By: James C. Price Jr.
Co – Founder Of SVXNATION
- This Article is the first in our series of SvxNation Stories:
Till now his deserving piece somehow has not been told – Join us as we shed some light on the harrowing tale of two guys who spared no effort for 2-3 YEARS in order to find a way forward to legally import a JDM Version L SVX to America and not willing to take “no” for an answer.-
Grey Market vehicles – This well-known phrase carries an ominous tone making model names like Skyline synonymous with words like “impounded” “confiscated” or “crushed”. This is greatly due to stories of companies that made a killing illegally importing the vehicles on these ban lists into the country by attempting to use loopholes to skirt around the endless regulations that were put in place. Examples of such barriers include regulations preventing import or requiring costly vehicle modifications. In some countries, such as Vietnam and the United States, the import of grey-market vehicles has largely been banned.
- The Road to legality:
A JDM SVX while identical in almost every respect to their USDM counterparts falls victim to the very same regulations that prevent most Japanese automotive enthusiasts from having their cake and eating it too. every country has its own laws. In most of Europe the cars must be 10 years old in order to bypass these regulations – In Canada its 15 – the U.S. sadly its TWENTY FIVE YEARS! and while now in 2016 the 92 models are finally becoming available this was not the case several years ago and this tale is about those that had the determination to accomplish the seemingly impossible and simply could not wait any longer. Not only did they face the daunting task of discovering how to import one legally but also how to do so without having to have the vehicle crash tested!
So back to that phrase again “Grey Market”. The first hurdle was that the RHD could never be made to comply as a grey market import. Grey market cars were left hand drive cars with US market equivalents that were converted to meet EPA/DOT requirements. EPA standards were met by adding catalysts, etc. DOT standards were met by changing lamps, bumpers and other “easy” stuff. Grey market cars were converted at a total cost less than going to a U.S. dealer. The RHD SVX could never satisfy DOT standards. Even though the RHD car was air bag equipped and opposite identical to a US-spec car, there was no crash data in RHD configuration. One of our Japanese speaking owners even petitioned Subaru Japan for crash data. No success. Therefore the JDM-Market SVX could NEVER satisfy or comply lawfully. No RHD car with a build date less than 25 years could ever be legally imported through the grey market.
So no hope then? Well clearly this tale does not end in defeat – thankfully they were not the first to encounter this dilemma. Bill Gates – perhaps you’ve heard of him? He once Purchased a nearly priceless Porsche 959 and it was locked in a U.S. Custom’s warehouse for more than a decade because the 959 could never meet DOT requirements for import without crash testing a few “rare” and “expensive” cars.
As it turns out Bill never gave up. The “Legal To Import For Show Or Display” law was the result. Nearly every car on the legal to import through the Show or Display provision list is LHD and a very low production model that was never sold or certified for sale in US. Grey market would have been easy if LHD but the DOT wouldn’t budge on the equal but opposite safety equipment. The Show or Display list is a whole different league of elite and/or interesting automobiles.
Meet Ron – California resident and long time member of the Subaru SVX community. He Owns 10 (yes 10) of these unique vehicles in varied colors and trim levels… Including two JDM Models – But this was not always the case.
The year is 2005 – as an original ’92 US-spec SVX owner, Ron’s first driving lesson in a RHD SVX is on the left handed roads in England following Phil’s claret VL in his pearl VL 70 miles. First to Windsor, then on to Stonehenge where Phil, his wife Belha, Kristy, Ron and his wife and son Ricky shared a picnic lunch. That day was truly one of the most memorable days of their lives. But you don’t have to take my word for it… Let’s read an excerpt from my interview with Ron as he recalls how the events unfolded:
“I had my eye on a JDM-spec Alcyone SVX Version-L in the UK so I contacted Phil for advice and assistance. I had the fantasy idea to buy theRHD Version-L and tour Europe.“
“As an original SVX owner familiar with the technology of the concept car, I was naturally curious about the capability and drivebility of technology not offered in my US-spec SVX, specifically the variable torque center differential and 4-wheel steering. It was 2005. I had my eye on a JDM-spec Alcyone SVX Version-L in the UK so I contacted Phil for advice and assistance. I had the fantasy idea to buy the RHD Version-L and tour Europe. That fantasy actually came true. There was no thought of importing the SVX. My future wife Kristy and I planned our European tour. Phil picked up Kristy, me, and my youngest son Ricky, then 12-years old, at the airport in London. Phil graciously took us to his home where his wife Belha fed us one of the best meals I’ve ever had. It was a feast. We were all tired and hungry. We had taken a night flight out of San Francisco. We changed planes the next morning in Boston to arrive in England in time for dinner. Kristy knew that we were driving through Europe but she didn’t know what we were actually driving.
Everyone was up early in the morning for breakfast before our driving adventure that day. Belha drove the claret JDM Version-L and the rest of us jumped in the family Subaru with Phil. The plan was to drive to Stonehenge, a 70-mile trip or so. We drove several miles winding our way through the countryside to arrive at a large campus where Phil worked at the time. Everyone got out of the cars. After a couple minutes, Phil said he would be right back. He ran off around a building and was gone for about five minutes or so. I was expecting Phil to drive up in my pearl JDM, the car neither Kristy or Ricky knew anything about. Finally we see Phil drive up in an emerald green SVX, a car I knew nothing about! He jumps out, hands me the key, and said, “here you go”. What? He said that he wanted to park the family Subaru in the parking garage then we would be on our way in the SVXs. Finally he returns driving my Pearl Jdm.
What a prankster that Phil is! He got me good for sure. He still laughs about it. He out-pranked a prankster. So, Belha would drive solo in her 4-wheel steering claret Version-L, Phil would drive what turned out to be one of 300 limited edition S40II, and Kristy, Ricky and I would follow Phil in the RHD 4-wheel steering Pearl Version-L. That was my first driving lesson, try to keep up with Belha and Phil. Let’s just say no one way driving by them! We drove to a historic university for a photo shoot. That picture is on Phil’s webpage” – alcyone.org.uk
“Phil and Belha met at that university, it’s special to them. The drive to Stonehenge wasn’t an easy drive, not like getting on and off a freeway here. Every few miles the was a big left turn multi lane roundabout. Phil would always flip on his turn signal to let me know where he was going. I would follow his lead by unintentionally flipping on the windshield wipers. That was really embarrassing. Every time Phil looked back to see how I was doing; I was washing windows! From Stonehenge we drove to Windsor. Windsor is another must see destination in England. After returning from Europe we would return to Windsor to tour the castle. Later that day Phil drove all of us into London for Dinner. That first day in England driving a RHD JDM-spec Alcyone SVX Version-L was the greatest of many great days driving any SVX, a car model that I drove today and have been driving regularly since January 1993. I am forever grateful to Phil, Belha, Kristy, and Ricky for “making my day” that day as one of the best days ever.
The next day Kristy, Ricky, and I drove to Dover, on to a huge car carrier hovercraft, across the channel, and all the way to Paris. Talk about the ideal escort, we followed a Teal Ferrari out of a rest stop. I didn’t know that one could travel across France at 100 mph, but as the saying goes, “when in France do as the French do!” Driving in Paris was crazy to say the least. Every country on the continent drives on the right side of the road, but in Paris the cars are half the size of the SVX. It’s like a swarm of bees at every stop. Our trip was planned around the idea of attending the Japanese Extravaganza in England after returning from our European tour. From England we traveled to France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Belgium, France, and back to England in time to meet Phil and Belha at the Japanese Extravaganza. One dozen SVX made the show. Unbelievable show, every make and model from Japan. There must have been one hundred world rally blue WRX alone. What a blast to hang out with SVX friends in the UK for a couple of days. Our overseas adventure covered nineteen days and 2500 miles.
We had reservations for our first stop in Paris and for our second stop in Interlaken. From there onward, with help from maps and travel guides, only curiosity and adventure would point the Subaru in the right direction.
There was never a deciding moment to either sell or try to import the car. After such an incredible adventure, I was never convinced that it was time to let go and sell the SVX. Further, importing the SVX was not a choice that I had any power to make. Conversations with the DOT convinced that there was no legal path to import the SVX, short of the conditions specified by law, conditions seemingly out of reach. So the rare Subaru would remain in storage awaiting an uncertain and unknown future.” – Ron
PORSCHE 959, BUGATTI EB110 AND FERRARI ENZO! THESE ARE THE KINDS OF CARS ON THE U.S. SHOW AND DISPLAY EXEMPTION LIST…
So how would one manage to get the Subaru Alcyone SVX into such prestigious company? Most of the vehicles on the list fall under the limited production run guideline. While the SVX is indeed rare by comparison the world-wide production numbers north of 25k units immediately puts it out of the running. So whats left? – Historical or Technological Significance… The possible light at the end of this seemingly endless 3 year tunnel appeared to be hinging on the ability to prove that importing one of these JDM models of the SVX would be an example of such.
This was not a task to be taken lightly as every “i” had to be dotted every “t” crossed because once the car arrived from over in Europe if a single mistake was made it could result in losing the car all together because as we all know if the import was deemed illegal it has a high chance of subjecting the car to the possibility of it ending up crushed!
It was Phil’s brilliance that inspired him to search and locate the US Patent application and subsequent approval to Subaru’s parent company for their design of the four-wheel steering system first seen pre-production on the SVX concept at the Tokyo Auto Salon in 1989.
That was the ticket! Phil provided the ammunition and Ron pulled the trigger. Ron presented it in this manner – If the U.S. Patent Office had seen fit to award Patent #5018594 for the mechanical all wheel steering system, yet we never received a production model in the U.S. market, would it not then follow that the NHTSA-DOT should see that it in the public interest to show or display examples of the vehicle in the United States?
- Finally – Sweet – SUCCESS
Ron & Phil , were a great team (dynamic duo!) working against odds to find a legal path that would satisfy the engineers working for the NHTSA-DOT to approve import for Show or Display. And lets not forget the time and effort spent in going through the pain staking process of follow the formal, legal application process…
Without Phil’s many personal contributions to the SVX community as well as his direct contributions to Ron, the Version L would not have been on the Show or Display import list, nor would the JDM Version L have been first seen in America by dozens of SVX owners attending the Los Angeles SVX ‘museums’ meet in 2010.
Also it should be noted that Phil was one of the FIRST outside Japan to own, and therefore dispel the myth of, the JDM-Spec 4-wheel steering Version-L Alcyone SVX…
As of today, Ron’s Pearl Version-L has likely traveled farther and to more countries than any other Subaru SVX to date. From Asia, to Europe, to North America, to California, our SVX is one ocean from fully circumventing the globe. Who knows? He says he has always wanted to see Japan!
We owe the collective admiration and our enjoyment of the SVX to the generous help and support of our equally fanatic friends! Cheers to our SVX community and to each of those owners past, present, and future who have, (and will) devote their time, energy, resources, and creativity for the benefit and enjoyment of each of us.
- Ron (AKA NeedForSpeed)
Stay tuned for more stories-
And check us out at SVXNATION to stay up to date with whats going on in the SVX community as well as our links resources and aftermarket products.