If you say the words “collector car,” there are a few vehicles that come to mind immediately: the Aston Martin DB5, Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, Ferrari 250 GTO, Jaguar E-type. But those ‘50s and ‘60s models won’t be the frontrunners forever. The vehicles that people consider collectible change with the generations, and Millennials are about to usher in a new definition of the phrase by lusting after a car that will soon be legal to import into the U.S.: the Nissan R34 Skyline GT-R.
The fifth-generation Skyline GT-R, which debuted for the 1999 model year, was not made available for sale in the U.S., largely because it did not meet various American vehicle regulations. That didn’t stop it from becoming one of the most desirable cars in the eyes of many Americans — Millennials especially — as it was the street racer Paul Walker drove in 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, and one of the favorite options players could drive in racing video games like the Need for Speed and Gran Turismo franchises.
Twenty-five years later, the R34 Skyline GT-R will finally be legal to import into the U.S. come 2024. That’s because the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act allows cars that don’t meet U.S. safety standards to come into the country after a 25-year waiting period. According to Randy Nonnenberg, co-founder of online auction site Bring a Trailer, sellers are champing at the bit to capitalize on the fervor around this Millennial-favorite collector car.
“When there are marquee models that are hitting at 25 [years old], we’ll see [imported cars being auctioned off almost immediately],” Nonnenberg tells InsideHook. “Some people will buy them in advance and store the car in Canada and get ready. They’ll orient their business or their life around it. I would say the R34 Skyline is in that category because it’s super upper-echelon, an obviously high-dollar car.”
Inside the Nostalgia-Fueled Cult of “Fast & Furious” Replica CollectorsFor some superfans of the franchise, it’s not enough to watch the movies — they need the cars
There have been a few R34 Skylines that have sold on Bring a Trailer in the U.S. previously, but those are part of a tiny, select group that have been imported into the country as exceptions under a “Show and Display” agreement, meaning they have some historical or technical significance and are essentially limited to being used as show cars. Those models, which aren’t approved for normal daily driving, have sold for as much as $315,000. Nonnenberg expects the first few good examples of the now street-legal R34 to sell for that much, or even more, in the new year.
“What we’ve found is that…the first people to bring [in cars after their 25-year ban] when they’re perceived as very rare or hard to get, and somebody actually has one on U.S. plates and it’s totally legitimate and it’s here, the first movers on that will get a big premium,” he says. “There will be a big spike right at the beginning for a couple of cars — two or maybe three cars.”
After the initial rush to get hold of a car that has so far been forbidden fruit in the U.S., Nonnenberg says demand will cool off as more people try to replicate the first blockbuster sales. “But then the weird curveball is it doesn’t just cool off forever,” he adds. After a few years of less aggressive bidding, he’s seen demand pick back up for certain models, like the Lancia Delta Integrale Evo. “When a really good one shows up, it’s actually even better than the first ones that were imported. People are more sensitive on spec and condition down the road and will pay even more for it. So it’s a spike, then a trough for a while, and then another spike.”
For those Millennials who have been dreaming about an R34 Skyline for the last two decades, you’ll want to take Nonnenberg’s advice and wait until the market cools off a bit. (You’ll also maybe want to consider looking for something else entirely, as all of these cars will be right-hand drive.) Moreover, it’s important to consider the broader context around how the 25-year import ban pushes interest and prices up on vehicles that, if looked at in a vacuum, may not seem to be worth the extraordinary bids that get placed.
“As time marches on, everybody looks at cars that were part of their youth as being the nostalgia driver that makes them want to pursue something,” says Nonnenberg. When the R34 Skyline was released in 1999, and became a pop culture icon in the following years, the kids who were playing Need for Speed and idolizing Paul Walker in 2 Fast 2 Furious weren’t going to buy it at the time, even if it was legal to sell in the U.S. But 25 years later, all those kids are now adults.
“People are 20 years older now,” Nonnenberg adds, “so they have 20 years more nostalgia and 20 years more of missing that car, and 20 years more buying power.”
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.