The Real Reason America Banned The Nissan Skyline GT-R

Many urban legends surround the legality (or, more accurately, the illegality) of importing a Nissan Skyline GT-R into the US. Pundits claimed the Skyline was too fast for American police cars to catch up, that its mighty turbocharged engine was capable of pumping upwards of 1,000 horsepower given a slew of aftermarket parts. The fact that the Skyline is AWD and had a 200 mph top speed didn't help, either, and this was a time when police cruisers were rear-wheel drive and handled like a boat.

Remember, we're talking about a two-door Japanese sports car from the late 80s to mid-90s here, not some modern day turbocharged rocket. Then again, the Skyline is not an ordinary sports car, particularly the R32 Skyline GT-R that debuted in 1988 – a period true fans know of as the year of the Dragon.

That year, the Skyline came smashing into the consciousness of enthusiasts and professional racers alike. It won the Japanese Touring Car Championship 29 consecutive times. It also achieved first rank at the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1991 and 1992, enough for it to earn the affectionate "Godzilla" nickname from Wheels magazine in Australia. In addition, who could forget Paul Walker's Skyline R34 power-sliding its way to victory in 2 Fast 2 Furious?

So yes, the Nissan Skyline GT-R in R32, R33, and R34 guise are among the fastest cars of their generation. But despite the myths, the speed, potent acceleration, and the fact that Skyline GT-Rs are right-hand drive (RHD) are not the real reason why they were illegal to import into the USA.

The simple answer is Nissan did not intend to sell the Skyline GT-R to Uncle Sam, and that means some things we take for granted on American new car lots simply weren't factored into Godzilla. Not a single variant or iteration of the Skyline GT-R complies with the emissions and crash safety guidelines of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations (FMVVS), for example. However, government regulations played a significant role, and it all started in the aftermath of World War II.

Did you know the US grey market began when American soldiers stationed overseas brought home their European cars after the war? Back then, anyone could buy a car overseas and import it directly to the United States, a trend that continued for more than 20 years after the war.

The first strike came in 1967, when American regulations on imports began. Enough drivers were bypassing the official import channels to make foreign automakers cry foul, and the result was a clamp-down on the grey market. What really broke the camel's back, though, was when Congress passed the Motor Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988, which essentially kept import cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R prohibited in America.

Ten years later, after modifying its vehicle importation guidelines, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offered a rainbow for those stormy clouds in 1998. The new regulations granted immunity to import vehicles over 25 years of age. For instance, the R32 Skyline GTR became legal to import in 2014.

The updated guidelines also mean you can now legally import a Skyline GT-R – provided you sought the services of an RI or Registered Importer. That RI's task is to modify the vehicle, whether it's a Skyline or anything else, to comply with the applicable FMVSS guidelines. You will, of course, be facing an additional fee on top of the value of the car itself for that.

At this point, you might be wondering: just hw much does it actually cost to import a Nissan Skyline and make it road-legal in the USA? There's no other way of putting it: you'll need a fat bank account to make your 2 Fast 2 Furious dreams a reality, considering the substantial demand for 1990s sports cars (and indeed everything vintage) these days. Most Skyline owners in Japan will refuse even sky-high offers, given the unicorn status of their rides. And, if you live in California or any other emissions-strict state, your shiny import must also pass stringent CARB certification and OBD2 emissions testing. Not impossible, no, but certainly adding more costs to the equation.

Still tempted? The figures will vary, but a decent 1989 R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R can start anywhere from $20,000. Now, that doesn't include import charges and shipping costs, not to mention the money you'll pay for spare parts (to restore the car in tiptop shape) and all the additional emission tests.

But for dyed-in-the-wool car enthusiasts, no other Japanese sports car is as desirable and controversial as the Nissan Skyline GT-R. Paying upwards of $80,000 may even be worth it for a right-hand-drive super sports car with serious heritage halo – not to mention the bragging rights you'll have over your buddies driving their Nissan Fairlady Z or Mazda Miata. Once the most unobtainable of Japanese exotica, the Skyline need no longer be a stranger to American roads: you just have to really, really want one.