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It’s not often that car enthusiasts think to thank a member of the NHTSA for access to enthusiasts’ cars. After all, the 25-year import rule requires us to wait a quarter-century before we can exchange our carefully hoarded cash stores for a previously forbidden import car. However, many fans don’t know that we very nearly had no means of evading the restrictive rules of importing a car for use on American roads. Enter Richard “Dick” Merritt, an undercover car man and lifelong Ferrari fan in a bureaucrat’s role.

Richard “Dick” Merritt is the man behind the 25-year rule, an institution that keeps classic import cars coming

A classic Ferrari like the cars Dick Merritt fell in love with and crafted the 25-year rule for import cars to protect.
A classic Ferrari like the cars Dick Merritt fell in love with | John Keeble, Getty Images

Within the halls of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), dedicated employees evaluate vehicles for safety and roadworthiness. However, the NHTSA isn’t exactly a favorite among enthusiasts. After all, the NHTSA sets and enforces the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) that restrict importation. 

However, it helps to have an ally where the laws are born. Fortunately, Richard “Dick” Merritt was that ally for car enthusiasts. He served as the NHTSA’s Vehicle Compliance Officer. It was there that Merritt created the 25-year rule. It allows classic car enthusiasts to import cars beyond 25 years of age without meeting the strict FMVSS laws. 

Although the 25-year importation rule might seem like a hindrance, it’s a fair compromise for classic car fans with an eye for fantastic foreign rides. What’s more, while in that position, Merritt helped establish the “Show and Display” exemptions so enthusiasts could import gray-market cars, per Hagerty. Today, the NHTSA still carries the show and display allowances, citing that certain cars of “unusual historical or technological significance” qualify. 

The alternative could have been much worse for fans pining after import cars

Sure, we’d all rather be able to slap down our precious earnings and import whatever cars we please. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. But thanks to Merritt, we have a chance to import these cars for display purposes or wait until they’re old enough to surpass the 25-year rule.

Fortunately, that means you can import a R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R this year. Thanks, Merritt.

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