Early privately-owned drift cars were fitted with with either turbocharged engines from Nissan S13, S14 and S15 platforms (four-cylinder) or turbocharged powerplants like the Toyota 1JZ (six-cylinder). They were easy to work on, reliable, and they produced plenty of the wheel-spinning power needed for a smoky sideways show.

But today, as real money flows into the sport, the teams taking the podiums at the professional Formula Drift events are much more likely to use American V8 power - naturally-aspirated big-bore Chevrolet LS muscle that makes a tire-cording 700-plus horsepower. The torquey V8s give the drivers more control when they run side-by-side. As one puts it, "...the way Formula D now is, with tandem, you want to be on someone's door."

This video, shot by MPGomatic, takes a closer look at why the motorsport made the switch from low displacement/forced induction to big displacement/naturally aspirated power. It's posted below, and as they say, there's no substitute for cubic inches.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 68 Comments
      Mikeman
      • 2 Years Ago
      I think a big part of it is throttle response/transient response. You can get huge amounts of torque from a bored out 4-cylinder running low compression and 30lbs of boost. You just can't get it instantly and modulate it every quarter of a second. I have a 99 miata and a 2008 mazda3s (sport; non-turbo). I thought my mazda3 was a good car until I drove the miata. I swear, the gas pedal can read my mind. And it makes driving it so much more fun!
      The Wasp
      • 2 Years Ago
      It seems like it is really just a geographical thing. When drifting started, V8s were already plentiful in America and offered higher torque, it's not like that is a new development. If drifting had started in America, it likely would have started with V8s.
      three oh
      • 2 Years Ago
      Mr. Harley, S13, S14, and S15 are chassis designations. You're probably thinking of the SR20DET and/or home-brewed KA24DE"T".
        k_m94
        • 2 Years Ago
        @three oh
        Why do their engine designations have to read like a barcode? Do they get nicknames? What do they say when they pop the hood? "I got a kay ay twenty four dee eeh tee in there!" Doesn't have quite the same ring as "I got a HEMI in there", know what I mean?
          RawrJjong
          • 2 Years Ago
          @k_m94
          well, "SR"/"KA" is just the name of the series of engines, and "20" or "24" refers to the displacement. "D" for dual cams, "E" for electronic fuel injection and then the "T" for turbo, so I guess that's why it reads like like a barcode? LOL personally, I think someone saying "i have an SR20" has a better ring than "I GOT A HEMI", but each to his own opinion, you know? :D
          three oh
          • 2 Years Ago
          @k_m94
          If you're way into old J-tin, when they pop the hood, it shouldn't need much explanation.
          k_m94
          • 2 Years Ago
          @k_m94
          Fair enough, and I agree, SR20 sounds pretty cool. Just skip the letters at the end.
      Qson
      • 2 Years Ago
      It takes 25 minute video to explain why the teams made the shift? It's not that hard to understand. It's cheaper, parts are more readily available compared to JDM motors, it's more plentiful as a domestic motor, higher horsepower generated in its stock form, weight is comparable or lighter than stock motors (aluminum block V8s), readily available response from the torque, etc. The people that complain about the shift to V8s don't understand that most of the driver's switch because they want to be competitive on a budget, have a reliable setup, and have the best tools available to them to succeed. More available horsepower = faster and deep angle drifts with supporting suspension mods. That said, I DO miss the sound of inline 4s and 6s fully built with turbo setups with some sort of anti-lag, or really high revving n/a 200 horsepower engines with nitrous back in the D1 Grand Prix days, but the direction that American professional drifting is heading makes sense. That said, I'm still running an inline 4 turbo in my drift car if that makes any difference to whoever is reading this. It helps to empathize with the lower budget teams to understand the V8 shift.
        Daniel Gray
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Qson
        Excellent summary, Qson. I wanted to do a long-form piece, as that's the opposite of 85% of drift videos these days. My goal was to let the drivers tell their stories in-depth. It took two weekends to shoot this. The weather was hideous. I loved every minute of it.
          Daniel Gray
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Daniel Gray
          Zeus - Thanks ... Yep! It's a MPGomatic production. Our main focus is on fuel-efficiency and alternative fuels, so we rarely cover racing on the website. I shot a piece on Formula Drift on a whim back in 2010 and that got me hooked. This is one of the longest videos we've ever posted. You can find the older drift piece in our YouTube channel, along with a bunch of US Rallycross stuff ... we've been shooting for a rallyx documentary for a while now ...
          Zeus
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Daniel Gray
          Daniel did you actually film this yourself? This is your video? Really great piece. I particularly liked how you interviewed so many of them and let them talk at length. The best thing for this segment was to get it from the drivers perspective. Anyway, really cool segment. Do you have a website?
      RevenantDC5
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's funny that when Gitten Jr. says the place for turbo 4s is in grassroots drifting, it cuts to a scene with a grassroots fox body Mustang passing the turbo 4s for first place.
      jonnybimmer
      • 2 Years Ago
      "They were easy to work on, reliable," Actually, I'd argue this is one of the big reasons why many on a grassroots level save up just a little more to get that pushrod V8 rather than a JDM turbocharged motor. Now, those motors aren't necessarily unreliable, but compared to the V8's they require much more maintenance and are more prone to being "temperamental" when pushed at its hardest, at least in my experience. And on that note of maintenance, that's where the V8's win in a big way. Parts are both plentiful and cheap. When looking at your 1JZ or SR20 on the other hand, just stock replacement parts will start to add up fast. Then you take a look at the prices for performance parts from respected tuners like Tomei Power or Sard versus performance parts for a 5.0 or LS1 and the picture starts to become more clear. Also, remember that you can't just go out to your local Autozone to pick up a new fuel injector. Often, dealerships won't even have parts for you. If you're lucky, they'll be in stock at a shop here in North America. If not, then it's a long wait for your order from Japan to clear customs, and either way, expect your part to cost considerably more than an equivalent domestic part. That means more down time on the car running, let alone drifting. Is it your daily? Better stock up on parts. Personally, I'm for keeping a Japanese heart in a Japanese car, but I don't hold it against anyone when I hear an American grumble from their FC or S13. There's a good reason why RB swaps aren't as common here as they are in Japan. Sure there is a little bit to blame on the lust for power, even at the grassroot level (if we didn't want more power, why swap motors in the first place?). But really, it always comes to the same bottom line like anything else: cost.
      gtv4rudy
      • 2 Years Ago
      "The V8s make it easier to drift..." So from now on drifting will be a total bore to watch because even your next door neighbor can drift perfectly just because he has a V8 in his little Datsun. yawn.
        k_m94
        • 2 Years Ago
        @gtv4rudy
        Actually, it seems only some of the top tier drifters (ie Formula D) swap out for V8s to get the last nth degree of precision. Most grassroots drifters will still be using other engines and not every drift car needs 700hp through racing slicks.
        johnb
        • 2 Years Ago
        @gtv4rudy
        I disagree. your neighbor won't be able to drift well no matter he's driving. The V8 is just a better package for the job.
        bobmarley
        • 2 Years Ago
        @gtv4rudy
        having a neighbor with a V8 Datsun would not be boring. STFU douche
          gtv4rudy
          • 2 Years Ago
          @bobmarley
          You're a tuff little man 'bobmarley' behind your little computer.
      Serenespeed
      • 2 Years Ago
      Autoblog, I think you meant to say, "No replacement for displacement". But I get your 'drift'.
      breakfastburrito
      • 2 Years Ago
      Silly comparison. Grassroots drifting was obtainable. Pro high-dollar, 700hp swapped machines are not. Does it make for a better spectacle? certainly. Does it make the average broke drifter kid's life better? nope. Drifting is best as an underground, inclusive sport. "Sold out" will always be bigger and faster, until manufacturers start selling lightweight RWD, good handling cars on the cheap. As the domain of the entitled rich kids, it's just like any other sport.
      twofingersneak
      • 2 Years Ago
      bfd. drifting is to racing what ice capades is to hockey.
      Zeus
      • 2 Years Ago
      What actually interested me the most about this was the guy saying they switched to a Jerico 4 speed. I've rebuilt these transmissions before and they are insanely simple. They are almost so simple to build it's stupid. Thats really smart on their part. I give them a lot of credit for that. I'm watching this again to catch all the details but man this is no surprise. Even V8 swaps into Miatas are deadly in road racing. The LS has to be one of the best motors if not the best motor ever created. I'm willing to say right now it is the best engine in the world. Personally I would love to build either an Ultima GTR or a Miata with an LS6. As one of my teachers who built Nascar V8s said once "Its all about torque, horsepower is a made up number a calculation based on torque. Torque is what matters."
        Square Wheel
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Zeus
        I applaud them as well. Makes for a relatively simple overall setup, so the team can concentrate more on the chassis and add power when and where they want to. I hope to do an Ultima GTR after I get done with this VIper build.
        jawnath1n
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Zeus
        Couldn't agree more about the praise for the LS series motors. There is a reason why people swap them into everything. They are a nearly perfect combination of power, physical size/weight, and simplicity/reliability. Can't think of another engine that's as well rounded and versitale as the LS series.
          Zeus
          • 2 Years Ago
          @jawnath1n
          Exactly. You can build an LS for anything, top end, bottom end, mid range, drag racing, road racing, autocross etc etc. They are like a Swiss Army pocket knife with pistons. Super cheap too. A friend of mine back in the day wanted to build a turbo rotary engine for 5 grand for his beat up old RX7 and I told him to put an LS in it. He threw his arms up in the air and made a huge stink about how it wasnt "true to the rotary and RX7." I asked him what was more important making actual easy cheap power or fitting in with a crowd and he didn't really have an answer for me. A lot of people hate on these engine swaps because they want to be part of a clique or viewed a certain way in the scene. Personally I'm the kind of person who has never been in a clique and I've always been about results. If it works and gets me what I want I'll do it. I don't care how it gets done.
      mikeymac
      • 2 Years Ago
      the american V8 has ruined drifting. especially in america. In my opinion. use to be about driver skill, now its about power and how much smoke your car makes. obviously still takes skill, and with more power and higher speeds making it easier to loose control, some might say requires more skill. but i disagree. seeing a rx7 with a v8 in it makes me wanna puke.
        Julius
        • 2 Years Ago
        @mikeymac
        I've helped a few friends with LS1 FC/FD projects - and they did it to be different, not to drift.
        snap_understeer_ftw
        • 2 Years Ago
        @mikeymac
        ahhh...the fools who rue progress. keep your snails, unreliability and lightened wallet while those with V8s make better noise and have money left over for Kobe beef steaks and sweet potato fries.
          Zeus
          • 2 Years Ago
          @snap_understeer_ftw
          Is there anything better than a kobe beef burger? I don't think so.
        bobmarley
        • 2 Years Ago
        @mikeymac
        its about power and reliability...personally seeing a V8 in any car that originally had a smaller motor is awesome
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