Best Cars You Can Now Import to the U.S.
It’s too bad that manufacturers make a ton of great cars overseas, then forget to have them imported to North America. Usually this is due to the vehicle not meeting emissions standards, crash testing standards, or the top brass thinking it wouldn’t sell. If an enthusiast wanted one of these vehicles, they usually had to pay massive fees to an importing company, or take the risk themselves on importing a vehicle they can’t legally drive.
Fortunately for us, 25 years makes a vehicle classic, and legally exempt from import laws, and emissions and crash testing (Canada’s laws state only 10 years, so our Canadian readers should go read something else). If you’re looking for something unusual and rare, check out our suggestions on the best cars you can now legally import.
This one is virtually unknown in North America, but for a few years in the early ‘90s, this very GM-looking sedan singlehandedly helped organized crime in England. You wouldn’t know it by the Cavalier/Beretta looks, but this sedan sports an inline six with punch. Twin turbos help the 3.6L generate 377 horsepower, and the ZF 6-speed manual sends power to the Holden sourced rear end. Holy crap, right? It’s not only a great sleeper in the States, it’s also authentically gangster.
Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione I
Twenty five years back, the Lancia Delta was a sales success in the small sedan category in Europe. It was also one of the most successful rally cars ever made. The first rally homologation special, the Integrale Evoluzione, hit the market in 1991, so you can now have your own. In addition to the better wheels and body bits, Recaros and Momo parts, the Evo package adds a healthy 210 hp to the lightweight Delta. Tell that jerk neighbor with the Evoluzione II that yours is better, as his wasn’t factory raced.
Want a Miata, without all that excess and extra room? Suzuki built you the tiny roadster your life needs. This 1,500 lb Kei car sports a whopping 660cc (yes, 0.7L) three cylinder engine making a little over 60 horsepower. Surprisingly, with the 5-speed manual, it was decently fun and sporty. The body panels and suspension are aluminum, and the lil’ Cap has 4-wheel disc brakes, which was rare for the time on cheap cars. Dang it, Suzuki. If you sold cool stuff like this in the US, you’d still be here!
Volvo’s first front-wheel drive car is something… different. Picture a wedgey four-seat hatchback with flip-up headlights. Not bad, right? Add a Lotus tuned suspension and a turbocharged Renault four cylinder, then build the whole thing in the Netherlands for Swedish Volvo, and you have a car that exemplifies the European Union. Power wasn’t spectacular, but only a boost controller and exhaust away from fun, plus it’s light. Get yourself a weird piece of Volvo history while they’re still cheap.
The UK has a long history of great sports cars, and TVR probably made half of them. The Griffith continued the company’s legacy of attractive roadsters, You’ll be limited to the late ’91 production cycle this year, which means your only engine choice is the 240 horsepower 4.0L Rover V8. It sounds gorgeous even if it isn’t fast, but at least a later 5.0L Rover drops right in. Bonus: this car is under 2,500 lbs. This TVR would make a great Sunday cruiser or twisty backroads warrior.
Nissan Skyline R32
Millennials Googling “OMG how to import Skyline!!” are all nostalgic for their Gran Turismo 2 days, and probably the reason import lists even exist. Sure, the R32 has been available to import to the US since 2014, but there were gradual improvements every year. This year, you can get a NISMO GTR, which adds better performance parts, better aero, and its 30 kg lighter than the standard R32. Try and get a build date before Aug ’91, as safety junk increased the weight.
Want to blend into the background, while driving quiet, reliable luxury? Don’t go for a new Acura; businessmen in Japan know it’s about the Crown. This large sedan isn’t sold in the US, and 1991 marks the first time we can import the top of the line ninth generation Crown Majesta. It looks rather contemporary, looking more like a 15 year old Lexus than a 25 year old Toyota. While that’s not great, the interior is, complete with GPS, heated front & rear seats, and a heads-up display. It’s stealth luxury, way before the VW Phaeton.
Ford Fiesta RS Turbo
Based on the third generation of the miniature Fiesta econobox, the RS Turbo model attempted to add some fun to the mix. The lightweight hatchback still sported the same 1.6L four as lower models, but the Garrett turbo pushing 8 psi of boost into it made things a little faster. 133 horsepower isn’t much, but in a tiny car it can be hilarious fun. The interior also received Recaro buckets, while the handling upgrades were mainly covered by the massive 185/55/R14 tires. Man, how far we’ve come…..
Toyota Celica GT4 RC
It’s hard to remember now, but the early Celicas were actually pretty cool. Built for WRC, the Celica GT4 had full time all-wheel drive. While we did get the turbocharged Celica All-Trac with 200 horsepower, the GT4 RC was the real deal. Its lighter, has better gearing, shifting, and cooling, plus that heat extractor hood just looks awesome. Oh yeah, and it’s got 222 hp and 224 lb/ft, so it’s like an early Subaru GC8, but with better looks and ride quality.
VW Golf Rallye G60 Limited
Yeah, we’ve got a thing for rally cars. The Golf is cool enough on its own, but VW has a history of building the really cool stuff only for the Euro market. Now that it’s old, we can have it. The Rallye was designed to take on that Lanica up there, using a supercharged version of VW’s venerable 1.8L four. Yup, a blower, not a turbo. The all-wheel drive put 207 horsepower to all four corners, making this the most engaging drive from VW back then. The square lights and slightly lowered stance show a purposeful look, and the interior isn’t bad for being barely the ‘90s and affordable. While it won’t let you roll coal with the current VW crowd, they’ll give tons of respect at the next Cars & Coffee.
Since the MKV Escort Cosworth isn’t available for another year, we’ve gotta look a little bit further back. The RS200 is Ford’s legendary rally car of the ‘80s, built as a street legal Group B race car just to meet homologation rules. The street car is barely toned down from the racer. With the 1.8L turbo four mid mounted and driving all four wheels, this car guarantees dirt road fun. Horsepower was adjustable, between 250 and “a lot.” The unique body was built by Ghia out of plastic and fiberglass, so it’s well under 3,000 lbs. Zero to sixty is Lambo-like, and it’ll rip off a mid-11 second quarter mile. Find one if you can.
Ford Escort RS Turbo
You might be saying, “Hey, we had the Escort in North America. I had one.” First, I’m sorry. Second, the European Ford Escort was quite a different vehicle from the econobox we had in the States. A 25-year old Euro Escort has independent wishbone suspension all around, and a plethora of manual transmissions. The most interesting engine for the 4th generation Escort was the CVH 1.6L turbo. With hardened internals, tunners can routinely double the horsepower output for a small amount of cash. This is a rally car pretending to be an economy car.
These are the top 12 cars we’d like to see imported to the US now that the stupid 25 year rule has expired. Do you have a suggestion for #13? Or better yet, how about we all get together and cut the time down to ten years. I think Canada might be onto something there, eh?
Photo Credits: Rudolf Stricker (Suzuki Cappuccino), Martin Pettitt (Ford Escort), Tennen-Gas (Skyline)