German vs Jap – The Drift Car War

Drifting is inherently a Japanese sport, and indeed, the halo cars from the golden 1990s and early 2000s era of drifting are indeed, all Japanese. Nissan’s S-Chassis and Skylines, Toyota’s Chaser and Mazda’s RX7 are all inextricably linked to this insane sideways sport.

In Japan, this was simply about using the vehicles available. A PS13 Silvia could be grabbed from a backstreet car lot for the paltry sum of a few thousand yen, due to the culture of “trading up” in Japan that extends even to their vehicles. What this meant was, these cars were undesirable, which was a perfect reason to repurpose them as rides to go have fun in. And so it was that the heroes of the drifting subculture piloted these vehicles as their chariots to legendary status.

When you move out of Japan into Europe however, things aren’t quite like that. The most prevalent manufacturer across Europe in drifting circles is indeed, BMW. 

The reason for that is simple. Availability. BMW have always made RWD cars since their inception in 1928, and due to their unending popularity and extremely steep depreciation curve, a huge amount of cars were available for very little money, that without too much work could be put to work as doorbanging drifters. 

British drifting comprises almost entirely cars from these two nations, indeed, 100% of the cars on the BDC grid were either German or Japanese. In 2020, the BDC grid consisted of 45 Nissans, 26 BMWs, six Toyotas, four Mazdas and a lone Subaru.

The German vs Japanese debate in drifting has raged on for years, with equally loyal and vocal camps on both sides. But really, it comes down to one huge reason – cost.

For reasons which we shall cover in another article, the Japanese drifting halo cars have begun to increase in price significantly. Ten years ago, a decently well maintained S13 or S14 could be had for around the £1500 mark. Today, a decently well maintained S13 or S14 will easily cost you five times that. Increasing rarity plus enthusiasm for drifting spiralling to unprecedented levels has led to the reverence of these cars increasing and therefore, the price. An S15 will now set you back at least £10,000, even a naturally-aspirated model, and a JZX is virtually unobtainable for less than £12,000. Gone are the days when these cars were considered disposable enough to be bent in half. 

Not only does it represent a significant financial outlay, a lot of people who are willing to pay that for their car cannot stomach the idea of putting it in danger on a racetrack, to say nothing about hacking huge lumps out of the car to make it competition compliant. 

Plus, many of the Japanese cars so beloved by drifters were never sold domestically in Europe, so the additional expense and hassle of actually getting them to Blighty is even more off-putting to those people who just want a car to bang doors with.

In addition, the offerings of RWD cars from the land of the rising sun are getting few and far between. Realistically, in the past ten years, only three models of car, The Nissan 370Z, Toyota GT86, and Mazda’s ubiquitous MX5, could be repurposed as drift cars without serious modification.

By contrast, with BMW, the cars produced by them right up to the present day are still being fed onto the drift scene. Starting with our own Matt Stevenson and his E92, more modern BMWs are slowly but surely emerging as drift cars of the future. BDC veteran Adam Simmons announcing a Z4 as his 2019 chassis was met with some mild contempt, however it proved itself as an extremely capable car with LS power under the bonnet. 

Seeking to build a modern BMW chassis with a modern BMW engine, Scotsman Robbie Burgoyne happened upon the shell of a 1-Series which he outfitted with a twin-turbo V8 from a modern M6. Couple this with former champ Mike Marshall campaigning a 135i powered by it’s original N54 engine in 2018, cementing the idea that in Britain at least, the Bavarian giant will have a presence on the drift scene for many years to come.

Looking further afield, possibly one of the most revered drift builds on the planet is the Eurofighter, assembled in deepest Latvia by the HGK skunkworks and piloted by the likes of Krisstaps Bluss, Sultan Al-Qassimi and some bloke called James Deane – I think he’s an actor?

So, why is the British Drift Championship not 97% BMW? Well, that’s quite simple. People still love the ‘90s Japanese cars! These cars hold a special place in the hearts and minds of any drifting fan, for much the same reason why people still love 1990s Super Tourers or 1960s hillclimbers. You look at the vehicles driven by those you idolise in a particular sport and you want one for yourself, to emulate them. 

And to a degree, it is admirable that people are willing to keep the flame burning with these cars, much in the same way that the owners of 1990s BTCC Super Tourers still take them out to track days instead of simply keeping them as highly polished ornaments. These cars are keeping the last bastion of hope alive for Japan and the glory days of drifting, and people will defend them to their last breath. 

So, will Japan ever be fully forced out of drifting by the advancing German forces? It looks doubtful. Some people in drifting seem to have a hard-line devotion to Japanese vehicles, in much the same way that many believe the only way is Bavaria. Regardless of certain feelings that people have about the marques, one could definitely argue that the only reason why so many of these vehicles, German or Japanese, are preserved and kept going by drifters is because of the reverence they have for them, and if they were not so revered they likely would have been fed to a crusher by now. So is it fair to say that, whether you are BMW or Jap, that as drifters, we are keeping a small piece of automotive history alive? I would agree with that.

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