American car consumers can’t have it all, but they can come close. There are nearly 300 nameplates on sales when they go shopping for a new vehicle. If that selection doesn’t cut it, many foreign models are available for import if you’re willing to pony up for shipping costs.
For those who still can’t find that dream car, there is the potential to get special permission for a vehicle to enter the country “for show or display.” Owners can only drive these cars a few thousand miles a year, but that’s more than enough for a one-of-a-kind exotic.
Then there are vehicles banned in America under any and all circumstances. Whether considered too dangerous for even a little driving on U.S. roads or otherwise toxic on Route 66, American enthusiasts must love them from afar. Here are 30 illegal cars you can’t bring into the country.
1. 2003 TVR Tuscan
TVR cars produced between 1996 and 2006 are banned in America, and the 2003 Tuscan featured in the John Travolta film Swordfish is among them. Known for their extraordinary acceleration and lack of airbags or antilock brakes, it would take some doing to make a Tuscan street-legal in America.
2. 1993 Lamborghini Strosek Diablo
We admit there is a very short list of people who would be able to afford and/or find this car. However, if the stars aligned and snatching a Lamborghini Strosek Diablo became feasible, you still couldn’t stash it in a U.S. garage. No need to get too deep here: Just look at the side mirrors and miniscule headlights to see how it shuns American safety regulations.
3. 2004 Volkswagen Beetle ‘Ultima Edicion’
The last edition of the Mexican-built Volkswagen Beetle (2004) is cool for so many reasons, and not a long-distance lift for those hoping for a low-impact auto import. Unfortunately, “Ultima Edicion” is banned for safety reasons, as are the 2000 and 2003 editions. You have to get a Tesla if you want a trunk in the front.
4. 1993 Jaguar XJ220S
Though times change, any car with the title of “fastest on earth” at one point in its history will be a hot commodity. Factor in the high style of the Jaguar XJ220S and the fact only six were ever made and you have a seriously rare ticket. However, only one of those six has ever been allowed to enter the U.S. The other five remain banned.
5. Lotus Elise Series 1
Weighing in at less than 1,600 pounds, the Lotus Elise manages to accelerate to 60 miles per hour in less than six seconds without much in the way of horsepower. However, this purist approach (no roof, no windows) never worked for regulators. Every model year of Elise Series 1 (1996 to 2001) is on the NHTSA blacklist.
6. 2002 Morgan LeMans ’62 Prototype
Good luck finding any Morgan you can drive in America. The automaker’s U.S. contact — the unfortunately named Isis Imports — lists a grand total of three cars from the last 50 model years on its website, and one is a three-wheeler. If you wanted to get one in under the show-and-display exemption, this LeMans ’62 prototype from 2002 is not an option.
7. Honda Beat
Working with a Pininfarina design, Honda put together this little rear-wheel-drive, mid-engine sports car in the early 1990s. It never sold in high volumes and production remained exclusively in Japan. Enthusiasts hoping to get one for showcasing in America are out of luck.
8. 1999 Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R
Any banned car nicknamed “Godzilla” is the stuff legends are made of in America. The 1999 Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec and GT-T are two examples of the many Skyline models outlawed between the 1989 and 2001 production years. They just weren’t built for speeding down U.S. roadways.
9. 1992 Mazda Cosmo
The elegant Mazda Cosmo coupe would have been the automaker’s early answer to Lexus in the early ’90s, but those plans were scrapped. Instead of launching a premium brand (which would have been called “Amati”), Mazda kept its footprint in America light. This car remained a Japan-only model, and it’s on the list of vehicles banned in America.
10. 2008 Fiat 500 Abarth
U.S. consumers got the Fiat 500 Abarth beginning in 2010. For those who wanted a European model to show off to enthusiast friends, that would not be possible: This 2008 model is on the list of vehicles banned in America.
11. 2012 Lotus 340R
The Lotus 340R is one of the few cars with no doors (let alone windows or a roof), and U.S. regulators took the easy way by banning the 340 editions made. As stripped-down racers go, the 340R is tough to beat. Inside are two bucket seats and just about nothing else.
12. 2012 Saab 9-5 Sportcombi
At the 2011 Geneva Auto Show, Saab showed off the 9-5 Sportcombi wagon and said it was coming to the U.S. as a 2012 model. Following the company bankruptcy, things changed, though several Sportcombis had been produced. American buyers who are hoping to find one at auction would not be able to import it — it’s banned on this side of the Atlantic.
13. 1992 Smart Crossblade
If you thought the run-of-the-mill Smart car was dangerous, check out the Crossblade. This mini model from 1992 foregoes doors, windows, and a roof, among other things. Naturally, it never made the cut as a U.S.-bound model, although that might be a good thing.
14. 1995 Rover Mini Cooper
Classic Mini Coopers have obvious appeal to collectors. In the case of the 1995 Rover model, this edition will have to stay outside of the U.S. The pictured model was once part of John Cooper’s personal collection, if that makes it any more frustrating.
15. 2010 Alfa Romeo 8C Spider Roadster
With any other car making its way to America, there are pesky safety issues for automakers to manage. In the development of the Alfa Romeo Spider 8C Roadster, America was not a priority; as a result, we’re forced to miss out on one of Alfa Romeo’s greatest cars of the 21st century so far.
16. 1994 Toyota Supra
Having trouble finding a ’94 Supra built for the U.S. market? If so, the solution will not be importing one from abroad. It’s on the NHTSA’s blacklist. Only that model year has the ban, however, so you have some wiggle room.
17. 1992 Porsche Carrera 911 RS (964)
Is the 1992 Porsche RS 964 — or 911 Carrera RS (964) — illegal in America because the name is too complex for regulators to handle? No, there are other reasons (mostly of the emissions and safety variety) why this lightweight European burner can’t enter the country. It can hit top speeds over 160 miles per hour.
18. 1993 Aston Martin Virage Volante
Chances are no one reading this will ever see a 1993 Aston Martin Virage Volante, of which 13 were made. The Virage Volante pictured from a Hemmings listing was one of five built with manual transmission, and it is the only known model with papers allowing it on U.S. roads. All 12 others are banned.
19. 2012 Skoda Fabia Greenline II
Why the hell would anyone want to import this car, you ask? The tiny (15-inch) wheels and ugly-box look might turn off most buyers, but the stunning economy (83 miles per gallon in the U.K., on the European cycle) is enough to discourage late-model Prius owners. Whatever opinion you may have, it won’t matter when you try to import it.
20. TVR Sagaris
Joining the Tuscan and other banned TVR models is the Sagaris from 2005 and 2006. This stylish coupe offers about 380 horsepower and weighs less than 2,500 pounds, so you can blast to 60 miles per hour in fewer than four seconds. Just don’t plan on doing it in America.
21. 1991 Nissan Figaro
Nissan launched this little throwback car overseas in 1991 and it has been on the NHTSA blacklist ever since. Only 12,000 were produced and doled out via a buyer’s lottery, and CD players came standard in the original models. Overseas, you can pick one up for under $10,000.
22. 1995 Audi Avant RS2
Americans have been pining for powerful German-built wagons for years, and the Audi Avant RS2 from ’95 was probably on many wishlists out there. After all, a low-slung utility vehicle that can sprint to 60 in five seconds and top 160 miles per hour isn’t for sale in
every any dealership. A 1995 RS2 won’t be the solution.
23. 2000 Fiat 126p
The Polish-built model of the Fiat 126 sold to over 4.5 million customers and achieved symbolic heft as the first “people’s car” in the post-Communist state. So maybe this car has most appeal for history buffs and/or opponents of late-20th-century leftist regimes. But that still won’t let you get it into the country.
24. TVR Cerbera
Those who appreciate TVR design and performance are without luck when looking at model year 1996 through 2005. Specifically, add to the list the 1996 Cerbera, which offered 420 horsepower and a zero-to-60 time of 3.9 seconds. It just wasn’t built with U.S. drivers in mind.
25. 1987 BMW M6
By any account, the 1987 BMW M6 was everything it was cracked up to be. Car and Driver gushed over it in a contemporary review, and three decades later enthusiasts still want a piece. However, importing this model won’t be on the agenda, so you have to limit the list to those already here.
26. 1989 Porsche 959 S
The Porsche 959 S is the very-limited-edition racing variant of the already rare group of supercars built in the late ’80s. As you might guess, only a few were built and none of the standard models were built to U.S. specs. Naturally, 959 racers are banned from America decades later.
27. 1985 Citroen 2CV Dolly
A Citroen 2CV Dolly is going to be one of the quirkier cars you’ll ever see on U.S. roads. Yet because of the specs of the 1985 model, you’ll never see a Dolly from that year. The NHTSA has this minor classic on its blacklist.
28. 1991 Toyota Sera
Who said only supercars get butterfly doors? Toyota put them on the Sera hatchback coupe that had a run from 1990 through 1995 in Japan. Though many have been exported to enthusiasts abroad, the 1991 model remains off-limits in America.
29. 1990 Porsche Carrera 4 Lightweight
At times, this NHTSA blacklist will seem downright cruel. We present the 1990 Porsche 911 Carrera 4RS Lightweight as an example. Most people have never heard of it and only 20 were made, so it’s already an extreme long-shot. But if you tracked it down somehow and had a few hundred grand to nab one, you still couldn’t import it.
30. TVR T350
Rounding out the list is the fourth TVR to get the hex between model years 1996 and 2006. The T350, a lightweight speedster that could hit 60 miles per hour in under five seconds, existed for five years beginning in 2002. Since all were built to foreign specifications, NHTSA says no to importing each and every one.
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