There are some really special cars here and some really weird ones.
In the late 1990s, Bill Gates and Bruce Canepa, huge fans of the illegal-in-America Porsche 959, were successful in lobbying for a law change that is today known as the Show or Display legislation. As a result, they got to enjoy their supercars on US roads, and so do many other enthusiasts of cars that were not homologated for US sale, as is the case with a certain Gordon Murray special. As you may know, only cars of historic or technological significance are considered for exemption, but those are not the only criteria.
Among other things, a car can be refused entry to the US if more than 500 examples of the vehicle were produced, if it was already sold in the USA, or if it is a kit car, a replica, or a special reconstruction vehicle.
With that in mind, CarBuzz has dug up all the cars that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has deemed ineligible for import under the Show or Display rule.
We start with cool cars we wish made it in, those that are just short of the bar (in our opinion), and finally, total oddballs.
In this section, we're looking at cars that are inherently cool and have clear significance to automotive enthusiasts. Some of them will soon be eligible to import under the 25-year rule, so this list shouldn't be as depressing as it seems.
First up, the 2003 BMW M3 CSL. A lighter, quicker, rawer version of the M3, this car was never sold in the US. We suspect that the NHTSA views it as too similar to a regular M3, but it would still be nice to be able to bring one in to showcase BMW's first production car with a carbon fiber roof. Thankfully, we do get the latest version of the CSL. The 1997-2000 Honda Civic Mugen RR was also rejected, as were 1997-2001 Lotus Elise S1 sports cars. The 1998 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V is another cool car that simply wasn't cool enough, as was the 2000 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen Edition.
As you can probably guess, that's not the last of the Japanese cars to try to sneak through our borders.
Several versions of the Skyline GT-R saw applications made, but the first is arguably one of the coolest. It's also the only R33 version. The 1998 Nissan Skyline GT-R Autech Version 40th Anniversary Edition was built by the third-party outfit to celebrate 40 years of the Skyline nameplate. What makes it so special is that this is a genuine GT-R in a sedan body, but the NHTSA still wasn't swayed.
Applications also came in for the R34 generation, specifically the 1999-2002 Nissan Skyline GT-R (Series I, Series II), the 1999-2002 Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec (Series I, Series II, Series II Nur), and finally, the 2001-2002 Nissan Skyline GT-R M-Spec.
Next up, we have an overpowered hot hatchback with a terrible turning circle. If you haven't already guessed, we're talking about the 2001-2003 Renault Clio V6 and its direct replacement, the 2006 Renault Clio V6 255. The hardcore 2000 Lotus 340R was also stopped at the border.
Finally, the NHTSA said no to every 1997-2006 TVR Sagaris, T350, Tuscan, and Cerbera. If you thought the Pontiac Fiero was a fire hazard, you ain't seen nothing yet.
This section deals with prohibited cars that we would gladly drive but wouldn't care too much if they never landed on our shores. Basically, these are the cars that have some cool factor but no X factor.
We begin with the 2010 Alfa Romeo 8C Spider. Presumably, someone who missed the allocation of 35 US-bound units tried to import one from another country. Then there's the 2004 Audi RS6 plus. We do get the latest C8 Audi RS6, but the model was discontinued in the US from 2003, and somebody obviously thought they could sneak one through if they applied for the 'plus' variant. The NHTSA clearly saw through that ploy.
Next is the 2002 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra. If you're a Ford fan, you may be furiously readying your comment about how there was no SVT Cobra for 2002. But you'd be wrong. A very small batch of roughly 100 vehicles was built and shipped to Australia, where the limited editions were converted to right-hand drive and fitted with additional fog lamps and side markers on the front bumper. Not different enough from the American-spec cars, the request to import the RHD SVT Cobra was declined.
Since a Mugen version of Honda's CTR was barred from entry, it should come as no surprise that the 1997-2000 Honda Civic Type R was also disqualified. The Feds also refused to give entry to several Morgan cars, which are traditionally built with wooden frames (yikes!). A 2002 Morgan Le Mans '62 prototype was denied, as were the 2004-2009 Morgan Aero 8 Series 2, Series 3, and Series 4 sports cars. Somebody tried to import these quick coffins more recently, too, as our list also includes the 2020-2022 Morgan Plus Four Le Mans LM62.
The 1999 Nissan Skyline GT-T and the 2001 Nissan Skyline 25GT-T obviously didn't make it, and neither did the gorgeous 2011 Peugeot RCZ, a sports car that made front-wheel drive look sexy. Also mentioned is the 2000 Porsche 911 GT3 Clubsport, which was essentially a package with a roll cage and some other upgrades added to a regular GT3. Neither the Fiat-made 2008 Abarth 500 nor the ludicrously long 2018 Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman Guard made it either.
Sometimes, people try to import cars that they view as historically significant simply because of their so-called special edition status, but some of these are really dull. For example, somebody wanted to import a BMW-made Japan-only 2004 Mini Cooper S 2nd Anniversary Edition. Just 200 were built in Cooper S form, but who cares, really? We can sorta understand the rationale behind the application for the Rover-made 1998-2000 Mini Cooper. This was the final generation before the brand was taken over by the Germans, so it probably has more significance in Britain.
Several Land Rovers were applied for, presumably because just because they were special editions. These include the 2013 Land Rover Defender 110 Hunter, the 2015-2018 Land Rover Defender 90 Works 70th Anniversary Edition, and the 2016 Land Rover Defender 110 Adventure. Also noted is the 2000-2001 Land Rover Defender 130. And somebody also tried to bring in a 2015 FAB Panamera, which is just a regular Porsche Panamera with an outlandish body kit and interior.
Weirdly, somebody wanted to import the 2005 Smart City Coupe (otherwise known as the ForTwo), and another application was made for the 2000 Fiat 126P, an old-looking miniature hatchback from the day it was launched. The 2008 Nissan Primera is another oddball choice, as is the behemoth that is the 2002 Renault Avantime.
Another eclectic car on this list is the 2012 SAAB 9-5 SportCombi. We have to admit that this looks awesome, but again, we have to ask what the technological or historical significance could possibly be. The 2012 Skoda Fabia Greenline II is not blessed with good looks, so we're scratching our heads over this one.
Similarly, we wonder why anyone would want to risk scratching their skull against the asphalt in the scary 2002 Smart Crossblade. You wouldn't have to worry about toppling over in the 2019 Tazzari Microlino prototype, an electric bubble car, but you might not make it beyond your driveway either.
Then we have Bug fans, who tried to get exemptions for the 2000 Volkswagen Beetle and the 2003-2004 Volkswagen Beetle Ultimate Edition. Finally, the 2012-2013 Volkswagen Polo TDI BlueMotion was barred, probably because of its smoking habit. Before Dieselgate, VW seemed to be pioneering efficient diesels, but the scandal killed that idea.
So there you have it. All 48 vehicles that the NHTSA refused to grant eligibility to under the Show or Display rule.
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