Canadian JDM Invasion – Honda Integra Type-R

Posted by: Shelton Kwan onAugust 6th, 2014

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I remember seeing my first Lamborghini Countach in person like it was yesterday. It was the fall of 1982, and sitting across from the street from our Los Angeles hotel under some lush palm trees was a pristine white Countach that looked exactly like the posters on my wall. This was my first trip to Disneyland, and my parents were trying to rush the two kids into a cab. I refused to budge, I’ve been a car guy all my life, and seeing that Lamborghini in person was infinitely better than seeing Mickey Mouse.

What’s interesting about this Countach was that it looked very different than the later Countachs on US soil. The bumpers were clean, and didn’t have the ugly ass US spec bumpers that were necessary to pass US federal standards in later model years. The US, as well as Canada, have a completely different set of vehicle standards compared to the rest of the world. Almost everywhere else, countries follow the UNECE Harmonized Vehicle Regulations. Introduced in the late 50’s, it was a set of rules that made it much easier for international trade, and thus much cheaper for manufacturers to sell vehicles in many countries. The US and Canada were notable holdouts in this agreement, and have their own set of standards. Low volume manufacturers were effectively shut out of the North American market due to the huge costs in federalizing their vehicles.

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In America, grey market vehicles like the Countach I saw were hugely popular. Importers would bring in European spec cars, make some basic modifications and federalize each one individually for use in the US. It was such an easy process that grey market importers began importing similar vehicles already federalized in the US thanks to a price arbitrage against European vehicles. US dealers were not happy about this, and Mercedes-Benz lobbied under the guise of safety to push through the Motor Vehicle Safety Compliance Act in 1988, which only allowed vehicles older than 25 years to be imported. Grey Market Vehicles died that day.

Back here in Canada, things were a little less dramatic. Contrary to what you might believe, it wasn’t the Motor Vehicle Safety Act that introduce restrictions on foreign vehicle imports, but a rule with the Department of Finance that prohibits importation of a vehicle newer than 15 years old from ANY country, to protect vehicle manufacturer’s federalization investments for the Canadian market. Of course, with Free Trade in the horizon, this rule was relaxed in the late 80’s to allow US imports, and hasn’t changed much since.

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