May of 2023 is an important month for American enthusiasts of JDM tin. After years of pining and a handful of special models making it in through Show or Display legislation for the limited importation of historically or technically significant vehicles never officially sold in America, the legendary R34 Nissan Skyline is finally legal for American importation under the 25-year rule. Mind you, that does come with a big asterisk — not all trim levels will make the boat right now.
See, the legendary R34 Skyline GT-R won’t be legal under the 25-year rule until January of 2024 (The BNR34 GT-R was a Porsche-scaring monster with all-wheel-drive and an RB26DETT 2.6-liter twin-turbocharged inline six making way more than the advertised 276 horsepower), but 3,895 normal variants made in May of 1998 are now legal to import, and some are quicker than others. The base HR34 GT model with its 153-horsepower RB20DE NEO engine won’t set the world alight, but the 197-horsepower ER34 25 GT and 276-horsepower ER34 25 GT Turbo models really get the fizz on, depending on gearbox choice. As with most big Japanese cars of the ‘90s, a four-speed automatic was on offer, and it’s aged about as well as you’d expect.
Still, the late RB-series inline-sixes are a bit of a miracle because the R34 Skyline wasn’t even supposed to come with the RB-series inline-six. According to Whichcar Australia, R34 chief engineer Kazutoshi Mizuno wanted to put a V6 in the engine bay, but the money wasn’t there for a high-performance version of the VQ. Nissan was a sinking ship in the late-’90s, and a financial turnaround wouldn’t come until Carlos Ghosn took the reins in 2000.
Now, here lies the rub of the R34: The one you really want will be expensive. Manual models with the RB25DET NEO turbocharged engine start in the mid-20s and go up from there. These were brilliant cars when they were around $10,000, but the days of cheap JDM performance cars are pretty much over. Even slightly dodgy naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter cars are still in the low five-figure range, and that coin buys a lot of sports sedan. If you have a Japanese bent, the Lexus IS300 has aged brilliantly. Reasonably nice BMWs are never thin on the ground. You might even squeak into a Holden Monaro-based Pontiac GTO, although it feels much heavier than a Skyline.
Current Skyline values are a bit shocking to me as due to Canada’s 15-year import rule and British Columbia’s propensity for insuring anything, non-GT-R R34s were just normal cars driven by young enthusiasts when I was in public school. You used to be able to get a GT Turbo for about what an eight-year-old Toyota Camry commanded in the isolated Okanagan valley, never mind most domestic-market performance cars. They were fabulous value and surprisingly refined, plus the aftermarket was tremendous. Granted, they weren’t Rocky Mountain long-distance cruisers with fabulous NVH attenuation like the Germans or even an XJR, nor were they out-and-out sports cars, but they made sense as one car to do it all.
I’m sure you expect this rambling to be followed up with a controversial statement, but no. The R34 is actually good. Look, it’s a relatively sophisticated late-’90s rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive sedan or coupe with a lineup of inline six engines and manual gearbox availability. However, good doesn’t mean it’s on another level. After all, the R34 is the predecessor to a car we actually got in North America, the Infiniti G35, so we’re really looking at a fun, sporty sedan or coupe that’s bigger than a 3-Series but smaller than a 5-Series. From experience, the R34 Skyline and G35 are fairly evenly matched, although the R34 is slightly more raw and was available with turbocharged power.
To some, the driving experience of an R34 Skyline will undoubtedly line up with the prices they command. It’s not difficult or expensive to coax more power out of an RB25DET NEO without massively sacrificing reliability, and nobody makes this sort of reasonably-light, capacious do-it-all vehicle anymore. Plus, the R34 is relatively rare. According to GTR Registry, 67,262 R34 Skylines of all stripes were made over the entire production run, which sounds like a lot until it’s put into context. BMW made millions of E46 3-Series models, while Infiniti sold more G35s in America in 2005 alone than Nissan sold R34s in total.
Then there’s the cultural aspect of the R34. Although many Americans got their first glimpse at it in 2 Fast 2 Furious, the want goes further back than that. Gran Turismo had introduced the Skyline to American living rooms in 1998, and Gran Turismo 2 brought the R34 to your PlayStation in 1999. Motorex was getting magazine and television features for its questionably-imported Skylines, and a whole host of JDM magazines captivated those in the import scene.
Oh, and the halo effect is in full force with the R34. The GT-R variant has taken on this status as crusher of all, an inimitable final evolution of the dominant R32 GT-R. It marked the end of a truly legendary era of Japanese performance cars, when technology ruled the roost and the Western establishment had a hard time keeping up. These days, R34 GT-Rs are full-on supercar money, largely due to their supercar-killing cred. Once the pricing of top-trim models goes through the roof, it tends to lift the values of lesser models.
The R34 Skyline isn’t for everyone, but it’s still a great enthusiast car. However, it’s also one that requires a careful buying process. Due to the um, exuberance of many Skyline owners over the past decade or so, finding one that hasn’t been modified to a dubious standard is difficult. In addition, it’s still a 25-year-old car, which means that dumb stuff can still break. Still, it remains a dream car for many American enthusiasts and now that the time is right to import them, it’s only a matter of time until they start showing up to car meets.
(Photo credits: Nissan, Thomas Hundal)
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“Nissan was a sinking ship…” basically I picture Nissan as the Japanese version of whatever Chrysler is currently being called. They maybe get one model of interest to the masses and then milk that thing for as long as humanly possible while letting everything else languish. The difference is that I want to believe in Nissan.
Its kinda weird they said they couldn’t put a high performance V6 in the R34 considering they had turbo VQ’s available in the Gloria, Cedric, Leopard and Cima at the same time. Although I’m glad they kept the legendary RB.
Thomas, don’t know what it’s like for upriver in Toronto, but the type of driver typically in the seat of these here in Quebec is not the type of driver you want on the road.
As a former R34 GTT owner, wait until the 2000 models are available and get yourself a Series II if you’re hell-bent on getting one.
Helical LSD, electric HICAS, much nicer interior and gauges with the only negative being the rather drab factory front bumper.
Great cars, but good luck finding one that doesn’t have a rolled-back odometer and isn’t thrashed to death.
Time for several crates of these cars to ‘magically’ appear in shops around the USA. Who knows how they legally got there. The Import Fairy has been busy!
At least Customs will no longer need to impound these, unless someone tries to dodge tariffs.
I like the 4-door R34 and wish they had made a 4-door GTR
Technically they did, but not so much as a factory car, but as an autec. Those however are as rare as they are expensive
Yes please distract them while I’m buying my twin turbo 2J 1994 aristo (GS300 for stateside reference)
Such as *THIS* 1998 Stagea
…can the JDM fanboys please turn their attention to this rather than tripping over each other while foaming at the mouth to go pay $60,000+ for Civic Type Rs and GR Corollas? That would be pretty cool.
I kind of wonder if the GR corolla would not actually be a bit faster than the Skyline though? not mods of course.
It probably is. Cars from that era were fast for the day but pretty slow by today’s standards.
It would be, but don’t tell them that. If we want a shot at ever getting one or a CTR at a reasonable price the JDM fanboys are going to need something else they can finance on 10 year loans…
I actually saw my first GR Corolla on the road the other day, and I have to say it looks sharper than I thought from pictures.
Not sharp enough to pay $60K for it mind you, but if I had to buy something from this class, the Toyota would probably be it.
I saw one at Cars and Coffee last weekend in the red color. It’s definitely sharp looking in person. Obviously I made my choice out of this class with my Kona N but there were a lot of extenuating factors…with price and availability being near the top as well as the fact that it’s a DCT. I personally don’t want to daily a manual through the teeth of DC rush hour every day.
Toyota and Honda won’t offer automatics in these cars. I get it, driving stick is the most “hardcore” option, it’s a bigger part of Japanese car culture than it is American, and they’ll sell every single one of them regardless. I might be willing to put up with suffering through my 45 minutes to go 7 miles commute with a stick if the prices were reasonable, but they aren’t.
The cheapest I see GRCs listed for within 250 miles is $50,000. Secondhand new CTRs are listed in the 50s as well while new ones don’t even have prices listed, so feel free to let your imagination run wild. Hell even the old ones are going for over their original MSRP with as much as 40-50,000 miles on them. These cars are compelling at MSRP, even if I think the CTR is overpriced at 45k…but once you get into the 50-60k range they don’t hold up very well against the competition.
On the other hand I got my Kona N for under MSRP. It’s definitely not as cool as the other two but it’s much closer than you’d think (peep Car and Driver’s lightning lap times this year) and suits me just fine. I’m a trouble free year into owning now and have 0 plans to consider anything else. Maybe if the prices on the killer JDM options ever settle down I’ll change my tune but for now I see no reason to mess with them.
I see a R32 driving around here once in awhile
I see a black one around my town. It looks…..plain. (And I’m a fan of 90’s ‘used soap’ designs.)