The sport of Drifting has been around for quite a while, but with movies such as Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, and a recent increase in popularity in the D1 and Formula Drift championship, the newest motorsport on the block (or, more likely, around the block) is gathering speed.
Back in the day, you could drift with just about any car that’s got rear wheel drive – Sierras and Cavaliers were tremendously popular in the early years of UK drifting – but as competition levels went up, more is needed from the cars.
When looking for a car to drift in you need a motor with rear wheel drive, a responsive, front-mounted engine with lots of rampant, and a locked or limited slip differential. It is perfectly possible to drift cars that miss some of these characteristics, but forget about 4WD or front wheel drive cars – It just can’t be done.
Limited slip differential (LSD)
After buying a motor the first mod should be to fit an LSD. There are tons of different ones on the market, but the ones used for competition drifting are 2-way LSDs, meaning they lock up both during acceleration and deceleration. In a super-buget drift car it is possible to lock the diff permanently, usually by tipping the car sideways, and welding the differential. Highly not recommended, and a terrible idea, but possible if you don’t need to drive the car outside of the track.
Other LSDs are available too, such as the 1.5-way limited slip diff, used if the same car is used as a road car or as a track car. 1.5-way LSDs are the choice when having a fast road car/track car due to the LSD only locks on acceleration: When decelerating, only limited locking is applied, which makes hard cornering more controllable while retaining a high degree of grip.
Drifting on standard suspension has been compared to trying to barrel-roll a Boeing 747, compared to doing the same with a jet fighter. To become a proficient drifter, you need a rock-hard suspension set-up, which needs to be completely predictable. As a part of this, the car chassis needs stiffening. Sway bars, strut bars, stiff bushes, a roll cage and adjustable coil-over suspension are all weapons in the battle to get a solid, well-controllable car.
Seat and Harnesess
Staying in touch with what the car is doing, where it is going, and how you are controlling it is vital, and a proper racing seat and a good racing harness is vital to staying in the seat during the powerful G-forces a drifter will experience.
You need as much as possible – an average professional drift car will have around 400 bhp, but in less hard-core circles and among hobbyists, aiming for 250-300 bhp is good enough. The legendary Toyota Trueno AE86 (made famous in no small part by the Initial D films) only had 115 bhp, illustrating that power isn’t everything, but drifting a AE86 takes a level of skill which means that it’s not a very good drift car for beginners.
Wheels and tyres
When choosing wheels a lot depends on the set up of the car. If you have a 700bhp Skyline you want large wide wheels because if you have slim wheels it will make the car harder to control: because you won’t have enough grip and every blip of the accelerator will send the car into a spin. On the other end of the scale if you have an AE86 on large wheels: you wont have enough power to make them spin.
When looking for tyres, ideally you should have brand new tyres every time but for most of us, that just isn’t an option. The consensus is to keep good tyres up front and whatever you can get your claws on for the rear axle – Cheap, cheerful and slippery is best.
Popular drift cars:
Nissan 200sx s13
The s13 is an excellent drift motor for beginners, as they have an outrageously stiff chassis and predictable suspension set-up from stock.. The cars are cheap to buy, and parts are readily available and relatively cheap. These cars are light-weight, nimble and are the main choice for most drifters in the UK
Due to age some are starting to deteriorate, the most common problems with s13′s are the bottom ends, rust and quirks with the turbocharger..
Nissan 200sx s14 or s14a
The s14 or s14a are very good drift cars. As with the s13 there are lots of aftermarket parts available, and 270bhp is easily attainable with air intake and exhaust modifications, along with an increase in boost. Some of the top drifters in the UK use these at the moment, including Brett Castle and Phil Morrison. Common problems are on the higher mileage engines are Turbochargers and VVT variable valve timing rattle.
The AE86 is a legend in the drift world, one of the for-founders of the sport, and king of the touge. These cars have a massive following in Japan and now Europe. The car is light-weight and has a very responsive, high-revving engine, if underpowered in stock form.
There is a massive amount of aftermarket parts for them but mostly only available in Japan so getting parts may become a problem when most Toyota dealerships don’t even know what one is. Not for beginners, but the word on the drift-track is once you’ve mastered an AE86, you’ve mastered drifting.
The RX-7 – known as ‘Rex’ to its friends – is an engineering masterpiece. They have a powerful, rev-happy engine as standard. They are relatively easy to tune but the first mod should be a re-mappable ECU.
The car has some serious flaws, too: engines need to be rebuilt around 60k miles. The mpg is terrible, and made even worse by getting more power out of it. The standard steering lock isn’t that good although parts are available to increase the lock.
Nissan Cefiro A31
The Cefiro is what is born when you mate a Skyline and an s13. The engine/drive train is the skylines with its responsive straight six 2.0ltr turbo.
Combined with the floor pan and most of the suspension parts of an s13. These cars are very cheap at the moment – surprising when you look at what you are getting for the price – The engine is easily modified and will last to 400-450 bhp on standard internals.
Nissan Skyline R32 GTS-T
The R32 is an all round excellent drift car, with a great engine and a fantastic chassis. Skylines have the knack of complementing a driver’s skill and are reasonably forgiving, too. If you can afford to drift one of these cars, they’re definitely the way forward. Be warned though parts can be more expensive than other drift cars.