Home > Automotive News >  

10 Once Illegal Cars You Can Finally Import In 2017

25 year law makes these cars no longer illegal

Despite the fact that most of us think of the 90’s as being “like ten years ago”, the truth of the matter is that 1992 is now 25 years in the past. You might be asking: what is the significance of the 25-year mark? Well for automotive enthusiasts residing in the United States, 25 is the magic number needed to legally import and register a vehicle for road use if it was not originally produced in the US.

The reasoning behind this is that the cars were never subject to the strict US guidelines for crash tests (specifically, low-speed collisions have always been stressed more here than anywhere else) and emissions. Therefore they have to be old enough to be somewhat of a classic or a novelty in order to be registered for road use. Many consider this law to be a bit overkill, and the strict enforcement of it has left more than one car lover with a smoldering cube of steel where their illegally registered car previously stood.

Each year, a new batch of cars enters the 25-year club, and American fans rejoice. So what does 2017 bring to this side of the ocean?


Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Probably the coolest thing about the early 90’s is the availability of street legal rally cars that were very closely related to their stripped-out racing brethren. This is due to a process called homologation. For some race classes, the car used to race by a manufacturer must be a factory-produced car. That means that whoever makes the fastest car for that class, as a factory vehicle, will be able to make the fastest race car.

Pair that with the fact that rally racing was extremely popular and competitive in 1992, and you have the formula for some great cars now available for import to the US. First and foremost, the first year of the first iteration of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (not to be confused with the evolution of Mitsubishi Evolutions, shown below) is now legal for registration.

Americans got lucky with its predecessor, the Galant VR-4, which reached the states in limited numbers. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive any of the Lancer Evolutions until the eighth iteration. Expect a buzz when each model turns 25.

The 244-horsepower 4-door AWD Lancer Evo was a formidable car for its time, and was the only model of Evo to come equipped with a viscous rear limited slip differential. Aside from that, it is the lightest Evo ever produced, specifically the RS model weighs in at a thrifty 2,579 pounds.


Ford Escort RS Cosworth

Another fabled road-going rally monster that never reached our shores is the Ford Escort RS Cosworth. Similar to the Lancer Evo, the Escort Cosworth is a rally homologation special with a massive following.

Some of the most significant bits of this car that were unique to the Cosworth model were the legendary Cosworth YBT engine and that huge rear wing. The engine is still a favorite among tuners, and aftermarket units have made over 1,000 horsepower with boost. The Escort was also the first mass production car to be made to produce downforce at the front and back.

Though the 227 horsepower and 137 mph top speed may seem modest by today’s standards, this car was a serious contender in its prime. The chassis is renowned for its handling characteristics and there are plenty of shops willing to make the Cosworth 4-cylinder under the hood sing a sharper note.


Ford Fiesta RS1800

For those who want a little bit of rally spirit with an emphasis on the “little”, look no further than the Ford Fiesta RS1800. This is the most fun you can have in an imported economy car in 2017. The Fiesta RS1800 was made with a larger 1.8 liter engine producing 130 horsepower.

It may not look like much compared to other cars on this list, but there is a good reason the Fiesta has had a big following for decades.


Mazda Familia GTR

While everyone is going to be importing the Evo and the Escort Cosworth this year, a select few are going to want something a bit more unique. Sticking with the rally homologation theme, the next logical step is the Mazda Familia GTR.

While this model may not be familiar to many people stateside, just know that it packs quite a punch for a little family hatchback. While the normal Familia is a quiet and economical daily driver, the Familia GTR is a big step up in terms of performance. On top of the 1.8 liter, turbocharged engine attached to the AWD system underneath the car, the suspension and axles saw major upgrades to handle the 205 horsepower made.

If you want a car that will turn heads while making people wonder just what in the heck it actually is, the Familia GTR is for you.


Autozam AZ-1

Some cars are great because they have a distinct and endearing character, while others offer performance that can’t be matched by the competition. The Autozam AZ-1 is great because it is almost too weird to exist and yet is manages it nicely. As a side note, Autozam is a former sub-brand of Mazda.

This funky little Japanese Kei car represents just about the most fun you can have per pound in a vehicle. At only 1,587 pounds total, the AZ-1 packed some interesting features. These include gullwing doors, a mid-mounted engine, and styling that makes it look like a toy version of a Ferrari.

The 657cc, 67 horsepower turbocharged engine under the hood provides a fair amount of zip, but a car like this is not about speed. If you want this car, there is really no substitute. It’s small and strange and now legal to register for road use in the US. What’s not to like?


Alfa Romeo RZ

The result of a joint project between Zagato and Alfa Romeo, the RZ is a very special car. Most people consider all little, spirited Italian roadsters to be special in their own right, but the RZ just brings a little more to the table. First and foremost, just look at it.

The styling is dramatic and polarizing. In one look you can know right away whether or not you like this car. Underneath, the RZ is similar to the Alfa Romeo 75. A 3.0 liter V6 moves it down the road.

A composite body and hydraulic dampening in the suspension make this car incredibly light on its feet as well. While it certainly is not a car for everyone, the Alfa Romeo RZ is a car that cannot be missed.


BMW M5 Touring

Ok, so we did get the BMW M5 stateside in 1992. Performance-wise, the Touring version was no different. If you want the performance and practicality of an M5, it would be easier to get a version made for the US. That said, you cannot get the US M5 in the form of a wagon, and in my mind that is a deal-breaker.

Fast wagons, for whatever reason, don’t really appeal to Americans like they do to citizens of other countries. For this reason, BMW simply didn’t make the M5 Touring here. Now that it is legal to import and register, it is a very tempting package.

The 311 horsepower straight-6 engine of the M5 paired with a big practical body that can allow you to carry just about anything, what more could you ask for?


Honda NSX-R

The NSX Type-R, or NSX-R for short, represents the peak of performance for the original NSX. You see, rather than make a ridiculous and basically useless supercar that would run for an hour at a time on sunny, dry days, Honda thought people deserved a fast car that simply worked. The NSX is still renowned for its usability as a daily driver despite its impressive performance.

This is because the whole car wasn’t made with just track-driving in mind. If you did happen to have track driving on your mind, though, the NSX-R was there as an option. The R took the base model of the NSX and gutted it of creature comforts and electronic assists. This made the car a total of 265 pounds lighter.

Another reason to pick up an NSX-R this year? Their value is climbing more and more every day and even normal models stateside are starting to reach crazy prices. If you want one, the time is now, and the NSX-R is easily the best model to own.


Jaguar XJ220

The Jaguar XJ220 is a legend in the eyes of most car enthusiasts, and is still making headlines today. The fastest car in the world from 1994 to 1998, the XJ200 offered previously unheard of performance to customers. Despite only using a 3.5 liter V-6, the XJ220 could go from 0 to 60 in 3.6 seconds.

This is due to two things: two turbochargers forcing extra air into the engine, and an advanced (for the time) all-wheel drive system. The very aerodynamic body helps achieve the 213 mph top speed without too much fuss.

This may be the last year that the XJ220 is attainable for a somewhat normal price, though it will still be in the hundreds of thousands. These cars are on the fast track to being garaged for life thanks to their rising value.


McLaren F1

The McLaren F1 is such a legendary and well-known vehicle that most people don’t even realize that it was never made legally available in the United States. Examples of the car do exist here, but none that were imported and registered in the standard fashion. It is possible to import a car to the US that is under 25 years old if the model is deemed significant.

Only 106 F1 models were ever made, so its not like this car will be a bargain. Still, there are so many reasons to want one. The entire vehicle is artfully engineered and achieved performance that would be unmatched for over a decade. With 618 horsepower and a 240 mph top speed, its easy to see why.

It was the first road car to use a monocoque chassis and makes great use of some very exotic materials like carbon fiber, titanium, Kevlar, and gold. If you have 10 million dollars burning a hole in your pocket, consider picking one up for 2017.

2017 is proving to be a great year all around for automobiles in the United States, so why not add a little variety? Now that these cars are legal for import and registration, the only thing separating you from your dream car that never saw showrooms stateside in a hefty shipping bill.

Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them, but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. I founded GearHeads.org and then built and ran AutoWise.com until selling it to Lola Digital Media in 2020. I look forward to watching AutoWise grow as part of the AllGear group.