Tuning Japanese: dream chaser R33

Posted in Cars, Features


Toby Nikolas isn’t a guy who simply follows his dreams, he spends his time chasing them down through clouds of tyre smoke — one hand on the wheel and another on the shifter

Meeting up outside a convenience store in the backblocks of Tokyo to trade drifting war stories over a Boss coffee is not a pleasure I often share with a fellow Kiwi, but today it is, as three years ago Toby Nikolas sold up his possessions in New Zealand, and moved to Japan with only one thing on his mind — drifting.

Toby grew up watching Japanese drifting videos on YouTube, and one day it dawned on him that drifting was exactly what he wanted to do. Selling up whatever he had to his name, he soon boarded a flight to Tokyo. After he’d found work in a hotel restaurant it was time to acquire a car to skid around, and a trusty little 180SX was all he needed to meet some locals. One evening he spotted a young lady driving a street-legal drift car. She signaled Toby to follow her to a mate’s house, where she introduced him to a friend who spoke English. They soon struck up a friendship, and finally Toby had a foot in the door, which helped lead to where he is today.

That 180 is now long gone, and there is a new steed in the stable. As I arrived, the R33 instantly jumped out at me. It had all the best cues of a traditional Japanese drift car, with big-dish wheels, nicely crafted wide guards, a few stickers, an angry stance, and a sparkly paint finish. It doesn’t get much better than that, folks. “The R33 has had it tough, the iconic R32 and R34 have meant that at times it has been the ugly duckling of the family. It’s so easy to make the four-door R33 look cool, yet no one has really succeeded in doing so. If people like it then they like it, if not then I am not bothered, as I’m out to achieve one thing. Go drifting in a car I think looks cool, and have a good time with my friends,” Toby told me while sipping on a hot green tea. 

"Japan was a new and exciting world that just had to be explored. 'It really was calling my name. I didn’t think about the what if scenarios, just the end goal I had, which was to drift.'”



Toby always wanted the R33 to be not just another drift car, but a good-looking and tidy build inspired by Japan’s drifting forefathers. The guards on the car are custom, yet from a Honda. The body was cut, flared, and the guards were welded on through the expert craftsmanship of Koki-san and Ken-san of Mercury. The biggest piece of the puzzle — after deciding to run Work VSKF dished wheels — was the paint colour. A custom purple was mixed up by Mercury, and a hefty dose of blue and purple glitter was added to really make the car pop. It’s a breath of fresh air in a land where everything is a boring solid colour: to see the R33 glistening like a diamond in a goat’s ass out in front of the Lawson convenience store could only bring a big smile to your face, yup, we really are in Japan now!

Underneath the hood you will find an RB25DET with a Zenki turbine, a front-mount intercooler and a Sard fuel pump to keep the engine juiced up when Toby is frying tyres. The drivetrain consists of the RB25 box, a Nismo flywheel, and a Nismo coppermix clutch with a Nismo two-way diff running a 4.1 ratio. The engine has an angry growl thanks to a three-inch custom stainless set-up with an externally vented wastegate. As we work our way down towards the rear of the car the exhaust increases to a four-inch pipe, and whether it’s sitting in the pits or under load the car sounds just as good as it looks — tough!

"Toby always wanted the R33 to be not just another drift car, but a good-looking and tidy build inspired by Japan’s drifting forefathers."

Toby wanted to keep things firmly planted and predictable while throwing it sideways, so he installed Final Konnexion coilovers with 18k front and 10k rear springs, Cusco sway bars front and rear, an extended front lower-control arm (35mm), Kazama castor arms, D-MAX tie rods, adjustable rear camber and toe arms, and rear solid subframe bushes to finish things off. 
As time moved on and the build finished, Toby swapped the restaurant for a kindergarten teaching job, and he’s now working at all car fanatics’ idea of heaven — Up Garage. On most weekends you can find him sliding the R33 around on Honjo, Nikko, and Fuji circuits. 
Getting to slide around on circuits that the godfathers of drift cut their teeth on is something special, too. “Drifting in Japan is what I have wanted to do since I was 13, I am just out to make my dreams happen. Doing it in NZ just wasn’t for me, so here we are.” 

As much as Toby will always call New Zealand home, Japan was a new and exciting world that just had to be explored. “It really was calling my name. I didn’t think about the what if scenarios, just the end goal I had, which was to drift.” It just goes to show that with hard work, determination and a go-get-’em attitude, chasing your dreams sideways through clouds of tyre smoke is so much more fun than just following them along.

Age: 22
Location: Toyko
Occupation: Works at Up Garage
Build time: 18 months
Length of ownership: 18 months
Thanks: First my amazing wife Misa for all her support and putting up with drifting; my parents; Koki and Ken-san at Mercury for the amazing work on the guards and Kazu-san for the awesome paint; J Produced and Garage Hope for all their help and always meeting my crazy deadlines; all the guys and girls at Kunitachi Up Garage for listening to me talk about drifting all day; and last but not least my close friends who have helped me in Japan over the last few years, Kazuki and Izumi, Matt, Daisuke, Pedey and Taryn, Ricky, Aaron, and all the dudes in Team SSHHH! for being rad as hell, and coming to visit sometimes.

ENGINE: Nissan RB25DET, six-cylinder, 2500cc
BLOCK: Factory
HEAD: Tomei metal head gasket
INTAKE: HPI air filter, front-mount intercooler
EXHAUST: Three-inch stainless system, four-inch rear system
TURBO: Factory
WASTEGATE: Externally vented factory
BOV: Modified factory
FUEL: Sard pump
IGNITION: Iridium plugs
ECU: A’PEXi Power FC
COOLING: Mizu alloy radiator, oil cooler
EXTRA: Greddy Profec B2

GEARBOX: RB25DET five-speed
CLUTCH: Nismo coppermix
DIFF: Nismo two-way LSD (4.1)

STRUTS: Final Konnexion coilovers (F) 18kg MAQS springs (R) 12kg MAQS springs
BRAKES: (F) RB25DET four-pot (R) RB25DET two-pot, Project Mu handbrake shoes
EXTRA: Front and rear Cusco sway bars, 35mm extended lower-control arms, 3Up custom knuckles, Kazama castor arms, D-MAX tie rods, adjustable camber and toe arms, solid subframe bushes, shifted rack

WHEELS: (F) 18x10.5-inch (+6) Work VSKF, (R) 18x11.5 (-6) Work VSKF
TYRES: (F) 225/40R18 Achilles ATR Sport 245/40R18 whatever

PAINT: Custom purple with purple and blue glitter, panel and paint by Mercury
ENHANCEMENTS: PS Duce body kit, custom steel guards, Aero mirrors, custom headlights

SEATS: (F) Bride Zeta 3, Bride Brix
STEERING WHEEL: Leopard-print
steering wheel

POWER: Untested (tuned on highway)


This article originally appear in NZ Performance Car Issue No. 255. This and other issues can be purchased from our back catalogue by heading to magstore.nz

Aaron Mai

I am proud to be associated with NZV8 and NZ Performance Car, shooting in both New Zealand and Japan. Brought up as a rallying fanatic, at 15 I started taking photos of airborne stones with a point-and-shoot camera at the Rally New Zealand. While overseas I took up photography again to try and document the amazing places I was going and the things I was seeing. I enjoyed it much more than I expected to and it has turned into a real passion. Most of my recent photography has been done in Japan, based around the local tuners spread from Tokyo to Hiroshima. It is great being able to shoot everything from time attack machines at a freezing cold Tsukuba Circuit to tubbed drag cars in the hot Masterton summer sun. It is awesome getting to shoot these impressive works of art, but equally as much fun getting to know the people behind them.