Coming to America: 5 cool cars you can now import to the U.S.
We call it the “25-year rule.” Basically, when a car that was never sold in the United States finally reaches its 25th birthday, it suddenly becomes much easier to import. So as time marches on, all kinds of formerly forbidden automotive fruit make the transition to potential purchases.
It’s not quite as easy clicking “Buy It Now” on eBay, but with plenty of U.S.-based dealers that specialize in these imports, the foreign-market car of your dreams could be closer to your garage than you think.
With that in mind, we’ve picked five cars that turn 25 in the near future. Start shopping now.
Before Chris Bangle either revolutionized or ruined BMW styling (depending on your opinion) he helped define 1990s car styling with the Fiat Coupé. At the time this was considered one of the most beautiful cars on the market, especially compared to the aged and ugly ducklings that populated the rest of Fiat’s lineup.
Alfa Romeo Spider
Alfa Romeo’s exit from the U.S. market in 1995 meant we missed out on the successor to the Spider. The old Spider was produced for more than four decades with only small visual updates. So comparatively speaking, the new Spider (and later GTV coupe) looked like it was from another planet. As with the Fiat mentioned above, the Alfa Spider has the kind of styling that screams “I love the ’90s” and will never, ever be mistaken for anything else on the road. Plus, it has two spark plugs per cylinder. Lest you think this is a joke about Alfa Romeo reliability, it was not a redundant system but a way to improve combustion and efficiency at lighter engine loads.
Subaru Impreza WRX hatchback and WRX STI
The first-generation WRX is seared into the brain of everyone who came of age in the era of Gran Turismo on the Sony Playstation. Stateside we had the handsome but underpowered Impreza, while Japan and Europe saw the showroom version of Colin McRae’s World Rally Championship (WRC) car, the WRX. The performance-minded Impreza came out in 1992, but October 1993 brought the first WRX hatchback, albeit with 217 horsepower, 20 fewer than the sedan.
The 1994 model year also marked the debut of the WRX STi (the i was lowercase back then), which began production in February 1994. We’ll do the math for you: That means the import date is February 2019 for early-production examples. With 247 horsepower and a driver-adjustable center-differential, Subaru’s road-ready rally car had the tools to shame more than a few pedigreed sports cars.
Following the launch of the original STi, the hits keep coming for Subaru with updates, power upgrades, and more special editions. In other words, the next few years will be good for Subaru fans.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution II
Evo vs. WRX is the 1990s version of Ford vs. Chevy or Ferrari vs. Porsche. Both companies began a line of rally-derived, turbocharged, four-wheel-drive compact cars that by mid-decade would become icons. For Mitsubishi that car was the Lancer Evolution, and version II turns 25 in December 2018. Both that version and the original used the Galant VR-4 turbo engine, but the Evo II is tuned up an additional 8 horsepower to 252 ponies.
Consider that the current Volkswagen GTI makes 220 hp, meaning that even the world of 300-plus horsepower minivans the Lancer Evolution is still quick. As with the WRX, however, later versions might be more tempting.
Toyota Celica GT-Four ST205
The sixth-generation Toyota Celica is under-appreciated in my opinion, mostly because American magazines at the time dismissed the 135-hp GT as slower, heavier, and less fun than its rivals. What those American journalists weren’t driving, however, was the the turbocharged ST205 model, with at least 239 horsepower and four-wheel-drive.
This was a contemporary rival to the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. It only lacks the rally heritage because Toyota was caught cheating and was subsequently banned from the championship. Still, the Celica boasts homologation-special hardware like the sophisticated Super Strut suspension that mitigated torque steer to the front wheels. It was later replicated by Ford with the RevoKnuckle and GM with the HiPer Strut (Car and Driver explains here).
By far the best feature of the ST205, though, is the confetti-pattern Recaro seats, which are guaranteed to win some kind of trophy at a Radwood show after it turns 25 in February 2019.