Enthusiasm for Japanese cars has exploded over the last few years, it seems like everyone and their dog is feeling Hella JDM Yo and saving up for an RX7 or an S15. Unfortunately, this has led to the prices of these halo cars from Japan’s Golden Age rising rapidly in recent years. But, how can the prices of Japanese cars have skyrocketed to the extent they have?
Well, one reason for this is simple: America.
The US’s obsession with these vehicles is well-documented, but due to the import laws and tariffs that are present in the States, any vehicle which enters US soil under the age of 25 years must be subject to extreme emissions testing. Once over 25 years old, the laws are significantly relaxed and the cars are imported as “classics”. As such, many Japanese cars never sold domestically in the US, like the Toyota Chaser and the PS13, which American consumers have lusted after and saved up for for years, have now become import eligible.
“But” I hear you cry, “there have been Skylines in the US for 20 years! There was one in the first Fast and Furious!” Yeah, there was. You probably just did your laundry in it.
The tale of “Big Bird” is a sad one. The yellow R33 GT-R was imported into the US minus it’s VIN tag. When Big Bird’s last owner bought it, it had been a tuning company demo vehicle and was in a bad way. Justin Beno bought the vehicle as a shell, and built it up alongside a second purple R33, spending around $75000. When he attempted to sell the cars on, he was arrested and was unable to escape severe punishment unless he handed over the poor cars to Uncle Sam for them to be squeezed.
He was not the only man to fall afoul of the government’s campaign to kill all Skylines, as a grey market business illegally re-VINing the seminal sports car was raided, with all the cars being seized, and anyone who had bought a car from that company was tracked down and had their vehicle seized too, allegedly with no recompense from the government.
So, most of the halo cars from the 1990s are now of the age where they can be imported into the States, and as such, prices of the imported cars have skyrocketed. As is the case with simple microeconomics, if supply doesn’t change, but demand increases, price increases accordingly.
This is not solely to blame though. As the drifting niche has surged in popularity, the demand worldwide for the halo drift cars has begun to increase. Cars that were previously seen as disposable and fair game to be bent in half were suddenly commanding premium money, starting with vehicles like the Toyota Supra, Nissan’s SX line, and the Mazda RX7, snowballing from there to the point where vehicles which would previously have been scrapped for requiring a patch of welding have now begun to command as much as five figures in any ropey condition.
A rising tide lifts all ships, however, and people wishing to get into a RWD Japanese car have found the choice of vehicles becoming steadily smaller. This has led to, in the past few years, less desirable Japanese cars, such as the Toyota Soarer, Lexus IS200, and even the Mk1 Mazda MX5 start to slowly tick up in price.
So, yes, you could argue that the cars from the drifting glory days are so expensive specifically because they are the cars from the drifting glory days. But realistically, it is no different to Porsches, or Classic Fords. As time has worn on, the reverence of those cars has increased, and as such, so has the demand and therefore, the prices.
Young people saving up for these vehicles are now, like a lot of big purchases in their life, chasing after a carrot on a stick. The cars get more expensive incrementally as the dreamers continue to save. One thing is for sure though, if you’ve got one, hang on to it. It’ll probably put your kids through college in a few years time.