Get Into The JDM Car Of Your Dreams, Legally!
Imagine pulling into your driveway after a hard day’s work, and without warning a swift and calculated dragnet was cast over your entire house, like a scene taken straight out of a movie. That’s exactly what happened to a few unfortunate Nissan Skyline GT-R BNR34 and BNR32 owners across California.
In the summer of 2009, a contingent of federal officers dressed in body armor with guns drawn swarmed upon multiple locations to begin confiscating imported Nissan Skyline GT-Rs.
Without any prior notice, a number of GT-R owners received a certified letter documenting that their purchased GT-Rs were in direct violation of both EPA and Department of Transportation laws and were subject to seizure or forfeiture by government authorities. The shocking letter continued on to state that vehicle owners had 60 days to surrender the vehicle or export them from the United States, and after that the process of forfeiture to the government would begin.
To make a long story short, dozens of the California Skyline GT-Rs were eventually seized and crushed at the expense of their owners. Who was the culprit responsible for this chaotic scene, you ask? A government investigation traced all these cars back to one company which thought it could pull a fast one on our government, but ultimately failed. This company used a loophole for a number of years, importing individual GT-R shells and drivetrains in pieces and reassembling them as “kit cars” under a California-specific Specially Constructed Vehicles (SPCNS) 4750.1 title.
By law, “kit cars” cannot resemble the vehicle its components are based on, and the engine must be California legal. Also consider the fact that the Skyline GT-Rs in question were less than 25 years old, unlawfully imported into the U.S. and did not comply with all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; in addition, they did not meet EPA or DOT regulations. By definition, each of these were in direct violation and thus red-flagged by the government, which—much to the dismay of their owners—began a series of raids and seizures of these vehicles.
The Nissan Skyline GT-R has always been heralded as the go-to car for tuners across the world. With the 25-year rule now in effect, which allows importers to bring these cars into the country legally, prospective buyers have begun clamoring at their chance at owning a piece of super-car history, but to own one isn’t as simple as throwing it into a container and shipping it overseas. That’s where knowledgeable companies like Top Rank International Vehicle Importers assist buyers by navigating through the difficult documentation process, while also helping to prevent scenarios like the ’09 disaster.
Top Rank International Vehicle Importers celebrated their company’s newest corporate facility in Cypress, California, by hosting an open house. The event offered JDM car fans and potential buyers a chance to take a look at their vast lineup of newly-imported cars from Japan.
All those who attended were encouraged to closely inspect each car and ask any questions on the vehicle’s registration status. In addition, they had the opportunity to inquire about any cars they were interested in exporting from overseas that weren’t in TRIVI’s stock.
International Vehicle Importers sells in-stock and inspected cars over 25 years old and provides knowledge of the import process. Their mission is to assist in the import of vehicles that have been deemed legal for road use in the USA, or exempt from requirements.
Next to the R34 Skyline (which won’t be legal to import to California till 2024), the eighth-generation Nissan Skyline R32 is the next popular GT-R due to its Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-Terrain (ATESSA) all-wheel drive powertrain, 2.6-liter twin turbocharged engine platform, and lightweight chassis. Most importantly, the car is old, and with age parts have become relatively cheap for those looking to upgrade.
Top Rank International Vehicle Importers imported a number of R32s from Japan in various used conditions ranging from mild to wild. A number of these cars were also outfitted with aftermarket parts. Not to mention, Nick Hogan stopped by to check out the event.
Skyline fans might recognize this R34 from its battles with Dodge Viper Competition coupes, tube-frame Chevrolet Corvettes, modified Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars, and even Aston Martin DBRS9s in the SCCA World Challenge in 2006. This was the first and only Nissan Skyline GT-R to have been raced in the United States in a professional road-race series.
Driven by Igor Sushiko, the Automotive Forums.com Skyline was formerly a Fujitsubo, and Leyjun-sponsored ex-Super Taikyu vehicle. The GT-R was built by Nismo and eventually retired before being imported to the US.
To run 305-width tires on the car, Rays Engineering/Mackin Industries custom made a set of light-weight 18×11-inch wide Volk TE37s specifically for this project.
Running a Super Taikyu-spec RB26 engine and Hollinger sequential transmission, the GT-R was handicapped in its abilities to shine due to strict WC rules and regulations, which included maintaining its ATESSA drive-line platform, horsepower (580 whp), and weight penalties. Due to a limited team budget, the Skyline wasn’t able to rise above its competitors and was pulled from competitive racing.
Interested in owning an R32 but want to stand out from the rest? Check out this ’90 GT-R resprayed in Grigio Telesto (Lamborghini Gray). Now that’s a sick color! This GT-R is lowered on Tein coilovers and outfitted with 18-inch Work Emotion CR-Kai wheels.
Nissan Skyline GTS-t models don’t possess the GT-R pizazz or flair but that doesn’t mean they can’t be built to make some serious horsepower. Don’t underestimate the power potential of an RB20DET-powered Skyline. Our friends in Australia and New Zealand have been known to build a few 750-plus horsepower tire shredders over the years.
Among the dozens of cars for sale, International Vehicle Importers also invited a select number of their customers to display their vehicles. Ernie Fixmer’s Nissan Skyline has been a long-term project that first began in ’04.
“Upon purchasing my BNR33 GT-R, I started pouring a ton of money into it, but like most vehicle projects, I had to throttle it back a bit to conserve funds and keep the wife happy,” mentions Fixmer.
The RB26DETT engine still retains its twin-turbo configuration, but features upgraded Tomei Powered snails, Tomei camshafts with adjustable cam gear, along with numerous other Tomei products.
“I built this engine with the sole purpose of extracting good throttle response and utmost reliability for drift duty once complete. The radiator was moved inside the trunk to allow ample engine room and maximum cooling to the front-mount intercooler,” he says.
Fixmer brought up an interesting topic when we began talking about the exterior of the car. The front fenders were designed by his drift friend, back in Okinawa, Japan. This same fender design was sought after by famed D1GP Japan driver Ken Nomura who decided to replicate it for mass production to sell under the Uras brand. The front bumper is a rare Super Taikyu Series piece that was pulled from the Automotive Forums.com R34 GT-R prior to it being modified for World Challenge. Notice the slotted tow hook hole?
“The carbon fiber hood and headlights were all pulled from the Fast and Furious R34 stunt car driven by Paul Walker. The holes in the headlight surrounds were actual screw holes that temporarily secured the hood down during movie production. The original mounting brackets were reassembled and made to work,” says Fixmer.
On display was this R32 offered in rare (TH1) blue paint. Historically, only 1,145 R32’s were offered in this specific color. Other than the Nismo carpet, M’s style air intakes, Tein coilovers, and Wedsport SA67R wheels, the Skyline remains in factory condition with only 46,988 miles on the odometer.
This beautifully-restored ’69 Hakosuka KPGC-10 Skyline GT-R wasn’t for sale but the owner mentioned a Hakosuka can fetch a pretty penny depending upon its condition.
We’re pretty sure this Nissan started out as a GT-X model which was eventually converted to GT-R spec. Regardless, it’s always a treat to see a Hakosuka close-up.
The 2.0- liter (1,998 cc) L20SU straight-six engine delivers a factory rated 130hp and helped the GT-R achieve success in local Japanese touring car racing in the 70’s.
The Nissan Patrol has quite the reputation with tuners, especially in the UAE as one in particular was built to deliver over 2,000 horsepower, and is capable of speeds over 205 mph in the half mile. Older second-generation Patrol models like this ’80 Long version are highly sought-after and have become a rare find.
Powered by a 4.0-liter six-cylinder, the Patrol was outfitted with Recaro seats, full audio system, and a full engine overhaul. Check out those two-piece wheels. We definitely wouldn’t mind driving this around town or occasionally sling some mud during a weekend excursion!
Not all the cars on display were branded with the GT-R badge, a few also included the more common cars you see driving around in Japan including Kei cars.
International Vehicle Importers also brought in a Nissan 180SX model that looks to have been prepped for drifting.
Nothing screams JDM more than the Honda Beat. Known as a Kei car in Japan, this 657cc 5-speed convertible falls under the 25 years and older rule and can be legally imported to the US without EPA compliance requirements.
This baby is all smiles as he enjoys this Honda Beat with its Zebra print seats.
James Chen is your typical Asian that’s neither too tall nor too short. He’s of average height, but what makes this photo interesting is the perspective of how small the Suzuki Cappuccino truly is when measured against a man of average stature. Chen owns a R32 GT-R among his vast collection of Ferraris, Jaguars and Lamborghinis, to name a few. Would Chen ever consider owning one? The gesture of a gun pointed to his head says it all.
While Chen wasn’t a fan of the Cappuccino, I was intrigued by some of its features including the removable hard top, OZ 5-spoke wheels and Works steering wheel—and of course the turbocharged engine.
Check out this aftermarket Kakimoto Racing exhaust. Now that’s cool!
Among the other odd vehicles on display were a pair of Nissan Paos. The Nissan Pao and its retro-styled design was sold exclusively in Japan. The Pao takes many of its styling cues from popular vehicles such as the Austin Mini and Citroën.
The Pao was manufactured from ’89 to ’91 but many would mistake it to be a car from the ’70s due to its simplistic interior design. Notice the dash cluster and its design which looks strikingly similar to the Austin Mini.
This 1990 Pao, clad in orange with a white interior, sports a 4-speed transmission with a 1.0-liter engine. The Terracotta exterior is known as the rarest color offered for the Pao and is listed for $12,795. So what do you think? Is this car worth the price?
Pushed into the corner of the parking lot sat these two Toyota Land Cruisers. The heavy dust and heavily oxidized paint were good indicators that these two cars weren’t for sale. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t enjoy getting my hands on the ’89 FJ60 Cruiser on the left for some off-road fun, or scoop up the ’94 FJ80 turbo and drop a forged-internals engine to build the ultimate sleeper SUV.
A few old school Hondas were also offered up for sale including this Honda CRX and Civic.
JDM fanatics are typically adept to point out the differences between a USDM model and its JDM counterpart. The most obvious is the 130-horsepower ZC-powered engine as indicated by the raised bump in the hood to clear the larger twin cam engine, H4H headlights, glass roof option, folding mirrors, and numerous other parts that US model cars didn’t receive.
Listed for $14,000, this Civic SiR was relatively stock other than the two-piece SSR wheels, Tein coilovers, and Apexi exhaust, intake and header. The interior was in great condition considering this car was a ’92 model.
As we stepped into the garage, we found even more cars lined up against the walls.
With the prices of older model Civics and JDM parts skyrocketing due to their demand and limited availability, we’d consider it not a bad idea to purchase a complete JDM-model Civic rather than spending countless dollars on recreating one using a USDM spec model.
All we can say is wow! This Civic was in near-showroom condition, including the interior.
This SiR II EG6 comes with a factory-equipped B16A engine that was modified with a Spoon Sports header and exhaust, Apexi intake, and aftermarket limited slip differential.
The exterior paint looked to be in great condition, especially compared to my beat up ’95 EG8 Civic. This JDM import is rolling on a set of Endless Zeal coilovers with Buddy Club P1 Racing wheels. A carbon fiber rear wing and Vision side mirrors complete the outside modifications.
The interior carpet was removed for no particular reason. A bucket seat along with a Momo steering wheel replaced the factory parts. For a price tag of $11,500 this Civic appears to be a great bargain!
Rotary fans can appreciate this yellow FD3S RX-7. This eye-catcher is equipped with extensive modifications that include a front-mount RE Amemiya intercooler, Ronin Speedworks vented carbon fiber hood, custom body kit, Section coilovers, bolt-in roll cage, Recaro bucket seats, Kakimoto Racing exhaust, and custom wheels.
Pick your poison!
For additional specs on these vehicles and importing services, be sure to check out Top Rank International Vehicle Importers.