Another year in the rearview mirror means a fresh batch of cars legally importable to the United States under the so-called 25-year rule. Also, you know, another opportunity to make resolutions and chart a path for personal improvement and growth.
But on to the important stuff: the cars. It’s a mixed bag this time around, perhaps even moreso than the class of 1991.
By 1992, Japan’s economic bubble was pretty well burst, sending the country into economic doldrums from which it has yet to fully escape. That meant much less capital for oddball offerings, but while the money still flowed freely, a few cool cars that were greenlit made it to production. The Soviet Union had just collapsed, yet Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod still managed to shove out a new(ish) model, to the delight (?) of the international motoring press. And despite this global uncertainty, companies were still forging a crop of truly modern supercars.
Now, 25 years later, you can bring them all together legally in the U.S. to round out your Ultimate Grunge-Era Car Collection — just make sure you read our how-to guide before you tango with the feds.
Alfa Romeo RZ (1992 – 1994)
Why is it cool: It’s the roadster version of the distinctive-looking Alfa Romeo SZ, styled by Zagato. Based on an Alfa Romeo 75, the RZ was powered by the familiar 3.0-liter V6 connected to a five-speed manual, good for just over 200 hp, and it combined a sharp exterior design with capable performance. Just 278 were made — a little over a quarter of the production of the coupe, which debuted in 1989.
Where to find one: All over Western Europe.
What to pay: The best examples can trade hands for over $60,000, but thankfully few people want them that badly. Driver-quality RZs can trade hands for as low as $35,000.
Will people notice it: Oh yes they will.
Downsides to owning one: Even though the engine and gearbox are from the Milano, very few other parts are. Your local Alfa Romeo dealership will not carry any body panels for it, and only the bravest independent shops will touch it.
Interior smell: Gently aging leather.
CDs found inside: New Order, Above and Beyond, Pet Shop Boys.
TVR Chimaera (1992 – 2003)
Why is it cool: A swoopy and once again scary-to-drive roadster from the U.K.’s sports-car cottage industry, the Chimaera combined a Rover-derived 4.0-liter V8 with a five-speed manual transmission and not much else. A more user-friendly version of the Griffith, the Chimaera added some variety to TVR’s lineup, which until the ’90s had been busy making wedges. A 5.0-liter V8 was on the menu as well, though all engines were versions of the “trusty” Rover 3.5-liter.
Where to find one: Just in the U.K., really.
What to pay: These can be found for as low as $8,000, but prepare to spend up to $25,000 for a well-sorted example with no needs.
Will people notice it: Yes, and they will think it’s some Porsche they’ve never seen before.
Downsides to owning one: Umm, none.
Interior smell: Old leather jacket, burnt rubber.
CDs found inside: The KLF, The Prodigy, Armin van Buuren.
McLaren F1 (1992 – 1998)
Why is it cool: From its game-changing performance to its great looks, this one speaks for itself. Truth be told, we forgot that the F1 was never officially sold in the United States; it has such a gargantuan reputation that it seems familiar. There is the matter of the seven federalized cars brought into the United States by a company named Ameritech back in the early 1990s (and then promptly de-federalized by their owners), plus however many have been brought in on federal show and display exemptions. Now, fabulously wealthy enthusiasts will have a clear, legally unambiguous way to bring these prize vehicles into the country and then drive them all over public roads as often as they’d like.
Where to find one: With a car like this, you don’t exactly need to scour the classifieds. Just pick up your glossy high-end auction catalog of choice (RM Sotheby’s, Gooding & Co., Bonhams); there’s bound to be an example trading hands soon.
What to pay: $10,000,000 – $14,000,000, depending on the configuration.
Will people notice it: Yes, and they probably won’t believe you when you tell them that your stunning supercar is a quarter of a century old.
Downsides to owning one: Short of needing to ship it back to Woking for genuine factory service, we can’t think of any.
Interior smells: If you have to ask, you can’t afford them.
CDs found inside: Slightly classier versions of whatever is in the Chimaera, plus a Pavarotti best-of album for those cliche high speeds ‘n’ opera music drives.
Maserati Ghibli (1992 – 1998)
Why is it cool: The Gandini-styled Ghibli (whose successor is once again back in dealerships) was effectively the last in a long line of renamed and restyled Biturbo cars. This means that most of the mechanical issues had been sorted even though the Biturbo engines remained in the form of 2.0-liter and 2.8-liter V6s. All of that aside, the Ghiblis offered sporty handling, a luxurious interior, plenty of power and a stylish (for the early ’90s) exterior.
Where to find one: Just a little over 2,200 were made during the six-year production run, and most are pretty easy to find in classic dealerships.
What to pay: Obviously, you want a car with a well-documented service history. $20,000 will get you a clean example that has been well-maintained.
Will people notice it: Yes, and they’ll think it’s a Volvo 780.
Downsides to owning one: Parts are difficult to get — that’s pretty clear. But on the other hand, Biturbo parts cars are dime a dozen.
Interior smell: Leather.
CDs found inside: Tiesto, Paul Oakenfold, Opus III.
Alfa Romeo 155 (1992 – 1998)
Why is it cool: The 155 was Alfa’s go-to midsize offering for most of the ’90s, having replaced the 75 that we received in the States as the Alfa Romeo Milano. With sharp Volvo-like exterior looks, the 155 was available with a huge selection of engines ranging in displacement from 1.7-liter to 2.5-liter, and a couple of diesels as well. The 155 was not a huge success in the marketplace for a variety of reasons, one of which was the switch to a front-wheel-drive layout, but plenty were made and plenty remain.
Where to find one: Southern Europe, Benelux countries.
What to pay: $5,000 is all the money needed for a tidy example with few demands.
Will people notice it: Yes, and they’ll think it’s a Volvo 850 that someone rebadged as an Alfa.
Downsides to owning one: Even though the U.S. once again has Alfa dealerships, that doesn’t mean it’ll be as easy to maintain one as it is a Chevy Caprice from the same era.
Interior smell: Spanish cigarettes.
CDs found inside: Paul van Dyk circa 2001, Gigi D’Agostino, ATB.
Autozam AZ-1 (1992 – 1995)
Why is it cool: Japan’s economic boom produced many strange things. Some of those strange things were even cars, and the Autozam AZ-1 has to be one of the strangest. For one, it’s a Mazda — one of Mazda’s short-lived sub-brands, to be precise — built by Suzuki. It’s a kei car, so it’s tiny (and gets a tiny midmounted turbocharged 660 cc engine) but well-equipped (that motor is mated to a five-speed manual). To make things more complicated, it was also sold as a Suzuki Cara. From the tail, we want to say it looks a little like a Power Wheels Nissan Skyline, and in profile, maybe a chibi-style NSX or Ferrari F40. But then it’s got those crazy gullwing doors. No matter how you slice it, this is a special, wacky little car.
Where to find one: Japan, mostly, but some have made their way to Canada (and curiously, a few have been offered for sale in the States).
What to pay: $7,500 to $15,000 and up, depending on condition and trim level. They’re somewhat rare — the Japanese recession meant they weren’t exactly spreading their gullwing doors and flying off Autozam lots.
Will people notice it: Definitely — but only a tiny minority of folks, even enthusiasts, will have any idea what it is. Even after you tell them it’s an Autozam.
Downsides to owning one: Even after you line up a parts source in Japan (none of the cars it shares parts with were sold here), they’re reportedly a bear to work on due to cramped engine-bay conditions. Then there’s that special kei-car risk of being splattered like a bug by someone in an SUV.
Interior smell: Seven Stars Menthol.
CDs found inside: Flipper’s Guitar, Tatsuro Yamashita.
GAZ 31029 (1992 – 1997)
Why is it cool: When it debuted in 1992, the 31029 represented the continuing evolution of the old GAZ 24 sedan, which itself debuted in 1970 and had been facelifted a number of times since then. A placeholder designed to keep the factory going until the arrival of the new 3105, the 31029 used a lot of GAZ 2410 components and an evolution of the 2.4-liter inline-four, which itself was an earlier facelift/placeholder model. A lot of these went into government service in the early 1990s and had been used by the end of the decade, if not sooner, but maintained an “official” look.
Where to find one: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine.
What to pay: $7,000 will get you a clean, lightly used example.
Will people notice it: Yes, and they’ll think it’s a Volvo 240.
Downsides to owning one: Parts are dirt cheap, but you need to know people. Also, it will take forever to explain to people what it is. Also, it’s very slow: 20 seconds from 0 to 60 mph.
Interior smell: Unfiltered Belomorkanal cigarettes, gasoline, exhaust fumes.
CDs found inside: Vladimir Krug, PPK, Mumiy Troll.
Honda NSX-R (1992 – 1995)
Why is it cool: The NSX is just plain cool. Winston Wolfe drove one, for Christ’s sake. Well, this is the Type R version. Lighter (by 265 pounds for a 2,712-pound curb weight), stiffer, powered by a blueprinted version of the regular car’s 3.0-liter V6, free of superfluous nonsense like air conditioning, sound deadening, a spare tire or traction control, this is the NSX Honda would have built if they weren’t so darned concerned with making even their mid-engined exotic a somewhat sensible vehicle. Except they did go and build this one, but only 483 of them and only for the Japanese market. When Senna attacked Suzuka in that famous video, he was behind the wheel of an NSX-R.
Where to find one: Japan is probably your best bet.
What to pay: NSX prices are on the rise, but with just 483 NSX-Rs produced, we’re not sure how to value these — expect to pay well north of $100,000 for an example, though.
Will people notice it: Type R or not, most normies are going to think the NSX is just some sort of fancy Honda. They’re not wrong, but …
Downsides to owning one: You’re not going to want to break any of the special/expensive parts and pieces on this limited-edition collector-grade model, which undermines the NSX’s appeal as an everyday exotic. This problem is common to all NSXs as values creep upward, though to a lesser degree.
Interior smell: A faint, mysterious whiff of Ayrton Senna’s cologne.
CDs found inside: Trick question. A stereo was optional, but the hardcore NSX-R is best enjoyed in standard spec — without a heavy sound system.
Bugatti EB 110 SS (1992 – 1995)
Why is it cool: If the Honda NSX and the McLaren F1 are shaping up to be timeless, perpetually fresh designs, the Bugatti EB 110 is definitely a product of its era. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — there’s something to be said for period pieces, especially when they’re backed up by performance that’s jaw-dropping even by modern standards. This car is based on the EB 110 introduced a year earlier, but thanks to its 600-hp quad-turbocharged 3.5-liter V12, the SS variant can blast to 62 mph in 3.2 seconds. It maxes out at an impressive 216 mph. The product of the short-lived pre-Volkswagen Group reincarnation of Bugatti, it’s a remarkably ambitious machine, even if it lacks the elegance of the marque’s prewar offerings. Arguably, we wouldn’t have the Veyron and Chiron today if Romano Artioli and co. hadn’t brought the company back from the dead, if only for a few years. Just over 30 SS models were produced.
Where to find one: According to the EB 110 registry, they’re scattered everywhere money gathers, from Brunei to Monaco to Saudi Arabia.
What to pay: $800,000 – $1,000,000.
Will people notice it: People might think its some sort of Fiero-based Lamborghini kit car, but they’ll notice it.
Downsides to owning one: Look, the Bugatti World folks are never going to consider this a real Bugatti, but that will just make showing up to a rally in one even funnier.
Interior smell: Premium leather, decidedly non-premium off-gassing plastics.
CDs found inside: Obscure, terrible Eurodance mixes left behind by the fast-moving second owner after he fled somewhere beyond the reach of Interpol.
Jaguar XJ220 (1992 – 1994)
Why is it cool: The XJ220 was supposed to be a V12-powered, all-wheel-drive world-beater. Development troubles meant the production car — a rear-driver with a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 — was considered severely compromised, if only in comparison to what might have been. All in all, just 271 were built. With the passage of time (and a market hungry for 1990s exotics) has come a growing appreciation for the XJ220; the focus has shifted from its shortcomings to its assets. Its looks hold up well, and it can still whip much younger cars with a stated 3.6-second 0-60 time. Though its 213 mph top speed is no longer the fastest in the world for a production car, it’s not like you’re going to explore that upper limit regularly anyway.
Where to find one: England. Unsurprisingly.
What to pay: $350,000 – $500,000; prices are on the rise.
Will people notice it: Yes, and as with the McLaren F1, they’ll probably have a hard time believing it’s as old as it is.
Downsides to owning one: Poor visibility, intimidating maintenance requirements — typical supercar problems, really.
Interior smell: Good leather, (knock on) wood veneer, hopefully no electrical-system smoke.
CDs found inside: Suede, Pulp, Blur.