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Meet The Man Who Legally Brought The First R32 Nissan GT-R To America

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Trevor Cobb has a unique and enviable distinction. As of January 1, 2014, he is the first and only person to have a truly legally imported R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R in America. This is how and why he did it.


The why, actually, is easy. The third generation Nissan GT-R (referred to by its code R32) was a huge leap forward in Japanese performance and style when it first debuted in 1989. It created the formula for the modern Japanese hot rod with a turbocharged engine up front sending power to all four wheels. With the explosion in popularity of the Gran Turismo racing series, suddenly every car geek knew what an R32 was and everyone wanted a non-digital copy. Unfortunately, they didn't sell those cars in the United States and the introduction of the car timed out with the start of draconian 25-year import ban.


It's why a sketchy world of GT-R importing cropped up in the first place, a world that Cobb is quite familiar with. "I have been in the US GT-R "scene" since 2002-2003 when I brought my first R32 GTR into the country, legally and through a registered importer," Cobb tells us.

That import was far from a cakewalk.

I contracted with a registered importer. Wired a deposit to a company in FL for them to find me a decent R32 GTR at auction in Japan. They nabbed one, and brought it to FL on a boat over a couple months, then sent it on via bonded carrier to the RI.

The RI had it for 6 months and didn't lift a finger to work on it before I realized they were in over their heads and had no real idea WTF they were doing. they also didn't want to finish it because they were starting to use my car as a marketing piece saying it was their own car and that they were going to start doing lots of Skylines.

I went up one day to see the car, and drove it the hell off their lot and home to my house. They had to forfeit their import bond on it with NHTSA. I found out that they had declared it as a Canadian market car with their EPA customs declaration.

So Trevor took the car (pictured above) away from them, kept it for a little while, and then sold it. That's when the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan.

I took it to the DMV and registered it through some miracle, and drove it for a couple years, but NHTSA knew about the car, knew that it wasn't brought into compliance, and they informed me that it needed to be exported or complied. I sold it to a guy and caveated the whole deal and explained every last detail about the legality of the car, but it went in one ear and out the other. He listed it on eBay a few months later with the state assigned VIN and the chassis number on the firewall as well, and claimed it was a "50 state legal car" and someone called NHTSA to verify, and all hell broke loose. The motor vehicle enforcement division called me and demanded I get the car back and forfeit the car and the title to them (I'm assuming from pressure from NHTSA).

The buyer got a lawyer to send me a demand letter saying I needed to buy the car back or they would sue me. Yet I had multiple witnesses to the conversation I had with him about the exact legal status, so I explained this to the lawyer and it went away.


This isn't the first time I've heard about a "legal" importation going totally awry, which is why there are just so many black market GT-Rs in America. The enthusiasts that wanted to bring the cars in just don't have the time, money, or resources to deal with all of the bullshit that goes with importing their dream car. Black market cars, on the other hand, were relatively easily to sneak through at the DMV and get registered... for a period of time. Unfortunately, a lot of those black market cars end up back with the government, seized for good. Which means there is still bull shit to deal with no matter how one of these hot rods came to the country.

Now that's in the past.


As of January 1st, all of that malarkey went out the window and Cobb was able to orchestrate the importation of the first US legal R32 Skyline GT-R, crossing the border into the US just after the New Year began.

So how'd he do it? Carefully and methodically, that's how.

Since [I imported my first GT-R] I have become intimately familiar with US Federal law regarding vehicle importation, and have spent dozens of hours reading the relevant sections of CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) applicable to Customs, DOT/NHTSA, EPA, etc… I even printed out the actual CFR sections that were applicable and highlighted them and took them with me to the border. I didn't end up needing them at all.

I pulled up to the border station, told the officer in the guard shack that I needed to declare the car, and he had me park it and come inside. I gave the CBP officer inside the border station my pre-filled HS-7 form ( with "Box 1" checked and the date of manufacture listed as "1989" since Canadian registrations don't list production month like Japanese paperwork (ie. de-registration cert) does, and my EPA 3520-1 form (…) with the box for "Code E" checked. I had pre-calculated my customs duties based on 3% for the first $1000 then 2.5% for the remaining balance for vehicle imports, and the amount they wanted to charge me was very close to what I thought, so I swiped my debit card and got my receipt. The two officers had me sign my forms in front of them, they spent some time themselves on the internet and calling another station to confer about exactly how to handle the situation, then about 20 minutes after arriving, they stamped my forms, gave me some additional paperwork to take with me, handed me my tariff receipt and sent me on my way. The Canadian seller had previously transferred the registration to my name, but couldn't get me plates since I wasn't a resident there. He did get me a 1 day transit pass to drive the car legally all day on 1/1/14.


There is some debate in our Opposite Lock forums as to the letter of the law on how this car was imported, as GT-R production didn't start until August 1989, but the Canadian paperwork only listed "1989" as the year of manufacture, not the month and year like the Japanese paperwork did. Cobb, who is commenting on that thread, believes his car is absolutely fine and that the exemption is only calculated by year, not month. As more cars begin to cross the border, this will surely become an interesting little caveat in the law that may leave some people very, very disappointed. But right now, it seems like all of 1989 is fair game.


After entering the border crossing at 12:01 AM on New Year's Day, he got to his stop in Maine around 1 AM, took off at 5:30 AM that morning for home in Maryland, arrived late at night, and woke up around 3 PM yesterday with a phone exploding with well wishes and congratulations on having his dream of a legal 1989 GT-R in America come true. And it was really a dream.

I have been obsessed with the car since learning all about it over 10 years ago. When NHTSA amended their import eligibility decision from the 1990-1999 original years, down to 1996-1998 only cars in 2006 it dealt a death blow to the hopes and dreams of all Skyline enthusiasts because 1996-1998 skylines require OBD2 compliance and no such system has been developed. Since 2006, no Skyline GT-R's have been legally imported for full road use, except for the 1990 Nismo edition which Sean Morris got added to the Show or Display exemption list, and even that car is limited to 2500 miles a year with TONS of hoops to jump through to get the car approved first and then imported. The R32 GTR is the lightest of the modern GTR's, and I am super stoked to begin restoring and building my 1989, and I'm even more stoked that now there is nothing that the US federal government can do to prevent me from legally owning and driving and using the car here in the US.


And this time he won't have to deal with registered importers, NHTSA, or lame sellers that won't follow through. This car is his. It's legal. And it's here. And now you can get one too. All we need to make America a better place are highways crawling with R32 GT-Rs. What are you waiting for?


UPDATE: Because so many of you are asking how much it costs, Cobb sent along this note:

I keep getting asked "how much did you pay for it?" and the answer is that it doesn't really matter because there was a HUGE risk factor in buying the car and not knowing if/when it would be able to cross into the US. so I rolled the dice and put all my money in one basket and bet it on the idea that I would be able to get it in on 1/1/14 and not be delayed until 8/1 or later and be forced to pay for 8 more months of storage in Canada while the vehicle sat around collecting dust. The bet happened to go my way, so I'm lucky.

I can tell you that International Vehicle Imports / Sean Morris and Rivsu that estimates of a decent 1989 R32 GTR costing you $15-20k are pretty spot on though.


(Photo credits and thanks to Trevor for taking the time to talk!)