The R34 Nissan GT-R is a venerated sports car that’s coveted by car enthusiasts everywhere. We know that it’s currently illegal to own one in the United States, but that doesn’t stop enthusiasts from looking for loopholes. You can buy this Nissan over the border in Canada, but can an R34 be imported legally? Are there any legal R34s in the United States? What’s the big deal anyway?
Let’s find out.
Why is the Nissan Skyline Illegal in the United States?
For any vehicle to legally come to the U.S. it must first meet the FMVSS requirements regarding safety and emissions. That’s something the Skyline never did until its most recent generations.
An importer called Motorex used to help customers meet these guidelines, but as time went on the US Department of Transportation rescinded importation eligibility. Since then, there’s been no official way to import a Nissan Skyline R34 to the States for road use.
Of course, cars that are ineligible for importation and registration in the United States remain so until they are 25 years old. Since the R34 was produced from 1999 to 2002, that means the first legal sales of R34 Nissan Skylines in the United States will occur in 2024.
To be clear: according to NHTSA guidelines, it’s legal to import an R34 for track use only but you can’t register it (or drive it on public roads) until it hits 25 years old. This requires express permission from the NHTSA and also requires that the car be converted to track use only prior to importation.
That doesn’t stop people from driving R34s car on U.S. roads today. In fact, it features anywhere from 280 to 500 horsepower and can achieve power up to 1,000 BHP. That means this beauty can hit over 200 mph on the highway, something some rebellious drivers in Los Angeles, Miami, and rural Texas do on a regular basis while claiming to be in Mexico.
But how did these R34s get here?
How Does the R34 Get Over the Border?
One of the ways shop owners bring the R34 into the States is directly from Japan. They have them disassembled and shipped in a container, then they reassemble them stateside. Of course, this isn’t the only way they get into the country. Many shops also bring them in from Canada or Mexico through illicit means or via the aforementioned NHTSA track car clause.
Can You Get Plates for an R34 Nissan GT-R?
It’s a common belief that if you can get a license plate for something that makes it legal. This simply isn’t true, even if you go about getting the plate and title through legal channels. You’ve still imported something that was illegal and you’re still breaking the law by driving it.
What Happens if You Get Caught?
It might seem logical to drive one over the border and head to a state like Florida with less-restrictive titling laws. Technically, this is fraud and smuggling. It could even be a felony.
Bottom line – if a car doesn’t meet federal regulations, it will get crushed and those who imported it could face jail and hefty fines. That’s right, crushed.
What About All These R34s on Craigslist?
Let’s pose a scenario. You illegally import your R34 into the United States. You want to get a plate on it, so naturally, you drive down to Florida. I’m not trying to pick on Florida; it’s where we’re based, after all. But there are loopholes in the Sunshine State which allow very illegal things to happen here.
Most other states are going to require a lot of paperwork showing that a car is legal and that you’re the legal owner, but not Florida. License offices can be privately owned in Florida, which means you don’t have to go to the DMV. You can just find some back-alley business that offers plates and commit a felony quicker than you can say “Too soon, Junior!”
The important thing to remember is, just because you legally registered your car in Florida doesn’t make it legal according to the United States government. At any time, your beloved R34 Nissan GT-R could be crushed up into a cube.
What’s the takeaway? Don’t illegally import cars from Canada, or Japan, or anywhere! You might not like the laws, but you don’t want to face the penalty for breaking it. You aren’t going to drive any fun cars behind bars.
Is Any Nissan Skyline GT-R Legal to Import?
Technically, no. Many people think they aren’t legal to import because the Nissan is right-hand drive, but that’s not what causes problems. In fact, Subaru sold a postal version of its Legacy in the United States that was RHD - and other brands did too.
For a car younger than 25 years to come into the United States, it needs to meet some requirements. If they don’t have the Show or Display exemption, the car must meet EPA, DOT and NHTSA guidelines. This includes passing crash tests, which most non-US car models aren’t going to pass.
Aside from that, you would need a statement from the manufacturer vouching for its roadworthiness in the States. Can you imagine Nissan risking a lawsuit to offer that to you?
What About the Motorex GT-Rs? What About GT-Rs that are Already Here?
After some shady practices from other dealers helping customers modify their Nissans to conform to U.S. standards, the NHTSA revoked all importation certifications regarding the R32, pre-1996 R33, and R34. After that, they stopped considering any new requests for importation.
If the cars were already imported by Motorex or another company, the US government issued bond releases to legalize them. They aren’t entirely compliant with federal regulations, but the authorities seem to look the other way. These are the only legal roadgoing R34 Nissan GT-Rs in the United States.
Every time a new company attempts to skirt around the laws, they just seem to anger the Feds more which leads to stricter regulations. Even if you could modify the vehicle enough to meet U.S. regulations, you would be looking at a hell of a lot of work.
The entire car would need an OBD-II system, but it’s a huge challenge to retrofit. Furthermore, the pre-1996 R33 doesn’t have a passenger’s side airbag as standard while none of the R33s have a driver’s side airbag at all, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Barring any change in the laws, you’ll be able to drive your R34 Nissan GT-R on the roads legally in 2024. Until then, it simply isn’t worth the risk to circumvent the government and smuggle one over the border. It’s going to do you no good once you’re sitting in a prison cell with your new best friend that takes a sudden interest in how much money you spent on a car.
Save yourself the hassle and purchase an Acura NSX instead.
We are not attorneys. This article is not legal advice.