Octane
By Amos Kwon
on 3.17.14

While the majority of Americans look for their next vehicle at their local car dealership or online, there are some who spend countless hours to hunt down and import foreign cars that were never sold here in the states, at least legally. Typically these cars were never intended for the American market and as a result didn’t meet our restrictive safety and emissions standards. Some of these hungry customers abide by the law; others attempt to circumvent or outright defy federal regulations to get their hands on their holy grail of autodom.

One of those grails just might finally be legally accessible to enthusiasts and collectors here in the U.S. for the first time in, well, ever. It’s the Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R, the car that birthed the current Nissan GT-R supercar. The R32 has a big cult following not just in Japan but all over the world because of its power, handling, sleek design and, of course, exclusivity. So, if you’re in the market for something that will make Porsche 911 owners green with envy, you’ll want to read on.

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First, a bit about the actual car. The current GT-R is, of course, bonkers in all the right ways. But it owes its name and its a legacy of performance to the R32. Nissan brought the Skyline GT-R back in 1989 after a sixteen year hiatus from racing. It was this third-generation car, the R32, that earned the nickname “Godzilla” because of its incredible power and performance. The R32 GT-R’s impressive 2.6-liter twin-turbo, inline-six engine was good for 276 hp and and 266 lb-ft of torque driven to all four wheels. Plus, it had the advantage of four-wheel steering, making it more nimble and tractable.

To give you but a small indication of how good it was, the R32 Skyline GT-R took an astounding 29 straight victories in the Japanese Touring Car Championship. Plus, it just looked damn fine. The long hood, bulging fenders, big spoiler and quad circular taillights provided just enough automotive ferocity while maintaining clean Japanese lines. For all of the aforementioned reasons, it became an icon, coveted just about everywhere.

2014 officially marks the first year you can import the 1989 R32 GT-R and not end up with an empty garage and a pair of cuffs on your wrists.

But the 1989 Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R never met US FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) as regulated by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and DOT (Department of Transportation). Some intrepid R32 GT-R devotees have attempted to circumvent the import restrictions by having the Skyline GT-R (and other banned cars) imported as parts, then reassembled and registered as show cars and driven like every day commuters. These are the nuts who can’t contain their passions, like cigar freaks who clandestinely import shipment after shipment of unbanded Cuban cigars since the legal stuff just won’t cut it. Uncle Sam doesn’t like this, so the violation of import laws is policed pretty heavily — with boy racer dreams coming to an ignominious end by way of confiscation, steep fines and possibly time in the pokey. If only they had waited.

2014 officially marks the first year you can import the 1989 R32 GT-R and not end up with an empty garage and a pair of cuffs on your wrists. Why? Well, the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 49, part 591.5(i) now gives you the legal permission to bring in the R32. It states:

No person shall import a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment into the United States unless, at the time it is offered for importation, its importer files a declaration, in duplicate, which declares one of the following:

(i)(1) The vehicle is 25 or more years old.

Ah, the sweet quarter century mark. Now, there is a second governmental agency potential owners will need to get through as well, but it’s not as restrictive as The Code of Federal Regulations. That body is the EPA, which requires the car to be older than 21 years and in its original configuration (stock) to be exempt from EPA regulations for automobiles before you can bring it here. If you’re a California resident, regulations are much more stringent: your car has to be 38 years old. No R32 for you, but you can get your hands on a lovely 1976 280Z.

The process can be involved but is definitely achievable by your average human. Whether it’s an R32, an ’81 Land Cruiser or a ’75 Toyota Celica you have your sights set on, you’ll likely want to find an importer or broker who can assist you in finding the vehicle here or overseas. If it’s already legally imported and the substantial customs paperwork has been completed, you’re good to register the vehicle and create jealousy high and low. Plus, you’ll no longer be limited to the 2,500 annual miles of driving for show cars. If your car is still overseas, the process is longer and involves de-registration, shipping and all relevant paperwork.

The cost of a 1989 R32 GT-R in good condition (with miles that can range from 50k to 180k) is anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000, and that doesn’t include the charges from the importer/broker and shipping costs from an international freight forwarder, both several thousand dollars. If you’re this dedicated, you’ll also want to factor in the price of GT-R parts, which are substantially more than other cars from the same year. Sellers know you’ll pay a premium for your newly acquired GT-R’s parts, and you don’t have too many choices, since it’s no Honda Civic.

Despite the rigamarole, in the end, what you get is a car that will be unlike just about any other in your neck of the woods: fast, lean and uniquely right-hand drive. With the numerous hoops and exorbitant costs behind you, you’ll simply have one of the most worshiped cars ever in your driveway.

CHEERS, JEERS? We’d love to hear from you. Email the author at akwon@gearpatrol.com and let him know what you think. It’s what warms our oil pans. Thanks for reading.

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