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By Veronica Manning
Updated on Jun 1, 2022
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett, Senior Editor.
The Nissan Silvia 15 is a Japanese sports car with a cult following. Beloved by car enthusiasts and racers alike, it’s popular around the world for its sleek design and easy handling.
But Americans looking to buy an S15 are out of luck. Under U.S. law, the cars are currently illegal to import or own. Anyone who tries to import one faces stiff penalties, including jail time.
While you may not be able to drive an S15 just yet, the car insurance super app Jerry is here with all the information you need to understand the ins and outs of the car.
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What’s the history of the Nissan S15?
The Nissan Silvia made its debut in 1965. The Japanese-made line of sports coupes became popular for its streamlined design, perfect for racing. Many iterations of the Nissan Silva came and went over the years, but the best known of these is the Nissan S15.
The Nissan S15 was first released in 1999. It was only sold in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Although they are no longer in production, pre-owned S15s are still highly sought after today.
Why do people love the Nissan S15?
The Nissan S15 features an iconic, sleek design that is instantly recognizable.
- Car enthusiasts love the lightweight chassis combined with its powerful engine, which makes handling them effortless.
- They became famous (or perhaps infamous) for their use in drifting competitions—James Deane, the three-time Formula D champion, went to the Championships in his first year while driving an S15.
- Hobbyists love that Nissan S15s are easy to customize, with upgrades including engine modifications and extra suspension.
What’s the difference between the Spec-R and the Spec-S?
The Nissan S15 had two trim levels: the Spec-S and the Spec-R. Both models look very similar at first glance. Under the hood, however, the differences between them are much more apparent.
- More powerful engine
- Features a six-speed manual transmission standard
- Can reach speeds of up to 152 miles per hour
- Includes extra chassis and suspension strengthening, which improves braking and offers the driver more control
- Combined with the lightweight body, increased suspension allows the NS15 to make the tight turns and sudden stops that it’s famous for
- Reduced jostling in the car for a smoother ride
- Lower trim level than the Spec-R
- Less powerful than the Spec-R, but it’s still a fast car in its own right
While the Spec-R was undoubtedly the more powerful model, Spec-S S15s are still sought after, especially by those looking to add engine modifications to their car on a budget.
Other Nissan S15s
Autech, a subsidiary of Nissan, specialized in customizing the basic Nissan for buyers in Japan. The Autech S15 features modifications to the exhaust and engine that make it much faster than either the Spec-S or Spec-R model, but it’s very unusual to come across one.
Another unique type of S15 is the Varietta. This version of the car featured an electric hardtop roof. Aside from the convertible roof, the rest of the car was identical to the Spec-S model. Variettas are the rarest kind of S15 to exist—only 1,143 were ever made!
Key Takeaway The S15 is a versatile car with a wide range of designs and features available. It’s ideal for racers or hobbyists with an interest in car modification.
Why is the Nissan S15 illegal in the U.S.?
Under the Import Vehicle Safety Compliance Act, better known as the 25-Year Rule, the Nissan S15 is currently illegal to import into the U.S.
The law bans the import of any car that:
- Was not originally sold in the U.S; and
- Is less than 25 years old.
These cars are not in compliance with modern safety or emissions laws, but they’re also not old enough to be considered exempt as classic cars.
Since the first S15 was produced in 1999, it’s still too young to be imported legally. But don’t worry—once the 25-year mark is up, you’ll be able to import and drive one in the U.S.
What are the penalties for importing a Nissan S15 illegally?
Illegally importing a Nissan S15 will result in stiff penalties, including:
- Up to 20 years in jail
- $250,000 in fines
Not everyone has been deterred by the consequences of breaking the rules. In 2015, a Mississippi man was arrested for smuggling an S15 to the U.S. from Australia. He pled guilty and was sentenced to 20 to 26 months of probation with an additional penalty of $18,000 in fines. Yikes!
When can I legally buy a Nissan S15?
Technically, you can already buy one. The ban on the U.S. only applies to importing cars—so it’s perfectly legal to buy an S15 and store it overseas until you can bring it to the U.S. To drive your car, you’ll have to wait until January 2024.
You also need to take into consideration the exact year for your individual car. Only 1999 models will be available in 2024. Does your S15 date to 2000 or later? You’ve still got a while longer to wait.
Showroom condition Nissan S15s usually start around $20,000. If that price tag sounds good to you, beware of the hidden costs! Many cars vary in price because of the extensive modifications available for standard vehicles. You’ll also have to pay applicable import fees.
Key Takeaway Importing an S15 is illegal until at least January 2024. If you attempt to bring one in before the ban is lifted, you could face fines or jail time.
How to find affordable car insurance
You might not be able to drive your S15 quite yet, but you can still save money insuring your current vehicle with Jerry.
Jerry shops more than 50 insurers in seconds and then presents you with the best deals that meet your coverage needs. Sign up, answer a few questions, and make your selection—that’s it! Jerry takes care of the paperwork so that you don’t have to.
Are you always running out of time to shop around before you renew? Jerry will pull quotes every six months so you’ll find a great rate every time. The average Jerry user saves $887 per year on their car insurance!
“Jerry had a super simple app that was easy to navigate. And their terrific customer service made everything even easier. Plus I saved $700 in a single year.” —Lucia M.
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Where do people buy and sell S15s?
Online car traders and import groups are a good place to find pre-owned S15s. However, importing the car after purchase is impossible if you’re currently living in the U.S.
Are S15s only for racers and drifters?
Nissan S15s are a great vehicle for anyone passionate about sports cars. While they are very popular with racers, plenty of hobbyists own S15s to use on the road.
Do I have to do anything special to maintain my S15?
Like any older car, your S15 will need regular maintenance to stay in top shape. Schedule regular appointments to ensure that problems are dealt with quickly.