Ryan OlbryshCar and Driver
It was Republican Congressman Bob Whittaker from Kansas who sponsored the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act. The law was passed in 1988, allowing America’s car enthusiasts to import cars from foreign lands as long as those cars are at least 25 years old. Usually, these are models that weren’t sold in the United States for a variety of reasons. Most often they didn’t comply with emissions and safety regulations, but every year a new batch of interesting cars and trucks from Japan, Europe, and Australia become eligible for legal import. Here are a dozen new options for anyone who wants to import at car in 2021.
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Mitsubishi Evolution IV
Introduced in August 1996, the fourth generation of Mitsu’s rally car for the road becomes legal for import this summer. Based on the redesigned sixth generation of the Lancer sedan, the Evo IV remained true to the formula that made the sport compact a performance legend. Its turbocharged 2.0-liter four, five-speed manual transmission, and all-wheel drive returned, however, its powertrain was rotated 180 degrees to eliminate torque steer and improve balance. Weight increased slightly, but so did the power. Both the GSR and the RS got a new twin-scroll turbo that improved response and increased output to 276 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 243 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Its active yaw-control rear differential was also new. The RS was the more serious of the two, featuring a limited-slip front differential, lightweight OZ Racing wheels, and additional chassis bracing. To save a few pounds, it had wind-up windows and air conditioning was optional.
Another legendary Japanese performance sedan, the Toyota Chaser X100, will become legal for import in September. It replaced the X90 model in September 1996, retaining its rear-wheel-drive layout and wide selection of inline six-cylinder powertrains, which included everything from a 2.0-liter 1G-FE to the same 2JZ-GE that powered the Supra. At 187 inches long, these are sizable sedans with a 107-inch wheelbase. Unfortunately, the hottest version did not get the twin-turbo version of the 2JZ from the Supra Turbo. Instead, the Chaser JZX100 was powered by the 1JZ-GTE 2.5-liter with a single turbo and variable valve timing for 276 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 268 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. A four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission were available. Many cars have had their automatics swapped to manuals over the years. All-wheel drive was also available.
Nissan 180SX Type X Nismo
Back in the 1990s, the four-cylinder-powered S13 generation of the Nissan 180SX was a constant source of frustration for American enthusiasts. We liked its compact dimensions, rear-wheel drive and tight styling, which included pop-up headlights, a must for the era. It just didn’t have any horsepower. Nissan saved the turbocharged versions for its home market, including the Type X NISMO, which becomes legal for import in January. Under the hood is the company’s legendary SR20DET four-cylinder, which remains a cornerstone of Nissan sport-compact performance. Backed by a five-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip differential, the turbocharged DOHC 2.0-liter was rated 205 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 203 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm, and the iron-block engine famously pumps out more with proven modifications. Nissan’s Super HICAS four-wheel steering was optional, and the Type X looked the part with unique front and rear spoilers, side skirts, and 15-inch alloys.
Daihatsu Midget II
It isn’t always the car with the most horsepower that draws the biggest crowd Cars & Coffee. This tiny pickup would be a hit, and you won’t have any trouble finding a parking space. The Midget II battled other mini machines in the Japanese kei class, which was quite popular through the 1990s. To qualify for kei, vehicles needed to be less than 134 inches long, 58 inches wide, and 79 inches tall. The Midget II, which features a leaf-spring rear suspension, was popular with small businesses because it can haul 452 pounds in its small, four-foot bed. The two-seater is powered by a 305-cc air-cooled, two-stroke, three-cylinder laid on its side under the seat where it pumps out 30 horsepower and a stump-pulling 37 pound-feet of torque. Its interior is sparse, but air conditioning and an automatic transmission were available, along with four-wheel drive.
Renault Sport Spider
Back in 1996, a couple of tiny, minimalistic, mid-engine, two-seat sports cars waged war in Europe. One was the Lotus Elise, the other was the Renault Sport Spider, and it was the first product to wear Renault Sport badging. The French automaker’s performance division was responsible for its Formula 1 efforts and even spawned a dedicated one-make racing series. The halo sports car featured rear-wheel drive, scissor doors, an aluminum chassis, and plastic bodywork. They weigh about 2000 pounds, are under 150-inches long, and pack 150 horsepower from a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four. Only a five-speed manual transmission was available. There’s no roof of any kind, no radio, and no heater. No ABS. No power steering. No door handles. No side glass. Buyers could choose between a full-size windshield or the small wind deflector fitted to the race cars. They hit 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds. Renault produced about 1800 Spiders through 1999.
Founded in Blackpool, England, by Trevor Wilkinson in 1946, TVR (the name comes from letters in his first name) is known for its wild high-end front-engine rear-wheel-drive sports cars, including the Griffith, Trident, and Sagaris. The brand’s coupes and convertibles are known for their low production numbers, way-out styling, and unique interior design. One its most successful models was the Cerbera, which was its first two-plus-two. About 1200 were produced from 1996 to 2005. The Speed Six version was powered by a double-overhead-cam 4.0-liter inline-six producing 350 horsepower. It got the roughly 2500-pound coupe to 60 mph in about 4.4 seconds. The Speed Eight models are even quicker, with their TVR-designed single-overhead-cam 4.2-liter and 4.5-liter V-8s that pack as much as 440 horsepower and more than 400 pound-feet of torque. The rowdiest of the pack could reach 60 mph in under 4 seconds and have a top speed of 193 mph.
Josse Car Indigo 3000
The only Swedish car on this list. A handsome rear-drive, two-seat roadster with a folding softtop, the Indigo 3000 was produced by Josse Car from 1996 until its bankruptcy in 1999. Inspired by TVR’s work, just 44 were built, each powered by Volvo’s 204-hp all-aluminum 3.0-liter inline-six mounted up front and backed with its five-speed manual. Just 169.3 inches long with a 99.2 inch wheelbase, these are small cars with a steel spaceframe. They weigh about 2200 pounds and are said to hit 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds on the way to a 155-mph top speed. Other parts also came from Volvo, including its independent rear suspension, which uses a composite transverse leaf spring, and the roadster’s steering column and seats. Its gas tank comes from the Saab 900. Unique design features include a clamshell hood that opens toward the front and two built-in Shelby Cobra-style roll bars behind its seats.
One of Japan’s smallest automakers, Mitsuoka has been building some of the island nation’s most unusual cars since 1968. Most of its wild creations combine classic styling elements with the modern underpinnings from production Nissans, Toyotas, and Mazdas, including the Galue, which it has offered since 1996. With its large, upright chrome grille and proud round headlights, it may look like a classic Bentley R-type from the 1960s (if you squint hard enough), but the Galue is basically a rebodied Nissan Crew sedan, which was popular with Japan’s police and cab companies. They’re about the size of a current Honda Accord, and they retain Nissan’s 130-hp 2.0-liter RB20E four-cylinder and four-speed automatic transmission. Its vertical taillights are from a Cadillac Fleetwood, and buyers could order wire wheels to complete the illusion of classic British motoring.
Based on the Civic, the Honda Stepwgn is a small minivan with a funky name. Tall and narrow, these front-wheel-drive boxes are only 185 inches long, 64.5 inches tall, and 67 inches wide. Sex appeal and performance was not a priority; they were sparsely equipped and built to be cheap, reliable transportation. Under the hood is a 123-hp 2.0-liter paired with a four-speed automatic transmission. Honda used the same free-revving double-overhead-cam B-Series engine in many products, including U.S.-market Civics and CR-Vs, and the naturally aspirated four-cylinder has a reputation for strong performance and endless reliability. Unfortunately, the van weighs about 3200 pounds, so they reach 60 mph in a painfully slow 12.5 seconds. By comparison, a Dodge Caravan from the same era will blow its single sliding door off. In 1997, ABS became standard.
Mitsubishi Legnum VR-4
Built by performance division Ralliart, the Legnum VR-4 is an all-wheel-drive high-performance long roof powered by a twin-turbo 24-valve 2.5-liter double-overhead-cam V-6. Its 276 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque is sent through a five-speed manual. Until 1998, if you chose the INVECS-ll five-speed automatic, which was adaptive and offered manual control, the V-6 was detuned to 260 horsepower. Mitsu’s electronically controlled active-yaw-control (AYC) limited-slip rear differential, which was also used in the Lancer Evo IV, was available, and the five-door hits 60 mph in just over 5.0 seconds and has 150-mph capability. Type S and less sporty Type V versions were offered.
Toyota Starlet Glanza-V
Twenty-five years ago, hot-hatch fans outside Japan were denied access to the turbocharged Starlet Glanza-V, a performance version of Toyota’s front-wheel-drive three-door. The Glanza-V was more than its aggressive body kit. Underneath its scooped hood was Toyota’s force-fed double-overhead-cam 1.3-liter four, known as the 4E-FTE. Fitted with more robust internals and a lower 8.5:1 compression ratio, it produced 138 horsepower thanks to more than 9.0 psi of maximum boost and a top-mounted air-to-air intercooler. Drivers could choose a low boost mode with about 5.8 psi, but what fun is that? A five-speed manual transmission was included in the deal, while air conditioning and power windows were options to keep weight down. Toyota claimed the little hot rod could reach 60 mph in about 8.0 seconds.
One look at the Toyota Classic and it’s obvious where Chrysler got the idea for the PT Cruiser, which would be on sale five years later. Introduced in 1996, the Classic is a retro-styled limited-edition sedan created to celebrate the 60th birthday of Toyota’s first production car, the 1936 Toyota AA. Coincidentally, the AA had obviously aped the Chrysler Airflow. What goes around comes around. Underneath its full fenders is a full frame from the brand’s Hilux pickup, so the Classic is rear-wheel drive and larger than it looks at 192.3 inches long. They weigh about 3300 pounds and are powered by a rather pedestrian 2.0-liter overhead-valve four producing just 96 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic was the only transmission available. Far less effort was put into the interior, which is standard Toyota fare with additional wood and leather to help justify the Classic’s big price. Toyota only sold 100 for about $75,000 each.
Check Out What Was Eligible For Import Last Year
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