“Coolest Cars To Import” roughly translates to a “cars we were robbed of in the U.S. but now we can import them so who’s laughing now” kind of motif. These cars were all special, and for whatever reason (usually because of strict emissions), at the time of their conception we were denied their essence and soul, instead settling (not by choice) for a hollowed out version or sometimes no version at all.
No more though, thanks to the 25-year import law which allows us American motorists to import a vehicle that’s at least 25 years old, because those cars are no longer confined to the safety regulations of the NHTSA. These are just a few of the many options available to importers. A complete list can be found here.
Nissan’s R32 falls into that “no version at all” category but stands tall among the coolest cars you can import from Japan. The U.S. never saw this generation of GT-R, despite it being one of the coolest cars of the early 1990s. It’s got the famous RB26DETT engine, which stands for Inline-Six (RB) 2.6-liter dual overhead cam, electronically fuel injected (26DE), twin turbo (TT). This engine was mated to a manual gearbox and sent power (intermittently) to all four wheels, but was primarily rear-wheel drive.
It was rated at 276 horsepower, though that number was the official maximum allowed horsepower figure through some sort of “agreement” on behalf of preserving safety. Because this car is now at least 25 years old, you can import one yourself. Depending on where you live, you may need to make it conform to emissions regulations in order to have it registered, but since it’s OBD1 you won’t need to change too much about the car.
You might recognize this car as the beast that roamed the wastelands of the 1980s Mad Max films. This version of the Ford Falcon was only available in Australia. For its time it had the best technology, including a hydraulic clutch, 4-wheel vented disc brakes, power assisted braking and steering. It was like a better version of a Fairlane or Mustang.
It could come with the 351 Cleveland, the 32-valve version of the Windsor as well, so it even had the same engine options as the Mustang at the time. One of the best reasons to import one of these Falcons is that it’s so old that you don’t need to smog it before registering it. Just import it, and drive it off into the sunset. The Falcon XB/GT Coupe isn’t necessarily easy to find, but once you do it’ll be hard to pass up.
Admittedly, North America did get its own version of the Mercedes-Benz 190e 2.5-16 Cosworth, but it was stripped of some heart. The thing that makes this car so special is its engine. It was designed by British manufacturer Cosworth, was a 2.5-liter inline-four with 16 valves, four per cylinder. It was based on a previous engine model which only had 8 valves, two per cylinder. Though this engine was in both the US-spec and Euro-spec 190e, there were a few subtle differences, mainly in horsepower output.
Germany’s version got 186 horsepower, while America’s got somewhere around 167. The difference isn’t all that great, but the German version had a higher compression ratio and redline vs. those of the US-spec, plus the U.S. version was plagued by a much stricter exhaust system. Doesn’t matter as much anymore though, because like the GT-R this engine is OBD1 and can be imported since it’s more than 25 years old.
You’ll see a lot of articles illustrating the woes of North American BMW enthusiasts as they cry driving their US-spec E36 M3. You’d probably cry driving that car too if you knew there was a superior version galavanting around the wide open green meadows of Bavaria. The reason Germany’s version of the E36 M3 was superior is that of its engine. German-spec M3s got the S50B30, where US-Spec M3s got the S50B30US.
While that might sound like a lot of numbers to remember, the most important thing to keep in mind about these engines is aside from the block and capacity they are completely different of each other. The Euro-spec S50 received individual throttle bodies, a higher compression ratio, and different internals which brought the EURO-Spec engine up to 286 horsepower, leaving the US-Spec in the dust at 240. The Euro-spec also gained its top horsepower figure at 7,000 RPM while US’s cut short at 6,000. Tragedy truly befell the BMW M3 community in the 1990s, but now those cars are legally importable so when someone sees your EURO-Spec E36 M3 and thinks it’s nothing special, you’ll know the truth.
Another excellent addition to cars you can import from Japan, Mitsubishi built the performance version of its Lancer, the Evolution, just so it could compete in WRC. The Lancer Evolution originally debuted in Japan in 1992, and unfortunately, the U.S. didn’t get the Evo until its eighth iteration until eleven years later in 2003. The Evolution was a Lancer with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four engine, dubbed the 4GE63T sporting 244 horsepower, AWD and had a limited slip differential (LSD).
The thing to remember about Evolutions is with each generation brought with it a lot of improvements, so each generation is better than the previous. However, this doesn’t stop us from recognizing that the EVO 1 is undoubtedly a cool car.
These are just a few of the coolest cars you can import. The NHTSA’s list is chock-full of other candidates, just waiting to make themselves a new home in North America and finally, we can grace our roads with what they so desperately deserve.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.