortunately, the Elise S1 isn't quite old enough to be imported into the US just yet, securing its position on this list.
15 Can't Import: Volkswagen Scirocco
With a similar design to the GTI, the Volkswagen Scirocco is a three-door sport hatchback that has been marketed in two different generations. It was produced from 1974 to 1992 and then later reintroduced in 2008. The Vice President of the US Volkswagen division actually commented on the lack of the Scirocco in domestic markets, stating that the hatchback was never sold in America because it would detract sales from the GTI, which was growing in popularity at the time. It's unfortunate too, because the Scirocco is a great addition to the family of sport style hatchbacks.
14 Can't Import: Nissan Pulsar GTI-R
The Nissan Pulsar is a sedan that is only available in certain Asian car markets and the GTI-R is a specific model that was introduced in the late 90s. This 3-door hatchback features a turbocharged 2.0L SR20DET engine that can put out about 227 horsepower. The GTI-R trim was introduced with the N14 model of the car and was produced until 1994. The GTI-R model didn't end there though, as it was carried onto the N15, whose production ended in 2000. It's a shame that the Pulsar GTI-R isn't completely available for import quite yet, as the retro rally style hatch is awesome.
13 Can't Import: Volkswagen Amarok
Volkswagen pickup trucks are already a rarity on roads, so it's too bad that the Amarok isn't available at all. In 2005, Volkswagen announced their plan to build robust, family-oriented, pickup and off-road vehicles and in 2010, production of the Amarok began.
Unsurprising for Volkswagen, the Amarok comes equipped with a Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) diesel engine that can output about 120 horsepower.
It's not incredible, but its modest and I suppose that's what a Volkswagen pick-up truck should be. Nonetheless, the Amarok will most likely never come to our markets and isn't readily available for import.
12 Can't Import: Audi S1
The Audi S1 is the smallest S-series car that Audi has ever made, filling a role as the performance version of the A1. This car is a sweet, compact hot hatch with a 2.0L, 4-cylinder engine, outputting 228 horsepower. Aside from some performance additions, the S1 is pretty much the same as the A1 and of course, comes equipped with Audi's patented quattro four wheel drive. The S1 is actually a newer addition to the Audi family, as it was introduced in 2015 and it really is a testament to Audi's drive to never stop improving, so it's really a shame that this hatch isn't available in America.
11 Can't Import: Rover Mini Cooper
With a long history stretching back to the 1950s, the Mini has undergone a series of design changes and by the end of its run, the 2000 Rover Mini Cooper came to British markets.
However, Rover was suffering serious financial losses by the year 2000, so BMW sold the holdings but kept the rights to the Mini name.
It was later reintroduced and the Mini Cooper is now a well known model, worldwide. But, the last series of the original Rover Mini Cooper is an incredibly rare find, so it's too bad that they can't yet be imported into America.
10 Can Import: Nissan Skyline R32
The legendary Nissan Skyline series has been around since the 60s, although some of the most popular models come from 1989-1994, which brings up the specific model on this list: the R32.
The R32 is a Japanese market exclusive that because of its age, has recently come available for import, meaning that this speed demon is now legal for America's roadways.
Built with a staggering 276 horsepower, the R32 Skyline GTR was produced until 1995, when the R33 was introduced. It's sad that the Sykline GTR series ended, as it was a powerful cultivation of automotive engineering, especially for the time period. I'm not saying the newer GTRs aren't awesome, but it's just not the same.
9 Can Import: Ford RS200
The Ford R200 is an absolute gem that was produced by Ford Europe from 1984 to 1986. The design is essentially one of Ford's earlier attempts at a rally-focused car, as the RS200 was designed to tear through off road terrain. The engine, which is mid-mounted, can output about 300 horsepower and was supposed to make the car competitive in rally race competitions.
Unfortunately, because of its power to weight ratio, the Ford RS200 was never able to be competitive: the engine suffered low-RPM lag which made it harder to drive, especially when competing at high speeds. Nonetheless, the RS200 is a hidden gem that hardly got to see the light of day, however, it is now available for import, although with only 200 produced, it might be hard to find one.
8 Can Import: Toyota Mark II JZX90 & JZX100
Equipped with the legendary 1JZ engine, the seventh and eighth generation models of the Toyota Mark II aren't the prettiest cars, but they are amazing sport sedans. Initially introduced in 1992, the X90 and X100 models ran until the 9th generation in 2000.
The Tourer V trim comes with a twin-turbo engine that has about 280 horsepower, making these cars ultimate sleepers.
I mean hey, they kind of look like a Toyota Camry upon first glance, but what's under the hood is a much different story. It's a shame that Mark IIs can't be imported to the US, as they could make for some fast, awesome sleeper builds.
7 Can Import: Suzuki Cappuccino
Have you ever seen a Miata that isn’t quite a Miata? The Suzuki Cappuccino is just that: a small, compact roadster that was originally designed to reduce car payments for drivers by meeting the Kei car specifications in Japan. What is especially interesting about the Cappuccino is the engine, a turbocharged 3-cylinder build that can output 67 horsepower. Now that isn't a whole lot, but considering the engine only has three cylinders, I'd say that's pretty impressive. It was originally advertised that the weight distribution of the car was 50/50 if there were two passengers in the car, which is an incredible engineering feat that deserves applause.
6 Can Import: Lotus Carlton
Also known as the Vauxhall Lotus Carlton, this sports sedan was originally designed by Opel, but was later upgraded by Lotus. Upgrades began with the engine, changed from the standard 3.0L straight 6-cylinder to a 3.6L, twin turbocharged engine that can output about 377 brake horsepower.
Additionally, the suspension, stability and handling dynamics were improved to allow for better handling at high speeds.
So essentially, the Carlton was a rather mid-grade sedan until Lotus made it into one of the fastest sedans available at the time and now that it’s available for import, I think it’s deserving of being on this list.
5 Can Import: Nissan 180SX
Based on the famous S13 chassis, the Nissan 180SX is the Japanese exclusive version of the domestic 240SX, which is one of my favorite sports cars from the 90s. The name originally referred to the engine size, 1.8L, although the car did come with other engine options, including a 2.9L turbo. As for power, the base model 180SX can output about 167 horsepower, which was quick for a car of its class at the time. The best thing about these cars though is the potential they have for builds: the SX and Z series Nissans are well designed, perfectly suitable for performance upgrades and tuning.
4 Can Import: Toyota Celica GT4
The Toyota Celica is a well known, mid-grade sports car from Toyota’s 90’s era, however, the US never saw the release of the Celica GT4, which included a series of awesome upgrades to the Celica design.
The most notable of the changes was the addition of an all wheel drive drivetrain and a 3S-GTE turbocharged engine.
The GT4 was originally designed to compete in the World Rally Championship and successfully made its debut in 1988, but didn’t win the WRC until the next year. Considering the status, rarity and importability of the 180SX, it's truly amazing that it is available for import, which is why is on this list.
3 Can Import: VW Golf Rallye
Built upon the Golf MKII, the Volkswagen Golf Rallye is a special trim that was designed in 1989 and included a series of upgrades, but was later discontinued due to an unmarketable price for North America, where Volkswagen was marketed as a low cost brand. Upgrades include syncro-four wheel drive, as well as an added supercharger which pushed the 1.8L engine to about 160 brake horsepower. It really is a shame that this model was discontinued, it is unique, fast and a really great addition to the late 20th-century work from Volkswagen. Luckily, there are still some floating around, although, they might be hard to find.
2 Can Import: Ford Fiesta RS Turbo
Also known as, the Fiesta Mk3, the Fiesta RS Turbo was introduced in 1990 and saw a short production life until 1992 when it was discontinued. It was originally based on the XR2i, but used a series of different parts, including a different tire size, suspension and turbocharger.
The engine, which was essentially the same as the XR2i, but with a lower compression rate, can output about 130 brake horsepower.
Why do I like this car so much? Well it's a part of the Ford Fiesta history and while the newer Fiesta models aren't terrible, Ford is leaving more to be desired with the updated Fiesta ST.
1 Can Import: Nissan Fairlady Z
Related to the 180SX, the Nissan Z-series is an incredible line of cars that saw sale in export markets, but had certain trims that were only available in Japan. The Fairlady was the most notable, as it was produced with a 2.0L engine rather than the 2.4 and 2.6 liter engines that were used in export models. The reason for this was Japan's taxation laws, meaning it was more beneficial for Nissan to use a smaller engine. But this is what makes the car unique: its a little different than most other Z-series Nissans on the road and come on, "Fairlady Z" is a pretty sweet name for a sports car.
Sources: Jalopnik, Motoring Research, Wired, Business Insider, Cheat Sheet, Motor Junkie, Autowise, Popular Mechanics