Alex Kersten profile picture Alex Kersten 8 years ago

How Expensive Is It To Build Your Very Own Drift Car?

I recently tried my hand at drifting in a couple of beaten up RWD rides. And this got me thinking; how much money would I need to have my very own drift car? As it turns out, it's actually more affordable than I thought...

Remind me later
BMW - How Expensive Is It To Build Your Very Own Drift Car?  - Euro

During a recent day of drift training with events company Learn2Drift, I was taught the basics of drifting a car. Granted, going sideways is something I’ve done a fair bit of over the years (I’m still not very good at it) thanks to the likes of Porsche and Lotus who have their own test tracks with cool and accommodating instructors. Nevertheless, the day did teach me something new - if you want your very own drift fun, you might be surprised by just how cheaply you can make it happen.

Starting out as a drifter? Avoid expensive machinery like this!
Starting out as a drifter? Avoid expensive machinery like this!

Take the car, for instance. If you’re starting out, forget about 2JZ Supras, turbocharged BMW E30s and mint-condition Toyota AE86s. What you want is a beaten-up RWD ride that you won’t be too precious about (because you will crash).

If you’re fortunate enough to have somewhere to store the car off the road, and a trailer to transport the car to wherever you’re drifting, you can save further cash by getting something even more beaten up without an MOT or tax.

A great car to get started with is something with a fairly long chassis. That’s because longer cars are easier to drift; they’re less likely to snap oversteer and send you into the nearest barrier. The car should also have its engine at the front. Cars with a mid- or a rear-engined layout are more likely to swing around harder and more aggressively like a pendulum. A Mk2 Toyota MR2 Turbo doesn’t make for a good drift car.

Ideally, you’d want something like a naturally-aspirated Nissan 200SX - it’s wide, long, low, modestly-powered and a predictable car to throw around. The turbocharged cars are more readily-available, but they’re pretty expensive in the UK now (upwards of £3800); a lot of them have already been turned into drift cars or have been crashed into supermarket lamp posts.

Something JDM will probably be out of the question for most of us, then, which is where the default choice BMW 3-series E36 comes in. You could also opt for a Mk2 MX-5 (cheap to buy, great chassis) but the roadster’s modest power and short wheelbase will require a more experienced drifter to make the magic happen. A little bit like this guy:

So, back to an E36. For the best value for money, you can’t go wrong with an early 325i/328i coupe. They’re reliable, cheap to buy in the UK and come with bullet-proof and easy-to-tune six-cylinder engines. Parts are widely available at scrap yards too, and between £800 and £1200 gets you a high-mileage Bimmer with a five-speed manual gearbox. (Never buy an auto for drifting, especially if you’re starting out). Alternatively, buy yourself an even cheaper E36 with panel damage and a scruffy interior - you’ll do a lot worse to it when you start drifting.

BMW's straight-six M50 engine is durable and good for drifting with
BMW's straight-six M50 engine is durable and good for drifting with

Once you’ve got the car, you need to get to work stripping the thing - get rid of anything that isn’t essential, including rear seats, carpets, leather, the glove box, parts of the dashboard, door cards and even headlining; you can sell these bits on eBay to recoup some money, then use this cash to buy yourself a four-point racing harness, which is easy to fit and will keep you in your seat no matter how hard you come off.

The next step is basic car maintenance: because you’ll frequently be revving your drift beater on the limit, you need to make sure that the oils and fluids (power steering, coolant, brakes, diff) are fresh and topped up. You should also upgrade your brake pads (at least the pads), and if you can, swap your rubber brake lines for steel lines - combined with beefier pads, steel lines will provide excellent braking. While you’re there, check the suspension and bushes; coilover suspension is advisable (Tein Super Drift parts are ideal but very expensive new) as are new suspension bushes.

Because most cars in this price range will have an open differential, you need to get yours welded (typically £50-£75). This way, both of the rear wheels will spin in unison. Try drifting a car with an open diff, and you’ll look like an amateur. Using an open diff will also limit your learning of how to execute proper power slides.

Welding a diff is inexpensive but effective
Welding a diff is inexpensive but effective

Correct tyres and wheels are the most important part of your drift car. Avoid overly small or large rims and keep it fairly standard. A set of 17-inch wheels fits a car like the E36 nicely. Make sure you wrap your rims in correct rubber! You’ll need decent grip at the front to keep the nose tight and fixed to the road during transitions while the rear tyres do the donkey work. While it might be tempting to opt for cheap part-worn tyres for the rear, make sure they’ve got decent enough tread and grip to provide mid-drift adjustability; have your tyres too bare and you’ll just spin out from the word go.

With all the basics in place, make sure that your drift-beater package is safe for you and others to use and be around. Body panels should be secure and not cable tied in place, and your fluids should be in their respective bottles and sumps, not all over a track. And while some of you might be tempted to recreate a car from the F&F franchise, don’t do it; side skirts and splitters will flex and get smashed off.

BMW - How Expensive Is It To Build Your Very Own Drift Car?  - Euro

Keep your car simple, clean and reliable, and before you start learning, get a passenger ride with someone who knows what they’re doing. Initiating a drift isn’t just a case of full lock and maximum power. There are nuances like clutch kicks and handbrakes to consider when you’re more confident.

Of course, a budget of around £2500 only gets you a basic and fairly crude starter drift car. Further down the line, you’ll need to consider more serious upgrades to ensure reliability and fun - these will include an advanced clutch, improved oil/water pumps and thermostat, and a more efficient oil cooler. You might even want more power with forced induction (read the pros and cons of superchargers vs tuborchargers), better suspension, a full roll cage and proper racing seats, but that’s where things start to get expensive.

For beginners with a bit of expendable cash, then, a project drift car could be your next new love. It’s not the most glamorous of motorsports (especially grassroots drifting), but when you’re going sideways and controlling a slide with your right foot, there’s really no better feeling for a petrolhead.

If we’ve got any drifters here (amateur or pro) feel free to give us some tips and stories!