Why is the Nissan Skyline R34 Illegal in the USA and how to get a legal one?
Skip to the good stuff:
- Why is the Nissan Skyline R34 Illegal in the USA and how to get a legal one?
- I’ve seen Skylines driving around, doesn’t that make them legal in the USA?
- How to legally import a Skyline R32, R33, and R34 in 2019
- Motorex and the Skyline Scandal – why the Skyline used to be easy to import
- It all sounds great, but what happened?
- What happened to the Nissan Skyline R34s that were released by Motorex?
- What’s all the fuss about the Nissan Skyline R34, anyway?
- Is the Nissan Skyline R34 any good compared to modern sports cars?
Mike here –
There’s something about the Nissan Skyline R34 that makes it one of the most desired Japanese sports cars in the 90s and early 2000s. But is the Nissan Skyline R34 legal in the USA? The short answer is NO… But like all laws, there are loopholes. When the car is 25 years old (or older) it will be EASIER to import, but not necessarily have a green light. This means you’ll have to wait until 2024 to get the R34 model imported. The good news is that right now you can import most R32’s (the 1994 edition will be eligible later this year 2019)
- Third generation (1989–1994) Skyline R32 – All models available to import in 2019
- Fourth generation (1995–1998) Skyline R33 – All models available to import in 2023
- Fifth generation (1999–2002) Skyline R34 – All models available to import in 2027
Let’s dig into why are Sylines illegal in the US…
I’ve seen Skylines driving around, doesn’t that make them legal in the USA?
No, certainly not. We’ll dive into this later on but here’s the tl;dr is this:
Some of the r33’s that were made between March 1996 and July 1998 were grandfathered in and that’s why you’ll still see some 33’s legally on the road. You’ll even sometimes seeing “Moterex Imported Skylines” for sale and that’s because before Motorex was shutdown the Feds allowed the owns that were already imported to stay.
So there you have it, the Skyline isn’t illegal because it’s too fast, powerful, or anything, but because it doesn’t pass the EPA emissions regulations and crash test. Read more about NHTSA and their vehicle importation guidelines here.
How to legally import a Skyline R32, R33, and R34 in 2019
The Racing Joker on YouTube has one of the best, least ‘clickbaity’ videos on this topic. Give his vid a watch and then read on to learn more about foreign vehicles.
Before the Motorex scandal, the laws of importing Skylines were much looser. But now it’s much more difficult to import an R34 version (the R32 and R33 version would be easier to import yourself because they’re older) but below are three legal ways to import a Skyline to the US.
Option 1: Import the car yourself (works best for the Skyline R32)
Okay, here’s the 4 options you have for importing one yourself.
- Skylines (and other foreign cars) that are 25 years old are easier to import. This means that most Skyline R32’s are eligible for import now, 2018/2019. Sorry R34 owners, you’ll have to wait until 2027.
- Register your Skyline as a Show Car or Display car. This is certainly an option, but hey, who wants their Skyline sitting in a showroom right? You’ll want to be driving that beast! Also keep in mind if you go this route, you CANNOT DRIVE IT ON THE ROAD!
- Race cars and inoperable cars. If you are making a drag car you shouldn’t have a problem importing the Skyline R34, but it will not be road legal!
- Buy a new Nissan GTR (R35). While it’s not the most ideal situation and you’ll be forking over $100k, you can buy a new Nissan GT-R (R35) which is in the same family but dropped the “Skyline” name.
Option 2: Pay a Registered Importer
If you imported the vehicle with a Registered Importer (RI). The RI will modify the vehicle to comply with all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). Under the new vehicle importation guidelines, all motor vehicles less than 25 years old must comply with FMVSS safety standards in order to be eligible for use in the United States.
In other words, you can now technically import a Nissan Skyline R34 and make it road-legal in the USA. But the entire process of linking with the RI and modifying the vehicle for road-worthiness will cost a pretty penny.
How much? Hard to say. You’ll have to factor in the initial cost of the car, shipping fees to get it overseas, import taxes, federal taxes, and other ‘hidden costs’ that aren’t yet known. Then you have to work with the RI to make sure it passes emissions test and crash collision tests. This gets expensive and can sometimes mean gutting the car to replace or upgrade parts to make it ‘safer.’
In the end, I’d say about $20k-50K is what you’d pay to import a Skyline r34 legally. Considering the fifth-gen Nissan Skyline R34 is manufactured in 1999 to 2002, that’s a heft price tag to pay for a nearly 20 year-old car!
But if you have the money to burn and if you really, really want to own an R34 Skyline, go ahead. It didn’t used to be this way, though. If you happen to see a Nissan Skyline R34 roaming around the streets before the NHTSA modified the import regulations, that car is probably the result of the Motorex scandal in 2006.
Option 3: Purchase the Skyline used or from ImportAVehicle
I’ve got to first admit that I’ve never used these guys before, but they look pretty legitimate. For about $30,000-50,000 you can purchase a Skyline from them which they’ve done all the leg work to import it to the US. So you won’t have to mess with the RI, paying freight costs or other crazy taxes.
This seems like one of the most hassle-free way for a guy with the extra cash to get a Skyline R32 imported to the US.
Motorex and the Skyline Scandal – why the Skyline used to be easy to import
You see, Motorex is the first to import and legalize the Nissan Skyline R34 in the USA. The company can trace back its roots in the early 1990s working out of California. Before importing exotic Japanese sports cars, Hiro Nanahoshi established Diversity Services to export lowriders, custom cars, and Chevy Astro vans to Japan. Mind you, American cars were huge in Japan back then.
During that time, the biggest exporter in the land of the rising sun is A.I. Craft, which is owned by Wataru Noto. Hiro decided to join A.I. Craft in 1996 with the dream of exporting Nissan Skyline’s in the USA.
Suddenly, the inevitable happened. The Asian stock market crash in 1998 made it impractical to export cars from the USA. That’s when Hiro convinced Noto and Mr. Sawami (who owns Advance Auto Group) to import Skyline R34s instead. Together with Ken Takahashi of Ground Zero, they formed GT Autohouse, which became Motorex.
Motorex quickly became a legit importer of the Nissan Skyline R34. The company worked closely with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to legalize the cars for road use. But it wasn’t as simple as it sounds. In order for the Nissan Skyline to comply with strict U.S. standards, the car needed to complete a series of crash tests. This includes testing the front, rear, and sides for impact protection.
At first, the Nissan Skyline R34 passed the front and rear crash tests. Unfortunately, the results were poor in terms of side impact protection. Motorex had the tough job of modifying the car in order to comply with the side-crash test, which includes lowering the door bar along with other confidential mods.
The problems were eventually sorted out in 1999. At the same time, Motorex got the EPA’s approval for emissions testing. In order to comply with smog and emissions standards, Motorex had to install three additional catalytic converters in the Skyline’s exhaust system. This is not good news for achieving the renowned acceleration, top speed, and performance of the Nissan Skyline R34. A single catalytic converter is enough to disrupt the exhaust flow, so what more if you install three additional cats?
However, all of this is needed to legally import the Nissan Skyline in the USA. After getting approval from the DOT and EPA, word quickly got out that the famed Nissan Skyline R34 is finally coming to the USA. The Motorex warehouse became the destination of choice of those who want to take a glimpse of the Nissan Skyline R34.
During that time, older models of the Nissan Skyline (the R32 and R33) could fetch upwards of $50,000. The R34 model presumably cost more. Potential customers soon found out that they can buy their Nissan Skyline’s directly from Japan and have it imported to the USA, with Motorex handling the legalization process. This is the hole or the discrepancy in the Motorex business model.
The customers can simply hire Motorex to import and legalize the vehicle, right? This is good news for potential customers since the whole cost of legalizing and importing the vehicle to U.S. shores will only rack up $16,000 in additional charges apart from the cost buying the car in Japan.
And as it turns out, there’s not much money to be made if Motorex successfully imports and legalizes a Nissan skyline R34 in the US for a paltry $16,000. But there’s another unforeseen problem that crept its way into Motorex: the entire process from importing to legalization is an excruciatingly slow and arduous process.
After the car arrives in the Motorex warehouse, it will be shipped to an independent emissions laboratory for EPA testing. The process can sometimes take weeks or months before the car is EPA-certified. Next, all the results of the EPA testing will be compiled and sent to the DOT for further analysis. This includes sending all the related papers and photographic evidence that the car modified and street-legal. After this, the DOT will send a bond release to Motorex to finalize the legalization process.
It all sounds great, but what happened?
It was a mix-up of hard partying, mismanagement, and diversification of funds. Hiro became a party animal. Motorex was so popular that it began catering to rock stars, movie stars, and celebrities who loved the idea of owning an exotic Japanese sports car. Hiro also succumbed to heavy alcohol and drug abuse, which made him incapable of handling the day-to-day affairs of Motorex.
At one time, Hiro was so intoxicated after a night of hard partying that he spent $25,000 to buy a random girl he met at a bar a brand new car. The complicated process of importing, legalizing, and certifying the cars in the garage was too much to handle for a man who was partying more than three times a week. As a result, Motorex was unable to keep up with the demand of angry customers who were waiting for their cars to be released.
Due to this fact, Hiro was under immense pressure to keep Motorex afloat. The company was losing money fast, and his impractical spending habits were of no help, either.
So, you know what Hiro did? He began releasing the cars even without the approval and certification from the DOT. It was chaos. Some customers knew their Skylines were illegal, but simply took the car home. For others, they didn’t care if the car was legal or not. The time and the money spent took its toll. They took the car and never looked back.
Naturally, the DOT took notice and revoked the registered importer status of Motorex in February 2006. The DOT found out that there were a total of seventeen (17) Skylines released to customers that didn’t pass DOT certifications.
The poop eventually hit the fan. Hiro was in debt. Motorex came to an end. After a slew of charges ranging from assault to theft to involvement with the mafia, the party was over.
What happened to the Nissan Skyline R34s that were released by Motorex?
The U.S. Department of Transportation allowed the customers to keep their cars. Since the cars were bought legally, it will make no sense to seize or confiscate the vehicles. In a bizarre turn of events, all Skylines released by Motorex are still technically illegal in the USA unless the cars will conform to the new NHTSA regulations for imported vehicles.
However, the so-called Motorex Skylines can still be driven provided the owner has a letter from the DOT to guarantee the legality of the vehicle. It’s all a bit confusing, but that’s how it is.
What’s all the fuss about the Nissan Skyline R34, anyway?
We’re sure you’ve seen the Fast and the Furious movie franchise, particularly the first and second installment of the series, right? The Nissan Skyline R34 is a direct descendant of the current sixth-generation R35 Skyline GTR. The Skyline R34 was released in 1999. It was shorter than the R33 by 2.9-inches and the front wheels were relocated closer to the front. This gave the car better high-speed stability and the handling prowess of a track-based racing car.
Nissan engineered the R34 model to be stiffer by as much as 50 percent to further enhance the handling of the vehicle. Nissan shoehorned a 2.6-liter inline-six motor called the RB26DETT. The motor is an engineering marvel with six individual throttle bodies, 24 valves, and a parallel twin-turbo set-up to churn out 327-horsepower. The engine is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox with power routed to all four wheels.
Oh, and the Skyline R34 also came with four-wheel steering. It also won the Japanese Touring Car Championship 29 consecutive times, hence the nickname Godzilla. The Nissan Skyline R34 was so good that it quickly demolished any sports car in its path. Those are the reasons why the R34 Skyline is a special car.
It also helps it gained worldwide popularity when the later Paul Walker power-slided a blue Nissan GT-R to victory in the movie 2Fast 2Furious.
When drifting came in the sport automotive scene, the rear-wheel drive bias of the Nissan Skyline also made it one of the best cars for drifting.
Is the Nissan Skyline R34 any good compared to modern sports cars?
That would be like comparing apples to oranges. Look, the R34 Nissan Skyline was manufactured in 1999 to 2002. Considering the age of the vehicle, you can’t expect much in terms of refinement. Yes, it is a pretty fast car even in stock form, but the RB22DETT motor is robust enough to handle up to 1,000 horsepower!
So yes, it’s a great driver’s car in the hands of an expert. It also has the old-school looks and charm to match the performance credentials. But there’s a caveat: all Nissan Skyline R34 models are right hand drive only. Yes, even the car Paul Walker used in the movie is right hand drive.
If you happen to be planning to buy or legally import a Nissan Skyline R34 in the USA, you must prepare to always drive on the wrong side of the car. It’s not particularly super-quick in stock form, but it can catch up quickly with modern sports cars and supercars after a couple of extensive and costly engine mods. In short, the Nissan Skyline R34 is a dinosaur in this modern world. But no other Japanese sports car is as desirable, controversial, or as popular as the Nissan Skyline R34.
In short, after spending close to $80,000 or $100,000 for a Nissan Skyline R34, the driving and ownership experience will never be perfect. But who knows? The value might shoot up five or ten years from now given the low volume of R34s currently in existence.
It’s funny that a lot of people are saying the Nissan Skyline R34 is illegal because it had too much power during the time of its release. The truth is that the R34 only had 280-horsepower from the factory as a result of a gentleman’s agreement between Japanese car manufacturers. Although the real horsepower figure is closer to 320-horsepower in stock form, other cars from the same era had more horsepower such as the Chevy Corvette ZR1 and the Ferrari Testarossa.
The fact is the Nissan Skyline R34 is not generally intended for the U.S. market. It’s as simple as that.
I hope this guide has helped you understand more about Nissan Skylines being illegal in the United States.
The good news is that if you can settle for a Third-Gen Skyline R32 (1989-1994) you should be able to import one relatively painlessly (although it might still cost $10,000 grand), or you can buy one from an RI for about $30,000.
The bad news is that if you have your heart set on a Fifth-Gen Skyline R34 (1999-2002) you’ll be waiting another 8-9 years (2027).