Motorex Redux: An R33 GT-R Enters The Country Legally
|Image credit: Rivsu Imports
Yesterday some news broke that should be of great interest to Skyline and GT-R fans here in the US. Rivsu Imports posted to their Facebook account that they had been successful in legally importing an R33 GT-R LM Limited into the US. Here's a link to their post:
This is interesting of course on two counts 1) the rarity of the car they imported and 2) how they did it.
On the subject of the car, the R33 GT-R LM Limited was a limited edition model that was released to commemorate Nissan entering the 24 Hours of Le Mans starting in 1995. It's important to include the "Limited" part in the name because there was a different R33 GT-R LM (no Limited). This is the famous widebody rear-wheel drive R33 LM that everyone who's played Gran Turismo knows. That particular car was a one-of-one special only made to satisfy the silly GT1 homologation rules of the '90s. Nissan kept that solitary example for themselves and have it stored in their Zama storage facility.
The LM Limited was a commemorative street version which was only made in 1996 with a total of 98 examples so it’s still a very rare version of the R33 – 14 of those were V-specs. Changes were mostly cosmetic with a hood lip, front cooling ducts, and a CF rear wing element and Gurney flap the only real performance enhancements. The powertrain remained AWD - the same as the standard GT-R. In typical limited edition Skyline fashion they only came in the Champion Blue color seen on the car in Rivsu’s pictures. The hopefully-named color didn’t translate to any wins but with the wild GT1 rules at the time and the Mclaren F1 and Porsche 911 GT1 in the mix that was never going to be an easy task.
The following year Nismo came out with the even rarer 400R that had a special 2.8 liter bored and stroked motor with upgraded internals and turbos. Only 44 of those were ever made. By that time though Nissan had abandoned racing the R33 at Le Mans in favor of a purpose built racer - the sleek and sexy R390.
Now, you’re probably more interested in how this LM made it into the country since the R33 isn’t the required 25 years old to qualify for DOT exemption. It isn’t 21 years old yet either so it can’t get an EPA exemption and get in under Show or Display (given the rarity and the Le Mans connection it would almost certainly qualify though). Did Rivsu find some previously unknown way of bringing in R33s? Did they bribe the DOT with hookers and a boatload of Oreos? Or is this car really just a Toyota Solara with a very well-done body kit? From reading the Facebook comments it’s obvious a lot of people don’t understand how Rivsu managed to do this but a quick check of the pictures Rivsu has posted will show there’s no mystery to what they did especially if you’ve read my previous piece on the Motorex saga and its aftermath.
If you look at the image from Rivsu you can see they posted a bond release letter from the DOT for this car and in the upper left-hand corner it mentions the recipient as JK Technologies – a name that should be familiar to anyone up to speed with Motorex and Skyline importation. JK was the registered importer that was contracted by Motorex back in 1998 to actually do the nitty-gritty technical work and figure out the modifications needed to legalize a Skyline for the US (and no, they didn't sing Space Cowboy or Virtual Insanity, that's a different JK my friend). In order to do so they inspected and crash-tested a few R33s, eventually determining a suite of modifications to get the car up to DOT safety standards and also how to add an OBD-II system to meet EPA standards. After Motorex closed down, the DOT eventually released the info on the safety modifications to the public but the details on the OBD modifications remained known only to JK. The ruling that the DOT made about the legality of bringing in R33s required you to meet both DOT and EPA requirements to be legit so half of the R33 importation puzzle was public knowledge but the other piece wasn’t.
Weeks before Rivsu made its announcement someone had mentioned to me that an R33 LM had been brought into the country by JK Technologies but there was no other solid info on it. Now it seems clear he was talking about this car. What’s happened here essentially is that Rivsu was able to convince JK Technologies to import the car on their behalf, most likely using the strongest influence you can use on a business: bananas…no wait, I meant to say: MONEY.
Basically, Rivsu didn’t import this car themselves – they couldn’t since they’re not a registered importer as per the NHTSA’s list of RIs. Remember that any importation company can bring in a car that's 25 years old but only registered importers are licensed to modify cars less than 25 years of age to meet DOT standards. Rivsu sourced the car and then were able to do what other people so far hadn’t been able to – convince JK Technologies to handle the importation. Props to them for that accomplishment.
So having said that, does this mean R33’s will be as common now on these shores as R32s and R35s (which isn’t very common at all really but you know what I mean)? Well, rumor has it that the financial toll for this little endeavor came out to around $35 thousand dollars for that one car – that’s the cost on top of the car itself. Rivsu hasn’t said anything about the price themselves although they say they’ll have a more detailed press release later this week. That guesstimate on cost seems inflated but given that JK hasn’t imported an R33 since the whole Motorex deal blew over more than a decade ago and installing an OBD-II system in an old car never designed for it isn't exactly a "splice-two-wires-and-call-it-a-day" job it doesn’t seem unbelievable either. The cost of importation will ultimately determine whether this will be more of a one-off deal or not (although there's also the question of what agreement Rivsu has with JK Technologies to do it again). Even at $35K the cost could be very doable to a well-heeled and dedicated fan who wants something as rare as flaming unicorn poop – it’s not a huge cost if you compare it to what people will spend on engine builds or restorations. The question is whether it’s worth it.
The first R33s will be legal to come into the US under the 25 year rule in four years. Something as rare as the LM Limited or a Nismo 400R could be eligible two to three years sooner under show or display. The cost to import under those requirements will almost certainly be much lower. So that leaves the simple question: are you passionate enough about the R33 and rich enough that money doesn’t matter if it’ll save you a few more years wait?
In any case, even if this proves to be a one-off event, we should still consider this a win for the Skyline community at large in the US. One more rare GT-R in the country legally is a positive for us.
I'd like to gratefully acknowledge Kman5711 for notifying me of Rivsu's Facebook post.