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Foreign Cars That Are Illegal in USA

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Why are there Illegal Cars in the USA?

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the governing body in the United States responsible for determining what defines a vehicle as being “safe.” Safe for its passengers, safe for other drivers on the road, safe for the environment and safe for the economy. In protecting all of those assets of American life, there’s a lot of legislation created, and a lot of rules for manufacturers to follow. For those who simply can’t get their car fix in the American auto market, foreign markets offer a variety of vehicles, unlike Uncle Sam’s favorites. However, if you continue to live in the US but have an extreme affinity for importing cars that are illegal in the US, there are some forbidden fruits you may never be able to taste.

As a result, many vehicles created by foreign manufacturers need an American variant able to comply with all of the regulations put forth by the NHTSA, otherwise, it is deemed street illegal cars in the US. Of course, that becomes a large endeavor that many manufacturers aren’t necessarily willing to undertake, and as a result, there’s a significant number of vehicles that cannot be imported into this country.

There’s no question about the fact that the United States car market is missing some key European players. Whether due to lack of market interest, inability to comply with American safety regulations and emissions standards, or the simple inability to fund the import process, thousands of cars are produced every year that will never get the chance to burn rubber on Highway 52 or down US-1.

Lamborghini Countach For Sale

What Cars are Illegal in the US?

1995 Audi RS2 Avant - Foreign Cars That Are Illegal in US

1995 Audi RS2 Avant

Manufactured between March 1994 and July 1995, the Audi RS2 Avant is the first car on the NHTSA’s  list of cars deemed ineligible for import, even under Show and Display Regulations. The 6-speed manual was a collaboration between Audi and Porsche, and has been argued to be the car that successfully established Audi as a producer of practical high-performance cars. The 2.2L 5-cylinder 20v turbo engine can push these wagons from 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds and top out at a max speed of around 162 mph.  Unfortunately for fans in the US of A, the only way to own one of these is to establish residency in another country. Or defect to Canada.

Corvette ZR1 For Sale

BMW-M3-Sport-Evolution-E30-1990- Foreign Cars That Are Illegal in US

1990 BMW M3 Sport Evolution III

With only 600 ever made, the third M3 Sport Evolution featured a 2.5 L engine designed to compete against Audi’s v8. With the creation of the M3 line, BMW designed a new 4-cylinder engine to replace 6 cylinder being used in the E30, which was too long to fit inside a car designed for every-day use. The stock engine created an easy 200 bhp, with the competition spec engine putting out 300 bhp at 8,000 rpm. Though listed as one of the NHTSA’s cars banned in the USA under Show and Display regulations, this should be exempt from the restrictions after 2015.

Jaguar XJ220S - Foreign Cars That Are Illegal in US

1993 Jaguar XJ220-S

The Jaguar XJ220-S only had 6 examples that were produced, but that was enough for the NHTSA to ban them from the United States. The S model was designed to be a street-legal version of the XJ220-C racer. The hidden headlights of the XJ220 were removed in the S model, as well as the base model’s leather trimming. The car’s engine was tuned to produce a neck-breaking 690 hp.

1998_lamborghini_strosek_diablo-1 - Foreign Cars That Are Illegal in US

1993 Lamborghini Strosek Diablo

Designer Vittorio Strosek took the famous Lamborghini Diablo and modified its body, thinking it was too subtle. Modifications included the replacement of the front and rear bumper with much rounder versions, replaced headlights and turn signals, side mirrors that were placed high up on the doors, and much more.

Lotus Elise S1 - Foreign Cars That Are Illegal in US
(comp.co.uk)

1996-2001 Lotus Elise S1 and the 2000 340R

Despite an output of only 118 bhp, the Lotus Elise S1 was able to accelerate from 0 to 60 in 5.8 seconds due to its 1,600 lb weight. Capable of speeds up to 150 mph, the Elise was named after Elisa, the granddaughter of the company chairman at the time of release, Romano Aritoli. The 340R was released as a limited edition model of the Elise, with only 340 ever produced. The name 340R originally referred to the power-weight ratio of the prototype, which churned out 177 bhp at a weight of 1,100 lbs. It later came to refer to the number produced when the final production found the car at a weight of 1,550 lbs.

morgan 62 - Foreign Cars That Are Illegal in US
lemans62.org.uk

2002 Morgan Le Mans ’62 Prototype

In 2002, Morgan created 80 limited edition anniversary models of the 1962 Le Mans, as well as one prototype. Each came with its number engraved on both the steering wheel and on a plaque in the console, with the prototype detailed as car “00.” Once the line was launched, all 80 vehicles were allocated to owners within 72 hours. The cars are as accurate as possible to the original model, including the installation of only one door handle, on the driver’s side.

NIssan GTR R34 - Foreign Cars That Are Illegal in US
flipacars.com

1999 Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R V-spec

                Rival to the Toyota Supra and Mazda RX-7, the Nissan R34 GT-R V-spec boasted some of the most advanced technology that a 1999 car could. It was one of the first to introduce a display screen on the dashboard that listed various statistics about the engine and car during operation, including a reading of the amount of G-forces the car was experiencing. The driver’s seat had a computer jack hidden under its seat skirt to enable uploading information from the car’s system to a laptop for analysis. A quick search around the internet instantly shows the Skyline to be the most hotly requested model of the NHSTA’s cars banned in America list. Other banned Skylines are the 1995 GTS-T, R32 GT-R’s built between 1989 and 1994, the 1995 R33 GT-R, 1995 and 1996 R33 GT-R V-spec’s, the 1994 R34, the 1999 R34 GT-T and the 2001 R34 25GT-T.

Alfa Romeo 8C Spider (Source: Alfa Romeo)

Make: Alfa Romeo

Model: 8C Spider Roadster

Years: 2010

1993 Aston Martin Virage Volante (Source; Bonhams Auctions)

Make: Aston Martin

Model: Virage Volante

Years: 1993

Porsche 964 RS (Source: Total911.com)

Make: Porsche

Model: 959S

Years: 1989

Model: 962 RLR

Years: 1990

Model: 964 RS

Years: 1992

TVR Tuscan (Source: TVRblog.com)

Make: TVR

Model: Sagaris, T350, Tuscan, Cerbera

Years: 1996-2006

Coolest Cars For Sale

Other cars that are ineligible for import, as outlined by the NHTSA’s May 28, 2013 list, for show and display are listed here, alphabetized by make:

Check out the full list of cars rejected for Show and Display here (organized by alphabetically by manufacturer):

Alfa Romeo8C Spider Roadster2010
ApriliaMoto 6.51995
Aston MartinVirage Volante1993
AudiAvant RS21995
BancroftRoadster1993
Beijing Auto. Ind. HoldingRodedawg2005
BMWM3 Cabriolet1989
BMWM3 Sport Evolution III1990
ChevroletJimmy1998-2009
Crosslander244X2005
Daimler-Chrysler
Smart Car2000
Fiat126 P2000
Fiat500 Abarth2008
HondaBeat1991 – 1996
HondaCivic Type-R1997-2000
HondaCRX Exclusive1989
JaguarXJ 220 S (race car)1993
LamborghiniStrosek Diablo1993
Land RoverDefender 1302000 – 2001
Lotus340 R2000
LotusElise S11996 – 2001
MazdaCosmo1992
MitsubishiLancer Evolution Tommi Makinen Edition RD- RHD2000
MorganLeMans ’62 Prototype2002
NissanFigaro1990 – 1991
NissanPulsar1991
Nissan Silvia2002
NissanSkyline GTS-T1995
NissanSkyline GT-R Autech Version 40th Anniversary Edition1998
NissanSkyline R32 GT-R1989 – 1994
NissanSkyline R33 GT-R1995
NissanSkyline R33 GT-R V-Spec1995-1996
NissanSkyline R341999
NissanSkyline R34 GT-R V-Spec1999
NissanSkyline R34 GT-T1999
NissanSkyline R34 25GT-T2001
PegasoZ-1031991
Porsche959 S (race car)1989
Porsche962 RLR1990
Porsche964 RS1992
PorscheCarrera 4 Lightweight (race car)1990
RoverMini Cooper1995, 1998 – 2000
RoverMini Cooper RSP / LE1990
Saab9-5 SportCombi2012
SkodaFabia Greenline II2012
SmartCrossblade2002
ToyotaHDJ81 Land Cruiser1990
ToyotaSera1991
ToyotaSupra1994
TrabantP6011989
TVRSagaris, T350, Tuscan, Cerbera1996-2006
VolkswagenBeetle (Old Style)2000
VolkswagenBeetle (Ultimate Edition)2003
VolkswagenBeetle (Ultima Edition)2004
VolkswagenCorrado Magnum Sport Kombi1990

For fans and collectors with adequate time and money, there are ways around this. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that if a car is not being imported by a business entity, that is, if a private citizen plans the import, there are certain stipulations that must be met. These vehicles can be imported for show and display, provided they meet the following requirements:

  1. No other vehicle of the same make, model, and model year was manufactured and/or certified for sale in the United States.
  2. No other vehicle of the same make, model, and model year has been determined eligible for importation under 49 CFR Part 593, which pertains to the importation of vehicles by business entities.
  3. The vehicle is not currently in production.
  4. Less than 500 of the vehicles were produced, unless it is proven to the NHTSA that the vehicle is of extreme technological and/or historical importance
  5. The vehicle was not created as a kit car, replica, or special construction vehicle.

Of course, there are plenty of cars that do not meet those requirements. But the NHTSA has done applicants a favor and crafted a list of cars that are definitely not approved for import. However, there is a clause stating that cars over 25 years old are exempt from show and display regulations, meaning many of these could be pulled off the list rather soon.

(Source: NHTSA.gov)