One of the biggest vehicle markets worldwide is the American one. From American muscle to JDM to European supercars, anything is available. I mean, I say whatever.
Unknown to some, America has a long list of automobiles that are prohibited. We’ll examine some of the illegal vehicles in the US in this post, along with information on how to get them.
The US has access to the majority of automobiles ever produced. You can always afford to pay the import fees, even if you’re looking for something a little more unusual.
Despite being forbidden, some vehicles can be owned “for show or display”. However, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has a list of vehicles that are prohibited in the US (or the NHTSA, for short).
We’ll look into why there are so many illegal cars in the US. Following that, we’ll look at a few illustrations.
Why Does the US Have Some Cars Classified as Illegal?
The unusual laws of the US are well recognized. Whether it be making it unlawful to drive while wearing a blindfold in Alabama or making it unlawful to read a comic book while operating a motor vehicle in Oklahoma.
Even the kind of vehicles that are permitted and prohibited on the road are governed by rules. Only a few thousand miles can be driven on some vehicles each year. Others are completely prohibited.
The NHTSA is responsible for most of these laws. the organization in charge of regulating the laws that are put in place to address new cars’ safety and, eventually, whether they can enter the US.
The NHTSA: What Is It?
The US federal government’s National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration are one of its departments. “Save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce vehicle-related crashes” is its goal statement.
They are the last arbiters of what is lawful and unlawful on American streets and work for the Department of Transportation.
Toyota proved that butterfly doors weren’t just for supercars when it unveiled the Toyota Sera in the 1990s.
Their spending limit is just about $1 billion. Additionally, they are in charge of the test procedure itself, the creation of the dummies used in US safety testing, and the licensing of makers and importers.
Additionally, they are responsible for developing and running the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. a system that is employed globally for studies on transportation safety.
They are in charge of making sure that all automobiles that are available in the US are secure to fulfill their objective. This indicates that they are secure for use, travel, and proximity. They must also be secure for both the environment and the US economy.
What Makes a Car to Be Classified as Illegal In the US?
There is a lot of legislation surrounding what qualifies a car for US roads to adhere to all the constraints.
Because some of these regulations differ depending on where the manufacturers are situated, foreign businesses frequently develop American versions of their automobiles.
The business would shut itself off from a sizable consumer market if it didn’t accomplish this.
On the other hand, many manufacturers are unwilling to put out the effort required to comply with this legislation.
Because of this, it is prohibited to import many new and used cars into the United States. Some people think that the laws are primarily in place to safeguard the US market. Some legally permitted vehicles lack even public safety records.
A car’s right to access may be denied for any reason, including those related to speed, safety, or the environment. Some of the vehicles we will explore below are thought to be too fast. Others have been classified as dangerous. Some fail to emit at the required levels.
This implies that some vehicles may never be available to petrolheads, despite how large the US market is. However, if you’re content to use them for a limited number of kilometers per year, you can buy some vehicles.
“Show or Display” – What Is It?
A rule known as the “Show or Display” rule enables some vehicles to be exempt from this NHTSA regulation. Private owners are now able to import vehicles that ordinarily would not be permitted.
It does, however, have significant shortcomings. You are only permitted to go 2,500 kilometers a year in a car on public highways.
There are additional points to consider regarding “Show or Display.” The administration is within its rights to allow the import but forbids public road use at the time of import.
They may also impose any further constraints or restrictions on the vehicle. Approximately 60 automobiles are now permitted for import under “Show or Display” as of the time of writing.
What Constitutes “Show or Display” Eligibility for a US Car?
According to the NHTSA, there is a chance that an automobile being imported by a single individual will be allowed to enter the country even if it is not on the list. It must, however, adhere to the following conditions:
- No other car of the same brand, model, and year was produced or approved for sale in the country.
- Under 49 CFR Part 593, which deals with the importation of automobiles by business entities, no other vehicle of the same make, model, and the model year has been determined to be suitable for importation.
- The car isn’t being produced right now.
- Unless it is demonstrated to the NHTSA that the vehicle is of exceptional technological and/or historical interest, less than 500 of the vehicles were constructed.
- The car was not produced as a kit car, a copy, or a custom-built vehicle.
Lamborghini Sesto Elemento by Alainrx8 / CC BY-SA 3.0. A hallmark of the Lamborghini Sesto Elemento is its lightweight carbon fiber design. According to HotCars, it is “extremely lightweight in comparison to other supercars,”
Formerly the richest man in the world and the founder and former CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates, purchased a Porsche 959 that had not received NHTSA approval.
When the Show or Display law was implemented, the car was liberated after 13 years of being kept in customs.
What Cars are Banned In the US?
The NHTSA has listed the vehicles that are prohibited in the US below.
1. The Toyota Sera
Having butterfly doors on a hatchback? That is correct! When Toyota debuted the Toyota Sera in the 1990s, it demonstrated that butterfly doors weren’t exclusively for supercars.
“The Sera is tiny, fun, and contemporary,” claim Car and Driver. And it appears in all those ways. This striking vehicle, however, did not adhere to American laws.
The source claims that because Toyota didn’t take American crash standards into account when designing the Sera, doing the requisite structural engineering would have required starting over.
The wraparound-glass roof hatchback was never offered for sale in the United States as a result.
2. The Jaguar XJ220 A
According to TopSpeed.com, only six Jaguar XJ220 A supercars were made, but the NHTSA decided to outlaw it because of that small number. The XJ220, which has a top speed of 213 mph, is still the fastest Jaguar model ever, according to Jaguar.
Sadly for fans of fast cars, that was at the time simply too fast for the authorities. According to TopSpeed.com, the XJ220 S’s small weight allows it to go at record-breaking speeds. The S model’s lighter weight is a result of the absence of air conditioning, pop-up headlights, and bulky seats.
3. The Lamborghini Sesto Elemento
The Lamborghini Sesto Elemento is renowned for its lightweight carbon fiber construction. It is “extremely lightweight in comparison to other supercars,” according to HotCars. As a result, it moves extremely quickly. As an illustration, the source claims that it accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds.
It’s simply too fast to be legal for the streets. Nevertheless, the outrageous cost disqualifies many drivers in any case. In 2017, the Sesto Elemento cost $2.76 million, claims Lamborghini Palm Beach.
4. The Land Rover Defender
Motor1.com claims that the Land Rover Defender’s visa was canceled in 1998, even though it was sold legally in the United States between 1993 and 1997. The source claims that because it lacked airbags, it failed to adhere to new federal safety rules.
However, according to Car & Driver, Land Rover began offering a new Defender in the U.S. in 2020. So you can now operate a modernized vehicle that resembles the outlawed original.
5. The Rover Mini Cooper
As an American driver, you have a few choices if you adore Mini Cooper’s famous retro style. The Rover Mini Cooper isn’t one among them, though, as it’s illegal. Comparing the Rover Mini Cooper to the legal options, HotCars calls it “much more macho.”
So what happens if someone is discovered bringing a car into the country before it complies with the country’s import standards for vehicles that are 25 years old or older?
It will be grabbed and possibly smashed. A Mini Cooper and a Land Rover Defender were torched in 2014, according to an Associated Press report, to “highlight safety standards.”
Jaguar XJ220 A by Brian Snelson / CC BY 2.0. Only six Jaguar XJ220 A supercars were produced, according to TopSpeed.com, but the NHTSA chose to prohibit it due to its rarity.
6. The Pagani Huayra
The Pagani Huayra is referred to as “an adrenaline-pumping Italian piece of art” by HotCars. However, you won’t see it zipping across American streets. NHTSA outlawed it because it lacked “an advanced feature that allows airbags to be deployed in a controlled manner.”
American drivers will just have to settle for observing its splendor from a distance. The Huayra, according to HotCars, is “the definition of art meets science,” and in contrast to some hypercars, it boasts a stunning cabin. The combination of metal, leather, and wood is opulent.
7. The Skyline R34 GT-R Nissan
Ever since they saw the Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R in 2 Fast 2 Furious, some individuals have desired one. The R34 GT-R is often banned, which is unfortunate for American drivers seeking to channel Brian O’Conner.
According to Hagerty Media, the 2002 M-Spec Nur and the 1999 Midnight Purple II are eligible for importation under the Show or Display exemption. Additionally, a few were modified by the business MotoRex in the early 2000s to satisfy safety and pollution regulations.
8. The Toyota Hilux
HotCars claims that the Toyota Hilux made its debut in Japan in 1968. It then traveled to the United States shortly after that. And the Hilux was a hit in North America because of its dependability, comfy cabin, and smooth ride. Why then is it no longer possible to purchase one in the US?
The source claims that although safety and pollution regulations may be involved, the Chicken Tax is the main issue. This policy entails a 25% levy on imported light trucks that were made outside of the US. However, Tacoma is an option for American drivers.
9. The Alfa Romeo Giulietta
According to TopSpeed.com, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta isn’t an especially quick vehicle. Furthermore, the source claims there are no obvious safety issues, such as the absence of airbags. Giulietta is nevertheless prohibited in the US. Because it lacks autonomous emergency braking, the restriction may still be related to safety.
In any case, Giulietta’s are not allowed on American roads. Americans may not be losing out on much, though. Auto Express claims that while being a gorgeous hatchback, it is crowded and features drive mode settings that may displease sporty drivers.
10. The Noble M600
According to TopSpeed.com, there are several reasons why this svelte British supercar does not adhere to NHTSA regulations. According to the source, the Noble M600 lacks airbags and an anti-lock brake system, thus the government’s choice is understandable.
Even though many drivers would still be turned off by its $350,000 price tag. It boasts a V8 engine that generates 650 hp and can reach 60 mph in 3.0 seconds, according to TopSpeed.com. Therefore, it is probably enjoyable to drive.
11. The TVR Sagaris
According to HotCars, this is yet another British sports car that doesn’t adhere to EPA or NHTSA regulations. According to the source, the TVR Sagaris “packed an extremely potent punch under the hood — far too potent in the eyes of the U.S. authorities.”
The Sagaris is a dynamic drive, according to the source, and weighs less than 2,000 lbs and produces 380 hp. The Sagaris, according to TopSpeed.com, lacks airbags and anti-lock brakes. As a result, it wasn’t considered for this.
12. The Porsche 959
The Porsche 959 was one of the “fastest production cars in its heyday,” according to HotCars. It has a top speed of almost 200 mph and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds. Because just 337 of them were produced, it has since become a coveted collection, according to the source.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 by TTTNIS / CC0. Some people have wanted a Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R ever since they saw it in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Unfortunately for American drivers, the R34 GT-R is frequently prohibited.
For American drivers who want to get behind the wheel, there is some good news: According to HotCars, a sizable number of 959s are now allowed to drive on American streets as a result of Canepa Design’s work bringing them up to emission standards during a restoration program.
13. The 340R Lotus
Another sports car you won’t see speeding through American streets is this one. The Lotus 340R is “just as much a thing of beauty as it is a thing of speed,” according to HotCars. However, the government sees its unusual design as one of its main drawbacks.
One thing about it is that there are no doors. According to the source, “that was an instant reason for the government to ban all units of the Lotus 340R.” The building is also without a roof. This unusual sports automobile is therefore forbidden.
14. The Smart Crossblade
You “can’t blame the U.S. for banning” the Smart Crossblade, according to MotorBiscuit. The Crossblade’s unique futuristic appearance prevented it from being certified in the States, much like the Lotus 340R’s did. The Crossblade, for instance, lacks doors and a roof.
The source claims that a significant problem is a windscreen. Because it is substantially smaller than typical windshields, it exposes the driver to insects. What’s more alarming is that it doesn’t provide safety in the case of a head-on accident.
15. The Saab SportCombi 9-5
According to Brake For It, one of the final products the company produced before going out of business was the Saab 9-5 SportCombi. The 9-5 SportCombi, a wagon-style vehicle, was compared to a luxury crossover and was anticipated to do well on the market, according to the source. But it was never able to reach America.
According to the source, the 9-5 SportCombi was banned since it did not pass safety inspections. In 2011, Motor Authority noted that the 9-5 SportCombi was a wagon, noting that several American automakers had written off the design. Of course, American wagon enthusiasts were never given the choice.
16. The Aston Martin Virage
According to MotorBiscuit, the Aston Martin Virage is prohibited in the US for two reasons. First off, there aren’t enough airbags. Second, it fails to meet American emission requirements. The Virage, according to MotorTrend, features “an impressively quiet and supple ride that is firm and beautifully controlled.”
The desire to drive this car is surely present among American drivers. Though, according to MotorBiscuit, one such driver was able to convert a Virage into a street-legal drag vehicle. Maybe this will serve as motivation.
17. The RS500 Ford Focus
A Ford Focus that is prohibited in the US? The Focus RS500 was exclusively offered for sale in Europe, which may come as a surprise. Endurance claims that this “charged-up” Focus “can hit 62 mph in 5.6 seconds.” ” This is why the source refers to it as a “pocket rocket.”
Ford reportedly decided it would be too expensive to make the Focus RS500 street-legal in the United States, maybe to the surprise of some Americans. To make matters worse, American motorists haven’t had access to any new Ford hatchback since the company stopped producing the Ford Focus RS in 2018.
18. The Nissan Patrol
Americans can purchase hardy Nissan SUVs like the Armada and Pathfinder, but not the Patrol. According to MotorBiscuit, the Patrol is prohibited in the United States since its safety features don’t fulfill the requirements of the US.
However, in terms of the interior, Americans might not be missing out on all that much. The comparable Armada, according to CarExpert, has a significantly more contemporary appearance. The interior of the Patrol is described as “luxe in a very ’90s way” by the source. What about the entertainment system? That’s “even more dated,” the insider said.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta by Vauxford / CC BY-SA 4.0. The Alfa Romeo Giulietta isn’t a particularly speedy car, according to TopSpeed.com. Furthermore, according to the source, there are no glaring safety flaws, such as the absence of airbags.
19. The Alfa Romeo 8C Spider Roadster
A beautiful sports car the Alfa Romeo 8C Spider Roadster is simply too quick for American roads. HotCars claims that the 8C Spider Roadster’s high speed is the main factor in its ban. The 8C Spider Roadster is “unquestionably a member of the elite,” according to the insider.
The source claims that it is positioned next to “the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster” as a result. The 4C Spider from Alfa Romeo debuted in 2014, according to MotorBiscuit, and it complies with American regulations. The source claims that because it is 220 pounds heavier, it isn’t “quite as fast.”
20. The TVR Tuscan Speed Six
The TVR Tuscan Speed Six’s contoured exterior provides a lovely retro feel. It’s set to become a “future classic,” according to Supercars.net. However, it is prohibited in the US. Forbes claims that it is simple to understand why the Tuscan Speed Six was a failure.
According to the source, the sports car lacks anti-lock brakes, a catalytic converter, and airbags. According to the source, the Tuscan Speed Six “places performance and handling above all else.”
21. The Diablo Lamborghini Strosek
According to HotCars, the Lamborghini Strosek Diablo is prohibited in America for two key reasons. First of all, it moves too quickly. Second, some of its design decisions disqualify it. For instance, the source claims that the headlights and side mirrors of the Strosek Diablo aren’t the most useful.
The Lamborghini Huracan STO is available if you’re keen on a Lamborghini. Because it’s a street-legal choice that still provides what you expect from a Lamborghini, the source suggests it as a substitute.
22. The TVR T350
Every TVR vehicle made between 1996 and 2006 is prohibited in the United States, according to Carsoid.com. The TVR T350 is a gorgeous sports car that didn’t hit the American auto market, like the Sagaris and Tuscan Speed Six.
Sadly, you can’t drive this exotic sports automobile because it failed several safety inspections, according to HotCars. For instance, according to the source, the T350 doesn’t comply with airbag regulations. However, it’s still a cool vehicle to admire from a distance.
23. The Series 1 Lotus Elise
The Lotus Elise Series 1 is a reasonably priced sports car, according to Classic & Sports Car. For instance, the source claims that the Elise Series 1 costs “a third of the price of an Esprit and 50% less than the Elan S2.”
Despite this, American drivers cannot purchase the Elise Series 1 since it is illegal. The Elise Series 1 is unlawful for a variety of reasons, according to HotCars. It is a right-hand drive automobile, for starters. It also lacks a roof and moves too quickly.
24. The Honda Beat
According to HotCars, the Honda Beat is not technically outlawed in the US. But it was never offered either. It was reasonably priced, cozy, and stylish, but it was never exported to America. The Beat, according to the source, was only offered in Japan.
The source claims that you can have a Beat mailed to you if you want to buy one. But doing that is expensive and frequently requires not only money but also the appropriate contacts.
25. The A110 Alpine
According to HotCars, the stunning Alpine A110 wasn’t created per American safety requirements. The source claims it’s understandable given that Renault, a French corporation that hasn’t sold automobiles in the US since the 1980s, owns Alpine.
Alfa Romeo 8C Spider Roadster by Keanan / CC BY 2.0. The Alfa Romeo 8C Spider Roadster is a gorgeous sports vehicle, but it is simply too fast for American roads. According to HotCars, the 8C Spider Roadster’s restriction is primarily because of its fast speed.
If it helps, Top Gear reports that Australia will similarly outlaw the Alpine A110 in 2021. So, this powerful sports automobile isn’t just out of reach for Americans. HotCars recommends the Porsche Cayman and the Audi TT RS as substitutes.
26. The MF5 Wiesmann GT
Before it was liquidated in May 2014, Wiesmann was a privately owned German automobile manufacturer that specialized in hand-built, customized cars.
The GT MF5, one of Wiesmann’s most renowned creations, was only capable of producing 55 units in 2009. A V10 BMW S85 with 547 horsepower was installed under the hood of the GT MF5.
The automobile has been tuned for track use. Even though it isn’t street-legal in America, it would be extremely expensive if it were. The GT MF5 is a very uncommon car, even though the brand only produced 43 of the 55 units that were planned.
In addition to being impossible for the car to pass the US safety test, finding one to buy would also be very difficult.
27. The Tommi Makinen-Designed Mitsubishi Lancer
Mitsubishi unveiled a limited-edition model of the legendary Lancer Evo in honor of the Finnish rally driver Tommi Mäkinen. This edition is available in two trim levels, the RS and GSR, both of which have been upgraded, modified and tweaked to the maximum extent.
The GSR has Active Yaw Control, an Anti-Lock Braking System, and bucket seats while the RS has a reduced shift ratio, a rear limited-slip differential, and optional Brembo brakes.
The Mäkinen Evolution is a quick, limited-edition rally car thanks to these improvements and a tweaked version of the turbocharged, 276-horsepower, 2-liter 4-cylinder engine from the original Evo. That this amazing construction was never offered in American markets is a shame.
28. The Blue Notion Volkswagen Polo
Volkswagen introduced a BlueMotion model of the Polo during the fourth generation of the vehicle, reducing its environmental impact.
A few models have included a BlueMotion trim, which designates a modified build that is more environmentally friendly. BlueMotion is a brand badge that Volkswagen has continued to use.
The Polo’s basic 1.4-liter engine was changed to have longer gear ratios, the body was made more aerodynamic, the tires were changed to low rolling resistance tires, and several of the construction alloys were swapped out for lighter alternatives.
As a result, a 70 mpg hatchback was produced—a vehicle that America would never be able to afford.
29. The XL1 Volkswagen
The Volkswagen XL1, which was unveiled at the 2011 Qatar Motor Show, is the third iteration of Volkswagen’s 1.0-liter automobile, which is effectively a plug-in diesel hybrid. The XL1’s two-cylinder, 47-horsepower turbo-diesel engine is said to have a theoretical fuel efficiency of 260 mpg.
250 units were produced starting in 2013, and all of them were sold to pre-sale applicants who essentially bought the cars before they were produced. Therefore, even though importing the XL1 is prohibited, it is safe to claim that it would be difficult to obtain one for sale.
30. The Mark II Bentley Azure
The Azure was a gorgeous vehicle in the middle of its first generation when Volkswagen acquired Bentley, and it was produced in 2003.
Bentley Azure by Greg Gjerdingen / CC BY 2.0. When Volkswagen acquired Bentley, the Azure was a stunning car in the middle of its first generation. It was built in 2003.
Volkswagen executives didn’t decide to revive the Azure and introduce the second version, known as the Mark II, until 2006. The Mark II is a powerful, high-end luxury car with a turbocharged V8 that produces 450 horsepower.
A chauffeur is typically expected to be behind the wheel of this kind of vehicle. Regrettably, Azure was only available in the Middle East, Europe, and Russia. It was added to the NHSTA’s list of nonconforming vehicles as well.
31. The Porsche 911 RS Carrera
The Carrera comes in a variety of versions, some of which were only marketed in certain areas, and there is a wide range of types that are on the NHSTA’s list of nonconforming vehicles.
It’s unfortunate that the RS trim, with its ferocious speed, never made it to North America because that’s what people there want.
The 2.7-liter, 210-horsepower engine used in the 1973 and 1974 models allowed this lightweight roadster to outperform other vehicles. The most genuine representation of Porsche’s dedication to producing high-quality vehicles is this Carrera.
Even though this Carerra is flawlessly constructed and expertly planned, it cannot be driven on American roads. Regulations governing emissions and security issues are frequently cited.
32. The Porsche 964 RS Carrera
The Porsche Carrera 964, often known as the Carrera 4, had an RS version that was produced almost 20 years after the 911 RS. It had a redesigned engine that could produce roughly 252 horsepower and was based on the 911 RS’s architecture.
The 964 boasts a fantastic power-to-weight ratio because of its ultra-lightweight construction and removal of the majority of non-essential features, making it the perfect recipe for an unstoppable racing demon.
The 911 RS America (964), which was made in America, was available in 1993 and 1994. The Carrera 2 served as the basis for the American version. Therefore, it didn’t matter because the original Porsche 964 is only allowed in European markets and cannot be imported into America.
You will be relieved to learn that the majority of cars that are prohibited are only produced for one year, whether you are looking only for information or to see if your dream car has made the unlucky list.
If you have your heart set on a specific vehicle, you may seek to have it for “Show or Display” purposes and receive it for a limited number of annual miles.
One thing to keep in mind is that “Show or Display” regulations do not apply to vehicles older than 25 years, thus you might soon see some of these in the US.
Bentley Azure by Greg Gjerdingen / CC BY 2.0
Jim Wicks is the founder of MotorVehicleHQ. With over two decades of experience in the automotive industry and a degree in Automotive Technology, Jim is a certified car expert who has worked in various roles ranging from a mechanic, car dealership manager, to a racing car driver. He has owned more than 20 cars over the past 15 years. Ask him about any vehicle you see on the road and he can tell you the make, model and year. He loves the aesthetics of all things cars, and keeps his vehicles in pristine condition.
In his free time, Jim enjoys getting his hands dirty under the hood of a classic car or taking long drives along the country roads. His favorite car? A 1967 Shelby GT500, a true classic that, according to Jim, “represents the pure essence of American muscle.”