Generation Drift: Five things we have learned

Cars Culture

No marketing agency dreamt up Generation Drift

Drift culture was born on the high, twisty pass roads of Japan.

The scene was particularly popular in the highly populated central strip of the country between Tokyo and Nagano. It was generated and nurtured Hashiriya – the mostly young, amateur street racers who began to rule the Japanese roads in the 1980s. Their drifty racing style developed precisely because of the switchback turns that comprise these pass roads. The cars were simply modified, accessible hot everyman motors. At the top of the list was, of course, the Toyota AE86, but everything from Celicas, MR2s, Silvias, Skylines and Z-cars could regularly be scene on the touges as they are known. These street races have become the foundation myth of the global drift scene. Though Drifting has become a much wider, more legitimate sport – it tips its hat to its street racing roots.


The Drift scene was created from the ground up.

It wasn’t created in some marketing agency. It may have been amplified by manga cartoon Initial D, but this video proves the legend. Apparently, this was filmed around 1989 in the Hakone Nanamagari Touge. This is a notoriously twisty section of mountain road near Mt Fuji and the beautiful mountain retreat of Hakone. The guy in the driver’s seat is obviously stoked. It’s not often appropriate to use the surfer’s term for ‘very excited, filled with joy’ but, in this case, it is bang on. This is despite the fact that he barely manages to get in more than a couple of slides before traffic grinds to a halt. The road we see scrolling past his window is a conveyor belt of period drift cars. There are Silvias. There are RX-7s. There are three box Lancers. There are AE86s of course, but also a whole constellation of Corollas and MR2s. Japanese car culture, especially the sideways sliding variety, crystallises here.

Drifting is the only four-wheeled motorsport where aesthetics and judging come into the frame

As far as we can work out. Not only do you have to drive fast to be a king of Drift, but judges are looking for style and coordination in their points system. Points are awarded on criteria of line, angle, speed and show. Line involves taking a specific line identified by the judges. The amount of smoke comes into play in the show points system, as well as how close any given car is to the wall or designated clipping point. Uniquely, the crowd’s reaction is also fed into the judging system. The ‘angle’ bit refers to the angle of the drift and the relationship of that angle to that of your wheels. There are solo as well as tandem passes of the circuit that are judged, and competitors take turns to take the lead. It’s like a greasy, smelly, loud ballet. Mostly for blokes.


You can turn your car into a drift machine relatively easily.

As long as it comes with RWD. There are really only three modifications you need to make. First off, you have to weld your differential together or at least be able to lock it. It sounds painful but all it really means, I am told, is an hour or so underneath the car with some metal melting kit. The idea is that the drive shafts in the rear axle are fused so that both wheels spin at the same rate, with no compensation for camber or weight etc. We suppose it is possible to fit an on/off selectable diff lock on the rear axle, just like the ones on Land Rovers. But we’re not mechanics so we can’t be sure. Secondly, it’s handy if you can increase the steering lock on the car. This is obviously a pretty major job – and annoying things like wheels, rubber and arches get in the way unless you know what you’re doing. This, of course, allows for more extreme drifting angles. The third important thing is, of course, the brake/clutch combo. Both will take a hammering in any drift session so you have to upgrade them, preferably to ceramic plate/carbon varieties. These are the basics of course, and you can be sure that top-level drift machines are full of tech wizardry like sequential gearboxes and tighter gear ratios. But the beauty of the Drift scene is simplicity. So let’s keep it like that.


Buttsy Butler is a bit of a character

Just one of the many colourful folk who populate generation Drift. The Irishman is a Monster Energy poster boy and demo pilot, clothing brand owner and illustrated ladies’ man. And he has been known to thrash an F1 car around Manchester just for kicks. We spent some time with him at Silverstone recently – between Buttsy’s jaunts to Goodwood and Ibiza. It was an experience.