For a variety of reasons, vehicles may be deemed unsafe by an individual country if it doesn't meet specific standards or established regulations. Since the guidelines are not the same for each governing body, some vehicles are only found in certain parts of the World due to being banned in others. Ultimately the vehicle needs to be safe for all passengers, other drivers on the road, and most importantly our environment.
Managing to meet all of these requirements has proven to be tricky for many automakers over the last half-century. In some case, the changes required to make a vehicle compliant are too great and/or costly, causing the automaker to abandon its efforts to sell in a given country. No matter how cool the design and features may be, attempting to import and drive a forbidden vehicle could result in serious legal jeopardy. Not to mention the vehicle that you spent all that time and energy to obtain can be confiscated by authorities, taken to a scrapyard, and crushed beyond recognition.
We've compiled a list of 25 cars that were revolutionary in terms of their capabilities, design, and features. However, since the vehicles don't exactly adhere to the strict safety rules and regulations set forth, they're rightfully considered too dangerous for street driving. Let's take a look at some of the cars that we'll probably never get a chance to drive because they are currently and most likely always will be against the law.
25 2000-2001 Land Rover Defender 130
Land Rover's inability to sell the Defender within the US in the early 2000s came down to two reasons. The first of which was due to the lack of a suitable airbag system that met federal guideline requirements. The second was the vehicle's diesel-powered engine that was plagued by its unsatisfactory emissions performance.
The Defender produced 111 horsepower from a 3.9 liter V8. This rugged 4x4 Land Rover was primarily found in Europe and Australia during the 2000-2001 model years. Although the Defender name remains popular, ownership of this SUV is still illegal inside of the US.
24 2012 Lotus 340R
The Lotus 340R is a sleek, futuristic two-seater, whose factory production run yielded only 340 total units. This limited edition model was released as pictured; without doors, windows, or a roof. In addition, the vehicle lacked minimum safety standards such as airbags and an anti-lock brake system, which I am positive made the decision to ban this vehicle a relatively quick one.
However, the sacrifices made on the 340R did reduce its weight and significantly increased its acceleration. But eliminating all of those safety standards, eliminated its chances of appealing to regulators.
23 1993 Lamborghini Strosek Diablo
Even if the Lamborghini Strosek Diablo were legal to drive, it would still likely be unaffordable for most consumers. This model is named after its designer, Vittorio Strosek, who believed the original design was too mundane and drastically modified it to give the vehicle a much more distinct look.
Some of the modifications included raising the side mirrors above the doors, changing the headlights, turn signals, and replacing the front and back bumpers with a rounder design. Although these features produced a unique vehicle, the safety challenges it created were too great to overcome.
22 1993 Jaguar XJ220-S
The Jaguar XJ220-S was created to be the street-legal version of the XJ220-C racer. Only 6 units were ever produced but the removal of the hidden headlights in the S model was enough to deem the vehicle unsafe for street driving.
It's even more of a shame because the engine on this model produced an astounding 690 horsepower. But of course, in the eyes of regulators, a vehicle with reduced visibility due to its sleek headlight design definitely should not be traveling anywhere that quickly. In the best interest of everyone's safety, it's best if we keep this one in our dreams.
21 1995 Audi RS2 Avant
Audi's RS2 Avant may be capable of hauling the family around town in style but only if that town is outside of the United States. This wagon contains many high-performance components that were produced in collaboration between Audi and Porsche.
The RS2 Avant featured a 2.2 liter, 5 cylinder turbo engine and 6-speed manual transmission that produced 330 horsepower. In addition, it included Audi AWD, a Porsche derived braking system, and a sports tuned suspension. Unfortunately, strict regulations continue to keep this beauty on the unapproved list at this time.
20 1992 Smart Crossblade
The Smart Crossblade may be the only vehicle on this list that appears to be as dangerous as the model's name. There are no doubt regulators agree that it's probably safer to play with an actual Crossblade than to drive one. The automaker's focus on compact and sporty design resulted in a factory produced, windowless vehicle without doors or a roof.
It's clear why it doesn't meet safety standards when you take all of the omissions into consideration. Although it would make parallel parking on a city street in any populated town fairly effortless, this is one blade we shouldn't play around with.
19 1999 Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R V-spec
A number of Nissan Skylines produced throughout the '90s are banned by NHTSA but that hasn't stopped car enthusiasts from attempting to seek them out. The 1999 model was one of the first vehicles to display detailed stats on a dashboard display screen. The amount of technological advancement the Skyline featured didn't stop there.
It also offered a built-in data jack under the driver's seat skirt for transmitting information from the car's system to an external computer. However, the increased technology was the fatal blow for the vehicle's legality as it was seen as too much of a distraction.
18 1996-2006 TVR Sagaris
TVR hasn't had the best of luck getting their vehicles approved for the North American market during the 1996-2006 time period. Just about every car in their lineup produced during this time was banned by the NHTSA. Many of the vehicles lacked serious safety features such as airbags and anti-lock braking systems.
But what it lacked in safety, the Sangris over-compensated for in elegance and performance. A 380 horsepower engine is standard, capable of propelling it to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. Still, without important safety features, it's too risky for a car that powerful to be on the road.
17 1989 Porsche 959 S
The 959 S was considered one of the most technologically advanced vehicles built in the late '80s. Unfortunately for Porsche, consumers were not able to drive this model due to the high costs required to build it. The automaker entered into contracts and took deposits for a limited production run of 250 vehicles at $22,730 each before realizing that the final cost was much higher per unit.
According to Road and Track, Porsche didn't even attempt to get the 959s certified with the U.S. in terms of crash standards and emissions, allowing the company to cancel its contracts and refund deposits.
16 1991-1996 Honda Beat
The Beat is a small, RWD sports car with two seats built by Honda in the early '90s. It was available in roadster and convertible variants. The vehicle contained a mid-mounted, 0.7 liter, three-cylinder engine paired with a 5-speed manual transmission that produced around 64 horsepower.
All vehicle models were offered with the option of a driver's side airbag. The Beat remained alive and popular in the Japan domestic market as it failed to gain traction in the US market due to insufficient safety standards. This eliminated Honda's chances of capitalizing on the vehicle's success outside of Japan.
15 1990-1991 Nissan Figaro
The Nissan Figaro is a retro-looking kei car with two doors and a retractable fabric soft-top. It was produced as part of a limited production run of 12,000 units. The vehicle was built to take advantage of the classic car boom in Japan during the early '90s.
The Figaro came equipped with a 1.0 liter, turbocharged, 76 horsepower engine paired with a3-speed automatic transmission. However, factory models were not equipped with any airbags which proved fatal for the vehicle's chances of being sold in the US. It can still be found throughout Europe, Japan, and Canada.
14 1992 Mazda Cosmo
The Mazda Cosmo is a luxury coupe that intended to be a fierce competitor to the increasing popularity of Lexus in the early '90s. The automaker intended to export the vehicle outside of Japan under its proposed luxury brand, Amati but those plans never came to fruition. The highest trim level is loaded with luxury amenities and a 300 horsepower twin-turbocharged engine mated to a 4 speed automatic gearbox.
This engine combination offered dismal fuel economy and did not meet emissions standards which doomed the vehicle from expanding into the US market.
13 1996-2001 Lotus Elise S1
Lotus has a history of producing light but powerful performance vehicles and the Elise S1 is no exception. This two seat, rear-wheel drive, sports car weighs only 1600 lbs and its 1.8 liter, 118 horsepower engine is capable of accelerating from 0-60 in under 6 seconds. This mark is attainable due to the Elise S1's design features which omits windows and a roof for weight reduction.
In addition, a low center of gravity of 470 mm contributes to superior cornering. Although this Lotus is a blast to drive, regulators aren't too pleased with the vehicle's build as it doesn't comply with safety standards.
12 2008 Fiat 500 Abarth
The Abarth variant is the performance model of the Fiat 500 and before 2010 this vehicle could only be found in Europe. The 2008 model year is equipped with a 1.4 liter turbocharged engine that outputs 133 horsepower and accelerates from 0-60 in 8.1 seconds.
This front wheel drive, two-door, four-seater hatchback did not meet US federal safety standard for its introductory year and was sent back to the drawing board in order to meet guidelines. Luckily for enthusiasts, the following model year in 2009 was approved despite its near identical appearance to the previous year's model.
11 2002 Morgan LeMans '62 Prototype
In 2002 Morgan released limited edition 40th anniversary models of the 1962 LeMans, paying homage to the original, classic automobile. The limited production run only yielded 80 units and each offers the same exact features as the '62 version. This includes a lack of door handles on the inside of the doors and the installation of only one outside door handle on the driver’s side.
What once traveled the streets in style in the 60s finds itself in unfamiliar territory as it's no longer street legal. The missing safety features on this vehicle makes it illegal to use in any capacity.
10 1995 Rover Mini Cooper
Classic Mini Coopers have always been on the list of collector vehicles for car enthusiasts everywhere. American enthusiast who are after this classic car will have to cross this one of their lists. The Rover Mini is a two-door hatchback with a 62 horsepower, 4-cylinder engine paired with a 4-speed manual transmission capable over reaching 60 mph in 11.4 seconds.
Unfortunately, this vehicle's build and features did not meet emissions and safety standards, preventing exportation outside of Europe. Even with its low ratings in safety, the Rover Mini is still an undeniably attractive throwback vehicle.
9 2004 Volkswagen Bettle 'Ultima Edicion'
The 2004 model year of this Mexico built Volkswagen is often called one of the coolest Bettles ever made. This two-door classic offers a trunk in the front and a number of unique features. This model year was the final edition released and only 3,000 units were produced. Although it was built just over the border from the US, the 'Ultima Edicion' remains against the law to drive within the States.
The vehicle's features and safety equipment were not compliant with US standards. This is definitely one 'punch buggy' you won't be calling out while traveling through the country.
8 1994 Toyota Supra
The Toyota Supra built its legacy in the late '80s and '90s and the 2004 model year hoped to extend it with this serious, high-performance sports car. This model was launched in 2003 as a 2004 model and was the first of the vehicle's fourth generation. It was completely redesigned, with rounded styling and offered a 326 horsepower, twin turbo-charged engine mated with either a 4-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual.
Toyota went to extreme measures to reduce weight on the Supra. However, the reduction presented extreme specifications and risks, making it illegal in the US.
7 2000 DaimlerChrysler Smart Car
The Daimler Chrysler Smart Car is one that remains popular in Europe even until today due to its size and economical value. In the early 2000s, you couldn't find one travelings US roads due to concerns with the build quality and insufficient safety measures. In a test conducted by the NHTSA, the Smart Car scored poorly, receiving a 3 star rating out of 5.
The vehicle's light weight and lack of reinforced doors were features that help it to achieve great gas mileage but they are posed too big of a risk for regulators. This made ownership of early 2000 model years against the law.
6 2010 Alfa Romeo 8C Spider Roadster
There is no doubt that Alfa Romeo has a long history of building exceptional vehicles and the 8C Spider Roadster falls right into place. This sports car offered luxury amenities and a 4.7-liter V-8 with an output of 444 horsepower. Manufactured in Italy, this model was produced initially with the priorities of European markets, causing several US and Canada safety issues to be overlooked.
This prevented the automaker from exporting this performance roadster as it failed standard safety regulations. The features that makes this car great are what also makes us unable to have one.
5 1992 Porsche Carrera 911 RS (964)
Some of the features that made the 1992 Porsche 964 such an in-demand sport car include light weight materials throughout, rear-mounted engine, rear-wheel-drive, and a 300 horsepower, 6 cylinder engine available on the turbo variant. It's clear that Porsche aggressively tuned the RS model to maximize performance.
The combination of those features proved detrimental as US regulators made it illegal to own due to lackluster results in safety and emissions testing. Fortunately for enthusiasts, the issues were remedied for the following model year.
4 2000 Fiat 126p
Fiat's 126p is a small, rear-engined, economy car that was both popular and affordable. This two-door hatchback achieved outstanding gas mileage due to its weight and size. The 126p didn't even come close to meeting safety standards to permit exportation beyond Poland.
The vehicle lacked proper reinforcements and many safety requirements were non-existent. The 126p enjoyed numerous years of success without these features among Polish citizens, selling over 4.5 million units during its production run. But you'll never see one traveling on this side of the pond legally.
3 1985 Citroën 2CV Dolly
The Citroën 2CV Dolly is a classic car that would still turn heads driving down the road today. This 4-door sedan hit the market with front wheel drive and a 27 horsepower engine mated with a 4-speed manual gearbox. Its 0-60 time clocks in at 39.1 seconds which is the true definition of going nowhere fast.
However, it was these features that enabled the vehicle to rise to success in Europe. For US regulators, they created a quagmire when combined with the overall build quality and lack of safety features. This cause the Dolly to fail to meet highway safety standards and join the not approved list.
2 1991 Toyota Sera
The Toyota Sera hatchback coupe hit the scene with head-turning butterfly doors and a mostly glass roof. The vehicle provided unmatched visibility due to the lack of supporting steel frame between the sheets of glass, however, this design feature did not fair well outside of Japan.
To be allowed in the US market, the vehicle needed to make adjustments to seatbelts and side impact beams to appease regulators. At the time, these changes proved to be too costly for the automaker and were never made. You'll have to settle for a later model if you want to drive this unique car.
1 2011 Ford Focus RS500
As one of the most modern and recently built vehicles to make this list, it's somewhat surprising that one of Ford's hottest hatches can only be enjoyed by the market over in Europe.
This RS500 was produced in limited quantities but offered a 2.5 liter, 5 cylinder engine that produces 345 horsepower. All that power presented risks in vehicle handing and fuel efficiency that were sure to draw the ire of regulators. According to Ford, in an interview with AutoCar, it would be too expensive to make the car suitable for sale in the US and the automaker would not be adjusting the features to make the car compliant.
Sources: Wikipedia, Road and Track, Carbuzz, AutoCar