Mythbusting: Can you legally import an R34 to the States?
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer nor a customs worker. I highly recommend you to do your own research before importing cars that might be subject to the 25 year law.
I have never been a huge fan of Skylines and probably will never be one. However, that video of that white R34 being crushed was simply painstaking. Now those who do not live in the States might be pounding on your desk, asking, “WHY ON EARTH WOULD A SANE HUMAN DO THAT?!”, and here’s the thing. R34s are illegal in the United States.
Well, we will go deeply into the fact of the legal availability of importing R34s into the ‘Land of the Free’, but before going into the question of is it legal or not, I will answer some of the most common myths going around in the whole JDM community.
Recognize the scene? Image from Youtube
Myth 1: R34s were banned for being too fast, outrunning the cops
This is probably one of the most hilarious myths I have ever seen while researching about the whole topic. As you might have expected, that is false. Firstly, the R34s were not fast enough to actually outrun a police pursuit vehicle. Officially, all Japanese cars of the era had a horsepower limit of 276hp and a top speed limit of 180km/h(111mph). Although the top range R34 V Spec II Nur had 330 horses under the bonnet when it left the factory, the speed was still limited under around 250km/h. This meant it was not impossible for police pursuit vehicles of the era to actually catch them.
Image from Pinterest
Secondly, if the US government was really worried about outlaws running away in fast cars, the R34 was least of their problems. The C5 Corvette produced 345hp at minimum, and there were plenty of fast US-market Mercs, Beemers, and Porsches that were ‘approved’ by the government. Therefore, if the government has really been worried about high-speed chases, it would not have just targeted the R34, but also tons of other performance vehicles on sale.
Image from Clearit USA
Then why are R34s illegal in the United States? It is because of the famous, or some would say, the infamous 25 Year Rule. The 25 Year Rule is basically saying that you legally cannot import non-US market vehicles that are less than 25 years old. The 25 Year Rule was first mandated in 1988, way before the R33 or the R34, and the focus was not even JDM vehicles. In the 1980s, grey market vehicles have been a massive boom in the States. In 1985 alone, more than 60,000 grey vehicles were imported to the States. Those grey vehicles were cheap, and often quite tempting, but there was a fatal flaw in it. Safety hazards.
Image from Bring a Trailer
Mercedes Benz was especially concerned about the safety of these grey vehicles and had conducted its own experiment. They purchased a 1985 500 SEL with airbags, and it turned out that it was actually a 1984 vehicle(fraud), did not have airbags(fraud + unsafe), and extra parts were added dangerously just to match local laws. Unfortunately, a lot of these grey market cars had similar issues, and combined with American car manufacturers getting angry over losing the consumers; in 1988, the Vehicle Safety Compliance Act was put into law, thus prohibiting the import of any non-US cars under 25 years of age.
Thankfully, you can drive any of these oldies without worrying about regulations also thanks to the 25 year rule. Image from Classic driver.
So, to be fair, the rule was initially meant to stop grey market cars from endangering their citizens while still opening up room for classic car enthusiasts as there are zero obligations for cars over 25 years of age. But unfortunately, the R34 was produced between 1999 to 2002, meaning we should wait at least 4 more years to legally import early R34s.
An R34 with a California plate? Now making a Porsche 917 road legal will be easier than getting an R34 licensed in California... Image from Youtube
Myth 2: My friend/boss owns an R34 and it even has plates! Is it legal?
Now, this is another huge myth to debunk as we often see cars that we should not be seeing. And in 99% of the cases, I’m sorry, but those cars are illegal, and those people you have seen are technically ‘smugglers’.
Note: The vehicle above is obviously registered in Europe and has no relation to illegal imports. Image from Pinterest
There are only three legal ways to import a non-US vehicle less than 25 years old, and that is why I did not say 100% but rather 99%. Although the specific details of it are a story for another day, to be brief, either you prove that your vehicle complies with US standards, prove that your vehicle is ‘substantially similar’ with US market vehicles, or get a ‘show and display’ approved car.
Of course, you don't do a crash test that way... Image from Youtube
The first method of complying with US standards involve crash testing and other painful legal stuff, meaning unless you have 3 more R34s to spare, you are not going to do that. The second method has a higher chance of approval, but it is rather for people who want their Canadian market car to use in the US instead of buying one. So, this is for people who want to import a Canadian car that was once sold in the US. You can try with Japanese R34s, but it rarely passes.
Image from ewallpapers.eu
Last but not least, there is the third show and display approved car. You’ll probably know that Bill Gates imported a Porsche 959(which is illegal in the US), and this is how he did it. Now, do not get hyped about this law. This law is for the super-rich and extremely rare cars, and the US government even has a list of cars that are approved and denied for show and display.
The R32 GT-R Nismo is one of few cars that can be legally imported into the States. Image from Reddit
As expected, almost 99% of post R32 Skylines ever produced are denied for show and display, with the exemption of extremely rare R34 M Spec Nur(2002), early R34 V Spec(1999), and Nismo R32s. In most cases, to be approved for show and display, the production number should be lower than 500 and should have never been sold in the US, meaning it does not apply for most of us. Most of all, show and display cars have an annual mileage limit of 2500 miles, meaning you are not going on a transcontinental road trip on it.
Image from Marketwatch
Then you might be wondering, how did they get a license plate? Well, you do not get it the ‘normal’ way of driving your car to the DMV office as they will obviously start asking you for legal papers that I will not mention for the sake of clarity. Instead, you go to Florida, where most of the license plate offices are privately owned and often do not really care whatever you’re driving. But the fact is though the car might have a license plate, it did NOT pass NHTSA and EPA standards, meaning the vehicle can be impounded and crushed into a cube.
Impounded R33... It's fate has been sealed. Image from US Attorney's office
Myth 3: I heard there were some shady ways to import R34s...
Straightforwardly speaking, yes. That myth is very true, and there are some shady ways that you can import R34s. Regardless, there are still two things to clarify. One, it is still illegal. And two, that means the cops can take your beloved R34 and crush it into a piece of metal anytime. For those two reasons, I highly recommend NOT to use these illegal ways to import your R34. You can not only lose your car but even be sentenced to jail time.
Note: The car shown above is perfectly legal under American law and has no legal issues. Image from Garage Defend
One of the easiest ways to illegally import a car is basically ‘smuggling’ the car into the US. Borrowing the words of Doug De Muro,
1. Place your Nissan Silvia in a container bound for America.
2. Tell the government that container holds Toyota Corolla dashboards.
3. Fill out your paperwork saying that the container holds Toyota Corolla dashboards.
4. Arrive at the port, ready to collect your Toyota Corolla dashboards.
5. Drive home in your Nissan Silvia.
Now, this is totally illegal, like any other type of smuggling whether they are guns or drugs. And also, this means that you can be sentenced up to 20 years of jail time and $250,000 fine. Back in 2015, a man who knowingly imported an S15 Silvia was sentenced 36 months of probation and a fine just over $18,000.
Image from junkmail.co.za
Still, there is another method of bringing in an R34 without ‘smuggling it’, which is separating the engine and the rest of the car. Therefore, you are shipping ‘car parts’ not smuggling in an illegal vehicle. The government had soon found out what these guys were doing and once again, tons of Skylines were sentenced to death.
Note: This vehicle is legal under Canadian law and does not have any legal problems. Image from Autotrader.ca
As a bonus, there is one more way to bring in an R34. Yes, you are right, you use the help of your friendly neighbour, the Canadians. Thankfully in Canada, where I live, we have less strict laws regarding the import of non-Canadian vehicles. Instead of the 25 Year Rule, we have the 15 Year Rule, meaning you can import any non-Canadian vehicle that is more than 15 years old, and that includes the R34.
Note: This vehicle is not related to any form of illegal import activities shown in the article. Image from High Import Performance
So, what you basically do is ship your car to Vancouver and register it, or buy a registered vehicle. Then, you ask a friendly Canadian to drive your R34 down to Florida and leave with the keys inside the car. It’s a relatively easy way to do so, but still, it is ILLEGAL! This guy who is selling his R34 M Spec Nur in Canada has even explicitly mentioned “I will not drive it over and leave the keys on it.” for people who were trying to ‘import’ the car without having to register for show and display which limits the annual driving limit.
One of few legal R34 GT-R MotoRexs. Image from GT-R USA Blog
Myth 4: I’ve heard there are some government-approved R33s and R34s in the US
The existence of these government-approved R33s and R34s has been debated, and surprisingly, those ‘unicorns’ are not just a myth. In the early 2000s a company called MotoRex actually went through the process of ‘legalizing’ the R33 GT-R. So basically, these guys were doing it the hard way, by crash testing and reinforcing those cars. Eventually, the government allowed MotoRex to import these modified R33s.
R33 GT-R imported by MotoRex. Image from Reddit
However, the problem begun when MotoRex started selling R32s and R34s, telling the government that they were R33s. Furthermore, they stopped doing the bothersome process of crash testing and converting them to comply with US regulations. Eventually, the US customs found out, and MotoRex was forced to shut down.
Image from GTR USA Blog
So what happened to these ‘falsely approved’ R32s and R34s? Surprisingly, the US government wrote a letter to every single MotoRex car owner, regardless of whether it was certified or not, and confirmed that their cars were legal. The US government saw that the customers were rather deceived by an importer who falsely claimed that their cars were legal.
A MotoRex R33 GT-R. Image from Kinja
Even to this day, these MotoRex Skylines are legal in the eyes of American Law. Therefore, at the end of the day, finding and buying a MotoRex Skyline is the one and only legal way for you to own an R33 or an R34 Skyline unless you’re importing one of the few limited-edition show and display cars.
I'd rather import these legally instead of risking my car getting crushed... Image from procarsclub.com
At the end of the day…
To sum up, the only way you can own a legitimate R34 is to either find a MotoRex vehicle or buy a limited edition one that can be exempted under the Show and Display Act. There are a few more facts that I did not touch as the article was already long enough, such as Californian emission laws, state rules, and racing vehicle imports, but those are for another day.
Image from Quadis.es
The point is that follow the 25 Year Rule and your car will not be impounded. Just buy cars that have been sold in the US or older than 25 years. The 25 Year Rule might seem absurd, but it is here for the reason that regards the safety of many people, and as a responsible citizen and a driver, you should be following the laws. Just wait for 4 more years, then we’ll be able to hear the I6 noise of R34s in the States.