People know me for my weird taste in cars and for thinking outside the box when it comes to projects, so naturally I always get messages from people asking me what chassis they should buy for their first drift car. Usually they’re expecting me to encourage them to buy a minivan or some other car that doesn’t make any sense for drifting.
My first answer is always either an S-Chassis or a BMW E36, which are probably the best and cheaper way to start, learn, and continue your development as a better driver. I mean, you can even reach Pro levels with these two, but most of the time I get shut down with a: “But I want something different” which reminds me of myself 5 years ago when I sold my Corvette in hopes of buying a dedicated drift car that wasn’t either an S-chassis or a BMW… So I get it! I recognize that people in drifting want to be original and create their own image and be recognized by their very unique car.
Here’s my list of vehicles that are available in America that, in my opinion, would make very good drift cars based on the following conditions:
- They are already RWD or AWD with a transmission tunnel (Sorry 3000GT and other FWD based All wheel drive vehicles).
- They have Independent Rear Suspension (While you can totally drift with solid axles, I’m only considering cars that are somewhat similar to the S-chassis’s multi link suspension behavior, so no trailing arms either).
- The front steering uses a rack and pinion (No pitman arms, sorry 3rd gen F-Body fans)
- Unibody cars only (Crown Vics, Trucks, and Vans not allowed)
- Needs to be a modern/recent car (As much as I love Starions and Datsuns, I’m looking for clean cars whose parts are easy to find and available everywhere)
And finally, they have to be available for about the same money you can get for a beaten-up 240sx. Take into account that just as with most 240s or 3-series, you will end up doing an engine swap with either an SR20, JZ, or LS. So all my recommendations are not considering the engines and transmissions that these came with and we are going to assume that you will swap something more common and reliable in them. So, buckle up because it’s about to get bumpy!!
#1 Mercedes-Benz W203 (C-Class 2000-2007)
Avg. Price: $1000.
Wheelbase: 106.9 in
Weight: 3,450lbs – 4,442lbs
This one is probably one of the most overlooked chassis that is available everywhere for ridiculously cheap prices. Think about it, you can get these cars from as low as $500 with mechanical issues and as high as $2000 in running condition. They are available with manual transmission so if you look around enough, you might not even have to install a clutch pedal. And they are mostly very clean, inside and outside. This means, you can part it out and make some money back, or even make a profit.
These cars were available in Inline 4, V6, or even V8 engines, so there’s plenty of room under the hood for whatever power plant you can imagine. They had both open and limited-slip differentials and they also came in 4 door sedan, 2 door coupe hatchback, and station wagon configurations. So that gives you an even wider range of originality to work with.
This is pretty much Mercedes’s version of a BMW 3-Series (even shares the same wheel base as an E36), and they are widely popular for drifting in Europe, so there has to be some aftermarket angle kits and other drift-supporting parts already available. And considering that WiseFab comes from Estonia and GKTech from Australia, it’s not too far-fetched to consider getting performance parts from overseas.
#2 Cadillac Catera (Opel Omega)
Price: Free – $2000
Wheelbase: 107.5 in
Weight: 3,897 lbs
I know we have an ugly duckling here, but hear me out. This Cadillac is not a Cadillac! It is actually a 100% re-badged Opel Omega. This is a German car and it drives and handles like a German car. And, fortunately for you, they were plagued with drivetrain defects which means you can buy these cars for next to nothing, sometimes even free!
Put on some nice wheels, drop in your favorite braaap device, and drift away!! I’ve seen a few of these drifting in Europe; they share the same wheelbase as an E46. And once you strip off all the unnecessary wiring, seats, and panels, you can end up with a very solid and nimble car.
#3 Ford MN12 (Thunderbird and Cougar 1989-1997)
Price: $200 – $1,000
Wheelbase: 113 in
Weight: 3,536 lbs
We are coming back to America for this one and I know what you are thinking… but bear with me for a second. No, this is not a “fox body” Thunderbird with a solid rear axle like Pistonhead’s Drift Chicken, oh no sir! This is a totally different car!
The MN12 has rear independent suspension and came with either a V6, a Supercharged V6, or a V8, and there was a manual transmission optional. It’s somewhat similar to a Lexus SC300 with two long doors and small back seats, and they are cheap as hell. They have quite a long wheel base at 113 inches, but that just means more stable transitions and less chances of spinning out.
The two body options are “fastback” on the Thunderbird and “notchback” on the Cougar, and they both had about three different face options. I personally think the 1st style is the one that suits them better with their squared headlights over the somewhat oval shape that Ford gave to all its cars during the ’90s.
Bottom line is, these cars can slide really well if you set them up properly. And, it’s been done in the past already, so the more people who start sliding these chassis, the more chances there are of seeing even more support of aftermarket parts. You can either keep the V8 or Supercharged V6, and manual transmission, or build a sick JDM-powered ‘Bird!
#4 Jaguar S-Type
Avg. Price: $1,500
Wheelbase: 114.5 in
Weight: 3,968 lbs
Welcome to England, you are just in time for tea! You will be the poshest drifter on track when you show up driving a gutted and caged Jaguar S-Type, but most people will be amazed after hearing a turbo whistling under the hood or a loud cammed V8 exhaust note.
Yes, S-Types were very unreliable cars… but that makes them extremely cheap! There’s a mint one on Craigslist for $1500 that only needs a new automatic transmission, which you are throwing away anyway, so you can sell the low-mileage engine and make half your money back.
Most of these cars were adult-owned so you will have a very clean and unmolested chassis. Simply add a bit of paint, a bunch of stickers, a cool set of wheels, and your favorite racing spoiler; and you will be drifting like a duke leaving Buckingham Palace in a hurry.
#5 Chrysler LX Platform (Charger, Magnum, and 300)
Avg. Price: $1,500
Wheelbase: 120 in
Weight: 4,160 lbs
We are now moving into the full-sized vehicle category. These are Detroit’s heavy hitters with over 4,000 lbs of American steel, but Chrysler’s well-known poor reliability. Chargers are everywhere and the V6 version was so widely used as a rental car that you can find these cars already falling apart. But this doesn’t mean you can’t find one in good condition for less than $2000.
I’ve stumbled upon Chargers and Magnums with bodies in perfect shape for less than $1000; sometimes with or without engines, with bad engines, or simply that they don’t know what’s wrong with the car. Same with the Chrysler 300, tons of salvaged cars due to theft with perfectly straight bodies.
And this is already a proven chassis that we saw debuted in Formula Drift several years ago, with Samuel Hübinette at the wheel, showing that these big cars can really go sideways. So please go on Craigslist and find a Magnum wagon; get some coilovers and swap in that 2JZ that has been sitting in your garage for years!
#6 Lexus LS400 XF10
Avg. Price: $1,500
Wheelbase: 110.8 in
Weight: 3,858 lbs
These cars are Japan’s heavyweight champions and they are everywhere here in America. They already have a good and reliable power plant, the 1UZ 4.0 liter V8. This engine is so good it’s one of the very few automotive engines that are approved by the FAA to be used to power airplanes. And the best part is: they are super cheap! I got mine for $600 and everything worked, just had bad paint and a trashed driver seat. By the time I parted out everything I didn’t need, I had more money in my pocket and a free running car.
The only thing missing is a manual transmission, but there are many adapters and options to mate a 5-speed to the 1UZ. Or you can just yank it all out and fit your 300+ HP power plant, get rid of 1,000 lbs of wiring and electronic components, seats, panels, and consoles; and drift that big boat into the walls, like Big Balls Bryan did with mine at Desert Meihan.
#7 C4 Corvette (1983 – 1996)
Avg. Price: $1,500
Wheelbase: 96.2 in
Weight: 2,000 lb – 3,239 lb
Once again, bear with me… Just to start, this car is already a body kit on wheels! They come equipped with V8 engines and manual transmissions and, unlike the C5, C6, and C7, this generation still has the transmission in front attached to the engine, like in most cars.
Also these cars had 275 tires ON THE FRONT!!! Which means that you can get a smaller 225/235 tire, giving you tons of clearance for additional steering angle.
Just look at this photo; there’s nothing under the hood, and the entire hood comes off giving you all the room to work. And, just for reference, this car was sold for a little over $3,000, already caged and stripped.
I see C4s for sale from $1000 to $1500 all the time, mostly with bad paint and bad interiors, but we as drifters don’t care about that because we are going to end up removing all of that nonsense. I mean, you can even remove the entire body and make yourself a drift kart, just like the guys from Roadkill, weighing in at a bit over 2,000 lbs.
So if you want to be like Matt Field, Daigo Saito, or Dirk Stratton, the C4 is your entry-level drift machine.
#8 Any AWD Subaru that is not an Impreza
Price: $600 – $2,000
Wheelbase: 101.6 in – 103.5 in
Weight: 3,100 lb
You see the Impreza WRX and STI drifting all the time, but what about every other Subaru that has ever been? From the Legacies to the SVX, and even the Foresters, they are all capable of drifting once you disable the center differential (which powers the front wheels), or even better when you swap some beastly drivetrain with cylinders facing different directions other than left and right.
This LS-powered SVX is proof that even Subaru’s weirdest car looks awesome while going sideways (even when they removed the funky window within a window)
But most importantly, these cars can be found for super cheap all the time. Plus they already have a transmission tunnel and a rear differential, which you will most likely have to upgrade eventually, but even that is something most drifters end up doing to almost any other car.
So there you have it, those are my 8 choices for alternative drift cars that are affordable and modern. Hopefully the more we see these cars at drift events, the more drift parts and support we will see from aftermarket manufacturers.
Let me know in the comments what other cars you think would fit my criteria and would make a good, cheap drift car, once it’s stripped down, caged, and swapped.
Paco is one of the Maximum Driftcast hosts. Industrial Designer and avid “weird car” collector who knows way too many useless facts about cars that nobody cares for. Known for his Tofu Drift Minivan and other unusual drift builds. Co-owner and designer at 2F Performance, who manufactures the Super Doof kits designed with Forrest Wang’s Get Nuts Lab input. He speaks in 85% English and 15% Nonsense and is a proud owner of a large collection of hentai VHS tapes.
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