“If it breaks, I fix it. If it doesn’t, I’ll change it.” Those were the rather succinct parting thoughts of John Sharkey, the owner of this C33 Nissan Laurel, when I inquired as to what kind of fate awaits his car in the future.
John isn’t the type to do things twice, nor is he a person to leave well enough alone. Having touched every area of this car so far, he sees no reason to not tastefully take things further as time goes on.
Exterior-wise, especially when backed by a vibrant (albeit damp) amusement park, the Nissan looks fairly unassuming. To the casual observer it’s an obscure ’80s sedan with a chunky body kit and loud exhaust.
“People either know exactly what the car is, or have no idea at all,” John shares. Even with ‘Laurel’ spelled out on the grill, most people’s first assumption is that the car is some form of rad-era Lexus.
Fair play, the Laurel ‘L’ does look rather reminiscent of the Lexus ‘L’, and the car was never available in North America.
However, even those who are familiar with the C33 would be put to task attempting to identify all of the modifications John has made to it. To start, while these cars were often two-tone from the factory, the contrast was never quite this subtle.
The metallic-blue-meets-metallic-grey was chosen with practicality in mind, as thanks to the car’s low ride height, the VIS bumper often finds itself in harm’s way. A two-tone paint job means that each time the bumper is repaired it can be done without needing to blend the surrounding panels.
But please don’t regard the two-tone color choice as a complete cop-out. Nearly all the choices John has made to the Laurel have been done to limit downtime should the unfortunate happen. In fact, to further mitigate the bumper issue, John recently switched from coilovers to air.
“I’ve taken out most of the unusable or non serviceable components,” he says, explaining that each modification makes the C33 more suitable for his needs.
Fifty hours were sunk into getting the fiberglass kit to fit the car as well as it does. But the hours spent massaging fiberglass are shockingly few in comparison to what was sunk into metalwork. When the car arrived from Japan it was fairly well kept, save for a rather significant hit to a rear door and quarter panel.
Replacement panels would have cost half the purchase price of the car, so instead of offering up an internal organ, John entrusted his Laurel to AKA Auto in Deer Park, New York who set their metal magicians on the job. About a week later the damage was gone and the car was ready for its new coat of paint.
“Just doing paint, body and wheels wouldn’t have done the car justice,” John quipped before walking me through the weapon he’s built under-hood.
First things first, while the cam covers proclaim ‘RB26′ and ‘Skyline GT-R’ the motor is actually an RB25DET NEO unit lifted from a Nissan Stagea. Currently, a PSR GTX3076 Gen II turbo is fitted, bolted to a Rev9 exhaust manifold. The intake manifold is a Deep Motor forward-facing unit.
The dual ceramic bearing turbo has had the ‘T51R mod’ and combined with a Quick Style Motorsport carbon fiber 4-inch intake the Laurel sounds like it’s sucking the entire world through its AEM air filter when the pedal is pushed into Japanese floor mats. A TiAL 38mm wastegate controls the boost, a Blitz blow-off valve releases intake pressure off throttle, and a retrofitted Blitz intercooler helps keep charge temps in check.
A MegaSquirt ECU controls a custom fuel and ignition system that features LS coil packs, 750cc injectors and a clever homebuilt cam pick-up sensor. John and his often partner in crime, Anthony, engineered this setup during one of their many nights in the garage.
At the time of our shoot, the Laurel featured a rather reluctant 300ZX TT gearbox. John, who is not a transmission technician by any means, found out the hard way that said ‘box was not at all the bolt-in affair some corners of the internet claim. Once again assisted by Anthony, John ended up having to change the bell housing, rebuilt first gear, modify the flex plate and have a custom drive shaft made.
For all its protesting, the automatic transmission did spin 430hp to the four-lug 17×9-inch Nismo LMGT3 wheels by RAYS. However, ascending ETs at the drag strip ultimately ushered in the replacement R34 5-speed transmission.Accessory Hunter
When it comes to adornments, this car has some of the most well thought out that I’ve come across. Starting relatively simple is the OEM parking pole, which on arrival from Japan featured the bracket but not the pole itself.
Despite being an OEM option, John had a hard time tracking a working unit down. Ultimately though, countless late nights on Yahoo! Auctions Japan netted the pole he was looking for.
While many of the interior parts also took considerable effort to find, a lot of the chassis parts came directly from the local parts store. Bless the fact Nissan saw fit to use S-chassis suspension under the C33 Laurel.
Complementing the parking pole are custom glow plates of John’s own design made using reflective vinyl and acrylic. The plates feature John’s NYC-legal registration number, and both ‘New York’ and ‘Empire State’ in katakana as a homage to car’s place of origin and the city in which it now resides.
At a glance the plates look quite legit, and John’s never been pulled over for them. Funnily, one of the few times he has been pulled over in this car was because his passenger was texting from the left-hand side while he was driving from the right. The officer’s embarrassment once he caught on to the seating positions was apparently almost worth the slight hassle.
There is of course the prerequisite tsurikawa handle hanging from the driver’s side of the rear bumper, while on the dash sits a VIP tray which doubles as a form and function modification. Without it the car lacks any sort of cup holder.
A man of details, John sees fit to have proper Japanese convenience items on hand for display. During the shoot, Violet Mountain Dew and a pack of cigarettes filled the tray.
The woodgrain trim you see throughout is actually unique to the ‘Medalist’ trim of Laurel. The hunt for a Medalist is part of the reason it took John five years to find the car; if he was going to get a Laurel he wanted the most refined version that can be had.
Mooneyes comes through with an octagonal silver flake steering wheel and matching air freshener.
On the eventual horizon for this car is more power, as surprisingly John likes to drag race it as much as he can. It’s a bit of an odd thing to do with a car like this perhaps, but John didn’t make 500whp to just make 500whp. The goal is to get the car into the 11-second zone.
But putting it on a diet to help achieve that number is not an option for John. In his eyes, as an 11-second car the Laurel must retain its full street usability and all its trim and equipment, including AC.
Bringing this article around full circle, John built the car to use the car, and if he breaks it, well, he’ll just fix it.
Photos by Keiron Berndt