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British Sports Cars Not Originally Sold in the U.S. That Should Have Been

Some of these are even legal to import to the States by now.

As the song by the same name by The Rolling Stones goes, you can't always get what you want. Sports-car-minded Americans surely have the tune dancing through their heads when it comes to British sports cars. Having created some of the world's most interesting roadsters and coupes, the Brits have for the last forty-some years mostly refused to make them available to enthusiasts in the former colonies. Here, we've compiled eight of our favorite British sports cars that weren't sold in the US of A when they were new. Some are old enough that they are now becoming eligible for legal importation—as for the others, add them to your to-import list for the future, because they are worth the wait.

1996-2000 Lotus Elise/Exige S1

We all love small, nimble, mid-engine sports cars, which is why waiting some 12 years after production began for other markets to enjoy the Lotus Elise in the U.S. was so difficult. By then (2001), the car was in its second iteration. And while the Elise was certainly quicker and more capable, the simple, friendlier styling of the original Series 1 version had given way to an overall more manic appearance. The original, produced from 1996 to 2001, wore endearingly quirky "bug eye" headlights and took styling cues from such cars as the Ferrari Dino 206/246 GT. Engines were all 1.8-liter four-cylinder Rover units, and while the least powerful spec offered not much more power than a contemporary Miata (about 120 horsepower), the sprint to 60 mph was doable in under six seconds thanks to its diminutive 1,600-lb curb weight and aggressively short gearing. You haven't totally missed out, though—early Series 1 Elise models will finally be eligible for U.S. importation in 2021.

1992-1994 Jaguar XJ220

For not much more than a year, Jaguar's XJ220 supercar was the fastest production car in the world, with a top speed of 212.3 mph. It was dethroned by the McLaren F1. None of that mattered much to American buyers, since the Jag wasn't available here at any price given how it didn't comply with safety and emissions regulations. Meanwhile, back in England and other parts of the world, Jaguar struggled to sell its near £500,000 sleek mid-engine monster. Partly, this was due to a global economic downturn, though a lot of early consumer interest soured when the V-12 engine Jaguar originally suggested for the XJ220 was replaced by a twin-turbo V-6 similar to that used in the MG Metro 6R4 rally car. From our seats, we're at a loss for how this was, um, such a loss. The car is stunning, and Tom Walkinshaw Racing, who won the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans outright with a Jaguar XJR-9, helped with development. Today, XJ220s are old enough to be imported to the States legally, but they'll still cost you a pretty penny. Tens of millions of pretty pennies, actually.

1992-1996 Ford Escort Cosworth RS

Racing homologation specials are by their very nature some of the raciest road cars available to the public. After all, they're built purely to satisfy regulations demanding that a minimum number of production vehicles back up a racing model—s0, it behooves their makers to imbue them with gobs of performance, as it only makes for a stronger base for the racing version. Ford competed for six years in the World Rally Championship series in the mid-'90s, and you can thank that effort for the 2,500 road-going Ford Escort Cosworth RS models built to secure eligibility in the Group A class. Road versions of the Escort Cosworth RS made around 225 horsepower from a single-turbo 2.0-liter inline-four engine, and sent that power to all four tires via all-wheel drive and a five-speed manual gearbox. Proving that the hot-hatch scene was fiery hot in England and Europe at the time, total Escort Cosworth RS production ended up exceeding 7,000 cars, well beyond the Group A homologation minimum. While a few of these feisty Fords trickled through questionable U.S. federalization in period (actor/racer Jason Priestley was one owner), they are now legal for straight-up importation as-is.

2011-present Noble M600

England is home to a shrinking many small, "cottage-industry" automakers who produce small, powerful and racy cars for the street. Noble is one of these brands and the M600 is its youngest offering. Produced in either carbon fiber- or fiberglass-bodied configurations, with a fixed lid or an open roof,  the M600 uses a 4.4-liter V-8 engine produced by Volvo and Yamaha beefed up by two turbos. (Yes, that Yamaha-designed Volvo V-8, the tightly wound unit that ended up in the brand's S80 sedan and XC90 SUV about a dozen years ago.) Garrett's variable-boost turbochargers boost the V-8's output to 450 horsepower, and Noble can tune it up to 650 ponies if you'd like. A curb weight of some 2,700 lbs and a manual six-speed gearbox are two throwbacks to a different era of supercar, but the M600's performance is properly modern: It'll accelerate to 60 mph in only three seconds and a can reach a top speed of over 200 mph. There is currently no legal way to own an M600 for street use in the U.S.

1990-1992 Lotus Carlton/Omega

For three years starting in 1990, a Lotus-tuned variant of the Vauxhall Carlton and Opel Omega rear-drive sedan twins was built in the U.K. These two were phenomenal and very rare sports sedans, with plain bonkers stats for the period. By enlarging the Opel's standard 3.0-liter inline-six engine to 3.6 liters and bolting on twin Garrett turbochargers, power was bumped to 377 horsepower and 419 lb-ft of torque; those figures are strong even today. The Carlton and Omega used a ZF-sourced six-speed manual transmission lifted from the C4-generation Chevrolet Corvette (remember, GM still owned Opel at this time) and the suspension was given Lotus's signature treatment. Capable of reaching 60 mph in as little as 5.2 seconds, these four-door Lotus specials were among the quickest four-door cars in their day. Today, these rare sedans (only 950 were produced) are eligible for importation to the U.S. under DOT's 25-year rule.

1993-2000 Aston Martin V8 Vantage

After roughly two decades of V-8-powered DBS and AM models, the all-new Virage replaced Aston Martin's aging AM V8 for the 1990 model year. But while the Virage was initially offered in the U.S., uninspired sales meant it was discontinued following the 1993 model year, when the sleeker and less expensive DB7 arrived for 1994. And that's a shame, because between the 1994 and 2000 model years, Aston Martin produced the cooking version of the Virage, dubbed the Vantage. Twin-supercharging (yes, you read that properly) the Virage's 5.3-liter V-8 engine resulted in 550 horsepower and 555 lb-ft of torque, enough to punt the big coupe to a top speed of 186 mph. In 1998, another boost came in the form of the V600, a 600-hp, 600 lb-ft variant. Final units were dubbed Le Mans editions starting in 1999, and payed homage to Aston's 1959 outright win at the 1959 24-hour race (with Carroll Shelby at the wheel), bumping power incrementally again and adding ducts in the front fenders to emulate the 1959 DBR 1. These final editions have held their value well, and are worth several hundred thousand dollars today.

2015-present Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

Who needs a station wagon with a 550-hp, supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 that can hit 60 mph from a standstill in well under 5.0 seconds and continue on to a top speed of 186 mph? Apparently no one living in the U.S., according to Jaguar. The automaker decided not to sell its people-hauling rubber-burner to Jag enthusiasts across the pond, even though the storied English brand finally decided to bring its XF wagon Stateside. Sorry, Yankees, but the hottest version of this attractive wagon that we can order makes do with a supercharged 380-hp 3.0-liter V-6. Hey, maybe in 21 years, your dream of owning one here will come true when the Jag is eligible for legal importation. As a bonus, you could also then legally buy that dream a drink.

1995-2011 MGF/TF

When the Mazda Miata launched in 1989, it reminded the world how much fun a back-to-basics, two-door, two-seat, drop-top sports car could be. Sure, the car didn't have much power, but neither did it require taking out second home mortgage to afford. The Rover Group ironically took a page from Mazda's book—which was published using MG's own '50s and '60s-era sports cars as a template—when it created the MGF, a modern day homage to its past MGB roadster. Unlike MG's early sports machines, the MGF located its engine in the middle of the chassis. A thoroughly modern 1.8-liter inline-four making 120 to 145 horsepower, depending on spec, provided plenty of oomph for the lightweight roadster. MGF production began in 1995, with evolutionary changes marking the model's rename to MG TF in 2002. Unfortunately, just a few years later the Rover Group was bankrupted and sold to China's Nanjing Automobile, and that company's attempts to make the car profitable ultimately failed by 2011.