There is a slew of great cars throughout the world that, for one reason or another, we can't get our freedom-loving hands on. However, there's also a vast amount of awesome rides we can bring over stateside, and it's actually much easier than you'd think.
The steps you have to take and the people you have to go through varies greatly by the car you're bringing in, but this is how you do it.
1. Make sure it's over 25 years old
If the car was originally manufactured 25 years prior to the day it reaches the U.S. shore, you're golden. Simply tick the first box on the standard importation form, be ready to show some kind of proof, and you're good to go as far as Uncle Sam is concerned. You'll need to make sure it's kosher with regard to your state inspection laws, but for most states that's not too challenging (sorry, California).
2. Federalize it
There are quite a few cars that are already eligible to import. You will need to bring it up to spec, though, and the kicker is you need what's called a registered importer (RI) to do so. Basically, you need to prove that the car is close enough to another vehicle (read: almost identical) that it can be fully brought to U.S. safety and environmental regulations. Check this list to see if the car you'd want to bring in is already considered eligible. If it is, it's time to get a hold of an RI to walk you through the rest of the process.
3. Ship it in for "Show or Display" purposes
This is a little bit tougher, and is actually the result of many years of hard work by guys like Bill Gates—whose Porsche 959 was held by U.S. customs for over a decade while he waited patiently and lobbied the government. The bottom line is that the car can't have been originally for sale in the U.S., currently in production, a one-off special, or made in numbers larger than 500. Even then, you need to prove that it's of "such historical or technological significance that it is in the public's interest to show or display the vehicle in the United States." If you manage to pass all that, you're good, provided you can get the car to meet pollution standards.
4. Make sure it doesn't "technically" count as a car
Obviously this is financially prohibitive, but for the sake of argument, say you had the kind of funding to do a complex project car. You could, in theory, strip the car down and bring in just the parts that the government doesn't care about. Removing the engine, transmission, wheels and tires, seat belts, brake hoses, and the like will result in the car being counted as parts. Put U.S.-legal versions of those parts on the car (i.e. buy the parts here), register it in your state as a custom vehicle, and you're all set.
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