Why Is The Nissan Skyline Illegal In The United States?

author avatarJoe Terrell
05/01/20201st May, 2020
Filed under Car Guides

Did you know that not all Nissan Skylines are illegal to import into the US? We’ll be crushing the fake news and bringing you the facts in this guide.

nissan skyline r34

Here, you can click on a particular section within this article, otherwise, scroll down as we cover all of the details when it comes to importing a Nissan Skyline into the US.


As you’ve probably been able to tell, we’re HUGE fans of the Nissan Skyline here at Drifted.

We’ve already published numerous Skyline guides, and we’ve been noticing that there’s a lot of confusion surrounding their current legal status in America.

Our fans have frequently been asking us for the truth and clarification on the matter.

So, for that reason, we’ve decided to write an entire guide, bringing you all of the fascinating facts and answering the all-too-common question; ‘Why are Nissan Skylines illegal in the US?’

We initially mentioned the subject, and also gave some clarification, in our Paul Walker Skyline article, since the F&F franchise undoubtedly helped the Skyline’s rise to become a cult classic in the US.

The star of the Fast and the Furious was undoubtedly one of the biggest R34 GT-R fans in the US and was also lucky enough to have owned and driven several of them, including the legendary Mine’s R34 GT-R, in Japan.

But, what if you’re not looking to head to Japan to get your Godzilla fix? What’s stopping you from importing your own and becoming a local hero on the streets or the track?

Any car that’s over 25 years old can bypass the ridiculous US legal system

We’ve got some good news for you! Any car that’s over 25 years old can bypass the ridiculous US legal system.

This means that you can entirely legally import and own a Nissan Skyline R31, or R32 GT-R into the US right now (unless you’re in California, which brings its own typical complications).

At the time of this article going live, you can also legally import yourself any Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R that was registered pre-1995.

nissan skyline r31

However, if you’re looking to import a Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R, you’re going to have to hold out a little longer, which we’ll explain next.


Can I legally import the Nissan Skyline into the US?

First up, we’d like to clear the air and explain that there are some Skyline models sold on the US market, mostly under the ‘Infiniti‘ brand, which are in an entirely different league.

We’ll be focusing on the much-loved cult classic JDM-spec Nissan Skylines in this guide.

You’ve probably heard the rumors floating around with BS reasoning as to why the later-model Nissan Skyline R33 and R34 GT-R’s are currently illegal to import into the US.

camo r32 skyline

Some of the more popular answers we’ve heard are “Because they’re right-hand drive,” or “Because they’re so fast the Police can’t catch them.”

Right-hand drive cars are not illegal in the US

If you hear either justification from a vaping Honda owner at the local meet, calmly walk away from the conversation and hand them a link to this article 😎.

Firstly, right-hand drive cars are not illegal in the US, and since the R32 is now US-legal, that clears up that fact.

Although they certainly aren’t common, even the US Postal Service has frequently used RHD cars, mainly for convenience, as they allow for ease-of-access to the curb.

There are two plain-and-simple reasons as to why the Nissan Skyline is illegal to import for road use, and it’s entirely down to the US import laws.

Vehicle Safety Standards and Emissions

Any car sold in the US needs to meet a long list of US Federal compliance specifications.

To meet these specifications, you need to submit several cars to a private crash-testing company for them to assess and analyze the vehicle in numerous different safety crash scenarios. They also need to meet NHTSA, DOT, and EPA requirements.

90’s JDM cars aren’t known for their structural integrity, and they certainly don’t have most of the safety features that you’d expect from even the most basic ‘poverty-spec’ cars on the market in the present day.

nissan r32 skyline in trailer

So, what’s the problem? Why hasn’t anyone done this?

Well, for example, if you wanted to import an R34 GT-R, you’d need to submit four R34 GT-R’s for crash testing and allow them to be destroyed, just to be later told that they don’t meet the safety requirements.

We don’t personally find that proposition hugely tempting!

However, this has been done previously, by a company called ‘Motorex,’ which we’ll take a more in-depth look at later in this guide. But, for now, we’ll just say that they went on to ruin any chances of anyone being able to do this.

Why didn’t Nissan pay for the testing?

Since the cost of testing can sometimes be huge, with some significant changes being made to the design of the car and the chassis to pass scrutineering, it simply wasn’t worthwhile for Nissan to do so.

Given that they’d already created such an incredible car, which was already legal in Japan, and also accepted in most countries across the world, the chances of it being profitable once it had been re-designed for the US market were slim.

nissan skyline r33s

Not to mention that they would potentially have to make the car worse in the process, in a similar scenario to the Nissan Silvia 240SX, which didn’t come with the SR20DET that the rest of the world was gifted.

Although it probably could have passed the much-less critical testing back in the 90s, there were still complications with converting the car to left-hand-drive, since the turbochargers and plumbing were in the same location that they’d need to use for the steering column.

Simply put, it would have been a lot of work, and since the Skyline didn’t have a broad appeal to the mass-market, Nissan simply decided it wasn’t worth the time and effort.

Although we don’t have any doubts that this is true, we find the reasoning that it would most likely fail emissions testing rather amusing when compared to some of the ridiculous road-legal cars and trucks in the US.

But I’ve already seen Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R’s in the US?

There could be several reasons for that, mostly through loopholes in the law, or potentially illegal activity. We’ll explore these options later in this guide.

If you’ve jumped past the previous section, and you’re hoping that we’ll be able to give you the convenient and straightforward answer of something along the lines of ‘use an import company!’ It’s a little more complicated than that!

The 25-year rule

There is an exception, however, assuming that the Nissan Skyline that you’re hoping to own was originally registered over 25-years ago, which makes it exempt from the strict legislation under the classic car scheme.

Rather amusingly, if you’re hoping to bring a Skyline in that was registered 24 years and 360 days ago, you stand no chance of bringing it into the US unless you wish to empty your bank account by trying to pass it legally.

r32 skyline battles nissan silvia s14

Alternatively, wait one more week, and all of the laws and regulations all become a distant memory. Once the car is over 25-years past the original registration period, you’re free to import absolutely anything as long as it comes with the OEM engine or at least one with EPA certification.

There is one US state that’s an exception to this rule, and you probably guessed it – California. Although it’s not impossible, expect to pay big bucks if you’re looking to get anything post-1975 legalized.

Good ol’ ‘Murica.

Show and Display

Although the ‘Show and Display’ bypass isn’t applicable for all Skylines, you may be lucky if you’re looking to import one of the rarer models that Nissan created.

Bill Gates most famously used this rule to bypass the ban on the Porsche 959

Bill Gates most famously used this rule to bypass the ban on the Porsche 959. Since Porsche refused to provide enough cars for crash testing, it never fully achieved US legislation.

However, a bunch of rich dudes came together and fought against the law so that they could import some super rare and expensive cars to show off in their museums and garages.

As you probably guessed, they won, but there are some exceptions.

r34 skyline taillights

For example, the Nissan Skyline R32 HKS Zero-R only ever had ten cars produced, with a rumored four still in existence. Due to the rarity of the vehicle (less than 500 sold), this would have been allowed before the 25-year rule.

Another example would be the Nissan Skyline R34 Nismo Z-Tune, with just nineteen cars ever produced, which included two prototypes.

The awesome Nissan Skyline R33 LM and the 400R would also most likely count as exceptions, but we wish you luck with getting your hands on them!

If you do happen to purchase a Show and Display car, then you won’t be able to sell the vehicle without pre-approval from the NHTSA in their efforts to combat profiteering. You’ll also be limited to using the car for up to 2,500 miles per year.

It may be an ideal way to get a rare model into the US before the 25-year rule kicks in if you can deal with keeping Godzilla locked up in your garage. We’d personally find the temptation pretty hard to resist!

So, if your Nissan Skyline isn’t over 25-years old, and isn’t rare enough to qualify for ‘Show and Display,’ your only real options are the following.

Wait for the classic car rule to pass, or purchase numerous identical Skyline’s for them to smash to pieces in the hope they somehow allow it to pass. (Hint: This is a terrible idea.)

Interested in the history of the Nissan Skyline? This great video from Donut Media covers everything you need to know!


How NOT to import a Nissan Skyline

Those of you that have considered importing a Skyline over the years, or simply been a massive fan of these incredible cars, would probably have heard a couple of the most famous Skyline stories out there.

The Motorex story

It’s a pretty complicated scenario, and there are plenty of articles available online if you’re looking for a wild Skyline-based story.

We’ll cut it short and explain the basics, as it’s an excellent example of how NOT to go about bringing a Skyline into the US.

Founded in 1998, Motorex made the first import applications to legally bring the R33 Skyline into the US, by providing several cars for crash testing using the correct government-approved processes.

With the help of a legitimate company, JK Technologies, they made every compliance alteration necessary to make the Skyline’s pass the strict US testing procedures, right the way down to the “objects may be closer than they appear” stickers in the mirrors.

Now, despite everything looking legit up until this point, things would soon change.

pink r34 rear

Motorex had only provided R33s for testing and then went on to claim that the data for the R32 and R34 were identical (which was a lie,) and therefore, wouldn’t require further testing.

Anyone that has seen an R32, an R33 and an R34 in the flesh would know that they’re all very different cars. Sorry to say, but the R33 looks like it spent a little too long at the buffet compared to its slimmer siblings!

Not only that, but he also ended up scamming several owners out of their cars and creating a Ponzi scheme with the money

The R32 also didn’t hold up in crash testing due to not being airbag-equipped, unlike the R33 and R34.

So, with some dodgy business going on with importing the Skylines, the owner of Motorex, Hiroaki Nanahoshi, was also attracting a little too much limelight, since it turned out he wasn’t only interested in Skylines. There are also some strong rumors of drug-running and hookers – sounds like a movie, right?

Not only that, but he also ended up scamming several owners out of their cars and creating a Ponzi scheme with the money.

They also stopped carrying out the required alterations and adjustments that had made the vehicles legal in the first place.

Things would go downhill from there, and after this came to light, the NHTSA banned further importation of Skylines. The saving grace for those that had already got cars they’d been promised was that they remained legal.

They also refused any future requests for those that wanted to go down the official route. This would make the legal compliance and testing carried out by JK Technologies void.

So, if you had considered forking out the money for compliance testing (which wouldn’t be worthwhile anymore, since we’re so close to the 25-year rule), you can thank Hiroaki Nanahoshi for that never being allowed to happen again!

The Kaizo Industries Story

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the wild stories with Skyline importers of the past ended there, but Kaizo ensured that there was another one for the books.

In 2009, an owner of an R34, who had purchased it from Kaizo Industries had Kevlar-clad, armed ICE agents turn up at his house with a seizure warrant on the car.

It seems slightly dramatic, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, that goes to show the extent that the government was willing to go through to get the illegal import situation under control – it was pretty serious business!

With over 50 Kaizo cars at the country at the time, it was a concerning time to be an owner, especially if you’d purchased the car with the assumption that it was entirely legal.

ICE stated that almost all of the Skylines from Kaizo were classed as ‘contraband’

At first, it appears that the owners were targeted, but not Kaizo themselves. However, in June 2009, they turned up at their offices, once again Kevlar-clad with guns drawn.

They went on to seize three vehicles, and take all computers and records from their offices.

ICE stated that almost all of the Skylines from Kaizo were classed as ‘contraband’, and the FBI, DOT, EPA, and CARB would later join ICE with tracking down all of the ‘illegal’ cars.

nissan skyline r33 idling

How had Kaizo got away with this for so long?

Well, the crazy thing is they’d import these as ‘kit cars,’ where they would bring them into the country in separate parts, and later go on to re-assemble them again once the car and its components had landed in the US.

Where Motorex had gone down the legal route, to some extent, Kaizo was trying to bypass loopholes in the law, which, as you can expect, eventually backfired.

It must have been a pretty scary time for those owners that had unsuspectingly purchase cars from Kaizo, who provided with either sixty days to either export the vehicle or have the opportunity to see them crushed.

One of the Skylines seized from the Kaizo offices was the original ‘hero’ car from The Fast and the Furious, which later went on to sell for $1.4m.

What’s the moral of these stories? DON’T import a Nissan Skyline illegally!

nissan skyliner r34 lost bumper

Wait for the 25-year rule and then bring one over legally without needing to worry about SWAT teams turning up at your door, ready to turn it into a scrap metal cube.

Sure, the 25-year restriction sucks, but having your car destroyed would undoubtedly be far worse.


Denver cop with a legal R34 GT-R… Wait. What?!

Thankfully, not all cops are on the hunt for Skylines to impound, nor do they intend to turn up with automatic weapons and Kevlar vests with the intention of swooping yours off your driveway.

This cool cop in Denver copped himself an R34 Skyline. Sorry, R32.4 (front end-swapped) R32 Skyline GT-R. We’re not entirely sure if the car gets driven as it should do, but he certainly seems to be a keen enthusiast.

This was the very first legal R32 Skyline GT-R to be imported into the US, supposedly rolling over the border from Canada just one minute after it was legally able to do so

After initially wanting a Nissan GT-R, he realized that the 25-year rule had passed on the R32 GT-R, and went about importing this awesome 1989 model with an R34 front-end.

This was the very first legal R32 Skyline GT-R to be imported into the US, supposedly rolling over the border from Canada just one minute after it was legally able to do so. That’s kinda cool, huh?

Although it was running 310hp at the time, the owner hoped to get it up to around 500-550hp eventually to reach a “nice happy medium for a daily driver” (Hold up. He’s definitely not driving this thing sensibly!).


Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve most probably got the idea by now!

For those of you that are hoping to import a Nissan Skyline GT-R that’s under 25-years old into the US, you’ll want to ensure that it’s completely legal, as unlikely as that seems.

There are some occasional exceptions to the rule, such as buying a model which sold less than 500 models, but you can count on them having an extremely high price tag, and you’ll also be restricted as to how many miles you can do in a year under the ‘Show and Display’ scheme.

Your best chances for getting your hands on a later-model R33 or R34 in the US currently, is to purchase one of the ‘legal’ Motorex models (see above if you’ve skipped that story).

nissan skyline r33 drifting

Otherwise, if you’re looking to bring in an R34 GT-R, our advice would be to wait it out until 2024, when the earliest models will become fully legal in the US, assuming it still has the original engine under the hood.

Alternatively, why not consider one of the older Skylines? Sure, the First generation KPGC10 “Hakosuka” which was launched in 1969 will set you back a lot of cash, but it’ll undoubtedly be a great investment for the future.

If you have a limited budget, but would love to get your hands on a Skyline, why not consider the mostly-forgotten R31?

Or, if you’re not entirely sold on the Nissan Skyline just yet, then did you know that the Nissan Silvia S15 will also be legal to import into the US at the same time as the R34 in 2024? 1999 was certainly one of Nissan’s finest years!

So, there you have it, it’s certainly been a wild ride for the Nissan Skyline in the US so far! We hope that we’ve provided you with all of the information you’ve needed to get you up to speed with what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to bringing a Skyline into the US!

While you wait for the 25-year rule to come around, why not check out our RB26DETT Vs 2JZGTE – Which Is Better guide?

Or, take a trip down memory lane as we look at some of the Best JDM Cars Of The Nineties.

Considering getting yourself an R35 rather than waiting for the R33 or R34 to become legal? Check out everything you need to know in our R35 GTR/VR38DETT guide.

Thank you for reading our Why are Nissan Skylines Illegal in the US guide.

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author avatar Written by Joe Terrell Drifted.com founder, motoring journalist and all-round car enthusiast. Read more about Joe and the Drifted team on our about us page.

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