7 Coupes and Cabrios You Can Import on a Budget
With the holidays coming up, spring and summer are just around the corner really, and it’s time to plan for a summer car that won’t break the bank. Sure, you could always get a suspiciously cheap Mystery Boxster, but everyone has a Boxster with unaddressed issues and fading paint. Likewise, everyone has a Miata that needs some parts — you won’t surprise anyone with those. But you can import a coupe or convertible from Europe or Japan and be just about the only person in your time zone with that model on a budget of $15,000 or less, sometimes far less.
Here are 7 sporty coupes and convertibles you can buy and import for not much money at all, ahead of the summer driving season.
Trevor cars may have left our shores a little before the Griffith debuted, but the recipe was remarkably the same: A beefy V8 engine paired with a fiberglass body and a couple of seats. The V8 in question was a 4.0-liter Rover V8 good for 240 hp sent to the rear wheels. Back in the day this meant a pretty hair-raising performance, and the fiberglass body didn’t weigh all that much. The trade-off was that there wasn’t much of an interior, and not much cargo room to carry something like golf clubs. So these were a driver’s car without the plushness of something like a Jaguar or a Mercedes cabrio of the same era. It helps that exterior styling has aged remarkably well for something that’s almost a 30-year-old design. TVR being TVR, the production run was not vast, but these can be readily found from the first four years of production, now eligible for importation. Prices are not sky-high, and owners have tended to baby the examples that haven’t ended up in ditches.
The MG RV8 is a bit of an oddball even for the British sports car industry. A vast gap in time separated the last MGBs from the RV8, just under 2,000 of which were produced between 1992 and 1995. The bodyshell was a deeply updated MGB design, now using a 3.9-liter Rover V8 engine good for 190 hp. The RV8 was a bit of a retro effort, one meant to gauge demand for the MG F that followed, using plenty of vintage MGB parts paired with some more modern Rover parts-bin items. A plush interior set these apart from earlier models, as did the power output and the heavier ride. A few of these are now in the U.S. and Canada, thanks to plenty of British sports car fans, and given the small production run virtually all examples have been babied from new.
This coupe and cabrio tag team replaced the Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce that departed the stateside Alfa lineup in 1993. But the cars never made it here because Alfa itself pulled out of the U.S. market in 1995. That’s a shame because the new 916-series cars were quite striking in person, with a sharp Pininfarina design and capable engines underhood. Power came courtesy of 1.8- and 2.0-liter inline-fours in the lower trims, but those who had a little more to spend could get them with a 3.0-liter V6 or even a 3.2-liter. Being Alfa Romeo cars from the mid-1990s, these two can be a little temperamental mechanically, but with Alfa sports cars that’s part of the deal you make with yourself: You’ll look great driving one on those days when the car starts. Still, the neglected examples have all faded from the roads, so all that’s left are the driver-grade cars and the club concours-level ones, since these have quite a following in Europe. With the 25-year importation window now open, we expect to see a few of these appear in the U.S.
Still have warm feelings for an MGB? The nineties successor to the longtime MG roadster (that wasn’t the MG RV8) was the MG F, and this time it featured a mid-engine layout with power going to the rear wheels. So this was essentially MG’s version of the Porsche Boxster, and was sized about the same. Power came courtesy of 1.6- and 1.8-litre inline-four engines, with 143 hp on tap in the top version, paired with five-speed manual transmissions in base form. There was a lot to like about these early on, but the model ended up being upstaged by the likes of the Mazda Miata. Still, the MG F carved out its own, somewhat regional niche in Europe during its production run, from 1995 till 2002. In its last years the model gained a more powerful 1.8-liter engine good for 160 hp, but for now you’ll be limited to the first couple years of production because those are the earliest eligible years.
The Barchetta, in spirit, was the successor to the 124-based Spider that had somehow made it well into the 1980s. It brought a fresh design language, a relatively tame starting price and some moderate thrills, but nothing too over the top. The Barchetta paired 1.8-liter inline-four engines with a modest but pleasant interior, as well as the reflexes of the Punto hatchback on which is was based. The exterior design was a little polarizing and perhaps not as aggressive as some competition, but the Barchetta was not meant to be a pedal-to-the-metal road rocket, as it was a little more relaxed. There are plenty of examples all over Europe, so there is a lot of choice when it comes to condition, but for now just the first year of production is up for grabs for importation. At least one owner we spotted a few years ago couldn’t wait the full 25 years and had somehow brought one into the country, so there is certainly a fan base for them here.
Fancy a hot cup of JDM? The Cappuccino paired a front-mid-engine layout with a tiny footprint and a 657-cc engine sending power to the rear wheels, making this kei car a blast to drive. 657-cc might not sound like much (and it isn’t), but the upside is the Cappuccino just didn’t weight all that much. Couple that with 50/50 weight distribution and it’s a recipe for some small-car-fast fun on back roads. The Cappuccino makes the Mazda Miata of the same era look like a big, lazy boat, and we all remember how small that Miata felt at the time. Produced from 1991 till 1997, there are still plenty of these around in Japan, and some have already made their way into the U.S and Canada since the model became eligible for importation. Best of all, they’re not expensive: All examples we’ve seen were less than $10,000. This makes it a bargain.
The Coupe was Fiat’s styling two-door in the early 1990s, coupling a brave Chris Bangle design with a modest footprint and thrifty engines. Produced starting in 1993, the Coupe offered a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four engine in top form, but base versions could be bought with a smaller 1.8-liter. The 2.0 liter served up around 220 hp, generous for its segment and price, offering plenty of thrills on a moderate budget. Later versions offered plenty of sporty equipment including Recaro seats, but those came toward the end of the product cycle. Just the first three years of production are up gor grabs at the moment, and they are quite affordable, provided you find the best-kept examples. One thing is for certain: You’ll be the only one with a Fiat Coupe at the next Italian car show.
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