Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it. When I originally went to view what became my C33 Laurel back in 2015, all I could see was potential for how I could chop and change it to suit my tastes. Nowadays, had I have gone to view the exact same car, I’d have probably left it exactly as it was (save for swapping out the wheels).
What has changed in the four and a half years since buying the Laurel, when it was an extremely basic car with an SR20 swap, a set of coilovers and an LSD? At the time, I bought it with the intention of having a drift car that was also at home being driven on the road (this whole idea was spurred on by the conclusion that, while my old PS13 was a fantastic drift car on track, it was awful to live with on the road).
After a few months of tinkering, I ended up with a C33 that looked pretty fantastic (in my eyes, at least), did a fairly decent job at drift days and was usable for my daily commute across central Birmingham (which was where I lived at the time) so long as I didn’t deviate from my predetermined route.
In the years that have passed since then, drift days are both fewer in number and are much more expensive affairs (considering the cost of entry fees, the rising cost of replacement Nissan parts etc.). At the same time I was also pouring all of my spare time into building a company while trying to secure somewhere to live. When I did get chance to drive the C33, it was supposed to be a rare treat and usually consisted of nothing more than a drive to the shops or the odd cruise down a country lane. After a couple of years of living like this, I quickly realised that the experience was more of a burden than a treat, and wasn’t particularly enjoyable.
The steering and diff setup on the car was absolutely fantastic on drift days, and in my eyes they were perfectly suited to the car on track. However, it was time to face reality: I was now drifting as little as once a year on track and, after one fairly big hit at Rockingham last year (where I was only a few inches away from the car being bent beyond repair along with the likelihood of damaging my legs), I had to make a decision. Do I improve the safety of the car to make it more suited for drifting with confidence and aggression (for example, fitting a proper weld-in roll cage with large door bars etc.), or do I think better of the drift/street car idea and just focus on having a quick, cool and enjoyable road car?
After a few months of staring at my relatively crumped four door saloon parked behind the old STL office I made my decision. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had spent a fair few hours trawling eBay and looking at various E36/E46 M3s, perhaps even the odd air-cooled Porsche project and thinking “what if…” but then I had a reality check. I had a rare, cool and quite fast old Nissan sitting outside that was easy to work on, and I was sure that I could get just as much enjoyment out of it as I would from any of these comparatively expensive alternatives.
Earlier this year I got underway with the work. Both the front and rear subframes and associated components were removed, and the various areas of rust that had developed from driving the car through snow and salt in previous winters were either cut out and replaced or wire-wheeled back, before being treated and undersealed.
The relocated front subframe, extended LCAs, long tie rods and cut knuckles were all removed and subsequently replaced with a standard front subframe and standard S14 knuckles and LCAs. At the rear, the battered, bruised and slightly broken subframe was replaced with a fresh subframe that had been strengthened with braces and gussets by Garage21.
While I didn’t want to solid mount any of the suspension or drivetrain components, the C33 is inherently a very floppy and flexible chassis (it’s pillarless, for a start), so I figured a set of polyurethane rear subframe bushes and front LCA bushes wouldn’t go amiss in tightening up the suspension side of things a little.
Garage21 also rebuilt the Nismo GT Pro 2-way LSD for me, giving it a much needed service while also changing the ratio from 4.3 to 3.9 and slackening off its aggression somewhat. Driving at anything above 60mph had previously been a chore with the 4.3, and so lengthening the ratio had me daydreaming of cruising down the motorway at 70mph towards Caffeine & Machine in the summer without cursing my gearing.
The interior also needed some attention too. I replaced the passenger-side BRIDE Brix recliner with the original factory leather seat, and also spent a good amount of time tidying up wiring behind the dashboard while also fixing my Defi Advance digital display with the necessary senders and plugs that had broken some time ago. While the BRIDE recliner did look cool, I’d be lying if I said that any of my passengers found it at all comfortable (or safe, come to think of it).
As for the exterior, I had already picked up a set of standard front and rear plastic bumpers that I have no intention of replacing any time soon. The side skirts that loved to eject themselves have been removed so that I can repair them in the near future too, while a great deal of time and effort needs to be dedicated to removing the various drifting dents, scrapes and scars from pretty much every panel of the Laurel to ensure that it doesn’t look like it has just been through a demolition derby.
I also removed the very bent and cracked URAS NS-01 chrome wheels, as all four needed some serious attention if they were to see use ever again. I was able to pick up a couple of sets of staggered 17×8.0J/9.0J SSR A-Tech wheels fairly cheap and, despite having weaker sizes and offsets than the URAS wheels, they at least retained the five-spoke aesthetic and would allow me to run larger tyres without having to chop up any bodywork.
Yes, larger tyres. Having spent the previous few years with 17×9.5J rear wheels with 215/40 tyres precariously stretched on, I figured it was time to move on (especially now that the local police have clocked on to tyre stretch in recent years). While I do intend to fine tune the tyre sizes on the car in the near future, I’m currently driving it on 45 profile rubber for the time being. This would have been a cardinal sin in my eyes a few years ago, but I must say it feels pretty good being able to accelerate, corner and (perhaps, most importantly) brake harder than ever before, all while firing down narrow country lanes without too much fear of running through an unsighted pothole.
While it still needs a complete bodywork makeover in order for it to not look quite so smashed up, I’m extremely happy with how the underbody and interior adjustments to the STL C33 have played out. I’d go as far to saying that it’s actually quite practical now, as it can be driven down unknown roads with a cabin full of passengers without any real worries.
Over the Christmas period I drove it on a 150 miles round trip to see relatives, simply because I could, all while grinning from ear to ear throughout the entire journey. Even a diversion down a speed bump-infested road didn’t fill me with fear (okay, that’s a lie, there was definitely still some fear, but nothing scraped!).
This brings me onto my final point. The world around us is changing at a rapid pace, with the general public understanding more and more each day as to how their choices in life (be that transport, diet, or consumption) can negatively affect the planet around us.
When it comes to cars, I would absolutely agree that the general public with no interest whatsoever in internal combustion, the smell of V-Power on a cold morning or the sound of individual throttle bodies swallowing up air should be pushed towards driving newer, cleaner and more efficient alternatives.
However, what about us, the dedicated petrol heads? I have no doubt that the cars that we are passionate about will undergo severe scrutiny over the coming years, with potential legislation and laws to try and force them off the road (be that increased taxes, petrol prices etc.). As a result, I can’t help but feel that we should make hay while the sun shines.
If your old school car isn’t a dedicated track toy, don’t let it sit there gathering dust in a garage or a unit. Don’t decide not to enjoy it because there might be a speed bump or a pot hole along the way.
Nobody knows how much longer we can go on freely enjoying cars like this on a regular basis, easily registering them and filling them up with petrol whenever we please before driving to wherever takes our fancy. When the powers that be around the world inevitably decide to restrict our fun on the road, we’ll be collectively kicking ourselves that we didn’t enjoy things more while we had the chance. If you’re passionate about old cars and internal combustion, get out there and drive while you can.