Very few things get better with age, wine, fine leather, certain types of cheeses, if you’re into that, but cars don’t usually make that list. Parts wear out, things break, electronics die. But if kept up on, an old car can be as sweet as the best merlot.
So, as we’re here in 2021, we’d like to take a look at some of the cars you can import to the USA thanks to the 25-year law. These are some of the forbidden fruits we were denied all those years ago. So, let’s take advantage of Father Time and take a look at some of the best.
Lotus Elise Series 1
Let’s start off with something not from Japan, don’t worry we’ll get there. The first car on our list is from our friends over in the UK. This is the Lotus Elise Series 1. The first in a long line of awesome British sports cars from the little motoring company. I say “little” figuratively, because Lotus has one of the most extensive histories in motorsports, and it shows in the Elise.
When it was first produced in mid-1996, it made up everything Lotus stood for. It may only have 118 horsepower, but with only 1,611 pounds to push around, that’s more than enough. I mean, just look at it, it’s got a big smiley-faced grill and doofy-looking mirrors. It’s a dog with four wheels!
Not only that, the Elise is technically a roadster, so you can enjoy all of your British motoring with the top down. The Series 1 is also one of the company’s best selling models ever. Over 10,000 Series 1’s were sold in its 4-year production run. I know 10,000 doesn’t sound like a lot, but Lotus is an incredibly small company with most of its roots in motorsport. Not too shabby for a bunch of engineers from Norfolk.
So, what can you expect to pay for a Lotus Series 1 in the near future? Estimates come in anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000, depending on the seller and condition. Just remember there may be some other import fees to consider before making the final purchase.
All that said, the Elise Series 1 is an exceptional driver’s car that can also be used for daily duties. A well-balanced chassis and enough power to get the little roadster moving, it’s something that should certainly be on your radar for a late Christmas present.
Okay, the Elise Series 1 is a super sweet do-all car for both daily driving and track days, but what if you have a family? This is where our next car comes into play. We all like our sports cars, but everyone knows a car guy’s real weakness is a good wagon. Something fast, sleek, stylish, and can be used for a Home Depot haul without an issue. One very important wagon is coming up for import eligibility the coming year, the Nissan Stagea.
And before I hear everyone saying that it’s a Skyline wagon, it is actually a different model. Most of the components from the Skyline made it to the Stagea, so if you want a GT-R wagon build, no one’s going to stop you. The Stagea got a version of Nissan’s famous RB-series of straight-six engines. This includes a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter to the 2.6-liter, the same one from the GT-R.
The possibilities to find your perfect spec are endless, from stock models with either rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive to top-spec Stageas given a once over from Autech. This includes a five-speed manual transmission, all-wheel drive, Brembo brakes, BBS forged alloys, and handling upgrades. The interior also gets the GT-R treatment as well. If it was us, that’s the one we’d be looking for. But hey, to each his own, and no matter what you get, you’ll be getting a JDM unicorn.
Model ranges and specs can vary so much with the Stagea, so prices can vary quite a bit as well. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on models before the year 2000. From our research, we were able to find a 1998 model for $21,500. Other models may range depending on where they come from or how they’re spec’d. But no matter what, you’ll be getting a truly unique Japanese wagon.
The Stagea is one of the more practical cars on our list, but let’s fantasize a little more. Let’s take a look at a car that’s completely impractical and will possibly break down everytime you look at it. We’re heading back to the UK for this next car, to a car from one of the most well-known and wackiest companies from Britain.
TVR is known for a lot of things, cars that try to kill you, outrageous power with no weight to anchor it down, horrible ergonomics. Wait, why are we including this car again? Oh yeah, because TVR’s freaking rule. The Cerbera in particular is interesting because it was the first TVR to be powered by an engine developed by TVR themselves.
Engine options are badass, as expected, with the lower option being a 4.2-liter flat-plane-crank V8 making 360 horsepower. If that isn’t enough for your rear-wheel-drive 2,425-pound sports car, there’s a 4.5-liter V8 that could make up to 440 horsepower. Like we said, this car absolutely rules.
There were roughly 1,600 built between the years of 1996 and 2004, so examples may be a little hard to find, but enough research will certainly payoff. Listings tend to range from $15,000 to around $20,000. We found one for sale for $34,500, but that’s because it’s a Factory Development car.
TVR really likes to keep things simple with the amount of trim levels and specs they outfit their cars with. It’s worth all the effort, because you’ll be getting a classic British sports car experience. Just make sure you mind your right foot, TVR’s can be temperamental.
Renault Sport Spider
While we’re on the subject of the EU, let’s take a look at an import of the French variety. This is one of the more bare-bones offerings that you can import in 2021. Renault has been responsible for some of the most unique auto manufacturers from Europe. They have a long history of motorsports expertise and building some really great road cars.
Unfortunately, they’ve stayed securely on foreign shores for most of their history. Thanks to the 25-year import law, we have the chance to finally bring one of their weirder models to the USA. The Sport Spider is a bug-eyed roofless racer for the road that optimizes bare-bones driving.
The chassis was made from aluminum and the body was made from plastic composite. This means the Sport Spider is only hauling around 2,050 pounds through the French countryside. Power comes from 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four from the Clio Williams. Power is matted to a 5-speed manual and sent to the rear wheels. With that lack of weight and modest power, the Sport Spider can still hit 60 miles per hour in less than six seconds, without a windshield that can make you feel like you’re hitting warp-drive.
If you want, you can find a model that was optioned with a windshield, but come on, that wouldn’t be any fun. The Sport Spider was built in the Alpine factory in Dieppe from 1996 to 1999, and only 1,800 were made. Most of them stayed over in Europe, but a few did make it to Canada. Either way, we have a serious corner-carving sports car with a quirky French attitude that’s available for import next year.
So, how much will one of these run you? We found one model for just under $40,000. Not a bad deal for something that unique.
Nissan Skyline GT-R LM Limited
So, let’s move to the motherland of forbidden imports, Japan. And we’ll start this list with a bang, a special edition of a very special Japanese tuning legend. The R33 Skyline became eligible for import last year, but some of the special edition versions are still forbidden fruit. While JDM fans have already been eagerly importing R33’s, the special LM Limited has been limited to Japanese markets only, until now.
The GT-R LM Limited is a special edition of the R33 that ties in Nissan’s Le Mans history. Nissan isn’t known for its efforts in Le Mans, they didn’t win a class win at Le Sarthe, but that didn’t stop them from celebrating with the LM Limited.
This Godzilla came dressed only in Championship Blue with special decals. They also got carbon spoiler blades as well as different cooling ducts and a hood lip. That’s pretty much it, no outrageous performance upgrades or fancy tech, but who’s complaining? Is an R33 GT-R not enough for you? It has special paint for Godzilla’s sake!
Anyway, the homologation special consisted of only 188 models, so pickings may be slim. But a good bit of research will be worth the effort, because you’ll still be picking up a special edition of a special car with a ton of heritage.
Onto the price, and this is where things may sting a little. Because we’re talking about a one-of-188 special edition double extra cheese sports car, they’re going to run a pretty penny. Models we were able to find cost almost $100,000 before import fees. We know that’s a lot for an import, but did we mention the word “special”?
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV
Let’s take a step back for a minute here and look at something that isn’t worth a second mortgage on your house. It’s another JDM racing legend that we’ve gone far too long without here in the States. We here at Ideal are based out of Seattle, and if you know anything about geography, we get our fair share of snow here. Our writer, who’s based out of New England, can sympathize with this. Nothing beats snow and fierce winters better than something with all-wheel drive, and that’s why we’d like to take a look at the Mitusbishi Evo IV.
This is the rally legend from the 1990’s that isn’t a Subaru. The Evo IV was teasing USA citizens with its appearance in Gran Turismo, and now we can have that car in our driveways. Here’s what we’re working with, the Evo IV got more power from the 2.0-liter 4G63T engine thanks to a new intercooler, newly designed multi-link rear suspension, and the mysterious-yet-enticing Active Yaw Control.
Basically, the Active Yaw Control was a computer system built to redistribute power throughout the chassis to better manage torque for cornering. It makes you go faster when the gravel gets loose, in layman’s terms. The 280 horsepower is sent to all four wheels to maximize rally car coolness through the corners, and a 5-speed manual comes standard. It’s the only option, in fact.
The Evo IV came available in either the RS or GSR trims, the RS being the more bare-bones version and the GSR having some more creature comforts. The Evo IV didn’t debut until August of 1996, so we’ll have to wait a while before they can be imported, but the 9,000 that were made should have no issue making their way to the USA. That is, if they haven’t been driven into a ditch by now.
Most models are pretty modestly priced at about $15,000 at the most. So, what’s stopping you from having a rally legend in your driveway? Or in that ditch that you’ve just been dying to send a car into?