Drifting, one of the most popular motorsports worldwide has roots deep in Japan’s snowy, windy Gifu mountain roads. Drivers would “slide” through the windy roads instead of braking and cornering. With time the Japanese authorities discovered this and would declare the self-proclaimed sport illegal.

The sport also gained fans who positioned themselves on the curves, which led to numerous accidents as drivers would slide too close to the walls “wall taps.” Accidents among drivers drifting in tandems were also many, but this only encouraged more to do it as there were close to zero fatalities. 

Drivers would be arrested and charged. Classic Japanese drift cars would be impounded and even crushed as some would be too damaged to be roadworthy. As the sport evolved, drivers started organizing themselves in groups that would compete against each other. 

Most cars used were rear-wheel-drive only and were stripped to reduce weight as much as possible. There were no drift tires, so drivers improvised with worn-out “bald” tires. 

Cars varied from custom-built and tuned skylines, Silvias and Supras to small Mazda Roadsters and Cappuccinos rescued from the salvage yard with bolt-on upgrades. Some drivers also acquired LS engines. These mainly were swapped into Roadsters/Miatas and larger sedans like the Toyota Chaser. 

In the 1970s, drifting began to attract professional drivers’ attention like one Kunimitsu Takahashi in his Hakosuka (KPGC10) Skyline. He invented drifting techniques, which earned him the title “father of drift,” among others. Other drivers included Keiichi Tsuchiya in his Toyota AE86 hatch, commonly known as the “king of drift.”

Due to increased arrests, drivers started drifting professionally on race tracks. Other motorsport drivers soon noticed that drifting around a corner was quicker than braking and cornering. Drifting became more popular when Japanese corporates such as The Carboy Magazine started sponsoring and hosting drifting completions in the 1980s. The sport gained popularity in other countries which established drift competitions such as Formula Drift in the USA and the British Drift Championship in the UK. 

Buying a JDM Drift Car

There are several drift JDM cars that you can easily buy and convert into drift cars. Note that no car is drift-track ready unless it was a drift car in its previous life. Some will purchase stock JDM cars in good condition, do some light drift modifications and use the car as a daily driver and a drift car. 

On the other hand, some will build a complete drift JDM car from the ground up solely for drifting purposes. The following is a list of some of the best JDM cars for drifting you can buy. 

Nissan Skyline (R31, R32, R33, R34)

R33 Skyline Drifting

Skylines are some of the most preferable and best JDM drift cars. Two of the main reason are that most are RWD and the RB series engines used were massive powerhouses. Even with a mere RB2ODE, you can achieve a reasonable power output suitable for drifting. Some of the Turbo versions, such as the GTS-4, have LSDs. 

R32 Skyline Drifting
R34 Skyline Drifting

For AWD skylines, converting to RWD and prepping it ready for the drift track shouldn’t be difficult. Skyline’s popularity has influenced the manufacture of aftermarket spare parts. Nissan also still makes replacement spare parts for skylines. 

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Nissan S Chassis (180SX, S13, S14, S15)

Nissan 180SX Drifting

As drifting evolved as a motorsport in Japan, the Nissan Silvia soon appeared as a cheaper option to the Skyline and other JDM cars drifting. Unlike the Skyline, all Silvias have 4-cylinder engines, unlike 6-cylinder I6s in skylines. Only the S12 Silvia and 180sx had a V6. But the CA, SR, and KA engines were a force to reckon with. Some variants of the S-chassis Nissans with the SR20DET made over 200 horsepower bone stock. 

S14 Nissan Silvia Drifting
S13 Nissan Silvia Drifting

An LSD was an optional feature in the Silvia, and you can get one that has an LSD. Like its bigger brother, the Skyline, the Silvia is also a front-engine RWD drift missile. It is also among the cheaper JDM cars. 

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Nissan Fairlady Z (Z33, 350Z)

Z33 Nissan Fairlady Z Drifting

The Z33 Nissan Fairlady Z (350Z) is one of the most common drift cars JDM. Every drift track you go to will not lack a 350Z tearing up the competition. Most drifters have owned a 350Z in their drift careers. If not so, they have driven one. So, what makes the Fairlady Z a favorite among drifters. 

Like other Nissans vehicles used for drifting, the Nissan Fairlady Z also has a front-engine rear-wheel-drive configuration. All modes above the base trim model have an LSD as an optional feature. However, in some trims, such as the Nismo and the Fairlady, you get an LSD as standard. 

The 3.5-liter VQ35 is also one of Nissan’s most reliable and capable engines, and parts are readily available due to the commonality of the 350Z. But what makes the 350Z is the price. 350Zs are cheap to buy and build, and you could get one in pristine condition for around $10,000 or less. 

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Honda S2000

Honda S2000 Drifting

The Honda S2000 is perhaps one of the most underrated JDM drift cars. Like most JDM production cars in its era, it is also front-engine, rear-wheel-drive. 2 of the most basic requirements for a drift car. It’s also lightweight, meaning that you can fit drift seats and be track-ready instead of stripping the interior. The F20 and F22 engines are also solid and reliable powerhouses. Most drivers will slap on a bigger turbo, performance intakes, and other bolt-on upgrades, and the mini rocket is set to go.  

You’ll find most S2000s with a torque-sensing mechanical diff that acts the same way as an LSD. However, the torque sensing automatic diff in the S2000 is clutch-less, and some drivers will switch it for a clutch-type LSD.

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Toyota Supra MK4

JDM Toyota Supra Drifting

The list cannot be complete without a 2JZ mention. Supras are also a common sight on drift tracks but not as common as the Nissan Skyline’s main competitor. 2JZ engines are capable of high-power outputs even with stock internals. The Supra also has a front-engine rear-wheel-drive configuration like any other drift car. 

However, it’s too heavy for a drift car, and some say it has a poor steering angle. If you want to use a Toyota Supra as a drift car, it will require some work and some getting used to. 

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Toyota AE86

via Gaelen Norman

Keiichi Tsuchiya was among the first drivers to use the Toyota AE86 for drifting. At the time, front-engine rear-wheel-drive cars were not that common; thus, the AE86 slowly gained popularity as one of the best drift rockets. You rarely get the AE86 with an LSD, but there is a probability of finding one with an OEM LSD, an optional feature. 

The 1.6-litre 4A-GE was one of the best four-cylinder engines and was used in other race-inspired Toyotas such as the Celica GT-four. 

Getting a Toyota AE86 can be tiresome as they are getting rarer and more expensive by the day. Some owners have no plans to let them go. 

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Toyota Chaser (JZX90, JZX 100)

Toyota Chaser Drifting

You would expect the Toyota Chaser to be front-wheel drive like other sedans in its time, but no. Toyota made all Chasers rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive and front engine equipped with either a 1JZ or 2JZ in the luxury trims. 

By succeeding in the JTCC race series in the 90s, drivers saw drifting potential in the Toyota Chaser, especially the JZX90 and the JZX100. An LSD wasn’t available as an OEM option, so drivers installed aftermarket LSDs and converted their Chasers to rear-wheel drive. 

Due to the massive weight, drivers strip down unnecessary components leaving only the driver and passenger seats. With some bolt-on mods and tuning, the Toyota Chasers can be good JDM drift cars. 

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Mazda RX7

JDM Mazda RX-7 at the track

The drift track wouldn’t be complete without a rotary engine. The Mazda RX-7 sits among the most preferable JDM drift cars, and it looks good. Especially if you get an FD RX-7. 

All Mazda RX7s were produced as a rear-wheel-drive with two types of rotary engines, the 1.2-litre 12A, and the 1.3-litre 13B. What makes the RX7 a good drift car is a rotary engine. 

Rotary engines can rev too high RPMs as compared to other JDM engines. Meaning that you can shred your rear tires without worrying about spinning out. However, rotary engines can be a pain in the wallet if not maintained well. They are easily capable of massive power outputs, but you need to pay attention to the engine. If ignored, any sign of an oil leak can lead to an engine rebuild. 

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Mazda Roadster (Miata)

Mazda Roadster going sideways in the wet

This is one of the best cheap JDM drift cars for sale that you can buy and build. All Mazda Roadsters are front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, but you’ll need a stronger diff if you plan on drifting your Roadster/Miata. 

Miata engines are known to be unreliable when modified and tuned for drifting. The stock engine is underpowered and attaining high power outputs puts the engine at risk. This is why you’ll find Mazda Roadsters with ridiculous engine swaps such as 2JZ, RB, LS, and even V10 viper engine swaps. 

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Suzuki Cappuccino

Suzuki Cappuccino rotating under throttle

If you are on a budget, the Suzuki Cappuccino is your car but still want a JDM drift car. Built, like the Miata, just a little bit smaller, the Cappuccino was made to meet the Kei car specifications in Japan. You’ll need a better engine and a stronger diff since it only comes with a 660cc engine. 

Rotary engines, SR20s, and RBs are some of the most favorable engine swaps for a Suzuki Cappuccino. 

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Christopher Weydert
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