Ready to Sail: Here's Your Japanese Class of 1992 Eligible for Import
Since the 1980s, draconian federal importation laws have meant enthusiasts in the United States must wait a full 25 years before some of their favorite brand’s models are legal on these shores. And every year, groups of enthusiasts take to the internet to contemplate what cars will be available for importation with the turn of the new year. The arrival of each new calendar year then becomes a celebration of the past, a revisit of forsaken models, a festival of other-market obscurity.
The Land of the Rising Sun is becoming more than just a source for tuners looking for their next drift car. That’s right, Japanese cars are now collectible.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Japan built some truly special and unique automobiles that cause more than just a niche group of enthusiasts to foam at the mouth.
This was the generation when Japan took the World Rally Championship, won in Touring Cars, triumphed at Le Mans, and powered Senna’s legendary F1 steeds. In many ways, as European manufacturers rested on their ’80s successes and introduced evolutionary designs, a revolution in Japan cranked out serious enthusiast cars, which culminated in an all-out horsepower and technology war between Nissan, Toyota, Mazda and Mitsubishi. Those manufacturers cranked out a new turbocharged, all-wheel drive, four-wheel steering engineering exercise every week, most of which were merely eye candy for automotive magazine readers on this side of the Pacific.
But 25 years has eclipsed and we can now legally import some of Japan’s most forbidden fruit. And unlike a drinking-age Camry in the U.S., buyers in Japan coveted most of these cars, so it’s possible to find clean, unrotten examples worthy of importation.
Let’s take a look at what’s waiting for you from the class of 1992.
For the generation that grew up playing Gran Turismo, the Skyline was a known quantity long before Paul Walker’s fast and furious R34. One of that car’s predecessors, the R32-generation Skyline, is now eligible for importation. And while the R32 doesn’t possess some of the technical and performance wonders of later models, it’s still a very potent weapon.
According to Nissan at the time, the RB26DETT 2.6-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six that powered the R32 produced 276 horsepower, which was Japanese code for probably a fair bit more. That power drove all four wheels of what was a heavy car, but performance was still impressive.
Nicknamed “Godzilla” on race circuits, the R32 spawned the modern GT-R legend. There are some special models floating around out there, but the first V-Spec cars won’t be legal for another year. Still, a normal R32 GT-R, while not completely unseen in America, will draw an appreciating crowd wherever it goes.
Want to be a bit more obscure and fly under the radar? Nissan also built a homologation special to enter Group A rally in the early 1990s. Based on the N14-chassis Pulsar, Nissan went a bit crazy with the economy hatch, packing all-wheel drive and a single-turbo 2.0-liter 16-valve inline-four (SR20DET) under the relatively unassuming skin. That motor required some special vents on the hood. And while the giant wing might cause the Euro crowd to chuckle, this pocket rocket was nothing to trifle with: 0-60 was gone in 5 seconds and the GTI-R could reportedly hit 140-plus miles per hour flat-out.
Subaru Impreza WRX
Have you been living under a rock? If so, the WRX might be new to you. Otherwise, you’re likely familiar with the Cessna soundtrack from Fuji Heavy Industries.
1992 was the first year of the GC chassis, and with it came turbocharging and all-wheel drive. The flat-four pumped out 237 horsepower in a light, great-handling chassis. While there are plenty of replicas, home brews, and look-alike 2.5RSs kicking around, the real deal will get you a lot of Colin McRae-esque cred in the street scene, no vape clouds or flat-brimmed caps required.
What’s this Nissan 240SX mated with a Lexus SC doing up here?
While the looks of the Eunos Cosmo aren’t outrageous, what lay under the hood was. If you’re a rotary fan or love the RX-7, the FD’s twin sequential turbocharged 13B motor is a legend in its own right, and its first home was in the svelte body above.
Mazda offered an even more powerful version of the Wankel design in the 20B-REW. With a full two liters and three rotors (rather than two in the 13B you know), it broke the Japanese gentleman’s agreement and produced a reported 300 horsepower. This is about as close as you can get to a Group C 787B for the street.
Kei-car regulations were all about providing efficient, economical motoring to the Japanese masses. However, Honda decided that it could have a bit of fun with the regulations and it took a 660 cc inline-three and stuck it in the middle of a roadster.
Honda’s engine development from the era is near legendary and the unit stuck in the Beat was no different, with an 8,000+ rpm redline allowing it to achieve the 100 horsepower per liter benchmark. Styling was cute, though its profile would be later mimicked in many ways by the company’s own S2000.
Suzuki Alto Works
Another Gran Turismo favorite, the Suzuki Alto Works RS/X, was no supercar. Like the Honda Beat, this Kei car featured a 660 cc engine as per Japanese regulations. But Suzuki made the most of that sub-liter displacement with a DOHC 12-valve turbocharged inline-three producing 65 horsepower (WOW!) available in either front- or all-wheel drive.
Of course, the Alto Works weighed basically nothing, so those 65 horsepower were pokey. Suzuki even took it rallying!
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 1
Did I say rallying? You can’t mention the WRC without the ultimate ’90s showdown between the Subaru Impreza WRX and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Just like the WRX, the Evolution enjoyed a large fan base long before it came to these shores. And again, just like the Subaru, 1992 was the launch year for Mitsubishi’s first Evolution model. The 4G63 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four produced nearly 250 horsepower and drove all four wheels through limited slip differentials. Though Subaru may have won the first round in this battle on the WRC circuit, the Evo’s introduction would produce its own legends eventually. It all started here.
Toyota Celica GT-Four ST-185
The U.S. market actually received two generations of the World Rally Championship Group A homologation Celica. In turbocharged, all-wheel-drive form, the All-Trac Turbo was expensive and heavy but surprisingly quick. It channeled many of Europe’s greatest hits from the ’80s in the styling department, with flared arches, spoilers, and ducts, but the curvaceous shape was definitely all Japanese.
Marketed in Japan as the GT-Four, the turbocharged inline-four offered even more power than the U.S. All-Trac, with 221 horses driving all four wheels through viscous and Torsen differentials. Like the WRX and Evolution, the Celica has some pretty serious WRC fans out there and is legendary in its own right despite a nefarious history.
Toyota Mark II Tourer V
Toyota’s premier product was not the Celica, though. The Mark II might not be a familiar name, but it had come to the U.S. in Cressida form.
Toyota introduced a new platform in 1992 called the X90. Optional was the Tourer V package, which gave you the 1JZ-GTE turbocharged inline-six good for 280 horsepower. Choosing the unusual-to-see Mark II will certainly give you some street credentials, even if it’s not as exciting to look at as the similar Supra Turbo.
Maybe ultimate performance isn’t your thing? Nissan launched a few interesting options via its Pike Group in the ’90s.
Long before revisits of the Mini, Beetle, PT Cruiser, HHR or Fiat 500, Nissan gave us a line of retro-inspired city cars. The most famous of the group is the Figaro, which looked a bit like a small Lancia from the ’50s. At the same time, the S-Cargo channeled the Citroën 2CV. The funky snail was no rocketship, with only a 1.5-liter inline-four and a three-speed automatic. But style? Yup, delivered in spades.
Honorable Mention: Isuzu Impulse RS
As with the Celica All-Trac, this is one of the few on the list that actually came to the United States, but finding one that isn’t rusted out these days is an exercise in futility.
Unlike the previous “we stole a Scirocco and stuck Lotus badges on it” Impulse, the second generation looked a bit more like the Ford Probe with fluid curves and a unique quad-headlight, semi-pop-up design. Also offered was a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive variant. While not the most powerful on this list, the 1.6-liter 160-horsepower turbo model from 1991 was slightly quicker than the 1.8-liter normally aspirated model from 1992 and is an interesting niche alternative in the early ’90s small coupe market.
This was one of the few cases where the U.S. actually got a more potent version than the Japanese domestic market.
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- RICK Once had 78 TOWN COUPE and wish I had never let it go! Ultimate OTT excessive luxury! Have since had RWD FLEETWOODS, RWD Fifth Avenues ,as well as 89 Lincoln Town Car Signature Series and current 2007 TOWN CAR Signature Limited! All great cars, but 77 through 79 was KING 🤴 of the road! So sad to see what is now considered a luxury vehicle 😢. Who wants to drive a glorified truck 🚚?
- Kwik_Shift There are better cars to drop $80G on.
- 28-Cars-Later Opulence!
- Kwik_Shift If there is no 2WD Access Cab with 6 speed manual, then I'm not interested.
- RedDevil Radio Garden is my go to for long trips.Thousands of radio stations all over the worldfor free as long as you have internet. Sure beats hunting for the one or two decent stations in most areas.
That 25-year rule needs to be repealed and replaced. 5 years is enough. Wouldn't interfere with New/CPO sales, and generally, the liability of said cars for the owner would make it pretty much a niche deal. (I say this every time this topic comes up)
I would love a RHD Eunos Roadster (MX-5) from '92. A slice of heaven. Or any convertible with a manual transmission. Some day soon... when other priorities have been properly taken care of.