The class of 1996 has some interesting options.
Due to a strange law called the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988, vehicles that were not originally sold in the United States can not be imported until they are 25 years old. This means every year, we get to write about a new crop of cars that can be imported into the country. Last year for 2020, the importable cars from 1995 included some heavy hitters like the R33 Nissan Skyline GT-R and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III.
This year's list features cars from 1996, though be sure to check the build date of the specific vehicle you want to bring into the country because that will specify exactly when the car is eligible to import. We've picked some great options from Japan, UK, and France that can be imported in 2021.
The US didn't get its first taste of the Lotus Elise until the Series 2 in 2005. Next year, we can finally be able to enjoy the Series 1 model's lightweight glory since it was first released in 1996. Production didn't begin until August, but that means the weather should be warm when people start importing them. The Elise only delivers 118 horsepower from a 1.8-liter Rover engine, but with a scant 1,598-pound curb weight, it could hit 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds.
The second UK-built option, the TVR Cerbera, is nothing like the Lotus. Named after the three-headed beast from Greek legend, the Cerbera is powered by a unique 4.2-liter flat-plane crank V8 with a 75-degree angle between cylinder banks. The engine produces 360 hp, which feels like a hell of a lot more given the 2,500-pound curb weight. TVR later built a 4.5-liter version with 420 hp.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution was considered "too extreme" for the US market until 200 when the eighth-generation arrived. US JDM enthusiasts can now import the Evo IV, which offered plenty of improvements over the Evo III. For starters, the engine and transaxle were rotated 180 degrees for better balance and to eliminate torque steer. The 2.0-liter 4G63T four-cylinder engine also received a larger turbocharger and intercooler, boosting the output to 276 hp. Only 9,000 examples were built in a stripped out RS or of a more cushy GSR trim.
Mitsubishi has not one, but two awesome vehicles that are eligible to import in 2021. The second one, the eighth-generation Galant VR-4, offers a 2.5-liter twin-turbo V6 engine producing 276 hp. Power goes to AWD with Active Yaw Control, yielding a 0-60 time of just 5.7 seconds (5.3 seconds with the manual transmission). It wasn't as well-known as the Evo, but the Galant VR-4 is a cool JDM car in its own right. There's even a wagon version called the Legnum in some markets.
Most casual car enthusiasts know about the Nissan Skyline, but fewer people are aware that Nissan also built a wagon variant in the R33 generation. Known as the Nissan Stagea, it was essentially a more practical version of the popular Skyline. Nissan never built a GT-R version, but its in-house tuner Autech did offer it with the legendary RB26 twin-turbo inline-six engine in the 260RS model, producing 276 hp.
The J90 generation Toyota Land Cruiser Prado (known in the US as the Lexus GX) is now eligible for import for off-road enthusiasts. Unlike today's 2021 Toyota Land Cruiser, an $85,000 luxury behemoth, the J90 was a simplistic SUV built in three-door and five-door configurations. Toyota offered a range of gas and diesel engines mated to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.
It's hard to believe that this isn't a concept, but Renault Sport built and sold an insane sports car called the Spider in 1996. Assembled at the Alpine factory, the Sport Spider utilizes a 2.0-liter four-cylinder from a Clio Williams producing 150 hp. The car only weighs 2,050 pounds, so it takes less than six seconds to hit 60 mph. Renault only made 1,800 of them, so it might be a tricky car to track down. But it's worth it for all the attention it would bring in the US.
Though it lacks the fame of its predecessor, the 205 GTI, the Peugeot 106 GTI is still an excellent hot hatchback. Known as the 106 M16 in certain markets, the car comes powered by a 1.6-liter 16-valve four-cylinder engine producing 120 hp going to the front wheels. This little mill doesn't hit the redline until 7,200 rpm, making it a bit of a screamer. With 205 GTI prices on the rise, the 106 GTI could be a nice investment. The US could never enjoy the wonderful handling of Peugeot's sporty cars, but they are starting to become eligible to import.