There are plenty of amazing cars that the US never got. Many overseas cars just don’t meet US regulatory standards and some just aren’t popular enough to manufacture or sell in the US. These can range from the legendary Skyline to wagons and hatchbacks which fell out of favor in the US in recent decades in favor of SUVs. But there are plenty of enthusiasts that are crazy about these unique cars that just can’t be replicated in the US.
Anyone looking to import interesting cars needs to know the US has regulations that let anyone bring a car into the US 25 years after the manufacture date even if they were never meant for the US market. That means cars from 1996 are now fair game in 2021. For anyone willing to jump through the regulatory hoops can snag a head-turning iconic ride that nobody else will have. Here are the coolest cars you can now import into the US.
12 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV
Despite the legacy of the Lancer Evo out of 10 Evolutions that were made only three made it to the US. The earlier models that made the nameplate famous are a tuner’s dream car. This year, the Evo IV is up for import. One of the best Evos, the Evo IV was the first complete redesign and gained massive improvements. Torque steer was almost completely eliminated, bigger turbos, added active yaw control which split power to each individual wheel as needed and added racing and rally trims for limited-slip differentials and plenty of sportiness.
Despite the massive performance and features boost, the Evo IV was less than 100 lbs heavier than the previous model. Perhaps not the most popular Evo but one of the most influential globally. Subaru used the technology found in this car to rack up serious WRC titles. The Evo IV is one of the most iconic AWD cars to come out of Japan and definitely worth importing for serious tuners or just for the cool factor.
11 Nissan Stagea
The Stagea may look like a boring wagon at first glance but the US missed out on this gem. Fast wagons are making a comeback with the reintroduction of the Audi RS6 Avant and the rock-solid Mercedes-AMG E63 Wagon but the Stagea is the fast wagon tuners dream of. Originally built as a competitor to the Subaru Legacy, the Stagea RS Four is the sports trim that transforms the family wagon into a sports wagon.
The RS Four comes with AWD, the RB25 V6 engine, and a sports suspension. The hardcore Autech 260RS tune uses an upgraded RB26DETT engine, the very same engine used in the R33 GT-R essentially making this a semi-official GT-R sports wagon. The tune also comes with massive Brembo brakes, stiffer chassis, a rear stabilizer, and a limited-slip rear differential.
10 Renault Sport Spider
Modern sports cars are turning to the light-weight plenty of power approach to get sportier cars but the Renault Sport Spider was the stripped-down hardcore track monster of the 1990s. Inspired by the Alpine A110 it has fantastic European-styling but not much else. Renault didn’t include a radio, a trunk, a roof, or even power steering.
The Sport Spider was introduced in 1996 which means only first-generation cars can be imported. As far as any owner concerns, the first generation doesn’t have any glaring defects other than the curiously missing windshield which made goggles and a helmet pretty much mandatory if a driver didn’t want bugs flying in their face. As a trade-off, the Spider was light, under 2,000 lbs light meaning it is lighter than a modern MX-5 Miata by a few hundred pounds. It also comes with supercar butterfly doors for the icing on the cake.
9 Toyota Starlet Glanza V
You may not recognize the name Starlet but you’ve seen a version of the car. The Starlet is an overseas version of the extremely pedestrian Toyota Echo that was released in the US. The tiny city car designed only to get someone from point A to point B with as little frills or excitement as possible had a more exciting trim overseas called the Starlet Glanza V.
The Glanza V is the culmination of Toyota’s efforts in making a small hot hatchback. The naturally aspired Starlet Gi and GT Turbo got a bigger engine that made 138 HP in the already extremely lightweight Glanza V body. From the factory, the Glanza V could reach 0-100 km/h in just 8.2 seconds, which was impressive from an economy car in 1996. A lightweight version was also available for competitive use which stripped things like air conditioning and electric windows. Any version of the Glanza V would make an amazing hot hatch that rivals the ever-popular Civic Hatchback.
8 HSV VS GTS-R
Definitely, something the US never got, the HSV VS GTS-R is a cult classic that deserves its status as the quintessential Australian sports car. Based on the Holden Commodore, this performance version was tuned by HSV, an Australian tuning company with close ties to Holden. It features a 5.7L LS1 V8 dubbed “The Stroker” by locals. The engine produces 226 kW which roughly translates to 307 HP, a heaping amount of power in 1996.
The GTS-R cost a whopping $76,000 back in 1996, a huge departure from the normally value-oriented Holden. To add to the rarity, HSV only made 85 examples of which 75 were ever sold to the public. Also, the only color available is “Yellah” yellow. You’d need to find the right people, but you can own one of the best sports cars to come out of Australia.
7 TVR Cerbera
The TVR Cerbera is one of if not the best looking car TVR has ever made. The car looks like a GT that Aston Martin and Jaguar might have made. But make no mistake, the car was designed with performance in mind. Before the Cerbera, TVR bought their engines from Rover but fearing supply chain issues TVR started building their own engines in-house and the first example was put in the Cerbera. According to Peter Wheeler, then company boss, “Basically, we designed the engine as a race engine… We’ve ended up with a 75-degree V8 with a flat-plane crank. The bottom-half of the engine to the heads is exactly as you would see in current Formula One engines.”
The car produced 360 HP (268 kW) and a top speed of 185 MPH (297 km/h). The car was designed with drivers in mind. The steering was only two steering wheel turns from lock to lock intended to make it easy for experienced drivers to steer on a track and regain control if necessary. The car is also known as a three-seater car. The front passenger’s seat could move up quite far making it more comfortable for another adult to sit behind them. But the driver’s comfort took precedence and left little space behind the driver’s seat for another adult. If someone wanted the upgraded Cerbera with 420 HP they’ll have to wait another few years to be able to import one but the first generation is still plenty of car.
6 Toyota Mega Cruiser
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this beast with a Hummer but this is in fact a Toyota and one you can now import into the US. This is the Toyota Mega Cruiser designed and built for exclusive use by the Japanese military. The Mega Cruiser is built for any terrain similar to the Hummer H1 but with all the reliability of the Toyota name.
Though the Mega Cruiser looks similar to the Hummer H1, it is in fact even bigger and can seat six people as opposed to just 5 in the H1. The Mega Cruiser also has full time 4×4 and four wheel steering for more nimble and precise driving compared to the H1. The diesel powered SUV was designed for military use but a scant 133 models were specifically produced for civilian use. The insane all terrain SUV won’t come cheap. The Mega Cruiser was the most expensive Japanese car in 1996 at $100,000 and likely won’t be much cheaper due to rarity and import fees but it is a rare chance to own one of the most capable SUVs of all time.
5 1st Generation Lotus Elise
The Lotus Elise isn’t new to the US market. Lotus has sold the Elise in the US since 2005 starting with the second generation but that means the US never got the first generation of Elise, arguably Lotus’ best-known car. Known as a true driver’s car, the first generation of Elise was both shorter and wider than the Miata making it handle like a dream. It would not be an exaggeration to say it is likely one of the best handling cars in the world at the time competing for the title with supercars.
Lotus made a name for themselves with their company motto “Simplify and add lightness.” The first generation really distilled that ethos. Power didn’t change much from the first generation to the second generation with roughly 190 HP in both but the first generation was lighter than the second generation by roughly 300 lbs, a massive difference. The first generation is regarded by many as the best and purest car by Lotus.
4 Mitsubishi Legnum VR-4
While the Lancer Evo took the mainstream thunder in Mitsubishi’s lineup it wasn’t the only car to win WRC titles. The often forgotten Galant also won rally championships and the top-line racing version, the VR-4, has been a go-to for tuners since its release in the early 1990s. The practical version of the VR-4 the US never got is called the Legnum VR-4. There are few differences between the Legnum and the Galant but the biggest is that the Legnum is a station wagon!
All the rally heritage of the Galant VR-4 in a wagon form. The Legnum VR-4 uses the twin-turbo V6 from the iconic Mitsubishi 3000 GT as well as the AWD system and suspension from the Lancer Evo making the Legnum a formidable wagon. While the idea of a sporty wagon is lost to most Americans, Mitsubishi sold plenty so it shouldn’t be too hard to find one in good condition. Some of the top auto importers estimate eager owners can import one for under $10,000.
3 Toyota Classic
You’d be forgiven for thinking the Toyota Classic is a throwback car from the 1930s. In reality, the Toyota Classic is a fairly modern car built for one year in 1996 to commemorate Toyota’s first-ever passenger car, the Toyota AA. The AA went into production in 1936 and Toyota wanted to celebrate the car in 1987 for the 50th anniversary but could not find any AAs in any condition to celebrate. They attempted to create a replica but couldn’t find any plans for the original car either.
Fast forward to 1996 and they commemorated the AA with the Classic, a car that bears a striking resemblance to the original car but ultimately was a completely different car. The Classic is essentially a luxury coach car built on top of a Tacoma chassis. Only 100 examples were ever built but luckily they weren’t as expensive as the Mega Cruiser. Collectors can expect to pay around $30,000 to own a Toyota Classic.
2 20th Anniversary VW Golf GTI
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is the quintessential hot hatch and one of the few hatchbacks that haven’t been omitted from the US market. But the US market didn’t get one of the most iconic GTIs, the 20th anniversary Golf GTI. That statement might be a bit confusing for GTI enthusiasts since there was a 20th anniversary Mk4 GTI back in 2003 but that was to commemorate 20 years since the GTI came to the US not the 20th anniversary of the first GTI ever produced.
The 20th anniversary GTI that can now be imported into the US is a Mk3 GTI, the one that defined the modern styling of GTIs. The 20th anniversary package came with a few interesting style choices like special red and silver accents throughout the cabin as well as checkerboard Recaro seats. There were a few performance upgrades as well like bigger 16-inch BBS wheels and a bigger 2L 16-valve four-cylinder engine. Only 1,000 of these special anniversary GTIs were ever made making this an interesting collector’s car.
1 Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R LM Limited
When people talk about the Nissan Skyline they usually mean the R34 but the R33 is still a racing monster and can be legally imported to the US. The truth of the matter is, there is little to differentiate the R33 to the R34. The R34 is more aerodynamic but it comes at the cost of handling. The R33 is wider than the R34 and is subtly better at handling. There however is a huge difference between the R32 and the R33. The R33 improves front-end lift, body rigidity, and weight distribution. All these changes made the R33 more than 20 seconds faster than the R32 on the Nurburgring.
The R33 also has the special LM Limited trim commemorating Nissan’s participation in the GT1 Classics, the 24 hours of Lemann. The LM Limited wasn’t just produced in a single year, it was produced in a single month, May of 1996 to be exact. Though Nissan didn’t win Lemann the LM Limited was inspired by the racing specs of the Skylines that participated. The LM Limited featured a wider body kit, a hood scoop, an upgraded front lip, and a carbon-fiber wing. It may be one of the rarest Skyline GT-Rs on the market, perfect for importing right now.
NEXT: 10 Stunning Modern Classics You’ll Soon Be Able To Import Into America
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