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Six drift cars you hadn’t considered yet

7 January 2016

Sure, Nissan Silvias, Skylines, and Cefiros are all great bases for a drift project, but with the ever-inflating drift tax on these easily modified Nissans they’re becoming much harder to obtain for decent coin. Here are six cars you can modify to go drifting that are much better value for money, and so are still within the reach of most buyers.


  • 1989–1995
  • Wheelbase: 2700mm
  • Weight: 1330kg

Have you watched any of the drifting in Europe? Let’s just say that BMWs dominate the scene over there, and for good reason. The BMW E36 is a great platform to drift, and they’re readily available in New Zealand for prices that will have you wondering why you thought Nissan in the first place. For around $3500 you’ll find yourself a tidy road-legal 325i model, which comes with the 2500cc M50B25 engine that’s good for 141kW and 245Nm of torque, and a manual gearbox (RB25DE power is 140kW and 255Nm of torque). If you can track down the bigger 328i with the 2800cc M52B28 engine, they put out very similar power at 142kW, but 280Nm of torque, and 500rpm earlier in the rev-range. 

The best thing about these engines is that they’re as tough as nails. A previous feature car, which was an E36 with the 2.8-litre engine, had a turbocharger fitted, and with factory internals and a Garrett TO4Z turbo, it makes 343kW (460hp) at the wheels on 12psi of boost. BMW gearboxes have always been known to be solid, but if you’re going for big power you’ll want the ZF five-speed out of the 330i E46. 

The engine isn’t the only drawcard for the BMW. The E36 chassis is extremely strong, and off-the-shelf steering-lock kits are readily available from the likes of SLR for around $500. NZPC editor Marcus has an E36 drift-car project, and has managed to get his down under 1000kg wet, albeit with a 13B turbo engine. 

Best of all, this model is very common at the likes of Pick-A-Part. 

Mazda RX-8

  • 2001–2012
  • Wheelbase: 2703mm
  • Weight: Manual: 1309–1373kg, automatic: 1384kg

We know Mazda RX-8s aren’t the prettiest of coupés to come from Japan, but they do make for a nice base for a drift car, with a chassis that has been said to be comparable to the legendary FD RX-7. The RX-8 came in two specs, the low-powered version which had 142kW (190hp), and the high-powered Type-S version which had 186kW (250hp). Both weigh from 1309kg, up to 1373kg depending on trim levels. 

With some weight stripped out of it, the RX-8 with the factory engine can be a very good entry-level drift car. Yes, upgrading the clutch should be a high priority as you will find yourself kicking it when the revs drop down below the power band of the high-revving 13B-REW. 

Thanks to the lightweight rotary engine’s position, mounted behind the front axle, and the fuel tank sited in front of the rear axle, the RX-8 has a near perfect 50:50 weight distribution. 
The other option with the RX-8 is to purchase one with a blown engine, or no engine, and buy a cheap 13B turbo or LS1 motor with a mount kit from the States. Then you’ll have an affordable, powerful, and very reliable drift hack. 

Holden Commodore (VT)

  • 1997–2000
  • Wheelbase: 2788mm
  • Weight: 1551kg

Bear with us on this one, we know this isn’t a V8 magazine, but several of the top drifters in New Zealand run one (look at the cover car), so to some drifting fans a Holden isn’t a silly option. For around the price of an entry-level Skyline drift car, you can buy yourself an SS Commodore VT with the legendary LS1 engine and a manual gearbox. Out of the box, the LS1 engine produces 220kW (295hp) and 446Nm of torque, and it’s backed by a five-speed Getrag 290 gearbox, or a six-speed Tremec T56 manual unit. The LS1, being detuned for our market, has huge potential with basic upgrades. With cams, a good exhaust system, headers, an intake and a retune the LS will pull 300kW with ease. And because it doesn’t have a turbo, engine-bay temperatures will be significantly lower. 
Yes the Commodore is a heavyweight, but once stripped of everything not essential, you can get them down to a reasonable heft. As it’s Australian, upgrade parts are plentiful from across the ditch, and items such as coilovers, adjustable arms, and racing brake kits can all be purchased, making this chassis a great choice. 

Toyota Cressida photo credit: Jono Matla

Toyota Cressida (X80)

  • 1988–1992
  • Wheelbase: 2730mm
  • Weight: 1480kg

The sixth-generation Toyota Cressida is almost the forgotten rear-wheel-drive sedan from the Toyota family, and can be purchased for very little coin depending on what engine it has. Produced from 1988 until 1992, it initially came with the 3000cc 7M series motor. On paper the 7M was a good engine, it produced decent torque and was no slouch, but thanks to a almost unfixable head-stud failure issue, it has been deemed almost too unreliable to take circuit racing or drifting by most.
However, in 1990 the 7M was replaced with one of Toyota’s extremely over-engineered six-cylinder engines — the 1JZ-GTE. Although smaller in capacity, the 1JZ was much more advanced, and the turbocharged variant produced huge amounts more torque and power than the 7M-GTE, and addressed the head-stud issue. 
Although it’s not been commonly modified in New Zealand, Aussies love Cressidas so there is everything you could possibly need available online, and most sellers ship to New Zealand. If the 206kW 1JZ-GTE doesn’t produce enough grunt for you, simply do the usual bolt-ons with a tune and you’ll happily be pushing over 200kW at the wheels. However, do be careful of the factory ceramic turbos: at anything over 12–14psi, they tend to destroy themselves fairly promptly. 

Subaru WRX (GC8)

  • 1992–2000
  • Wheelbase: 2520mm
  • Weight: 1220kg

If you want something that will set you back $5000 or less with enough money for maintenance, by far the most potent option for your coin is the Subaru WRX GC8. They’re an all-wheel drive from the factory, but Christchurch workshop Surfab produces a diff spool for the centre diff which disables the AWD system, giving you 100-per-cent drive to the rear wheels — something Subaru drift expert James White has done to his example (page 86). Once the driveline is sorted, the next big thing to address on the WRX chassis is getting some lock. James tells us the factory knuckles have enough meat to simply machine and redrill the steering pickup point closer to the lower ball joint, whereas Silvia items need to be cut and welded or replaced. A front-wheel-drive steering rack can also be installed for a few extra degrees of angle.

If you manage to find a cheap enough GC8 WRX STI newer than a V3, you’ll have a semi-forged engine with a turbo capable of reliably pushing out 220kW at the wheels once tuned. Power potential in the non-STI isn’t as great, but they still produce around 180kW at the engine, stock, so it’s enough to learn with once you’ve done the usual bolt-ons. According to James, the factory axles and rear diff don’t last too long, and he recommends replacing them with the much stronger STI R180 diff, axles and hubs. GC8 WRX STIs came with decent four-pot calipers from the factory, but if you wanted to upgrade them further, the V7 onward Brembos are a great bolt-on option. 

Mazda MX-5 (NA)

  • 1991–1997
  • Wheelbase: 2265mm
  • Weight: 940kg

If you’re up for a good challenge, purchase a Mazda MX-5. This model is no longer known in the car scene as a hairdresser’s choice, but rather a car that has to be driven by someone with balls of steel to pull off the kind of tricks the bigger Nissans and Toyotas can do with ease. The NA-chassis MX-5 is a very affordable solution in the sense that it’s cheap to purchase, cheap to run and maintain, and doesn’t require much money to get it sliding, just skill. The NA MX-5 was released in 1990 with a 1600cc, 86kW (115hp) B6ZE engine, then in 1994 was released with an 1800cc, 98kW (131hp) BP-ZE engine which made the MX-5 a touch quicker. Although the BP-ZE motor is ample to slide the MX-5, it is very common to turbocharge it. With a small VF10 turbo, some larger injectors and an engine management system, around 150kW (201hp) at the wheels on the factory internals is easily achievable. After doing the usual drift mods like welding the diff, pumping the tyres past 50psi, and stripping the interior, you should have a very cheap drift car to hone your skills in. 

This article was originally published in NZ Performance Car Issue No. 227. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: