By on January 8, 2016

1992 TVR Griffith

Earlier this week, we celebrated the new year by looking at a couple cars that are eligible for private import under the NHTSA’s “25 Year Rule” and I figured there were many more possibilities out there warranting a mention. Some of these have become eligible over the last couple years, where some won’t be ready for a year or so.

I’m sure I’ll miss some, either via simple forgetfulness or willful ignorance. (I doubt there are many people chopping at the bit to import a Zastava Florida.)

The first car on the list (pictured at the top) comes from a quixotic British marque that makes Lotus look like a big-time OEM. The TVR Griffith was released in 1991, so some of these might start arriving in containers soon, but this particular example has a year or so left to wait. At around $24,000, it’s a bunch of performance for the money.

Movie fans may recall its shape as it later developed into the Speed Six, as shown in film “Swordfish” starring John Travolta and Halle Berry’s boobs.

1991 Lancia Delta Evoluzione 1

Think the Evo name started with Mitsubishi? Not quite. It’s simply used as a modifier for developments of street-based race and rally cars, and the 1991 Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione is a great example. With a wider track and more power than the already-mental 16V HF, this is ready for your driveway right now. Just be prepared to pay the $72,000 asking price.

1991 Honda Beat

When I featured the Suzuki Cappuccino on Wednesday, several of you mentioned one of its competitors: the Honda Beat. Well, here you go. For a little over $10,000, classic Honda reliability and epic mid-engined Kei funkiness collide. There are cheaper ones, but this looks pristine and I love the zebra-print upholstery.

1993 Lotus Carlton

Earlier, I mentioned Lotus, a marque known for handling. Well, in the early nineties, they were owned by GM, and they helped develop a mad sedan to take on the BMW 5-series. It was called the Lotus Carlton and it pumped out 377 horsepower from a twin-turbocharged inline six 25 years ago. This should have been the OG CTS-V. I know that if I had $41,000 right now, I’d think very hard about this over a used Caddy.

1993 Ford Escort RS Cosworth

One more that I’m sure will be quite popular next year: the Ford Escort RS Cosworth. Another rally homologation special, this example is even left-hand drive, making it perfect for the rally stages between my home and office. It’s right around $30,000, meaning I could replace my minivan with a Cossie to hold me over for ten years until I can bring in a Renault Avantime.

Friends, I’m sure I’ve missed more. Send me more ideas, and perhaps I can cover them next week.

Chris Tonn is a broke classic car enthusiast who writes about old cars since he can’t afford to buy them. Commiserate with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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45 Comments on “Digestible Importables: 25-Year-Old Import Law Edition...”

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I’m not sure of the build dates, but my wife is desperate to get a Nissan Figaro which becomes eligible this year.

    I learned after a visit to Japanese Classics in Richmond, VA that K cars are some of the most frequently requested cars that are just starting to get out of the 25 year window.

    I’m counting the days to 2018 to start preparing my garage for an R33 GT-R – the best looking GT-R of the R30 generations.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Figaros started in February 1991, so I’d expect them to wash up on these shores this spring. Keep in mind they’re the same power and weight as the old smart car.

      R33s are the least popular GT-R, so you should be okay there. Or you could buy one of the Motorex conversions if you don’t want to wait (the early R33s were the only fully legal ones).

      • 0 avatar

        The Eunos Cosmo is also now eligible (and last year for early ones). And it’s utterly beautiful to behold.

        • 0 avatar

          They were stunning then and have aged very well, at least styling-wise. Then there’s the 20B 3-rotor engine… that’s a LOTTA seals to worry about.

          • 0 avatar

            I think the best answer is to put a Lexus 3.5 or a 4.3 in there, though I’m sure that’d be waaaaay difficult.

            I’m no rotary fan, ever.

          • 0 avatar

            This is a case where the answer is actually LS3-FTW.

            Like a rotary, an LS is compact and easy to package. Unlike a rotary, it has unbelievable parts and knowledge support — you’ll be able to fix almost any issue that comes up. And unlike a rotary, it has torque.

      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        I was in Japan last year and got to sit in and start an R33 GT-R at a small used dealer lot (oddly right across the street from the US Air Force base, weird huh?) and the guy handed me the paper for the car that described it – sort of like those papers you get from the sign in front of a house that’s for sale – and the price came out to about $13k and it had something like 68,000km on it. They are clearly not very loved over there unlike the R34.

        I can wait, and I have to wait since I have nowhere to keep it until I start selling some of the cars cluttering up my garage, driveway, and streetfront.

        • 0 avatar

          “I was in Japan last year and got to sit in and start an R33 GT-R at a small used dealer lot (oddly right across the street from the US Air Force base”

          Okinawa or mainland? If Okinawa, that’s probably my friend’s dealership. Car lots are clustered around the bases because you HAVE to have a car in Okinawa. Also, most Americans tend to abuse cars and replace them (they are only here several years so they view the cars as expendable and tend to neglect maintenance) and service members and contractors have way more disposable income than the locals.

          You’re definitely in the minority if you prefer the looks of the R33.

          We still have to wait one more year for JZX90 Chaser/Mark II’s to be importable. Turbocharged iron block inline-six RWD drift sedans with Toyota reliability? And you can add power with some Supra 2JZ parts? Should be popular….

          I mean, who wouldn’t want this in their garage:

    • 0 avatar
      I've got a Jaaaaag

      Just as an FYI there were a lot of those were grey market imported into England and due to the disposable nature of the Japanese car culture they might be easier to find, also if you have good translation software or can read Japanese is the Japanese Autotrader and the cause of many wasted hours

    • 0 avatar

      Land Ark
      Somebody’s already figured out how to bring them in. Last year I saw a Figaro in Wisconsin with Wisconsin license plates.

  • avatar

    Hell yes with any TVR. Loved driving them when vacationing in Mexico, the interior is gorgeous and they were very fun.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert MdO

      A TVR in México??? Where in the country did this take place? I thought TVR only made right hand drive cars and never knew they imported any to México, given the size of the brand and the fact that it is built in a country we don’t (or didn’t, I’m not totally sure) have a free trade agreement. I lusted over a Cerbera when I was a teenager, although I don’t find them so good looking anymor, still can’t deny the performance potential haha.

  • avatar

    I don’t have the stomach to buy anything 25 years old I can’t go to Autozone and get parts for. I see a lot of these cars tanking in value over a few years.

    I am really waiting for a 94 Cefiro wagon to import… it’s the JDM version of the 4th gen Maxima. Convert it to LHD and throw a 3.5L in…. pretty perfect road trip car

  • avatar

    Some of these cars look waaaay better than current production vehicles at the same inflation adjusted price points.

    Vehicle styling has gotten to the “I put more more vents, warts, lights, creases, curves and other appendages on my project than they did.”

  • avatar

    Walking around some part of London not far from The Strand in 2003, I spy something blue-green and shimmery parked along the curb. “Wow, what an odd shape.” I think from a distance, then it hits me.


    I have a picture of it somewhere (in theory), a paper picture.

  • avatar

    The Lotus 4 door is the one that grabbed me, fast and unique if I win lotto it is on a boat tomorrow.

  • avatar

    Agreed. Any Peter Wheeler generation TVR, preferably a Cerebra, with a spare spot in the garage waiting for a Renault Avantine. Okay that spot can be temporarily filled by a Jensen Interceptor or Bristol. My imaginary garage and my imaginary bank account are going to be going in opposite directions.

    • 0 avatar

      According to the Wikipedia entry, “The Renault Avantime offers a ‘grand air’ mode, where one button opens all windows and the sunroof.” Kinda takes flow-thru ventilation to the next level, don’t it?

      • 0 avatar

        The Avantime was brilliant! That would be quite the attention magnet in the US.

        • 0 avatar

          Agreed! They need to re-introduce them over here. In brown. With a manual. And AWD. Oh, and with a diesel engine.

          (But seriously, I’ve wondered why they never sold them over here under the Nissan badge. After seeing one on Top Gear, I thought they were pretty cool.)

          • 0 avatar

            I imagine it didn’t meet US safety regs. Plus, it wouldn’t have sold well, and taken away from Quest and new Murano sales if anything.

            Plus the Renault alliance didn’t happen until 1999, so the car would’ve been nearly finished and with an existing sales plan by then.

  • avatar

    I came up with half the cars in this article :D.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    One of my friends in the UK has a Vauxhall Lotus Carlton. From what I understand, British police really objected to their presence back in the day.

  • avatar

    I want a Land Rover Defender.
    or maybe a Defender pick up.

  • avatar

    I wonder if a car is legally imported and licensed in Canada if it can then be sold to the US. Our import restriction is only 15 years. Just sayin’.

    There is a guy around town here who uses a Mitsubishi Delica (think 4×4 minivan on raised suspension) as his daily driver. Would love to have one of those if I knew more about fixing stuff myself.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I doubt it. U.S. regulations are going to regard the original model year of the car, and not the fact that it was registered in Canada under different regulations.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Nope, 25 years to the month is the DOT limit for imports, whether from Japan or Canada or the Moon.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      The US market is quite protected in many ways by the use of technical barriers and tariffs. It’s pity as there are many vehicles that enthusiasts would like.

    • 0 avatar

      “I wonder if a car is legally imported and licensed in Canada if it can then be sold to the US.”

      As long as it meets EPA and DOT standards, age doesn’t matter. Pretty well everything 2000 and newer is harmonized. Even foreign models imported to Canada but not the US may be eligible based on meeting the Canadian standards (this is a grey area).

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    First up I don’t agree with the 25 year law. Wouldn’t it be wiser to allow new and newer vehicle in the country that are much safer vehicles?

    I nice car to import into the US is a 71 E49 Valiant Charger. It was the quickest six cylinder car until Porsche came out with the flat six turbo. It would fit into the US muscle car theme as well. Or even a Ford GTHO Falcon, but here they are expensive, 3/4 of a million for one.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Safety has nothing to do with it. The import regs were put in place in the ‘mid 80s, after US dealers lobbied to squash the gray market for German cars.

      • 0 avatar

        “The import regs were put in place in the ‘mid 80s, after US dealers lobbied to squash the gray market for German cars.”

        That is correct but there were also ways to get around the import regs, such as importing through Canada or Mexico, which quite a number of people did.

        Military people returning from a tour in Germany also shipped back many Euro-Spec vehicles and then got special registration for them in the US.

        My best friend brought back a Euro-spec BMW Bavaria Touring from Germany in 1998 and had no problem registering it. It was his daily driver until it was no longer economically feasible for him to keep it running. It needed an engine and transmission rebuilt.

        Fortunately he found a guy in Los Angeles, CA, who specialized in classic BMW cars and who gave him a great deal of money for his Bavaria.

        If someone wants a vehicle bad enough, they can find ways to get around the import regs. All it costs is a little money. Owning your dream car? Priceless!

        • 0 avatar

          My grandpa did this when he came back from his time in Germany. Brought back an Austin-Healey. I’m guessing it was a 100.

          I’m not sure what he was doing in Germany in the Army in the early-mid 50’s.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          I do understand SOME or maybe a better description would be very few might be able to work around these restrictions.

          What I’m saying is remove them completely. I do know how and when these regulations came into play as well. This was not my comment.

          My comment is new and/or newer vehicles are safer or even safer in some instances than what is currently available for you guys.

          Spare parts etc are becoming less and less of an issue with email ordering and component interchangability between vehicles.

          The avid consumer will benefit as well as many small shops employing people to maintain and modify these vehicles.

          The so called loss of “US” sales and employment would be more than made up with more grey imports.

      • 0 avatar

        Why would US dealers care about a few gray market cars coming into the US per year? Except for Mercedes and BMW dealers that is. They’re the only ones that had anything to cry about. And they sure cried!

        But it was the Euro car’s complete lack of emissions that ultimately killed the deal. Catalytic converters weren’t even required in Europe until 1992!!

  • avatar

    As the year of eligibility advances I find fewer and fewer of the newly available cars to be of much interest. It’s great if you want a Kei car or something different to bring to cars ‘n coffee. Most of them just look like old cars to me.

  • avatar

    Ford Escort XR3 convertible
    Ford Fiesta XR2
    Opel Kadett GSi (not the lame wannabe Korean *Pontiac* we got)

    For the “oddball” factor, in three years you could bring in an Opel Tigra…lol…

  • avatar

    If the proces on the cossie and the delta were much lower… as is, the new RS kinda rips thier heads off and desecrates what’s left.

  • avatar

    Hoo-Boy! For all of you pining for an Avantime, lets see a show of hands: How many of you have ever actually owned a Renault?

    That’s what I thought. I guarantee that there’s not a former Alliance/Encore owner in the bunch.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Here’s a few I would import when they reach the 25 year rule:

    Opel Calibra-One of the nicest looking coupes around. Shares the running gear with the Saab 9-3 and 9-5
    Peugeot 507-Also a sharp looking coupe styled by Pinafarina.
    Suzuki Cappuccino-A modern MG/Austin Midget with a targa roof.
    Fiat Barchetta-Yes, it’s based on the FWD Punto but it’s a shapely coupe that the new 124 Spyder can trace it’s heritage.

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