In the United States, there’s an arbitrary (but in the end, great) rule that lets us import a vehicle that is 25 years old or older, even if it was never approved for sale in the U.S. when new. That means that every year, an entire world of nifty and unusual foreign-market cars suddenly becomes available to those of us willing to pony up the cash and do the paperwork.
Other countries have similar rules, but Canada dictates only a 15-year period from date of manufacture to import such vehicles. Yes, we’re jealous.
Below are the most noteworthy cars from the class of 2003 (and some from 2002) that are now importable into Canada, but before the shopping begins, take time to do lots and lots of research. Importing a car is not exactly a straightforward process, and different provinces have different rules. For example, Quebec doesn’t allow right-hand drive vehicles newer than 25 years old, and some provinces won’t license certain vehicles if they have a salvage title. It’s also a good idea to live by the “buy the best example you can afford” mantra, since provincial inspections can be strict.
TVR was really on a roll with a succession of spectacular-looking and savagely quick sports cars in the 1990s and early 2000s. (It wasn’t on a roll financially, but that’s another matter.) The offering for 2002 was the Tamora, which was based on the Tuscan and meant to be an entry-level model, although it still had a base price of £36,500 (that’s £55,480 today, equal to about $98,165 Canadian/$77,461 U.S.). According to Autocar magazine, it had “dumpy proportions and smacked face,” but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the Tamora is certainly distinctive. The interior is a little more subdued than the other spaceship-like TVRs of the period, but there are still neat quirks like shiny metallic switchgear and a tach that sweeps counter-clockwise.
Under the hood is TVR’s proprietary Speed Six engine, which looks good, sounds great, and, in certain applications, is still the most powerful naturally-aspirated production straight-six. In the Tamora, it makes 350 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque—a wallop for a tiny convertible that weighs only 2337 pounds. Of course, things like ABS and traction control are nowhere to be found. Just 430 Tamoras were built. Over the same 2002–06 period, TVR also built the T350 based on the Tamora, and there were 467 of those. The only catch is that TVRs have never been known for build quality, and the fact that TVR built these engines also thickens the plot.
Audi RS6 Avant
North America got the first RS6 for one year only, but it had an automatic and it was a sedan. Since fast manual wagons have a special place in the heart of many car nuts, the European-spec RS6 Avant is high on the must-have list, but it only recently became possible to bring one to Canada. A 444-hp twin-turbo V-8 and six-speed manual in a wagon is a perfect recipe, and it would still be something of a sleeper, although maintenance will still be rough on the wallet.
Ford Falcon GT/Pursuit
In the Land Down Under, there is a whole other world of unfamiliar and exciting muscle cars. They follow the same basic formula as the cars we’ve gotten here in North America, but they’re all just a bit different. For 2003, the Australian-built Ford Falcon was entrusted to the Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) division in Melbourne to turn the car into something special. A 5.4-liter Modular V-8 with 390 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque lies under the bulged hood of the Falcon GT, and FPV also built a ute (pickup) version of the Falcon GT called the Pursuit—so you can have two different types of practical performance. Both came in some appropriately loud colors, but either of these Aussie muscle cars would get plenty of attention regardless.
The Ford vs. GM rivalry isn’t just an American thing. Fords and Holdens have been duking it out for decades in Australia, with the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore serving as the main protagonists. In 2002, Holden started building a new version of the Commodore, and there are several special versions that enthusiasts might want to consider. There is a Commodore SS with an LS1 engine, six-speed manual, and limited-slip differential in an unassuming sedan body style, but the really exciting stuff came from Holden Special Vehicles (HSV). The Commodore Clubsport model has more power, and there are two ute versions. The Avalanche “XUV” built from 2003–05 features a 360-hp version of the LS1 with a pickup body style, but features all-wheel drive and a four-speed automatic. For those who really want to roast some tires, the Maloo ute has a six-speed manual and rear-wheel drive.
Funky-looking but not without its charms, the Smart Roadster introduced in 2003 sold well initially, but its reputation suffered from all the warranty claims that came about thanks to a leaky roof. The Smart Roadster was based on a stretched version of the Fortwo platform and equipped with a 698-cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine as well as a six-speed semi-automatic gearbox that was slow to shift, even by early 2000s standards. So it wasn’t exactly a performance benchmark. Then again, it weighs less than a ton and a Brabus-tuned version has louder exhaust, lower suspension, alloy wheels, a body kit, and some interior upgrades. There was also a Smart Roadster Coupe that had the same power-folding roof arrangement but a larger trunk. Other quirks included the ignition, which was located between the seats behind the shifter. A Miata is surely a better value in terms of small convertibles, but the Smart Roadster is undeniably different.
Honda Accord Euro R
If you traveled outside North America in the mid-2000s, you might have noticed that what we called the Acura TSX was actually badged and sold as the Honda Accord in much of the rest of the world. Our Accord was a little larger and never thought of as particularly sporty. Not so in other markets, where Honda made a version called the Euro R, which had a 220-hp version of the fantastic K20 VTEC four and a six-speed manual.
Alfa Romeo GT
Built from 2003–10, the Alfa Romeo GT is based on the 156. It features a three-door hatchback body and sharp Bertone-penned lines, a cool interior, and, like all Alfas of this vintage, front-wheel drive. Base models came with a Twin Spark 1.8-liter four, but it was available with a 3.2-liter V-6. The six makes 237 hp, which is a ton of grunt for a front-driver, especially in 2003. Finding parts and someone to work on it won’t exactly be fun, but you’ll surely have the only one of these chic European hot hatches in your town.