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Nissan R32 Skyline: Welcome Our Latest Immigrant Friends

There has recently been a decent amount of chatter surrounding Nissan’s R32 Skyline. And by “decent” I really mean “any” found outside of the Skyline-centric Internet temples. A darling of hardcore Nissan fans in general, and Godzilla fans in particular, to even knowledgeable enthusiasts the non-GT-R models were just generic – albeit kind of cool looking – Japanese-market coupes and sedans we couldn’t lay hands on while safely ensconced in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

But that’s about to change.

The earliest R32s are turning the 25-year-old corner, thus becoming exponentially easier to bring into the alleged land of the free and home of the brave. Unless you’re in a place with Draconian emissions laws – I’m looking at you, California – a street-legal early R32 is within your grasp.

Well, after you physically get it to the border or port, fill out the appropriate sections of NHTSA form HS-7 and EPA form 3520-1, pay the duty, and probably several other small but critically important details necessary to keep the Department of Homeland Security off your doorstep.

There are many flavors of R32, from the basic 1.8-liter, rear-drive, GXi four-door to several iterations of the fabled GT-R, including factory specials like the NISMO and N1 as well as oddball tuner variants from Japanese companies like Autech. I’ll be focusing on a few specific models since I can’t help but think an R32 would make an amusing year-round daily driver, especially in all-wheel drive format.

I should mention here there are a few ways to get an R32 into the United States. For the models I’m looking at, those means are all predicated on the idea the car has accumulated 25 years under its tires since birth.

The first is a little complicated and potentially expensive, but is likely to yield a very clean example if you shop right: Bring one over from Japan. There are companies willing and able to source an R32 for you – likely from a dealer or online Japanese auction – and get the car and its paperwork to a southern California port. For a price, of course, above and beyond that of the car itself, the shipping, and the import duty fee. Add approximately $2,000 to the price of the car.

If you had a contact in Japan, or regularly did business over there, you could bring the car in yourself. The paperwork on the US end isn’t bad, but you’ll need all the Japanese export and deregistration documents before the car can leave its home turf. Also note that cars coming over from Japan have month/year born-on dates, not just the year (more on this in a moment). You’ll still need to cover the fees and shipping, but you’ll take the “company” out of the equation.

A second way to bring an R32 over is to literally drive it in from, say, Canada. I’ve not seen Mexican-market R32s, but then I’ve never looked, either. You’ll still need the aforementioned NHTSA and EPA forms, as well as a temporary registration from Canada. Canadian car born-on dates are year-denoted only, so you could theoretically bring in an R32 a few months short of its 25th birthday. However, best not to risk it, especially if you can ascertain exactly when your “new” Godzilla was hatched. Besides, the cars are getting older as you’re reading this.

So which ones to look for?

Headlining the two-doors is the mighty GT-R. For 1989 the specs were astonishing: a 2.6-liter, twin-turbo, 276-hp, inline-six; ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive with all-wheel steering; a relatively subtle body kit and tight sport seats. Because dual-clutch gearboxes were a dream of the future, the GT-R had a proper three-pedal 5-speed manual. Very much like the venerated BMW E30 M3 of the time, it was a race car for the street. Also like the M3, when the GT-R wasn’t on the street, it was destroying the competition on the track.

Two tamer versions of the R32 coupe exist – and this is where it gets interesting – in the GTS-t Type M (rear-drive) and the GTS-4 (all-wheel drive). Both run the single-turbo 2.0-liter straight six making 212 horsepower and can be had with a 5-speed manual. The Type M spec on the rear-wheelers provides larger brakes and 5-lug wheels, the latter being an easy visual identifier for non-GT-R models. The basic coupe’s bodywork is quite similar to the GT-R.

Need four doors? The R32 has you covered. Available in the same spec levels as the non-GT-R coupes, the sedans offer easier rear seat access in a really low-key package – no spoilers, and fender flaring that looks less aggressive than their coupe counterparts.

Interiors were quite typically Nissan of the era. If you’re familiar at all with a 1990 Maxima SE, 300ZX or 240SX, you’ll feel right at home in an R32:

“What color is that interior?”
“1989 Nissan.”

Ergonomics are quite good with switches and knobs placed readily around the clear instruments, and space looks to be decent for four. Given the low beltline and slim pillars, you can easily see out of it.

Let’s make no mistake if you’re intending to use an R32 as a daily driver: These are not new cars, and even if they were half as old they were never sold in the States. Many bits are available since other models share them. But for some stuff, your local Nissan parts counter monkey is probably going to give you a blank look and then excuse himself for an extra-long cigarette break. A reasonably stock example is probably quite reliable, like many Japanese cars of the time. A homebrew tuner special is probably a hand grenade waiting for the pin to fall out. Check for rust because… both Japan and Canada have rust.

Speaking of stock, almost any R32 you find probably won’t be completely as it left the factory. That’s just a fact, and not always a bad one. The list of available modifications will shame your BMW 3 Series. Like the 3er, avoid car with questionable mods sourced from the local NAPA.

All R32s are right-hand drive, which is fine for me but may not be for you. To see if you can cope with it, go drive a mail delivery vehicle (Subaru Legacy wagons are cool) for an afternoon. Or a proper original Mini Cooper.

GT-Rs are expensive for a reason. They are legendary. However, a GTS-t Type M or GTS-4 could be a viable alternative for a reasonable cost. Getting it into the States is becoming easier, so the question is, as always, finding a good one. Once it’s here, you’d want to take some level of precaution against rust if you want to drive it all the time.

And for someone such as myself in Minnesota, Canada is a hell of a lot closer than Japan.

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