People that don’t live in the Detroit area often assume that car shows and similar events in the region are all focused on American iron and Detroit muscle. The fact is that car guys in Detroit are pretty much like car guys everywhere and most can appreciate all automotive excellence. That’s true within the auto industry as well. Engineers and designers working for GM, Ford and Chrysler have respect for the work of their colleagues both across town and across the oceans. The earliest expression of Cadillac’s brand identifying “Art & Science” styling theme was the Evoq roadster concept, designed by Kip Wasenko, now retired from GM Design. The first time that I met Kip was when I pulled up next to his Ferrari Dino on north Woodward a few days before the Woodward Dream Cruise.
Still, like the Suzuka winning tiny little Honda S800, found literally right in the middle of Ford country in Dearborn, now and then you still see a foreign car that you don’t expect to see tooling around the Motor City. To be frank, a “R34” 1999 Japanese domestic market Nissan Skyline GT-R would probably stand out just about anyplace in America, not just in Detroit and not just because it has the steering wheel on the wrong side. The R34 GT-R was never imported to the United States, so it caught my eye when I saw one on display at the 2013 Eyes On Design car show. EoD is held every Fathers’ Day on the grounds of the Eleanor and Edsel Ford estate just north of Grosse Pointe. The show benefits a local vision institute and it’s put on and judged by members of the automotive design community. This year, one of the featured categories at the show was “Tuner Cars”, a phrase often associated with imported car fans, so the presence of two JDM Skylines, this ’99 and a white ’97 from Ontario didn’t really surprise me. When I got around to the back of the Skyline, though, and saw that it had current Michigan license plates, I was intrigued. There is a reason why we don’t see a lot of JDM cars in America – they’re not legal.
The federal government’s rules have been relaxed a little bit, now allowing the importation of foreign cars that do not meet current U.S. safety and emissions standards providing that they’re at least 25 years old but that exemption obviously does not apply to 1999 model year cars, made only 14 years ago. I asked the owner, Daniel Maczan, how he managed to get it registered. He told me that when he bought it, the Skyline GT-R had already been ‘federalized’, that is brought up to EPA and DOT standards, by a company called Motorex.
That means that the blue Skyline is not just a rare car, it’s a rare car with a story, a somewhat notorious story. Motorex eventually flamed out financially and while it was circling the drain they managed to ship cars that had never passed testing, ultimately resulting in the Feds seizing and crushing some highly desirable and collectible GT-Rs. The early Motorex imported cars were apparently kosher so the Feds allowed them to be grandfathered in and they can still be legally registered and driven, but in the wake of the Motorex scandal, no other R34 Skylines have been federalized. I like unusual cars and I’ll walk past a half dozen ’69 Camaros to see a single AMC Gremlin, but I don’t think you can get much more unique than a barely legal right hand drive Japanese hot rod at a Detroit car show.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS