The fuel gauge on 2018 has hit that big E, which means we need to head to the nearest temporal fuel station to fill up with a nice fresh tank of 2019. And you know what the bonus prize is that comes with that new tank of 2019-juice? A whole new batch of cars old enough to legally import to America! Here’s some of what I think are the most exciting options. If you keep in mind I’m a bit of an idiot, then I think you’ll find this list very edifying.
I know that Japanese Domestic Market cars tend to be the first things everyone thinks of when it comes to importing cars under the 25-year rule, but there’s lots of interesting options from all over, so I’m going to try to mix it up a bit. By “a bit” I mean a few of European cars and an Indian car. Here we go!
1. Fiat Coupé
While a few (119) Coupés were made in late 1993, it wasn’t really until 1994 that these things started to be built in any quantity, so any you’re likely to find old enough to import will be from 1994. These are really striking cars, with very unusual design by Pininfarina that looks like almost nothing else.
Look at those amazing diagonal-slash wheel arch lines, and the interesting lighting and odd but compelling proportions—this won’t look like anything else out there, except maybe to the people who want to know where you got the Martian Domestic Market Ford Probe.
These made about 190 horsepower from a turbo 2-liter inline-four, with only a five- or six-speed manual.
These look fun, and I think should be on anyone’s radar looking to import something usable and unusual.
2. Nissan Rasheen
I know I sorta jumped the gun on these earlier this year, but once that ball drops these Rasheens will be 25 and ready to come live with you, here in America, ready for a whole new batch of American-fried adventures.
The Rasheen isn’t technically a Pike factory car, but it feels like a Pike follow-up, albeit a bit bigger and more grown-up. These are rugged-looking smaller four-wheel drive cars that are sort of like smaller, Japanese Jeep XJ Cherokees. They often have fun bull bars and roof racks and other off-road paraphernalia, and I think would be great SUV alternatives here in America.
3. Mitsubishi Pajero Mini
Are you a fan of the Mitsubishi Pajero, but just wish it was, you know, fun-sized? Then boy, is 2019 going to be your year, because the Pajero Mini is now old enough to bring home. The Pajero Mini is just what it says on the can: a smaller Mitsubishi Pajero.
The Mini is a Kei-class car, so it’s got a 660cc engine making 64 horsepower, but if you need more than that, you’re doing it wrong. It’s a tiny, rugged-looking 4x4 that can squeeze into places those big dumb Jeeps with the angry faces just can’t.
This is what you get to kill the 25 years of waiting before you can get a 2018 Suzuki Jimny.
4. Alfa Romeo 145
Almost unknown in America, these little 1994-born Alfas are under appreciated little shooting-brakes. It’s sort of like an Italian take on the late ‘80s Honda Civic mini-wagon body style, but with a lot more charm and sporting flavor.
Look how cool and unusual this thing looks—that front grille treatment is strangely biomorphic, and that rear quarter view looks agressive and athletic and lean. Plus, rear opening vent windows!
This is a practical, usable, and fun, little daily driver option for those daring enough. Also, get this—these things could be had with boxer engines! Yes, a horizontally-opposed engine (making about 90 hp here) in a ‘90s car that doesn’t wear a Subaru or Porsche badge. That right there should be reason enough to consider the 145.
These are cool as hell. Somebody should import one of these.
5. Opel Tigra
Based on the pretty ho-hum Opel Corsa, this was that car’s sportier, sexier sibling that was always stealing the Corsa’s dates. It sort of reminds me of a European Toyota Sera, minus the fun doors. It’s an attractive and unusual little sporty car, and has one of the biggest and best bubble-window hatches of any car I’ve seen.
If nothing else, these things would wow at Radwood.
6. Mitsuoka Viewt
Okay, technically, this year you could start importing Viewts, but with these already pretty low-production, I think this year is the first year you’ll really have a decent-sized pool to pick from. The Viewt is a great example of what Mitsuoka does best: making boring Nissans look like ‘60s-era Jags that have been improperly washed in hot water.
The Viewt is a re-bodied Nissan March/Micra, and as such shares that car’s reliable 1 or 1.3-liter engines and all other mechanical parts with that car. The transformation is pretty comprehensive, with a Viewt-unique interior and dash, and, really, if your dream is to own a 2/3-scale Jaguar Mk 2 that actually will get you where you have to go, easily and cheaply, then a Viewt is hard to beat.
7. Tata Sumo
I didn’t want this list to be just European or Japanese options, so, luckily, the Tata Sumo turns 25 this year. If you really want a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen or a classic Toyota Land Cruiser, but don’t have the medical condition that causes you to defecate $100 bills, tightly rolled into tubes, then maybe you should give the Sumo a look.
This Indian car with the very Japanese-seeming name (it’s not, really. “Sumo” is short for Sumant Moolgaokar, a former Tata bigshot) is a true body-on-frame off-roader, and was originally designed for military and real off-road use. Its boxy body is very roomy, and you can get it with a Peugeot diesel engine that may be easier to source parts for than one of the more India-specific engines.
This thing is easily as cool as an early G-Wagen, I think. Most people will probably just assume it is one, anyway, with your Mercedes badge just sort of bent into a T-shape.
8. Audi RS2 Avant
I know I tend to skew weird when it comes to car pics, but luckily our beloved editor-in-bossman Patrick George is here to help, by insisting I include the Audi RS2 Avant on the list. This thing hails from that era before Porsche got its financial shit together, and so it built this thing with Audi to help pay the bills.
It’s absolutely worth being reminded that in 2019 you can import one, because it’s a remarkable car. I’ll just let Patrick himself explain why, like he did last month:
“To the untrained eye it looks like any other Audi 80 Avant, but the RS was not only the first Audi to sport the RS badge, it was actually co-built with Porsche. The cars were finished at the Rossle-Bau plant in Zuffenhausen, where they were outfitted with a specially tuned 2.2-liter turbo five-cylinder engine, a performance suspension, a bespoke six-speed manual gearbox, and brakes, wheels and tires from the 968 Clubsport, as Quattro Daily once recounted.
The result was a practical and stylish Audi wagon with 305 horsepower and a zero to 60 mph time of about five-and-a-half seconds, which was excellent in its time and still quite respectable today. Back in the mid-1990s, it could keep up with a 911.”
An Audi wagon built by Porsche because they were hard up for cash? That’s absolutely worth dragging one of these out to America.