In an episode of MotorWeek (May 8, 2015) titled “Over the Edge: Driving a R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R,” you can see what it’s like to drive Godzilla without “selling body parts” to get such a vehicle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRLJPAqgiI0 The video calls the Skyline the “Holy Grail,” the “temptation of getting that forbidden fruit” that brings “so much joy.” And, what’s even better – you don’t even have to risk jail time, as many importers did in the past to own this car. At Japanese Classics, LLC, this car retails for $22,000 with spare parts available. If you’re interested in a particular make and model, sign up at Japanese Classics here and they’ll let you know when it’s available (more about Japanese Classics later!). However . . . as Doug DeMuro shares, being a groundbreaker in this regard isn’t without its hassles. DeMuro owns a 1990 Nissan Skyline GT-R. Because he lives in crowded Philly, he parks his Skyline in a storage facility 20 minutes away (while keeping his Hummer in a “surface lot in West Philadelphia where I silently hope it will be stolen by those guys who beat up the Fresh Prince”). Late one evening, he took the Skyline for a spin in an upscale neighborhood, getting stopped by police twice – but not for reasons you might think. Yes, he was stopped because his license plate was crooked. Although Japanese plates are similar in size to American ones, the bolt holes are placed differently so DeMuro could only screw in one side, using a zip tie for the other. “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s right: I’m driving a rare, powerful, freshly imported, high-performance turbocharged sports car late at night on virtually empty roads, and I get pulled over for – not speeding, not weaving, not reckless driving – a license plate violation.” The second time, the police officer was questioning why DeMuro was sitting on the right side of the front seat, making it “seem like he thought I had decided earlier that day to spend the evening driving on the wrong side of the car. It was as if he thought that I walked up to the car, decided things weren’t exciting enough, and moved the steering wheel over like it was one of those child’s toy steering wheels where you press the horn and it makes animal noises.” Wondering how to get your own classic Japanese beauty? Here’s the law For a car to be imported into the United States, it must meet all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards OR be at least 25 years old, with the clock ticking from the date of the vehicle’s manufacture. In other words, to import a car, it must be a classic. A classic can be “entered under Box 1 on the HS-7 Declaration form to be given to Customs at the time of importation.” What if the manufacture date does not appear on the vehicle? According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, you can:
- Collect documentation, such as an invoice, showing when the car was first sold or a registration document showing similar information
- Obtain a statement from a trustworthy vehicle historical society that identifies the age of the car
- If a car doesn’t meet FMVSS, then it cannot ever be considered “white market,” even when it’s 25 years old and able to be legally imported into the United States.
- In other words, if a car didn’t meet FMVSS but is 25 years old AND legally imported into the United States, then the state of Virginia still considers it gray market, even though it’s legal to own and drive in the U.S.
- If a car that doesn’t meet FMVSS isn’t 25 years old or is but doesn’t go through appropriate channels to get to the U.S., then it’s black market – and that means that the importer can be arrested and imprisoned for smuggling and the car seized, crushed and/or exported.
- If a black market vehicle is sold to someone who didn’t know that it was illegally imported, the car can still be seized, crushed and/or exported, with no reimbursement provided to the hapless owner.
Last updated June 6, 2018