Every year, a new batch of cool old cars become eligible for import to the USA
Accounting for 14.46% of all cars sold globally in 2020, the United States of America is the world's second-largest automobile market, lagging only behind China. But despite being such a massive car market, some American legislation is baffling. You may be aware of the law that prohibits the importation of cars to the US that weren't sold here for 25 years after their release. It's seen a number of cars get sent to the crusher by the feds in years gone by, but it also makes for an interesting bit of research to see what cars can be brought in legally as we change our calendars. In the year 2022, we cast our eyes back to 1997 to see what can now be imported. A total of 57 cars were released in 1997, but only a handful were available in the US. On the list were some cool cars that you can now bring in.
Alfa Romeo hasn't had the easiest time trying to reenter the USA. The 4C was a great foot in the door, and the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio are great products in their own right, but sales haven't backed them up. However, if you lust after something from yesteryear, the 156 sedan is now legally able to be brought in.
Multiple engines were offered including a base 118-horsepower 1.6-liter through to a 2.5-liter Busso V6-powered model with 188 hp. A hotter GTA version joined the lineup in 2001, making it ineligible for import at the moment, but the standard 156 was one of the best-looking, best-sounding cars of its era.
There may be a new version of the Puma that's become a sporty crossover, but back in 1997, the Puma was a tiny little front-wheel-drive sports car based on the Ford Fiesta platform. Built in Germany, this nippy little liftback coupe had 2+2 seating, cute looks, and three available engines. The one you want is the 1.7-liter four-cylinder, which produced up to 153 hp and 119 lb-ft, was tuned by Yamaha, and could hit 60 mph in under eight seconds. They enjoyed popularity in the UK, but numbers there have dwindled to less than 10,000 still registered.
Remember the Buick XP2000 concept car? It was supposed to preview a Holden Commodore for the US market, but it never happened. Instead, GM-owned Holden took the development of that and put it into the VT-generation Commodore that debuted in Australia in 1997. This muscle sedan/wagon shared a General Motors V platform with the 2003 Pontiac GTO and could likewise be had with a 5.7-liter V8 in the SS, although smaller V8s, V6s, and even a supercharged V6 were on offer. It may not have been much to look at, but it had up to 295 hp and 329 lb-ft going to the rear wheels and was a great opportunity for some old-school power.
While the US got its first taste of the Honda Civic Type R back in 2017, the rest of the world got to experience it back in 1997. The EK9 Type R was based on the sixth-gen Civic Hatchback. The three-door hatchback packed a 1.6-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine under the hood driving the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. Outputs of 182 hp and 118 lb-ft may not sound like much by today's standards, but in a car that weighed little more than 2,300 lbs, it was an absolute riot! 60 mph came up in 6.7 seconds and the quarter-mile was dispatched in 15.3. You could get a DC2 Integra Type R which was similar but the Civic is way more exclusive.
The Pajero name may be one of the worst ever conceived, but the Pajero Evolution is still one of the coolest SUVs to have ever roamed the planet. Specifically designed to take on the Dakar rally, only around 2,500 road-legal Pajero Evos were built for homologation in the Dakar Rally's T2 class. It had a 3.5-liter V6 producing a claimed 275 hp, but also had widened bodywork, twin rear spoilers, skid plates, mud flaps, front and rear Torsen differentials, and a whole lot of cool built in from the factory. That styling is completely justified as the Pajero Evolution dominated the Dakar, winning 12 times between 1985 and 2007. No car has won it more times.
Everyone knows Subaru's rally history, but in 1997, the Japanese brand introduced its first-ever two-door Impreza. Prodrive chose this as the base of its world rally car and created the WRX Type R. The homologation model is now able to be imported, including a 276-hp turbocharged Boxer four-cylinder, close-ration transmission, and an intercooler that got sprayed by water to keep temps down. This Japan-only special was built in a limited run of around 10,000 cars.