The Weird World of Imports

You can finally buy a used Nissan Skyline and drive it in the U.S.—the bad news? Because of an archaic import rule, you’ve got to be very, very, careful.

The Weird World of Imports

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that this week has kicked off the last U.S. auto show of the season. The New York Auto Show is taking place over the next couple weeks in the Big Apple and the media just finished getting a preview of what the public can check out, starting this weekend. One of the more interesting things on the floor there happens to come from the Japanese brand, Nissan. At the show, Nissan is showing off its brand new 2017 Nissan GT-R alongside a number of pristine examples of Japanese car heritage—The Nissan Skyline. The good news is that you can finally buy a used Nissan Skyline and drive it in the U.S.—the bad news? Because of an archaic import rule, you’ve got to be very, very, careful.

First, a bit about the coveted Skyline: With a heritage that goes back to 1969, the Skyline GT-R, known simply as in automotive circles Godzilla, was the top-of-the-line, flagship of Nissan’s performance line. It was technologically advanced, and relatively affordable when compared to performance cars of its era. The Skyline GT-R was never produced outside of Japan and became a sports car icon because of its ability to set new benchmarks for street car performance. It gained massive popularity as a result of a certain British automotive show naming it one of the best cars in the world—followed by a number of choice appearances in pop-culture--the Fast & Furious movies and Gran Turismo video games.

It’s rare to see a Skyline on this side of the pond, however. With the exception of the few gracing the floor of the massive Jacob Javits Center in New York City, you likely will not see a Skyline GT-R rolling down the street. Why you may wonder—if the cars are so good—and so affordable—would there be so few on American roads?

The reason lies in an archaic and rather controversial 25-year import rule. This rule essentially says that the Feds will waive the Motor Vehicle Safety standards (which controls things like lighting, and crash safety standards) for cars that are older than 25 years old and didn’t meet U.S. regulations when they were brand new. So hey, maybe you can find a cool used car, for a good price, that’s also a major cultural icon! Cool, right?

Not so fast. The cost of ignoring the 25-year import rule and importing or buying something from overseas that was produced in say, 1992, can be HUGE. There are stories of Skyline owners watching their precious cars being crushed once they’ve been found out by the Feds. There are others like this story of a guy who imported a Nissan Silvia and faced up to 20 years in prison for it. There are also things like the story of the illegally imported Mini, and the more than 40 Land Rovers that all ended up in a junk heap. These stories break any automotive enthusiast’s heart but the Feds aren’t planning to let up. Enthusiasts however, still import and sell these kinds of cars, and run the risk of getting caught.

Which brings us back to those pristine Skyline GT-R’s gracing the floor at the auto show. There’s one there--a beautiful gold R34—that could potentially face the same fate as many of the concept cars at the show if it was sold or permitted to drive on U.S. streets. Why you may ask? It wasn’t produced until 1999. That means that technically the R34 is just 17 years old. IF, (and it’s a big IF) say, Nissan decided to sell it, try and get plates for the car, and drive it on the street, the Feds could seize it and crush it for violating the 25-year rule.

So how do you protect yourself (and your precious investment) when shopping for a fantastic, imported, new-to-you car? It comes down to doing your research. Start simply, too. Publications like Autoblog and Road and Track put out a great list of coveted cars that, are now, legal to import. From there, the world is your oyster. Keep checking back with Instamotor to see if your forbidden fruit car makes an appearance—you just never know when opportunity may come knocking.

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Abigail BassettAbigail Bassett

Digital media content producer/consultant & former CNN senior producer, now running CN'TRL : Cars, Tech, Real Estate & Luxury.

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