A long, magical time ago — let’s call it the 1980s — Americans could import any car they wanted, so long as it passed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards. So if you wanted a Lamborghini Countach, but Lambo didn’t import them, you could buy one yourself, take it to a “grey market” shop, have them federalize it (install bumpers, lights, and emissions equipment to bring it up to U.S. standards), and you were home free. Sure, it cost a small fortune to do it — According to The New York Times, it almost doubled the price of your Countach — but it was a popular enough practice that it made some automakers nervous.
In 1988, a group of companies led by Mercedes-Benz successfully lobbied Congress to shut down grey market imports, and since 1998, it’s been illegal to import any car newer than 25 years old (with some very rare exceptions). So every year, collectors begin the countdown for a new generation of young-timer classics to reach our shores. With 2017 right around the corner, that means Europe and Japan’s class of 1992 is about to be fair game.
And ’92 was an interesting year in the automotive world. Quickly moving away from the designs of the ’80s, these cars began to show a style all their own. In Japan, a wave of specialty cars hit the market just as the economic bubble burst, leaving a generation of fascinating, low-production cars to fend for themselves in a shrinking market. In Europe, specialty-built performance cars were still the cream of the crop, regardless of whether they came from Ford or Bugatti.
Since the law states that the exact car you’re importing has to be built more than 25 years ago, you’ll still need to be careful if you’re planning on importing a ’92 this year. But if you’re ready to take the plunge, but aren’t sure for what yet, we think any of these 10 will make a great addition to our roads.
1. 1992-1997 Honda Beat
Arguably one of the coolest cars ever built by Honda, the Beat was a Pininfarina-designed, mid-engined roadster that never made it to our shores. Nearly 11 feet long, 3.5 feet tall, and tipping the scales at just 1,600 pounds, the Beat looks ridiculously small compared to most cars on American roads, but its great handling, crisp five-speed manual gearbox, and Honda reliability make for an unforgettable driving experience.
2. 1992-1996 Ford Escort RS Cosworth
Do you love the new Focus RS, but can’t get your hands on one for some reason? Try the Escort RS Cosworth, a car that’s already a bona-fide performance classic in Europe. Built as a rally homologation special, the Cossie was less an Escort than a purpose-built performance machine hidden under a familiar hatchback body. In stock form, the car’s 2.0 liter turbocharged inline-four sent 227 horsepower to all four wheels. Tuning companies have since been able to safely boost the engine to 1,000 horses.
3. 1992-1993 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution I
2016 saw the end of the Mitsubishi Lancer, gone after 10 generations. But we didn’t get the car until the eighth, and most versions are still forbidden fruit for Americans. Thankfully, the original Evo I is now 25, which means it’s fair game. Just 5,000 were built, so it’s a bit of a rare bird, but if you’re a collector with a soft spot for Mitsu’s legendary rally-fighters, you should put this at the top of your list.
4. 1992-1995 Autozam AZ-1
One of the strangest — and coolest — cars to ever come out of Japan, the AZ-1 was a Mazda-built, mid-engined kei car with gull-wing doors. Looking like a three-quarter size blend of the Acura NSX and Ferrari F40, the AZ-1 was well-received by the automotive press, but a high price and economic recession doomed the car in its home market. Just under 5,000 were built, but the car has become popular with Canadian collectors, so there are already quite a few in North America. There are even shops up North that will convert them to left hand drive.
5. 1992-1997 Suzuki Cappuccino
Suzuki’s Honda Beat/Autozam AZ-1 competitor launched in Japan in 1991, but it debuted in Europe the following year. Like the Beat, it offered affordable roadster thrills in a shockingly small package, and like the AZ-1, it had a few tricks up its sleeve. The car’s three removable roof panels could transform the Cappuccino into a coupe, targa, or full convertible. If you’re looking for a rare and affordable classic, and want something even smaller than a Miata, then Suzuki’s sports car might be the one for you.
6. 1990-1995 Mazda Eunos Cosmo
Early third-generation Cosmos have been legal for a few years now, but like most complex cars, they got better and more refined with time. The Cosmo was Mazda’s vision of the future: With a standard color touchscreen, GPS, and phone that could be accessed through the car’s stereo, it was unlike anything else on the roads. But the car was prohibitively expensive for a recession-laden Japan, and fewer than 9,000 were sold over a five-year run. Call us greedy, but we’d love to see a lot more of these stateside.
7. 1992-2003 TVR Chimaera
Appropriately named after a mythical creature made from the parts of different animals, British boutique automaker TVR launched the Chimaera to serve as a grand touring counterpart to the more performance-focused Griffith. Powered by a Rover V8, the Chimaera proved to be one of the most popular later TVR models. Now, American collectors will be able to see why this car has such a cult following across the pond.
8. 1992-1994 Bugatti EB 110 SS
Before it was bought by Volkswagen, Bugatti was a startup supercar maker hoping to get off the ground with the EB110, the first car to wear the Bugatti name in four decades. Launched a year after the standard EB110, the SS was a lightweight, V12-powered brute with 610 horsepower and a top speed of 216 miles per hour. The car became a favorite of racing legend Michael Schumacher; now, wealthy American collectors can finally find out why.
9. 1992 Porsche 911 Carrera RS
The RS was a lightweight, track-focused, 290 horsepower performance version of the 911. Unfortunately, Porsche decided that the stripped-down car was too “aggressive” for the American market, so it stayed in Europe. After enthusiasts protested, we got the RS America in ’93 and ’94, but it wasn’t quite the street-legal racer the original car was. Now collectors can finally experience what they missed out on 25 years ago.
10. 1992-1994 Alfa Romeo RZ
The 1989 to ’91 Alfa SZ’s design was so polarizing that the automotive press dubbed it “Il Monstro.” But if you get past Zagato’s controversial styling, the SZ, and RZ roadster (which replaced the coupe in ’92) were exotic, coach-built, ultra-rare Italian performance cars from an era when cars like that were rapidly disappearing. If you play your cards right (and have a lot of cash on hand), you could be one of the first people to bring an RZ to our shores.