17 December 2014

Future Collectibles: Gray Market Imports

Gray market cars are, in a way, similar to good ol’ Prohibition-era whiskey: They're both expensive and hard to get across the border, and if you get caught with them, they're both likely to be destroyed by the local authorities. However, unlike the days of the 18th Amendment, there are several ways to bring your favorite not-sold-here car to the United States. With the passage of “Show and Display” laws and 25-year exemptions, bringing gray market autos into the U.S. is now somewhat legal, although expensive at times. However they can be worth the hassle, as future collectibles abound in the gray market; here are our picks:

1986-87 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth: For some inexplicable reason, Ford lacked the ability to create a truly credible performance car in the U.S. for the duration of the 1980s, yet it seemed to produce a slew of turbocharged, high-performance offspring from its European operations. The crown jewel of the formerly forbidden fruit is the Sierra RS Cosworth. Built to fulfill homologation for Group A rallying, the RS packed a mean punch, banging out 224 horsepower from a Cosworth turbocharged 4-cylinder. The first generation three-door model only saw the production of 5,542 cars, including 500 specially manufactured RS500 models. At more than 25 years old, the RS is a prime target for importation.

1973-84 Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer (365 GT4 BB, BB 512): The Ferrari Testarossa was the choice ride of yuppies everywhere in the latter half of the 1980s, but its predecessors, the 365 GT4 BB and BB 512, were never sold in the U.S., as Enzo Ferrari could not justify the costly process of re-engineering the car to meet DOT and EPA specifications. Providing the silhouette for the future Testarossa, the Berlinetta Boxers provide connoisseurs of the prancing horse a unique alternative to the car that adorned the walls of every child from 1984 to 1996. The stylistic approach of these cars is deemed much more conservative than the glaring side strakes that were prototypical of mid-’80s Ferraris. With a production run of under 4,000 cars, the Berlinetta Boxer is a guaranteed classic from the hills of Maranello.

1989 Nissan Skyline GT-R: The R32 Nissan GT-R saw the revival of the legendary GT-R, a nameplate that had not been used by Nissan in nearly two decades. Attaining its cult classic status as “Godzilla” was not hard for the GT-R, as the car’s twin turbo 6-cylinder was good for a stock 330 horsepower and tuning houses can easily bring that up to 600 — impressive even by today’s standards. With power going to all four wheels, the GT-R was one of the first super cars to utilize all-wheel drive. Thanks in large part to its starring role in a slew of street-racing movies in the 1990s and 2000s, the GT-R will likely maintain its cult status for years to come. 2014 marks the first year the GT-R can legally be imported to the United States, and interested buyers can look as close as Canada to find a used example.

[Suggested Video: Watch three guys track down three cars for $3K]

2010 Porsche 911 Sport Classic: The 997 generation of the Porsche 911 had a smattering of limited edition variants — the Turbo S, the GT3 RS 4.0, the Speedster and the GT2 RS — but none of them is nearly as rare as the Sport Classic. Created to be a limited run of only 250 cars, the Sport Classic is a throwback to the 1970s 911 Carrera RS. The Sport Classic features some of the most beloved options of the original 911s, including a ducktail spoiler, black Fuchs rims, a double-bubble roof and painted racing stripes. The interior is just as unique, and features rich cocoa leather with woven leather seat centers. While the car might not have the performance of the RS or the Turbo, this nod-to-the-past is bound to be the holy grail of the 997 generation in years to come. Unfortunately, the car was never sold in the U.S.; however, four have already been legally imported into the country under “Show and Display” laws.

2002-03 Aston Martin DB7 Zagato: Aston Martin revived its DB series in 1994 with the DB7. They perfected it in 2002 with the introduction of the Zagato model at the Paris Auto Show, where it immediately sold out. A fitting homage to the 1960s DB4GT Zagato, the DB7 Zagato rode on a shortened chassis, and was powered by Aston Martin’s new 5.9-liter V-12. The bodywork was a classic Zagato design, and features a double-bubble roof, raised hood and enlarged front grille, an interpretation emulating the beauty of the original masterpiece. Just 99 Zagatos were originally produced, and were only allocated for sale in Europe, Asia, and Britain. While it may not have been originally sold in the U.S., the car is currently on the NHTSA’s “Show and Display” list. Between its charming looks and low production numbers, the Zagato body DB7 is bound to be a future collectible.

12 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Gerald Meagher Macomb December 24, 2014 at 14:00
    I disagree with the author about Ford not having a domestic performance car in the 80's. I had 3 Mustang GT's an '82, '85 and '89. My brother had an '89 SHO Taurus. They were all credible performance cars measured against the competition at the time. They were an excellent value, also.
  • 2
    Richard Cooper Canada December 24, 2014 at 16:49
    I own a Grey Market Japanese Mini. It is awesome.
  • 3
    Joel Stocksdale Richmond, IN December 24, 2014 at 18:28
    Always nice to see coverage of unique imports. However, I wanted to point out that the Skyline photo is of an R31, not an R32. That being said, the R31 is another nifty gray-market that is something of a bargain since it isn't as desirable as the R32 and newer models.
  • 4
    Jim and Kay Roettger South Carolina December 24, 2014 at 10:46
    We own a "grey market" 1984 Mercedes 500SL that is in need of restoration. Does this car have any additional value being a "grey market" vehicle?
  • 5
    Mark Scottsdale December 24, 2014 at 11:57
    so many choices and I won't refute yours. Mine include the Renault 5 Turbo (legal versions already in the US) and the Renault Alpine GTA Lemans.
  • 6
    Dan Pitt Palo Alto December 25, 2014 at 22:14
    The 25-year federal exemption does not, unfortunately, apply in California.
  • 7
    Dave Andrews Sun Valley, Nevada December 26, 2014 at 09:04
    I was hopeful to see more of the 50' cars than the newer cars in the article.breach
  • 8
    Jared Central Fl December 26, 2014 at 22:14
    Man I want the skyline and cosy
  • 9
    ferd the cloud December 27, 2014 at 11:07
    My nephew attempted to import a R32 GTR this past Spring, from Canada. But the deal fell through when he found it not as advertised. Originally shown as a complete and running car, a week before it was set to be shipped the seller suddenly informed him that it had been disassembled - in order to make it easier to import into the U.S. as "parts". Skeptical, my nephew flew back to the seller's garage and found that yes it was all apart... and the cabin structure was twisted plus some body parts were missing... it had been wrecked. My nephew suspected that the seller was trying to substitute a different car for the car he was shown in the original deal. Fortunately he hadn't given the seller any money for the car yet, so he was only out the costs of a couple trips. Hope nobody else gets exposed to this scam... as always buyer beware!
  • 10
    Dan Pitt Palo Alto December 28, 2014 at 22:35
    The 25-year federal exemption does not, unfortunately, apply in California. Despite intense lobbying by everyone including Jay Leno, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to align California's import exemption with the federal government's. Thus 1974 remains the last legal year for importation for road use in California.
  • 11
    John Fuller San Dimas May 10, 2015 at 05:45
    There is a fresh imported Sierra RS500 in LA area
  • 12
    Deb Mt January 29, 2016 at 07:11
    Does a used car dealer have to disclose that the car you are buying is a grey market car

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