Everything And More: The Story of the DAI33 GT-R Build

Photography: Darrien Craven

  • With the R32 and R34 GT-Rs reaching astronomical price points, the R33 became the practical choice for Dai to explore as a project car.
  • The DAI33 is the ultimate incarnation of a 400R homage street car that injects modern-day tech and off-the-shelf performance components into the aging platform.
  • Dai’s car debuts Greddy’s all-new RB-spec 2.8-liter stroker engine and accompanying turbo — the combination of which provides a reliable 600hp with ease — with a four-figure power ceiling to boot.

Let’s just come out with it: I like the R33 more than the R34. Stay with me. Growing up in the Gran Turismo generation — long before the GT-R lineage was close to the 25-year import rule — it was the closest you could get to driving one. In between homework sessions, the R33 (in its various forms) was my youthful compatriot on Clubman Stage Route 5, Trial Mountain Circuit, and Grand Valley Speedway — the same track where RJ Devera crashed an R33 into the wall in The Fast and the Furious. But I digress. My point is, it left a permanent impression. So when Dai first told us he’d be picking up an R33 GT-R project in partnership with Turn 14 Distribution, Top Rank Importers, and GReddy Performance, I was the most excited person… in the world (Jeremy Clarkson voice).

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Dai will be the first to tell you he’s a huge GT-R fan. But unlike me and the sliver of automotive journalists that say otherwise, his desire for the R33 paled in comparison to the other GT-R chassis. That wafting disinterest for the GT-R middle child meant one thing, though: a cheaper entry ticket.

Significant chassis changes from the outgoing R32 meant that the R33 was decidedly more capable in stock form. In fact, it notoriously lapped the Nürburgring twenty-one seconds faster than the old car, becoming the first production car with a sub-eight minute lap time in the process. In true Dai fashion, his 44k-mile car was picked up, inspected, and taken straight to the track. As a car close to thirty years old, and despite its Nürburgring accolade, it didn’t leave an incredible first impression. But it didn’t need to. The whole point of buying such a cherry example was to start the project with the cleanest slate possible. And it was an ambitious one at that.

A WAKE-UP CALL

If there’s one thing that the baseline at Buttonwillow told us, it’s that the potential was there. A generous slathering of suspension and chassis goodies were installed in preparation for more power and better response: Ohlins Road & Track coilovers, SPL adjustable rear arms, Ikeya Formula front control arms, Whiteline sways, Driveshaft Shop axles/driveshaft, and GReddy’s own chassis bracing. Larger and more powerful Stoptech big brakes and a gorgeous set of Titan 7’s newest T-07 wheels — nostalgic to the original R33 design — instantly made the exterior feel fresher.

By every measurable account, the R33 was already improved. Where a regular person may have gotten out of the driver’s seat at this stage with a satisfied nod, it ignited Dai’s desire for more. And so the slip down that all too familiar slope began.

A TOTAL TRANSFORMATION

What began as Dai’s chance to create a capable street car soon became an opportunity to create the ultimate modern-day R33. With the help of Turn 14 Distribution, words like “compromise” disappeared from the lexicon; there was simply no area to be left unaddressed. True to that mission, the Skyline soon took on a 400R-esque aesthetic courtesy of exterior enhancements. Inside, the car was modernized with reclinable Recaro Speed V seats, a Haltech digital dash, a GReddy steering wheel, and even a Bluetooth-capable audio system.

Two very heavy box arrivals were signs of Dai’s commitment to going big. One housed an OS Giken OS-88 sequential six-speed transmission, and the other, from one of the build’s partners, was GReddy’s all-new 2.8-liter RB stroker engine — the first of its kind. A potent snail from GReddy’s new turbo lineup also made the cut. With the car now packing nearly 700hp without breaking a sweat (we’d been told 1,000hp would be easily achievable), all the other upgrades made much more sense. It was clear that this may have been the plan all along.

From here, the pace of progress was impressive. Garage Active, renowned Skyline specialists, joined the party as well. The company’s dry carbon hood and billet strut bar perfectly complemented the new powerplant that lurked beneath. The first start felt like waking up an angry teenager for school, but the initial protest soon gave way to some of the sweetest RB sounds I’ve ever heard. Bang through a few gears to the aural-thrashing 9,000rpm redline, and you’re in R35 territories of speed. It is downright wicked in a way that no R33 has been before, yet it retains every ounce of drivability one would usually forego to achieve this level of performance.

True to his promise, Dai and his partners have created the ultimate R33. The DAI33. Its factory silver paint job lends itself to visual restraint, and because of that, the 400R treatment and nostalgic Titan 7 wheels are ideal. Like many cars I’m drawn toward, this Skyline strikes a judicious balance between performance and real-world usability. The latter may not be the sexiest thing to brag about, but — let’s be real — this is where we enjoy our cars the most, so we should.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Through and through, this experience has been a testament to progress for us all. My R33 affinity may still be living in the mid-’90s, but the ceiling for what the platform can become has risen substantially since then. While Dai may have been lukewarm to the middle-child GT-R initially, its final form had him wondering whether it’d become his new favorite.

That said, the true measuring stick awaits. Indeed, the end result of this build is everything it promised to be and so much more. It’s romantically reminiscent of the hype surrounding the R33’s debut nearly three decades ago: although the newly transformed DAI33 may not be twenty-one seconds faster than its stock counterpart at a short circuit like Buttonwillow, I imagine that it would be nearly that margin if we had a go at the ‘Ring. Regardless of what the stopwatch shows, the DAI33 has made doubters take a deserved second look at one of my favorite JDM hero cars.

What’s next for this highly-tuned example of an underrated GT-R chassis? Well, you’ll just have to stay tuned to find out. Whatever its journey entails, it will verify the R33’s worthiness with each appearance.


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