Even before 2001’s The Fast and the Furious and its sequels, especially the 2006 offering The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, hit movie screens, drifting was a popular form of street motorsport, combining the high speeds of track racing (either against another driver or against the clock) with a more interesting, riskier twisting course driven with the car’s rear wheels locked into a controlled slide (the “drift” in question).
Movie makers and professional drivers have the money to buy performance vehicles and drift them for both fun and profit, but the rest of us must resort to a more creative effort: that of turning regular street vehicles into high-powered drifting-ready modified cars
While many different types of car can be modified, the ideal drifting machine has rear-wheel drive, a limited slip differential (LSD), a manual transmission, tires that don’t have treads (aka “slicks”), and is both light-weight and easily controlled.
Actual modifications, or mods, fall into four basic categories: engine, rear end & tires, suspension and transmission. Let’s take a brief look at each of these:
- Engine: As long as the car can reach excellent speeds and has a responsive throttle, there isn’t anything terribly extensive or costly that must be altered. For the most part, changes are made to the on-board computer, allowing finer throttle control and improved acceleration, though the addition of an aftermarket performance-quality air filter and a fuel pump and regulator with higher output will improve speed even further.
- Rear End & Tires: Where drifting is concerned it’s all about the back end of a car, also referred to as the differential. It is this part of the vehicle that transforms the rotating force along the car’s axis and puts it off-axis. The reason an LSD is desirable is that when the normal (outside) drive wheel loses traction the LSD will apply torque to both wheels. If you can’t find a car with LSD, look for posi-trac (or posi-traction) in which both wheels are driven. Slick, treadless tires are the preferred choice for drifting because you want the tires to spin on the driving surface without gripping too hard. It should be noted that the front tires of the car should still be high-performance, high-traction styles.
- Suspension: The suspension components typically replaced to modify a car for drifting are swapped out in order to improve control of the car, and in order to handle body roll. Therefore, sway bars are a typical addition, as are improved strut and spring combinations in the front and stiffer shocks in the back. All these things reduce bounce, and help the car move faster, with better response.
- Transmission: As mentioned above, the best drifting cars have manual transmissions, because stick shifts let the driver control every aspect of shifting gears, as well as offering the ability to push in the clutch and drop the accelerator to increase engine speed, before dropping the clutch – a combination necessary to the classic drifting wheel spin. Typical mods include the installation of a performance clutch assembly, while automatic transmissions are usually modified to be manual-shift automatics.
Knowing all of this, it should come as no surprise that there are several lists of the “best” cars for drifting. While the lists differ from place to place, and person to person, our favorites include the Ford Mustang, because of all that muscle-car power and the Pontiac GTO/Chevy Lumina, because of the V8 engine in the manual transmission version, which provides a serious amount of torque, not to mention the wide wheelbase.