We call it the 25-year rule. It’s shorthand for a combination of regulations that allow you import any motor vehicle older than 25 years, assuming the car also meets your state’s regulations. Specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency’s 3520-1 form and the Department of Transportation’s HS-7 form are required by Customs and Border Protection to bring a vehicle into the United States. The EPA form has an exemption for engines older than 21 years, while the DOT sets the exemption age at 25.
Because the rule applies to a car’s production date and not model year, there’s a never-ending procession of forbidden fruit that can now be brought inside the U.S. border. Here are six that are particularly appealing and past or close to the quarter-century milestone as of this writing.
Nissan Skyline GT-R V Spec I
The R32-generation GT-R has been legal for import for a few years now, with production starting in 1989. As we approach the 25-year offset of the R32’s end of production, the special editions are coming around, beginning with the V Spec I. The simple explanation for this model is the addition of special wheels and tires, Brembo brakes, and several other minor upgrades—the most important being the V Spec badge on the rear to tell other GT-R owners that your car is more special. (At least until the V Spec II turns 25 next year.) Our valuation data for the Skyline shows stable prices, mostly due to balanced supply and demand. With only about 1400 V Spec I models produced, these versions should carry a premium.
What we’ve always known as an Acura in fact carried a Honda badge in its home market of Japan. And we never saw the version that sported a red badge, the NSX-R. Production began in November 1992, so if you can find one of the 483 for sale it can head straight to your garage. Lighter and quicker than the standard NSX, the R also came with a blueprinted and balanced crankshaft. The trade-off, as with most performance variants, is a stiffer suspension tuned for track performance.
Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzion II
Before Subaru’s and Mitsubishi’s dominant duopoly, there was another compact, turbocharged, all-wheel drive car that owned the World Rally Championship. That car was the Lancia Delta, which won a record six consecutive constructors’ championships (and lost a seventh to a Toyota Celica later banned for cheating). The Lancia Delta’s road-going swan song was the Integrale Evoluzion II that debuted in June 1993. While Lancia never took the Evo II rallying, this is a slightly more powerful version of the Evoluzion, the blistered-fender homologation car that represents the pinnacle of Lancia’s racing heritage.
In response to Mazda’s Miata, itself an homage to MG and Rover models of the past, Rover group updated the MGB and stuffed a 3.9-liter, 192-horsepower V-8 under the hood. A solid rear axle and leaf springs made for, shall we say, antiquated handling. But the cylinder count is sure to make some Miata fans British Racing Green with envy.
Renault Clio Williams
Named for the Williams F1 team that was using Renault engines at the time, this hot version of the Clio econo-hatch was actually developed in-house by Renault Sport. Evo Magazine calls the Clio Williams “the first hot hatch to put the legendary Peugeot 205 GTI in the shade.” Featuring a fully redesigned 2.0-liter engine pumping out 148 hp and plenty of low-end torque, this Clio is a quirky alternative to the familiar Volkswagen GTI.
Subaru Impreza WRX
The 1997 Sony Playstation game Gran Turismo played a pivotal role in the history of Subaru. While a few people were aware of the WRX from watching late-night WRC racing on Speedvision or reading British magazines, most Americans forgot about the Impreza shortly after this weird 1992 ad aired. Gran Turismo changed that for a generation of gearheads who could soak up all of the WRX’s affordable turbocharged greatness (and various Skyline GT-R models as well) from the comfort of the dorm room or basement bean bag chair. The game’s popularity played a pivotal role in Subaru’s decision to bring the WRX to the U.S. market for the 2000 model year, but we’ve never been able to put a license plate on the original until last November, when both the WRX and the lightweight RA version hit the magic quarter-century mark.
TVR Griffith 500
Another car that Generation X and early-Millennials drove vicariously through the video game and British magazine dream was the TVR Griffith (and related Chimaera), although older gearheads know the company for earlier models imported to the U.S. The simplest explanation for TVR? Britain’s take on the Dodge Viper, or the UK’s tribute to the Shelby Cobra. That’s especially true for the Griffith 500 and its 340-hp 5.0-liter V-8. That car was good for a 4.1-second 0–60 sprint, a mind-boggling figure at the time that still impresses 25 years down the road.