By on June 25, 2013


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


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19 Comments on “Look What I Found!: A JDM R34 Nissan Skyline in Detroit...”

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    The way I heard the story was that Motorex crash-tested some 1995 R33 GT-Rs and submitted that data for certification, but passed it off as being valid for all of the R32-33-34 Skylines. Not quite. Eventually, they got busted for this, but the cars that had already been converted were given a ‘good-faith’ waiver by the DOT, since their owners had gone through the legal process to import and convert their cars.

    • 0 avatar

      To be absolutely clear about the crash testing, Motorex crash tested a R33 chassis Skyline only. They didn’t illegally pass anything off however, they applied for a substantially similar clause from the feds allowing them to use the R33 data for the R32 and the R34 and that was granted. This allowed Motorex to legally import all three chassis cars.

      Then, in March of 2006, when Motorex had it’s registered importer license revoked for a number of reasons, the government rescinded the substantially similar clause, removing the R32/R34 from the non-compliant but eligible list.

      This means that R32 or R34 chassis cars imported legally before April of 2006 have the potentially to be legal and bond released, as is the case with this car. It came into the US and was federalized in 2002, with valid crash data on file, and therefore was a legal import.

      When people explain to me that somehow all of the R32/R34 chassis cars imported in this window have now somehow changed status to illegal, I remind them that 1968 Camaros are still legal without a center brake light and 1953 Chevy Bel Airs are still legal without seat belts – the laws that apply are based on their original date of manufacture, just like this car (and all other grey market cars in the US) only needs to comply with the law at the time of import, not every change enacted after that.

  • avatar

    I remember reading the freshalloy postings back in 2006 as the case evolved…
    Neat to see one in Michigan. There is also another in the Nashville, TN region as I have seen it twice on the road…

  • avatar

    I am torn. I love the way these things look, but their performance has been underwhelming both times I have gotten the privilege to drive them.

    For all the work to get them legally driven on US streets, it’s just kind of sad. Pretty car though.

    • 0 avatar

      I believe that they’re more about mystique than anything else. According to an Asian buddy of mine (no kidding, only been in the US for 10 years), in Japan they view our Terminator Cobra’s and Corvette Z06’s like we view thier R32/33/34’s. Performance wise, I’d rather have a Term Cobra or Z06 since the old GTR’s are on par with the Supra, 3000GT and RX7’s… stock for stock.

  • avatar

    Ok, this is off topic, but I got some Michael Hastings updates – there’s an article at HuffPo with former U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism Richard Clarke saying that, yes, there is such a thing as a “car cyber attack”.

    Clarke said the following:

    “I’m not a conspiracy guy. In fact, I’ve spent most of my life knocking down conspiracy theories,….But my rule has always been you don’t knock down a conspiracy theory until you can prove it [wrong]. And in the case of Michael Hastings, what evidence is available publicly is consistent with a car cyber attack. And the problem with that is you can’t prove it.”

    I’m pretty sure that after the first article on this most of the commentariat looked at the accident and established that no bomb was used and the results of the accident were pretty consistent with a normal high-speed crash, flying engine and all.

    The question is not what killed Hastings, as we are all pretty sure it was a car crash. The question is whether or not he was at fault for that crash.

    Complete car-hacking sounds pretty far fetched to me, as there are no vehicles with steer-by-wire out….yet. Throttle by wire has been around for a while though, and putting the pedal to the floorboards seems plausible to me in the Hastings case.

  • avatar

    I’m 99% sure the white one belongs to a friend of mine who was a driver on our LeMons team.

  • avatar

    Ronnie, could you blot the license plate on this vehicle for me please?

  • avatar

    Park this outside a UAW-controlled plant and see how many “car guys” there are in Detroit.

  • avatar

    I love the R34 – it’s one of the most beautiful cars ever designed.

    Smooth, grippy, indestructible, equipped with a stick and looks like a stylistic update of a Buick GNX.

    The R34 will always be a Skyline to me, not a GT-R.

    I’ll forever associate the name GT-R with the R35, which I can’t stand because it’s heavy, it’s ugly and you can only get it with an automatic transmission.

  • avatar

    I’d also note that this isn’t just a GT-R, but a V-Spec II, which is a little more secial than your “everyday” GT-R.

  • avatar

    Mmmmmm….. Bayside blue. Yes please…

  • avatar

    Odd… The biggest thing I noticed is that this sedan has a hatchback-style rear windshield wiper…

  • avatar

    You mentioned a white 1997 from Ontario. In the rear-view picture with the R34 and the red Evo, the white car to the left looks like an R32 GT-R, made from 1989-1994. Can you clarify?

  • avatar

    White one is 32. Why they are so special? Why there is such a fuss about them? Where does the myth come from? It’s not only Gran Turismo games or JDM exclusivity. There is a bit technology behind the myth too :)

    I’ve driven early R32 GTR, with basic mods, exhaust and a bit raised boost, so it was around 350 crank hp. First of all the myth started with the 32 GTR. It was created under FIA Group A homologation rules, the same rules that gave birth to E30 M3 and MB 190E 16v. Time when production homologation cars were actually quite similar to real race cars. Second of all the engine is always the most important part of a car that becomes a legend. There are thousands of pages info in the web about the RB26, but most important fact is that it was basically a race engine made compatible for series production street car and hugely over-engineered (this was common with all Japanese sport-engines in the 80’s and 90’s). BMW had been using individual throttle bodies with their straight-6 engines in the 80’s before, but it was really limited production, and with naturally aspirated engines. RB26 was the first production engine in the world that used individual throttle bodies with forced induction. ITB-s are one reason why the RB26 in so willing to rev. Factory redline is 7700rpm, but rev limiter cuts in around 8000rpm, this was 1989 and a twin turbo engine that was built to last. Not some experimental time-bomb or Italian 2000-mile service-interval mechanics nightmare. The huge wide poweband and high rpm nature of the engine combined with torque from forced induction creates a truly unique feeling behind the wheel. The engine is so eager to rev, that at 8000rpm it violently bounces off the rev limiter wanting to go higher and higher. For comparison BMW-s S38B36 which was introduced also in 1989 (with E34 M5) had a 7200rpm limiter and the final 1000rpm the engines revs nicely, but compared to RB26 BMW-s engines feels a bit out of breath in the top end and it feels as 7200 is the maximum the engine can do, it doesn’t want to go any higher. That is my personal experience with S38B36 vs RB26. Engines from same era, similar racing background and straight sixes and ITB-s.
    And the final technical detail that makes the GTR so special is the four wheel drive system. Nissan basically stole the idea from Porsche 959 (a very expensive limited production supercar, around 290 produced) and used it in the GTR. A 16-bit processor which gathered information form g-sensor and abs sensors and then instructed a multi plate-clutch to manage variable torque split. Seems complicated but in real life works well, as it worked with Porsche and on the racing track where GTR won its numerous titles. The most fun part is that 32 had the slowest processor (33 and 34 reacted way more faster) and was rawest of the bunch being the only true homologation car of the three. So when you are in the middle of the fast corner and think you’ve lost the tail of your car and in few millisecons you’re going spin out of control, then you need to keep your foot planted on the accelerator and steering wheel in full counter steer – then the front wheels will come alive and the car magically and confidently straightens itself out just in time to exit the corner at full speed. You just need a bit balls and experience with the car to drive this way. If you drive it like ordinary awd cars or rwd cars the 32 gtr will punish you :)
    Crazy thing is that R32 GTR was produced in vast numbers – total of 77.000 cars. And even though its a 25 year old car with complex and revolutionary technology, they still don’t break (unexperienced tuners raising too much boost doesn’t count:)). Japanese build quality of the era was unbelievably high, and GTR is the best example.

  • avatar

    What’s the point in blurring the plate if you’re going to spell it out in the article?

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