Marqued

Feature

The epic and eligible cars to import now that it's 2022

Written by Xander Cesari

Jan 6, 2022

American car enthusiasts with a taste for overseas offerings traditionally ring in each New Year by shaking a fist at our unique 25 year import restrictions before assessing the new-for-1997 models that are now legal for import and registration. The selection of cars include all new eagerly awaited models or the best years or trims of a model run that was already importable. Some enthusiasts count down for the years until they can import the car they’ve lusted for from afar, others discover and immediately fall in love with obscure foreign models when they become available.

The import class of 2022 features a set of iconic pairings; cars that either directly competed with each other in their domestic market or juxtapose and compliment each other nicely. These hypothetical head-to-heads present interesting and sometimes tough choices! We’d love to hear which of these options you would put on a ship bound for America. Let's begin.

Italian Sport Coupes Get Their Wings

Alfa Romeo Spider/GTV (3.0L 24V V6) vs Fiat Coupe (20V Turbo)

When both Fiat and the recently acquired Alfa Romeo were in need of a sporty revamp in the 1990s they looked to the shared Type Two platform. The result was a celebration of the sloping beltline with the Pininfarina-designed Alfa Romeo GTV/Spider and the Fiat Coupé penned by Chris Bangle, both introduced in 1993. 1997’s mid-cycle refresh is a notable year for these slanted siblings since both received the most powerful engine with which they would be graced; a 3.2L 24V Busso V6 for the Alfa and a turbocharged 2.0L inline 5 for the Fiat.

Both cars have many variants, so market pricing is highly dependent on spec. Classic.com lists recent sales of the 20V Turbo Coupé between $5000-10,000 USD. By sacrificing 20 hp, an Alfa Romeo GTV or Spider with the 3.0 24V engine can be had for $10,000-15,000 USD but expect to pay more for the much rarer 3.2L model with only a few to be found for sale in the $20,000-30,000 USD range.

You can find more on the market history for the Alfa Romeo Spider/GTV and Fiat Coupe via Classic.com.

Turbo Sleepers That You Can Sleep In

Nissan R’nessa GT Turbo vs Toyota Caldina GT-T

All-wheel-drive and stout turbocharged four cylinder engines wrapped in wagon sheet metal; the parallels between the Toyota Caldina GT-T and Nissan R’nessa GT Turbo run deep. The larger Nissan is sized somewhere between a station wagon and SUV with a SR20DET making 200 hp while the Toyota is classed as a compact car and packs a 3S-GTE making 256 hp. But fans of either brand know that the potential in both engines goes far beyond rated power.

Both of these turbo trims are a small portion of the production runs and are hard to find and value. We found one Caldina GT-T listed for $14,000 USD and were unsuccessful in sourcing a R’nessa GT Turbo but don't lose faith — they're out there.

Legendary Engines With a Sedan Attached

Toyota Aristo (S160) vs Nissan Laurel (C35)

Japanese car companies have been very selective in the models that they send to the US and one category that regularly skips our shores are their larger RWD sedans. The Toyota Chasers, Soarers, Nissan Laurels, and similar have been growing in popularity in Japan as drift car platforms due to their stout engines, long wheelbases, and low cost. Two new generations of these were released in 1997: the 8th generation Nissan Laurel and the 2nd generation Toyota Aristo (which was sold in the US as the Lexus GS). The former was equipped with a range of RB engines and the latter with both 2JZ I6s and 1UZ/3UZ V8s. The horsepower potential of those iconic letter codes is well known and now we have a few more cars to exercise these powerful motors.

The appeal of these cars in Japan is their value and that still holds true. The Aristo has current listings from around $4,000 to $12,000 USD. The Laurel is just a little pricier but still attainable at $5,000 up to $20,000 USD.

You can find more on the market history for the Toyota Aristo (S160) via Classic.com.

JDM Legends Achieve Their Final Form

Nissan GT-R Nismo 400R (R33) vs Honda NSX Type S

The Japanese halo cars of the 1990s have been some of the most hotly anticipated import candidates each year. While the Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R has been importable for two years and the Honda/Acura NSX was sold in the US, this year we can finally experience the top trim of each model. In 1997, Nissan launched the Nismo 400R and Honda introduced the Type S and Type S Zero, absolute pinnacle trims for both cars. These Gran Turismo superstars are idols that will inevitably grace our shores soon.

Values for the 400R and Type S are in the “if you have to ask” category, with only 44 of the former and 209 of the latter produced. But regular Nissan Skyline R33 GT-Rs and Acura NSXs are both selling between $40,000 and $75,000 depending on condition, and are equally competent at putting a smile on driver’s faces!

You can find more on the market history for the Nissan GT-R Nismo 400R (R33) and Honda NSX Type S via Classic.com.

‘Stralian Super Sedans

Holden Commodore SS (VT) vs Ford Falcon GT (EL)

American interest in the Australian domestic market has been growing since we fell in love with a car we’d never heard of while watching Mad Max. The commitment to muscle cars down under has produced some wild machines with a unique affinity for sedans. This year two new Aussie legends are available: the Ford Falcon GT and the Holden Commodore SS. The GT was a legendary trim for Ford Australia in the muscle car heyday that made a return in 1997 with this Windsor 5.0 V8 and a controversial front grille. Holden’s competing Commodore SS could be had with both supercharged V6 and V8 powerplants in the VT generation, the latter of which was the last Australian developed GM V8 before switching to the LS platform.

Price tracking data is difficult to find for the Australian market. But while 1997 Ford Falcon GTs have sold for as little as $25,000 USD back in 2017, there are current listings at $58,000 and $72,000 USD. The Holden Commodore SS — made in much higher production numbers — are listed between $15,000 and $30,000 USD.

Two Types of Type Rs

Subaru WRX STi Type R (GC8) vs Honda Civic Type R (EK9)

Two legendary Japanese performance compacts, different in so many technical ways, yet converging on the same name for their top spec. Type R vs Type R. Honda’s Type R has been the range-topping Civic for decades but it all started in 1997 with this hatchback. Every red H on the hood of a Honda is an homage to this legend and now the US can import the rest of the car as well. The Subaru’s WRX and STi models had been racking up rally wins for most of the 1990s, but in 1997 they released the first coupe STi as the Type R, a two-door version of their Type RA homologation special. The GC generation of Subaru would also be the last two door WRX STi making this quite a special car.

With approximately 16,000 EK9 Civic Type Rs and 10,000 WRX Sti Type Rs produced these cars may not be rare as hen’s teeth but they’re desirable models growing rapidly in popularity. Classic.com lists a sold EK9 Type R at around $20,000 USD — aligning with many current listings — but last year one sold for $73,000 USD. WRX STi Type Rs tracked by Classic.com have sold for between $27,000 and $39,000 USD.

You can find more on the market history for the Subaru WRX STi Type R (GC8) and Honda Civic Type R (EK9) via Classic.com.

Shockingly Good Looking FWD Sport Coupes

Ford Puma vs Mitsubishi FTO

Some cars have such compelling styling that they’re instantly crush-worthy with a single image. Good thing that these two make such a good first impression since no American has been able to own one yet. But the Ford Puma and Mitsubishi FTO boast many long-distance admirers. The adorable and athletic Puma may be closer to a house cat in size but its rounded ‘90s styling scales down very well. The 1997 facelifted Mitsubishi FTO takes itself a bit more seriously, combining the styling of the 3000GT with some Supra influences to create a classic combination of JDM aesthetics.

Both of these cars are as approachable in price as they are in looks. Driver-quality Pumas can be had for as little as $2,000 with the nicest examples listed between $6,500 and $8,000 USD. The Mitsubishi FTO is more expensive but listings still start around $10,000 and range up to $30,000.

You can find more on the market history for the Ford Puma and Mitsubishi FTO via Classic.com.

Small SUVs for Speed or Shopping

Mitsubishi Pajero Evo vs Land Rover Freelander

The two 4x4s in our list are almost diametrically opposed in spirit but an SUV admirer can find something worthy in each. The Land Rover Freelander is the more common model, LR’s first unibody ‘compact’ SUV. The second generation of the Freelander was sold in the US as the LR2, a model with legions of stateside fans, but the first generation was benched from the away team. The styling may be plastic-clad but it wears the retro cool ruggedness well. The Mitsubishi Pajero Evo is a much more radical machine; a homologation model for Mitsubishi’s Paris to Dakar Rally program with a 275 hp V6 and perhaps the widest box flares fitted to a production model.

The Pajero Evo was sold in surprisingly high numbers for a homologation car and can be had for between $10,000 and $20,000 USD. The Freelander — being both an affordable SUV and a used Land Rover — has seen notable depreciation, with listings from $2,700 to $4,000 USD.

You can find more on the market history for the Mitsubishi Pajero Evo and Land Rover Freelander via Classic.com.

Meet our contributors

Xander Cesari started wrenching on classic cars before he could drive, eventually working in automotive engineering. He followed his passion into automotive photojournalism and now explores every corner of car culture in an Alfa Romeo Milano with camera in hand. For more from Xander, you can follow his Instagram (@merriman.industries).


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