Some cool stuff is finally available like the original Lotus Elise, Nissan Stagea, and TVR Cerbera.
It's time to start dreaming about the previously forbidden vehicles that are soon eligible to bring into the United States. The country's byzantine laws surrounding importing automobiles stipulate that the federal safety and emissions standards no longer apply to a vehicle after 25 years from its month of manufacture. This means that foreign models from 1996 are finally possible to drive in America. Let's take a look at some of the amazing, bizarre, and rare machines that you can finally enjoy.
Introduced in September 1996 in Europe, the Ford Ka gave the brand a tiny city car for Europe that slotted beneath the Fiesta in the lineup. It featured charming, bubble-shaped styling that looked very modern at the time. At launch, power came from a 1.3-liter four-cylinder offering either 49 hp (37 kW) or 59 hp (44 kW), depending on the trim level.
As the 25-year-rule makes them more accessible, importing Japan’s kei cars is becoming more popular. The Ka offers an interesting alternative, though, by being readily available in left-hand drive. The layout is going to be far more familiar for American drivers.
Ford Falcon Ute
Ford is about to bring a small, unibody pickup back to its American range with the introduction of the Maverick. If you want to get an alternative, possibly slightly more authentic take on this segment, then the Ford Falcon XH ute becomes legal to import into the US in 2021.
While still mechanically similar to the previous XG model, the XH had a less boxy, more aerodynamic nose. Under the hood, there was a 4.0-liter inline-six driving the rear wheels. If you’re patient wait a year until the 1997 model year is available to import and get one with a 5.0-liter V8.
If the pickup body doesn’t appeal to you, there’s also a panel van variant that seems like an ideal starting point for a camper conversion.
If you’re looking for something quirky, yet luxurious, then check out the Hyundai Dynasty. This high-class sedan was the brand’s range-topping model in South Korea prior to the introduction of the Equus nameplate in the region in 1999.
The Dynasty features a classic three-box shape. The front end has separate, circular lights near the grille, sort of like the contemporary Mercedes-Benz E-Class. At launch, power came from a 3.0-liter V6 driving the front wheels.
Inside, there’s lots of wood trim and leather. Judging by photos, the technology doesn’t seem on par with German or Japanese competitors at the time, but it was still plenty handsome.
The Volvo Sport, also known as the P1900, was a limited-run sports car that was available from just 1956 to 1957. In 1996, Sweden’s Jösse Car attempted to create a spiritual successor by placing a Volvo 3.0-liter inline-six making 201 hp (150 kW) into a lightweight, two-seat sports car. The vehicle was gorgeous, but the automaker folded before even completing 50 cars.
Given the limited production run, you’d probably never see another one of these after importing an example into the US. The many Volvo-sourced mechanical and suspension parts might make maintaining the rare car an easier undertaking.
Lotus Elise Series 1
While Lotus eventually exported the Elise to the US, the original Series 1 version was never available here – at least until now. These cars are featherlight at just 1,598 pounds (725 kilograms). Power comes from a mid-mounted 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 118 hp (88 kW) that runs through a five-speed manual. Later examples had more power but aren’t yet eligible for importation.
The Series 1 Elise has bugeye headlights and generally rounder styling than later iterations. The interior is spartan with lots of exposed metal and no distractions to get in the way of the driver.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV
A new generation of the Lancer meant major revisions for the Evo IV. The body was now slightly longer than before, and the overall style featured smoother lines. The biggest updates were mechanical, though. The rear differential of the range-topping GSR trim now used Mitsubishi’s Active Yaw Control system to channel power side to side between the wheels.
Power still came from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, but the powerplant utilized parts like forged pistons and a twin-scroll turbocharger. Because of the gentleman's agreement among Japanese automakers, Mitsubishi claimed the output at 276 hp (206 kW). The actual figure was likely higher.
Mitsubishi Type 73 Mk2
If you’re looking for a rugged military vehicle that’s doubly special by being from a foreign force, check out the Mitsubishi Type 73 Mk2. It entered service with the Japanese Self Defense Force in 1996 to replace the aging, first iteration of the Type 73 that had been in service since 1973.
The Type 73 Mk2 is based on the short-wheelbase version of the Mitsubishi Pajero, and there’s a removable panel along the sides and roof that allows for open-air driving. Power for these early models comes from a 2.8-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder that runs through a four-speed automatic gearbox to a full-time four-wheel-drive system.
If you love the looks of a classic, British luxury sedan but hate their woeful reliability reputation, then the Mitsuoka Galue might the perfect solution. Mitsuoka is famous for building weird cars, and the Galue is exactly that. It uses the Nissan Crew as a starting point, which is a vehicle that’s generally for taxis in Japan, but there’s a rounded, Rolls-Royce-like nose at the front. The Galue packs a 2.0-liter inline-six and either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic sending power to the rear wheels.
Like the looks of the Galue but want it smaller, then here’s the Mitsuoka Ray. It takes a Mazda Carol and adds a new nose to make the design look more like a 60s European vehicle.
In 1996, Nissan took its popular Skyline sedan and extended the roof to create the Stagea wagon. The range-topping engine at launch was a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-six with 276 hp (206 kW). Buyers could get rear- or all-wheel-drive variants of the estate.
The Stagea is a handsome vehicle and would be an interesting alternative to bringing another Skyline into the country.
Renault Sport Spider
If the Lotus Elise is just too common and practical for you, then here’s the Renault Sport Spider. With total production of around 1,800 units from 1996 to 1998, there aren’t many of these on the road.
The Sport Spider rides on an aluminum chassis with plastic body panels to keep the weight down to 2,050 pounds (930 kilograms). Power comes from a mid-mounted 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 148 hp (110 kW). A five-speed manual sends the power to the rear wheels.
One of the Sport Spider’s weirder features is that at first, it was available only with a tiny windshield and no wipers. A full panel of glass wasn’t an option until 1997.
With its closed grille and tiny, circular headlights, the Tatra 700 has an odd look from the front, but the really bizarre stuff is at the back. This sedan gets power from a rear-mounted, air-cooled 3.5-liter V8 that makes 197 hp (147 kW).
The Czech government was one of the major purchasers of the Tatra 700. They featured a high-class interior with lots of leather and wood.
To make the vehicle even more special, this was the final Tatra passenger car. Production totaled just 75 units, so tracking down a 700 might be a challenge.
We have to be honest, before starting on this list, we had no idea the Toyota Classic even existed. The company introduced the odd vehicle in 1996 to mark the 60th anniversary of launching its first passenger car, the Toyota AA, in 1936.
The Classic has retro styling that evokes the 1930s but with smoother lines that keep it looking somewhat modern. Under the skin, the frame actually comes from the Hilux pickup truck. For power, there’s a 2.0-liter four-cylinder and four-speed automatic gearbox.
Toyota built just 100 examples of the Classic. The original price was 8 million yen or about $75,000 at the time.
The TVR Cerbera is a British grand tourer promising power and style. Unlike most TVRs, it has a 2+2 seating layout, so you can cram people in the back in a pinch. Under the hood, there’s the brand’s own 4.2-liter V8 pumping out 360 hp (268 kW), and this power is driving a vehicle weighing just 2,425 pounds (1,100 kilograms).