An R34 Nissan GT-R Might Be a Safer Investment Than Crypto in 2023

As the beloved GT-R approaches its 25-year eligibility for U.S. import in 2023, prices are skyrocketing, and that's likely to continue.

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three r34-generation nissan gt-rs parked outside in a storage lot in japan. from left to right, they're painted grey, white, and red, and we're viewing them from the left-front.
R34-generation Nissan Skyline GT-Rs stored at RT JDM Performance in Japan, awaiting export to the U.S. when they reach eligibility.
Photo: Tim Stevens

Brian Jannusch has somewhere north of 60 R34 Nissan GT-Rs in storage just waiting for export to the U.S. Well, not him personally, but the company he works for. California-based Top Rank Importers has quickly grown from importing just a handful of cars five years ago to 200-plus per year now. And, without a doubt, the R34 GT-R is the hottest ticket in town.

Why? Well, Gran Turismo certainly opened a lot of American eyes to the top-dog Skyline. However, its starring role as the hero car for Brian O’Conner in the Fast & Furious franchise has given it legendary status among U.S. collectors. Godzilla was always cool, but that movie series pushed the FOMO over the top.

The problem, of course, is that the R34 was never officially sold in the U.S. and wasn’t introduced in Japan until 1998. Thanks to our nation’s pesky import laws, that means R34s are not technically legal to drive on U.S. streets until 2023 — unless you’re willing to run the risk of having your car impounded and crushed.

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When the calendar hits May of 2023, the earliest R34s will become fully legal to import and drive in the U.S. The floodgates will open, and Top Rank isn’t the only importer trying to capitalize on that. Moacir Tanoue is Manager at RT JDM Performance, a Nagano-based exporter of Japanese cars. “From the middle of next year they’ll be U.S. legal,” Tanoue told me. “The ones who want to try to get into that game, they’re buying now instead of buying a year from now.”

R34s have already been selling like hotcakes, filling up storage facilities in Japan and sitting idle, waiting for eventual export to the U.S. Is it too late to get yours? No, says Tanoue. “They will continue to go up for sure.”

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a white r34-generation nissan gt-r parked in a storage lot among numerous other JDM vehicles at an export facility in japan
An R34 stored at RT JDM Performance.
Photo: Tim Stevens

The pattern is clearly established and there are plenty of prior examples. Most recently, it was the R33 Nissan GT-R. Top Rank’s Jannusch told me, “Prior to them turning 25 we were seeing them for selling for $40,000 or so, and when they turned 25 they almost immediately went to $65,000.”

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What could that mean for the R34? As Tanoue told me, the situation is a little more fluid — and expensive. Right now, even before they become import-legal in the U.S., R34s can go “from $120,000 to like $250,000, so it’s really hard to say the average,” he told me. “A year ago, let’s say 20 percent less. But five or six years ago, they were half the price at least.”

Jannusch is seeing the same trend. “About this time last year we were seeing R34 GT-Rs selling for around $70,000 to $80,000. Now, we’re closer to $120,000 to $200,000 [...] prices are up significantly.”

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The conversion rate is definitely something worth considering. Right now one US dollar is worth around 140 yen. That’s the most favorable exchange rate we’ve seen in 30 years. I’m no economist, and I can’t explain why in the U.S. we’re drowning in record inflation and yet our dollar is incredibly strong internationally, but regardless of the cause, the numbers are rolling in your favor as a bidder.

But before you cash out your 401(k) and see how many pennies your crypto wallet still contains, know that there are some logistical hurdles to overcome. A car that isn’t yet 25 years old will probably have to be stored in Japan for a period of time. Top Rank charges between $250 and $400 a month depending on what kind of storage you want, on top of the various auction and import fees that, Jannusch told me, usually run at around $3,100 per car plus a 2.5-percent tariff.

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three r34-generation nissan skylines seen from the rear, parked in a densely packed outdoor storage lot in japan
R34s dominate the lot at RT JDM Performance in Japan, but the company exports other JDM vehicles as well.
Photo: Tim Stevens

And there’s another problem: R34s are already getting hard to find. “As a car gets closer to turning 25, a lot of people choose not to sell their car,” Jannusch said. “They’ll wait until it turns 25 because they know that they’ll get so much more.”

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Can’t afford an R34? Join the club. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other choice options out there just ready to turn 25. I asked Tanoue for his pick, and he named an unusual one. “JZS171 Crown, for sure,” he said without hesitation. A 280-horsepower, Japan-only luxury sedan certainly sounds like a fun option, especially if you’re looking for a sneaky sleeper.

Interestingly, Tanoue fears that this hunger for exporting might actually drain the Japanese market. The late ‘90s and early 2000s were something of a golden era for JDM special editions. Since so many of them featured prominently in Gran Turismo and other period media, middle-aged American gamers with some discretionary income are hot to buy the real thing. “What if, in five or seven years, everything will be gone, because we won’t have nice cars to export anymore?” Tanoue wonders.

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a low-angle shot of a white r34-generation nissan skyline gtr v spec ii, viewed from the right-rear corner. the car is painted white, and the large adjustable rear wing is prominently framed
Photo: Tim Stevens

What does Mister GT-R himself think about this? I talked to Hiroshi Tamura, Nissan Chief Product Specialist and engineer on every generation of GT-R since the R33. He was pragmatic about the whole import situation. Will prices just keep going up? “Yes,” he said definitively. “[The importers] are bringing in some nice condition GT-Rs for the U.S. market. For the GT-R in Japan, it’s not so different. It’s already super high-status.”

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Kouya Noda, Editor-in-Chief of GT-R magazine, told me that opinions are split in the community. “Some people didn’t want to export to the U.S. because the GT-R is ours, made in Japan. But, if the GT-R goes to the U.S., the U.S. people can make some parts and rebuild, because GT-R genuine parts are getting harder to get in Japan. If you guys make some parts, some new products that we can import also, it’s not so bad to import to the U.S.”

So, there you go: Not only could this be a great investment and an opportunity to own something truly outrageous, it could be the beginning of a wonderful cultural exchange.