As most people know, I am very involved in the Nissan Skyline community in the USA. Since the Motorex days of importation, I have been dealing with owners, importers, EPA, DOT, CARB, legal and "illegal" cars.
From Motorex to Kaizo, and now onto state titled cars, I have written enough information to be a book. Now the current chapter goes onto Steve- Vandrel from Skyline Owners USA forum, getting his Skyline seized by ICE. Here is his story and pictures.
Most people in tuner communities throughout the United States can agree on one thing, and that is that ‘Skyline’ is a very dirty word. Since the dawn of the Nissan Skyline it has stood as a iconic figure to nearly everyone who takes interest in modified vehicles from Japan, setting numerous records on all playing fields and maintaining a well rounded reputation in many categories. The Skyline, even at an old age, still stands proudly at the top of the automotive food chain. While few in the country can actually claim to have owned one either presently or previously, they carry quite the market interest as forbidden fruit that most all wish to someday own.
It is never a surprise to hear that a Skyline is being seized by the U.S. Government, though it often will peak people’s interest to hear the details behind it and get the full story. History has proven that in most cases since the fall of Motorex, when a Skyline gets seized the owner of the vehicle generally doesn’t have the knowledge or means to handle the situation and walks away empty handed, leaving the government to auction the vehicle off and collect a profit for their personal benefit. Since Motorex was shut down the government has spent countless hours and tax dollars to fund joint operations between government agencies in order to hunt down and seize Skylines that they label as ‘contraband’. In a broad spectrum it sounds pretty rediculous, to think that the government spends tax payer’s dollars to collect up a handful of cars because they (the government) say they are unsafe, while at the same time there’s thousands of illegal immagrants crossing into the U.S. every day, not to mention budget deficets and illagal activities that occur day in and day out effecting the personal lives of American citizens. So what is the governments real motivation for seizing Skylines? They obviously are not making a profit out of the deal, many people are already aware that Skylines can be purchased overseas for a fraction of U.S. market value, that leaves one to question the overall motive.
It’s a well known fact that Skylines are limited on importation into the U.S. Nearly everyone in the world that knows about cars knows that it’s nearly impossible under today’s rules to easily and affordably import a Skyline into the United States. The rules are very clear, and while they are set forth in the interest of saftey to the public and environment, one still has to sit back and question “What is the REAL reason?” If a private citizen of the U.S. wanted to purchase and import a Skyline that is newer then 25 years of age they have to jump through numerous different channels and rules in order to satisfy the U.S. Government and comply with the laws and regulations in place. So what exacally is involved in the process, in a nutshell? A person that desires to import an approved Skyline, a 1996 R33 GTS for example, would first have to source the vehicle and finalize purchase to obtain complete ownership. The individual would then have to make laison with a RI (Registered Importer) that is listed on the NHTSA’s (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) official RI list as well as a ICI (Independent Commercial Importer), both of which can be found on the NHTSA’s import information website. Under federal law, the import and modification for FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) of non-conforming vehicles newer then 25 years of age must be conducted by a authorized RI and is subject to inspection upon completion. To satisfy the regulations set by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), non-conforming vehicles newer then 21 years of age must be modified and completed by a ICI. The RI assigned to conduct the importing of the vehicle would have to notify the NHTSA upon it’s completion and then its at the NHTSA’s discretion to inspect the vehicle prior to release to the owner or reserve the right to conduct a inspection at a later time, this is commonly known as a “Bond Release” which essentially is a release statement from the NHTSA to the RI and owner stateing that they have reviewed the submitted package for said vehicle and that they acknowledge it’s completion and meeting FMVSS. Subsequently the EPA also delivers a document to further approve it’s conformance (if applicable). At this point the RI can release the vehicle to the owner and the owner can then apply for a titled in their respective state.
So what makes importing such a headache and prevents other Skyline models from being imported? One would think since Motorex imported R32’s, R33’s and R34’s years ago that they’d be legal as well, that is where things get sticky. When Motorex originally petitioned to the NHTSA to obtain approval to import Skylines they jumped through all the hoops the government required except one, crash testing. Most people did not learn of what Motorex did until the following of their shut down by the government and one would have to ask the question, WHY? Where Motorex screwed the pooch was the crash testing of Skylines to obtain a stamp of approval from the NHTSA on it’s safety compliance package to meet FMVSS. The law requires non-conforming vehicles not approved for import to be crash tested and have the subsequent data approved by the NHTSA before the vehicles can be cleared for import, sounds easy right? Motorex did infact hire a company to conduct crash testing, however, they only crash tested one car, a R33, and the submitted data was then approved. All good and well? Not so much. The approval that Motorex pushed through the NHTSA was that R32’s, 33’s and 34’s were to be imported and the crash testing data from the R33 was used for all 3 models under a substantially similar clause that was later challenged in 2006 when the VCP-17 approval of Skyline imports for R32’s, 33’s and 34’s was reconsidered by the NHTSA. It was decided that the 3 models were far to different and the fact that there was no crash test data to support the R32’s and R34’s sealed their fate and got them removed from the non-conforming approval list at the NHTSA. The approval for import was later redesignated VCP-32 and only covered 1996-1998 R33’s both GTS and GTR varients. In a nutshell, only specific Skylines can be imported as of 2006 and there’s still a constant uphill battle over OBDII that still has yet to see the end of the tunnel.
A interesting topic that is commonly discussed amongst Skyline owners is what happens to the cars that slipped into the country by unknown measures, both carrying U.S. titles and not. Taken from a recent affidavit: “If a vehicle is not on the list, it cannot be lawfully imported into the United States, even if efforts can be made after importation to bring it into compliance with FMVSS because that vehicle would not have been legally imported into the U.S. and would have violated Customs and Border Protection (CBP), US/DOT and EPA regulations in its importation into the U.S.”. Unfortunetly that means that if a Skyline does not carry a “Bond Release” from the NHTSA and applicable EPA forms then it’s not legal. But who is to blame in a situation where a private citizen of the U.S. purchases a Skyline in good faith and assuming that all is well? Does the government expect all citizens to be legal experts and carry NHTSA importation information pamplets around when shopping for vehicles? Sure, it can be argued that the information is out there and publicly available but let’s be honest, how many private citizens do you know of that know what documents a non-conforming vehicle is suppost to carry in order to be deemed legal, let alone know what the NHTSA is. I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of citizens probably wouldn’t have the slightest clue as to what the NHTSA is if the term was said to them. One would think that when purchasing a vehicle that carries a valid U.S. title that it would be fine and dandy and so long as it’s not listed as stolen or flagged at a DMV when applying for a title transfer. I for one know I’ve never asked a dealership for a bond release or EPA conformance document, and I highly doubt there’s very many people out there who have asked for the same when purchasing any vehicle from anyone for that matter because quite frankly it's not something that's required for every car in the country. Again, who's to blame? I suppose it's our faults for not being duty experts on cars with steering wheels on the wrong side.
In the end it comes to one simple question that the American public has to ask the federal government, “Just how much of tax payer’s money is spent to fund joint operations to seize Skylines across the U.S.?”. I think the same can be asked about the budget approved for the agency overall and just where all the money is going. In 1984 a organization was created to expose government waste of funds, named the Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW). CAGW has helped expose high-profile cases of tax payer funds being waste, most noteably the Department of Defense's $640 toilet seat and $436 hammer. Sounds funny to think about it but it’s quite true that those are just two examples of where our hard earned money is spent by the government on items that everyone knows are not quite that expensive at all. Taking into consideration that the government will spend $640 on a toilet seat that would normally cost you and I $15 at the local home repair store, again, leaves one to speculate on where the money truly goes and just how big the budget is for agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (HIS), formally known as the United States Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I think most American citizens can agree that investigations are not free, especially when you factor in travel expenses and associated assets required to seize property from private citizens.
It is clear as of today that the U.S. Government has not put a hold on its goal to seize Skylines and in 2011 the first known case came to light when ICE launched an investigation into the heart of the community in the U.S. that consists mostly of owners of Skylines, Skyline Owners USA (SOUSA). The exact details are still being gathered and studied, however it is evident that the government is turning up the pressure to either meet a deadline or please someone with a lot of authority. In the past years their investigation efforts were skewed and very unclear with no rhyme or reason as to the direction they were heading and what their end-state goal was. Today, it is more clear than ever that the goal is “To get them off the road”, as stated by the Resident Agent in Charge of a local ICE office in North Carolina.
As the owner, founder and community leader for Skylines Owners USA I am dedicated to absolute and unquestionable protection of all members of the community and I have come to the determination that action must be taken in order to safeguard the members of the community. As of March 1st, 2011 I no longer have anything to lose by challenging the U.S. Government regarding Skylines and those who own them presently in the United States. On February 11th, 2011 I received a phone call from my wife while I was at work, she stated that it was of the upmost importance that I leave work immediately and head home because Homeland Security was at the doorstep and they wanted to talk to me. Needless to say I left work with little notice and rushed home to get the scoop on what was taking place at my residence. Just before turning the corner to my street I fully expected to see an extraordinary amount of government vehicles and personnel on my property, and to my surprise I saw quite the opposite which was one car and two people. Matters were discussed over the course of several hours and in the end it was evident that someone somewhere had passed on some ‘bum scoop’, that I was running a business with the sole intent of trafficking illegal non-conforming vehicles into the U.S. by the dozens. In addition they were under the assumption that I possessed a warehouse where I kept all of the vehicles and also did all my automotive repair and modification work at. I learned that nearly all of their information was based off of some word of mouth “tip” they received and later did some research to investigate and monitor my activities. Needless to say they were quite puzzled by the situation they got themselves into and the lack of actual facts they possessed when talking to me. I do not disregard or deny that there is public information posted around various sources of the internet that may create a image that I was operating a business of some fashion and was able to import cars, however I made it very clear and provided documentation for the one and only vehicle I had imported, and legally might I add, under the 25 year rule that essentially makes all motor vehicles domestic and imported completely exempt from FMVSS and any and all regulatory standards via the NHTSA, not to mention the EPA at 21 years of age. I willingly turned over all documents I possessed for both the vehicle I imported legally as well as my personal Skyline to the agents for verification purposes on if they were actually legal vehicles. My personal Skyline carries a very lengthy history which I of course explained to the agents in the best details I could to include a basic official statement of my knowledge of the vehicle’s history and origin. Over the course of 2 weeks my papers were being cross-checked by various government agencies to include the OVSC department of the NHTSA as well as the EPA, I of course on the day they first arrived at my house had prepared myself for the worst case scenario since I knew it was a 50/50 chance on its legitimacy. I was contacted by ICE a week after the first visit and then notified that my vehicle was found to be illegal and that it was going to be seized, at that point they stated I could not alter or sell my vehicle and that I had to wait for them to issue the warrant to seize the vehicle before I could do anything at all. A date and time was setup for them to come issue the warrant, on March 1st, 2011 at roughly 10:30AM they visited my residence and we sat down to finalize the paperwork for the seize of the vehicle and turn over custody of the “contraband” to the U.S. Government. I made it very clear that my intent was to retain ownership for the time being and export the vehicle from the country, and that I had already made arrangements for a sale to be conducted as well as export of the vehicle, which of course shocked them completely since all past Skylines seized were not owned by someone who carried the ability to execute a export on the spot.
With no material item left in my possession that would cause me to worry about being questioned or investigated by the federal government any further, as stated before, I have nothing to lose by challenging them and I intend to do so to the fullest of my abilities and resources. Future discussions with ICE have been mentioned and are tentatively planned, however do not expect hourly or daily updates as much of what is to be discussed will be legal-sensitive content for the good of the community. All Skyline owners in the United States can rest assure that “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight!”.
As someone in some movie said -"Shit, just got real."
Source: NICO Forums , and Skyline Owners Forum