3 sweet rides that Canadians can get but Americans can’t

There are many reasons for Canadian car enthusiasts to gaze over the fence in envy of our southerly cousins. The strong U.S. dollar puts a hefty surcharge on the best collector cars. Steel panels melt away on our salted roads, while their vast semi-desert southern states preserve treasures just waiting to be discovered. And it’s hard not to long for smooth California canyon roads when you’re staring down pothole season in Toronto.

However, there is something about Canada that makes American gearheads green with envy, and it’s not just big-block Beaumonts. While the U.S. has to wait a full 25 years to import forbidden overseas fruit like the Nissan Skyline GT-R, Canadians have a sweet 15-year gray market rule.

That means you can swap the model year on your search parameters from 1994 to 2004, opening up all kinds of delicious new possibilities. And here’s the even better news: while you’ve only got to compete against your fellow Canadian shoppers in your hunt for something special, once your choice of ride ages up into U.S. importability, it’s likely to shoot up in value thanks to a much broader market.

Buy a totally unique car, enjoy it for a few years, and then sell it on and make space for something new and fresh. Canada’s head start on the overseas import market might look unfair to our American friends, but let’s just say it makes up for their teams poaching all the best hockey players. Here are three desirable gray-market machines that are only available if you spell neighbour with a U.

Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R

Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R front 3/4
Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R Brendan McAleer

Arguably the most desirable GT-R ever built by Nissan, the R34 is analogous to the 993 generation of air-cooled Porsche 911s. It’s a comfortable 2+2 touring car that still retains a vital edge, blending high levels of technology and an analogue feel. It’s fast, if you will, but also furious.

Gran Turismo made the GT-R famous on this side of the Pacific, but Hollywood is the key to the R34’s enduring appeal. Yes, any serious car enthusiast has likely rolled their eyes at some installment of the Fast & Furious franchise, but if you switched off your brain and came along for the nitrous-boosted ride, the films were good fun, and their popularity can’t be overstated. The hero of the first film was a fourth-generation Toyota Supra Turbo, values for which have risen sharply already, but when the R34 debuted in the second movie as the main ride for Paul Walker’s Detective Brian O’Conner, it was all the more tantalizing for being unobtainable.

With an overengineered, twin-turbocharged 2.6-liter straight-six and all-wheel-drive, the GT-R was more than equal to the Supra in power and handling. The R34 took the race-winning powertrain of its rawer R32 GT-R ancestor and smoothed it out with friendlier handling, better weight distribution, increased chassis stiffness, and more durable transmission and turbochargers. Power was listed at 276 hp, thanks to the Japanese car industry’s unofficial agreement limiting horsepower, but actual output is more like 325 hp (at least). Even more is just a question of boost and bravery.

Finding an unmodified R34 is tricky but worthwhile, and Nissan has begun reissuing parts with a new heritage program if you need to put things back to stock. Stock examples of the earlier R32 GT-R now fetch top dollar at auction and are the most desirable—as the R34 becomes U.S. importable, it’ll likely be the same story. Further, while any well-kept R34 GT-R will be collectible, it’s worth the time to dive into the minutiae of the R34’s many special editions like the V-Spec, M-Spec, and Nür. The rarer and faster, the better.

Land Rover Defender 110 TD5

Land Rover Defender 110 TD5 Brendan McAleer
Land Rover Defender 110 TD5 Brendan McAleer

To call the Land Rover Defender agricultural is an insult to tractors. And possibly to horses. Built over a 67-year run, the original Land Rover concept was tough, sturdy, and simple to work on. It was basically a shovel with occasional electrical issues.

In spite of its wobbly reliability, or perhaps because of it, people all over the world have fallen in love with this boxy shape. Yet Land Rover was very parsimonious with the Defender in the North American market, releasing only a handful of vehicles in the U.S. and Canada, and most of those with a thirsty V-8.

If you’re looking for your own personal safari machine, ignore the gas-powered options and look for a TD5 badge. Available from 1998, the designation meant a so-labelled Defender was equipped with a 2.5-liter inline-five cylinder turbodiesel producing 122 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration is still pretty leisurely, but the low-end diesel torque can’t be beat for stomping around offroad, and highway fuel efficiency is reasonable—for a vehicle with the aerodynamic characteristics of an apartment building.

The two-door 90 and four-door 110 (the numbers refer to wheelbase length) make a great addition to the driveway, and there are plenty of left-hand-drive models in the European market. For family adventures, the 110 is the one to have, and there’s a near-endless aftermarket of additional off-road goodies you can add to make your Defender become a better exploring machine, or just look the part.

Audi RS6 Avant

Audi RS6 Avant side profile
Audi RS6 Avant Brendan McAleer

Audi kicked off the hot European wagon trend with its first RS-branded vehicle, the Porsche engineered and built RS2. Just-now importable into the U.S., RS2 values are shooting up rapidly, driven by fans of fast Audi station wagons. So why not cut yourself an even more potent slice of that layer cake?

The C5-chassis RS6 was sold only as a sedan in the U.S. in 2003 and in Canada in 2004. The mechanically-similar Avant wagon never made it to our shores, apart from an appearance in the Daniel Craig crime flick Layer Cake. Scorching down a winding driveway to the tune of The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary, the RS6 Avant instantly became the wagon we all wanted.

And now, if you’re a Canadian, you can get the long roof version, complete with a twin-turbocharged 4.2L V-8 that huffs out a still potent 444 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque. Fitted with a five-speed automatic gearbox and Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive, the RS6 is a practical all-weather cruising machine also capable of laminating your labradoodle to the rear glass when you get on the throttle.

Being an out-of-warranty Audi product, some caution should be exercised. The fluid-based Dynamic Ride Control system, for instance, is notoriously cranky and prone to leaks. However, if you’ve got a local Euro specialist mechanic who knows their stuff, parts-sharing with the North American models makes life a little easier.

And there’s no better ride for a Canadian car enthusiast than a twin-turbo, all-wheel-drive winter warrior. It’s perfect for storming ski hills south of the 49th parallel and getting jealous looks from every gearhead in the parking lot.

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