5 great cars you cant buy in the UK and how to import them
27 July 2023
By Joy Pearson
They say you can’t have it all, but that’s cold comfort when you see something you really, really want, only to find it’s out of your reach. As broad as the UK car market may be, not everything is available locally. Car manufacturers have to consider the cost of exporting and the state of the local automotive market when choosing which models to export and which to keep at home. The upshot of all this is that some cars simply can’t be bought commercially in the UK. Let’s take a look at 5 of the best, and then we’ll give you some tips as to how you might be able to buy some of these from their home country and import them directly into the UK. Who knows, maybe you can have it all…
Let’s start with a classic. The Chevrolet Corvette is the UK’s most imported car, with 1,409 registered at the time of writing. While previous years saw the Ford Mustang topping the American muscle car list, the Mustang is now commercially available in the UK. The Corvette remains, sadly, import-only. One look at the 2020 C8 model and you can see why it’s so popular. What more can be said about a car that’s been described as "the most successful concept car in history and the most popular sports car in history” ? The current C8 model, is powered by a 6.2 liter naturally aspirated V8 engine called the LT2, generating 495 horsepower. Although the C8 is currently only available on import, Chevrolet announced that in October 2021 they will be producing a right-hand drive Chevrolet C8 Corvette Stingray that will be available in the UK.
For something more affordable we have the Renault Kwid. This 5 door hatchback was initially designed by Renault for the Indian market, launching in that country in 2015. The design was given a facelift in 2019, updating the design of the front grille and wheels. Renault has also produced an electric model based on the Kwid, called the Renault City K-ZE, which was launched in China in 2019. The appeal of these cars is their price point. They were developed specifically for the Indian, Brazilian and South African markets and so have been kept as cost-effective as possible. The Kwid retails in India for the equivalent of £2,945. Currently only available on import, it’s possible this car may eventually be released in the UK as a Dacia through Renault’s Dacia-Lada business unit.
Take a Jeep Wrangler, lengthen the chassis and bolt a pick-up bed on the back. The 5539 mm long, 1875 mm wide Jeep Gladiator is a 4x4 monster, both longer and wider than a current model Toyota Hilux. The Gladiator is made for off-road conditions, with large 33-inch tires as standard and 283mm ground clearance. The Rubicon model runs on a Rock-Trac 4x4 system with a super-low range setting and mechanically locking differentials. It also features a ‘smart sway-bar’ which is an anti-roll bar that can be decoupled automatically from the driver’s seat. The doors and roof can be removed and the windscreen can be unbolted and folded down onto the bonnet. This off-road giant is a little less happy on tarmac, with some owners complaining of wandering steering during highway driving. The Jeep Gladiator is best suited for adventurous drivers who want to see what it can do in challenging off-road conditions. Although the Gladiator is still only available on import, Jeep does produce both left and right-hand-drive models for other markets, which potentially saves on conversion costs.
The Century is Toyota’s answer to the Rolls-Royce. It’s an ultra-luxury 4 door limousine that’s been in continuous production since 1967 in Japan. And unfortunately Japan is the only country where you can buy one. That is, if you can track down the right dealership. The Century is not available at regular Japanese Lexus dealerships; it can only be purchased at specifically identified Toyota Store locations. This is an ultra-luxury vehicle that is less for driving and more for being driven in. Less than 10 percent of Century owners will ever drive it themselves; this is a chauffeured car through and through. The design team "focused on the Emperor" when putting together the interior. It features rear seats with 100% woolen upholstery, a recline feature, integrated heaters and a massage function. And indeed when the Japanese Imperial Family moves around the country or participates in parades, this is the car they do it in.
The Honda S660 is another car only sold in Japan, although slightly more reasonable than the Toyota Century. It’s a mid-engine roadster, designed as a kei-car for the Japanese market. The S660 weighs approximately 830 kg and runs on a turbocharged 658cc, S07A Turbo engine giving it 47kW (63hp) of power. Small, sporty and affordable, it’s been described as “the format of a Ferrari for the price of a Fiesta”. Earlier this year Honda officially announced that it will end the production of the S660 in March of 2022. This means that models are still around but are no longer in production. However, if you want one you could still import it directly from Japan.
But … I Want One
Still tempted ? That’s good, because it’s still possible for you to get one of these cars into the UK and (if necessary) make it roadworthy. The easiest way to navigate the red-tape of vehicle imports is to have a professional do it for you. There are a number of reputable vehicle importers in the UK and the prices may be lower than you think. For example, importing from the USA can cost around USD $650 (£475) and take around two to four weeks.
All vehicles imported to the UK must meet certain standards and you’ll need the documentation to prove they’ve been met, including evidence of compliance with emissions standards. Documentation you will need may include the original title, certificate of origin, bill of lading and dock receipt. Although it’s quite technical, the UK Department for Transportation has a detailed guide that you can download.
The imported vehicle may also need to be converted in order to comply with UK roadworthiness standards. Currently the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) requires cars up to 10 years old to pass Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA). Some possible modifications to meet these standards may include color and position of indicator lights, rear fog light, speedometer that includes kilometers, number plates, protrusions (long tail pipes etc.) and more. The IVA fee is £199 and conversions start from £650 plus parts, plus VAT. Again, there are a number of reputable companies that will do these conversions for you and help you with the paperwork.
All that remains then is to register and plate your vehicle, pay any remaining VAT or duty and you’re done. Clearly the import process is more than simply buying directly from a car lot in the UK. But for the right car it might just be worth making your automotive dream come true.