25 Exotic Cars You Can’t Have in America

Let’s say you had a big chunk of cash in the bank and came across a car you simply must have. The only problem is, this car exists only in Europe or Japan. No one ever bought or sold one in America, and U.S. regulators never ran safety tests on it. Even if you have the money to cover import all the fees, you might still have a problem on your hands.

Certainly, there are ways to get obscure foreign cars into the U.S. even when the vehicle never ran our safety gauntlet. But the process is complicated, as Jalopnik once detailed. In one scenario, you would have to sponsor crash tests to get a car into compliance. This process forces you to buy multiple models of the same car. What you thought was an $80,000 project could easily run you four or five times that amount.

On the other hand, you could get a “Show or Display” exemption if the vehicle is rare enough. This certification means you could show off and drive your dream car for up to 2,500 miles a year. Also, most cars over 25 years old bypass regulatory hurdles and can be imported with minimal hassle. But there are exceptions. The NHTSA maintains a list of vehicles that seemingly should be legal but are not. As you might have guessed, some are extremely unique and highly desirable.

Here are 25 exotic cars you can’t drive in America, no matter how hard you try.

1. Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Lightweight

1990 Porsche 911 Carrera 4RS Lightweight
1990 Porsche 911 Carrera 4RS Lightweight | Bonhams

You have probably heard of rare Porsches in the past, but few compare to the 1990 Carrera 4RS Lightweight. According to Bonhams, where an exquisite model sold for $139,000 in 2009, only 20 models of the lightweight Carrera 4RS ever left the factory. These special models produced 300 horsepower (40 more than the standard 4RS) and dispensed with the catalytic converter and muffler. To make one ready for America, you’d have to do the impossible task of emissions compliance.

2. Pegaso Z-103

1991 Pegaso Z-103 kit car
1991 Pegaso Z-103 SS1 | Motor y Racing

In 1991, with the intention of restoring the glory of the Pedro Serra-designed Pegaso Z-103 of the 1950s, a group of British investors commissioned 11 replica models to be built. (For more of the story and to brush up on your Spanish, see this informative Pegaso site.) However, the NHTSA has a thing against importing kit cars, and that means the ’91 versions of Pegaso Z-103 will remain forbidden fruit for American drivers.

3. Nissan Pulsar GTI-R

1991 Nissan Pulsar GTI-R
1991 Nissan Pulsar GTI-R | Nissan

In case you were waiting util 2016 to import a ’91 Nissan Pulsar GTI-R … you may stop waiting. This Pulsar edition turned 26 in 2017 yet remains on the NHTSA no-go list published as recently as February ’17. This little hatchback had 227 horsepower and the ability to sprint to 60 miles per hour in 5.0 seconds. One edition had antilock braking systems (ABS) removed in order to boost performance, which is why regulators put it on the banned list. Nonetheless, some examples of dubious legality have made it to America.

4. Morgan Roadster

V6 Roadster with Ford engine
Morgan Roadster | Morgan

Imagine buying several versions of the Morgan V6 Roadster in order to destroy them and import one to America. That seems cruel, but even after it looked like this classic model would get clearance to join the party, the NHTSA again omitted the Roadster from its list of eligible vehicles in 2017. There are no airbags or other modern-day safety nuisances, naturally, but Morgan drop-tops may receive an exemption for its classic style. Aero 8, on the other hand, already got clearance for the U.S.

5. TVR Sagaris

TVR Sagaris
TVR Sagaris in “pearlescent chili” red | Hilton & Moss

British automaker TVR dealt exclusively in high-end sports cars for European and Japanese consumers, and the U.S. market was never a concern. Considering cars like the handsome Sagaris had no ABS or airbags, the NHTSA had an easy call in banning them from America. Enthusiasts can turn to older models like the Chimaera or Griffith if they simply must have a TVR. Otherwise, most of the brand’s offerings since 1996 are off-limits.

6. Peugeot RCZ

Peugeot RCZ
2014 Peugeot RCZ | Peugeot

Between 2010 and 2015, French automaker Peugeot produced the much-loved RCZ coupe. This car had the style, thump (up to 266 horsepower), and price tag (around $32,000) to get European enthusiasts’ hearts racing. However, like every other Peugeot, it was never planned for U.S. release. So most Americans only RCZ encounters are going to have to stay in movies like the 2013 Will Smith-Margot Robbie picture Focus.

7. 1988 Jaguar XJ12

1988 Jaguar Xj12
1988 Jaguar XJ with V12 engine | eBay Canada

It’s hard to get enough of classic Jaguars from the period where chrome still ruled and a V12 was the engine of choice. Unfortunately, the 1988 XJ12 only had the green light in Canada and other foreign markets, so this one remains on the NHTSA list of illegal models. American Jaguar fans managed to sneak a few of these models into the States over the years, but we have not seen any model with current plates as of 2017.

8. Lotus Exige S

Exige S by Lotus (V6)
Lotus Exige S | Lotus

GM actually owned British sports car maker Lotus in the 1980s, but Europeans were back in charge as of 1993. The foreign pedigree nearly ensures all newer Lotus models will be on the list of vehicles you can’t have in America. In the case of Exige S, U.S. consumers won’t be getting behind the wheel of this lightweight, V6-powered right-drive model any time soon. Try for the 2011 Lotus Evora GTE F1 limited-edition model, which has an exemption for U.S. import, if you can find one.

9. Noble M600

M600 supercar
Noble M600 | Noble

In one of the more amusing episodes of Top Gear, you will find Jeremy Clarkson about to lose his lunch while skidding out in a Noble M600. Clarkson was both thrilled and terrified by the stripped-down, safety-be-damned profile of the M600. Since it’s one of the fastest cars ever produced (No. 14 to be exact) and never bothered with safety standards, it would be difficult to sneak one into the U.S.

10. Lamborghini Strosek Diablo

Lambo Strosek Diablo from 1993
1993 Lamborghini Strosek Diablo | Lamborghini

Lamborghini’s Diablo featured the sort of engine you expect from a legendary beast: a 5.7-liter, 48-valve, V12 with dual overhead cams. That provided 485 horsepower and, when necessary, got you to 60 miles per hour in about 4.5 seconds, so feel free to merge. There are several models you can import to the U.S. from over the years, but the Strosek Diablo from 1993 is a no-go.

11. Weismann GT MF5

Weismann GT MF5
2011 Weismann GT MF5 | Classic Drive

The 2011 Wiesmann GT MF5 offers a unique example of why some cars find trouble entering the U.S. On the one hand, it is certainly rare enough to pass the test with 20 models in existence. However, U.S. safety compliance would be an extreme long shot. Finding one to buy would be something of a miracle; finding three or more and wrecking them at the cost of $1 million would be both impossible and stupid.

12. Porsche 959 S

1989 Porsche 959
While only a few hundred units of Porsche exist, only a few dozen of the racing variant left the factory. | Porsche

Back in the late 1980s, Porsche produced 29 units of the 959 sports (S) variant. These gems produced 575 horsepower, which made it one of the first production cars to top the 200 mile per hour mark. Indeed, this model is one of the most exclusive Porsches around, and the last one to sell (a 1988 edition) brought in $1.1 million. After nearly three decades, the government refused to give a “Show or Display” exemption for a 1989 model.

13. Nissan Skyline GTS-T

1995 Nissan Skyline 32R GTS-T
1995 Nissan Skyline 32R GTS-T | Nissan

Of all the vehicles on the list of the banned, none factors in more heavily than Nissan Skyline, which in some trims was known as Godzilla. There are nine separate editions over 16 model years that the NHTSA denies would-be importers. Meanwhile, there are three models (including a 1999 G34 V-SPEC) that have been cleared for U.S. roads. In any case, the ’95 Skyline 32R GTS-T four-door remains prohibited. It is the grand tourer of the bunch, as opposed to the GTR coupes that packed a bit more muscle.

14. TVR T350

TVR T350
2007 TVR T350C | TVR

The TVR T350 falls under the blanket ban of all cars manufactured by this company — no airbags, no service — between 1996 and 2006. Coupe versions featured 3.6-liter engines capable of 350 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque, which allowed TVR to sprint to 60 miles per hour in under 4.5 seconds. There was actually a 400-horsepower version of this car (also banned) that tore up the asphalt at even faster rates.

15. Jaguar XJ220S

jaguar xj 220s
1993 Jaguar XJ220S | RM Auctions

When poring over the list of cars deemed illegal for import, you can’t help noticing a few subplots. Take the 1993 Jaguar XJ200S as an example. Jaguar made 350 of the XJ220 line at the time, and reserved nine for either GT racing mods (3) or the S line (6). Of the six that became XJ220S, only one received papers to drive legally in America, and it is the pictured model sold in 2012. The other five, which also feature 680 horsepower matched to a 2,400-pound weight, are illegal for U.S. import.

16. Morgan LeMans ’62 Prototype

Lemans '62 protoype
2002 Morgan Plus 8 Le Mans ’62 | Morgan

Back in 2002, when Morgan was planning to build 80 units of the Le Mans ’62, the automaker began with a prototype. According to the car’s dedicated website, that prototype was then finished to the regular Plus 8 standard and sold to a buyer in Sweden. Should anyone in the U.S. ever find a way to track that car down, they would need to get through the ban the NHTSA maintains on it. Fortunately, the other 80 models are fair game, and one American buyer has one in his California garage.

17. Lotus 340R

2000 Lotus 340R
2000 Lotus 340R | Lotus

With a quick glance, you can see everything that’s missing in a Lotus 340R. There are no windows, no trunk. no radio inside. and no door handles, (or doors, for that matter). These cuts allowed it to weigh in below 1,500 pounds and, given an engine capable of 178 horsepower, made it blast off when you stepped on the accelerator. Lotus only made 340 of the Elise-inspired 340R, and none have the green light to enter a U.S. garage. 

18. Honda Civic Type R

First Civic Type R 1997
1997 Honda Civic Type R | Honda

We stuck mostly to European exotics here, but there is no shortage of fans for Japanese models like Skyline or this original Honda Civic Type R. Honda released the Japan-only hot hatch in 1997, and it was clear that its performance upgrades would not meet emissions standards. So the Type R stayed abroad, the NHTSA chalked it up on the banned list (models from 1997 through 2000), and that was that…until 2017, when the first U.S. version makes its debut.

19. TVR Tuscan

TVR Tuscan | TVR

The 2001 film Swordfish featured a scantily clad Halle Berry, John Travolta with weird facial hair, Hugh Jackman with gold-hoop earrings, and plenty of explosions. But the film also featured an unforgettable, chameleon blue TVR Tuscan (see below). Like every other TVR from the era, it was a right-drive model built for UK markets. And like every other Tuscan from the era, you cannot import one to drive here.

20. Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake
2014 Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake | Jaguar

Powerful luxury wagons are not a thing in America, no matter how much fans protest. U.S. consumers decided long ago that SUVs were their utility models of choice, and prized models by Saab and Audi slipped past us. That trend continued with the lethal Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake of 2014. Its V8 delivered 542 horsepower and shot the big cat to a top speed of 186 miles per hour. The XF wagon, a lesser model on every level, might make its way to America late in 2017.

21. Ford Falcon Ute

Ford Falcon Ute
2016 Ford Falcon Ute | Ford Australia

The Ford pickup legend continues in America after more than a century of different models. However, after all these years, no one is driving a low-slung, El Camino-style Ford Falcon Ute. This Australian-built model successfully blends muscle car and pickup, featuring 362 horsepower 393 pound-feet of torque in the most capable model. Americans can import one from 1992 or earlier, but they won’t have the modern tech or design cues of recent Ford winners, the last of which left the factory in 2016.

22. Porsche Carrera 964 RS

Carrera 964 RS
1992 Porsche Carrera 964 RS | Porsche

When Porsche rolled out the 964 sub-series of the 911 in 1992, the automaker made 290 track-ready copies to European specs. Lighter in weight with more power than standard models, enthusiasts have been on the hunt for this car since it appeared. Americans had a glimpse at one model at the 2017 Amelia Island auctions, but there was no indication it is legal for import. The latest NHTSA banned list includes the ’92 964 RS.

23. TVR Cerbera

1996-2003 Cerbera
TVR Cerbera | TVR

While any TVR provides thrills, a 1996 Cerbera V8 promises to send drivers into convulsions with 420 horsepower. At the time of its release, this car was a steal for the level of speed it delivered for drivers at a cost far below its competitors. In fact, by hitting 60 miles per hour in 4.0 seconds flat, Cerbera resided in the class of Bugatti EB110 and models by Ferrari and Lamborghini. Alas, this car never got built to U.S. spec and remains illegal to import as of 2017.

24. 1987 BMW M6

1987 BMW M6

Some 30 years have passed since the 1987 BMW M6 released the inner child of Car and Driver reviewers. One by one, each driver who got behind the wheel reported an experience for the ages. That year, M6 was one of the fastest cars in America. However, fewer than 1,800 sold, and those who want to bring in a European-spec model face an NHTSA ban.

25. Lotus Elise S1

Lotus Elise
1998 Lotus Elise | Lotus

When it made the Elise Series One in the late 1990s, Lotus aimed to get the most kick it could out of 118 horsepower. Stripping Elise of side windows, airbags, and an air conditioner, this car weighed just 1,611 pounds. That ratio allowed drivers to sprint to 60 miles per hour in just six seconds, feeling every rev along the way. Americans can bring in models from the second generation, but the first run (1996 through 2001) remains off-limits.

Source: NHTSA