If Canadians were boastful, they might torment their neighbors to the south over Canada’s consistently great junior hockey, the wonders of poutine and Seth Rogen, among other things. But what truly makes gearheads in the United States the most envious is Canada’s 15-year rule. It allows Canadians to personally import non-Canadian spec cars, as long as they’re at least 15 years old. Americans have to wait an interminable 25 years for a similar privilege.
Following are worthwhile cars that Canadians can legally import, which U.S.-residing enthusiasts only wish they could.
Clio Renault Sport
For many North Americans, the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST exemplify the “hot hatch” genre. Europeans had many more choices, and one of the more exciting ones was the Clio Sport from Renault. With about 170 horsepower, the Clio posted 0-to-60 times in the mid-six second range. The very rare V-6 version from 2001 is now Canada-legal. It’s a totally different beast, with the engine moved amidships (shades of the Renault R5 Turbo). Straight-line performance is, oddly enough, not that much better than the standard Sport.
TVR Tuscan Speed Six
TVR, a tiny manufacturer based in Blackpool, England, produced some rather exciting cars over its nearly 40-year history. Many were built in the decade before its 2006 demise. The U.S. stopped getting new TVRs with the wedge-shaped Tasmin series, which were no longer imported after 1987. TVR’s Scarborough, Ont., importer brought cars into Canada for a short time after that, and over the years Canadians have personally imported the brilliant early 1990s Rover V8 Griffith, the Cerbera and Chimaera.
The real prize is the Tuscan Speed Six of the early 2000s, which are only now becoming legal. The Speed Six was quite an exciting car, with a proprietary inline six-cylinder capable of making as much as 400 horsepower and a loaded weight of just 1,100 kilograms. Zero to 60 mph acceleration took about 3.6 seconds.
Land Rover Defender
The Defender 110 and 90 were officially available in the U.S. and Canada for just a few model years in the mid-1990s, though the Land Rover factory in Solihull, England, continued to crank out classic Defenders until this year. Unfortunately, supplies of the few officially imported Defenders are nowhere near sufficient to meet demand. A brisk cottage industry of importing pre-1992 Defenders has developed. Yet even these are getting scarce, a result of the SUV’s propensity to rust. Fortunately, Canadians can shop up to model year 2001. Defenders originally sold in places like Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy are particularly prized because of the kinder climates and left-hand drive.
Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R
Video gamers everywhere revere the Skyline nameplate, and the R34, with its wing, great-looking tapered greenhouse and outrageously bulged fenders, is one of the more coveted. Its greatest fame came in the Fast and Furious films, which made the most out of the car’s bodywork and more still from its twin-turbo 2.6-liter inline six. Most were sold in Japan; now Vancouver is home to a good number of vintage Skylines—right hand-drive, of course.
The RV8 might just have one of the most interesting histories of any British sports car. It went out of production in 1980, only to be revived in 1993.
The impetus for the rebirth was twofold: The Rover Group, MG’s owner at the time, was desperate to create some buzz around the venerable brand. And, it just so happened that all the tools were available to bring the car back to life. Amazingly, when the Abingdon-on-Thames MG factory closed in the 1980s, the tooling survived thanks to the efforts of the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, allowing Rover to offer complete MGB body shells to restorers.
Rover modified some of the Heritage bodies, installing wood and leather trim that was light years nicer than anything the cars ever saw during their 1964-80 production run. Power was provided by the same aluminum V-8, originally from Buick, that Rover had been using since the 1960s – which was also the same engine that British Leyland briefly used in the MGB GT V8. Almost all of these modern classics were right-hand drive. Many were exported to Japan, and some have wound up in British Columbia.