Drifting is, fundamentally, when your tires break traction and your car continues to turn. Getting more technical, it can be controlled and done intentionally, and in fact, that’s how it’s normally referred to. In a race, drifting is slow, requires a lot of horsepower to accomplish successfully, and it eats a lot of tires. It’s also (unofficially) the most fun you can have in a car. To initiate the drift, you need to come at a corner with a lot of speed and kick out the rear end as you’re entering. You’re creating oversteer and keeping it through turn completion.
Rear wheel drive cars are more common as drift cars, but it can be done with a front wheel drive car as well. In a rear wheel drive car, you have several ways to kick out the rear end. You can mash on the throttle (if you have a lot of horsepower), pop the clutch, and rip the e-brake. To drift in a front wheel drive car it’s a lot harder. You can use the e-brake still, as long as you keep on the gas, or you can actually hit the brakes coming into a corner while turning the wheel. This becomes a drift because with sudden hard braking the weight of the car can shift from the back to the front, thus taking the weight off of the rear tires and causing them to lose traction. It’s significantly less controllable than a drift in a rear wheel drive car, but still possible. You can also initiate a four-wheel drift in a front-wheel drive car, where all four tires slide the car around the corner.
You can drift in any car, really, but for under $5,000 you have some pretty obvious choices. The Nissan S13 240sx (1989-1994) is very popular among drifters because it’s easy to learn on. The car’s wheelbase is long enough to be forgiving but short enough to not hinder the speed of weight transfer, which is pretty quick due to the car’s relatively even weight distribution. RX-7s are popular as well, although sometimes can be unreliable because of how much attention the rotary engine demands.
RX-7s are hard to find though, and especially hard to find cheap. S13s you can find for less than $5,000 and are all over the place, so they are one of the best cars to start drifting on. A car that takes a little more time and devotion to drift with is a first generation Mazda Miata. They have short wheelbases which make them unstable, but a few hours of practice and drifting in a Miata is far from impossible.
What you need to drift properly is a good suspension, LSD, and a lot of power. A sometimes overlooked option is the Mustang, specifically the fox body generation from 1979-1993. Mustangs require some modification like chassis stiffening, better suspension, and more horsepower but can be turned into proper drift cars. They do have a lot of low end power off the bat, so the stock engine isn’t really a bad option but the 302 V8 from 1987-1992 can hold a lot of power so you might as well add more. The fox bodies also came with LSD from the factory. While they don’t have the best balance and require some modifications they certainly are good enough to compete with, and are cheap with parts readily available.
We don’t condone drifting on the street. It’s dangerous and can end up with the front of the car planted against a hillside, or in some cases inside of a hillside. If you plan to drift, be sure to do so in a controlled environment. Race tracks often have what’s called a skid pad, where you’re free to do donuts until your tires explode, and it’s perfectly safe. So try to do that instead of tackling mountain roads on your own.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.