Living

14 Cheap Beginner Drift Cars That Don't Break the Bank 

Richard Rowe
Updated February 25, 2020 251.6k views 14 items

Building a good, cheap drift car these days isn't quite as easy as it used to be. An ideal drift car is typically four things: Old, cheap, tunable for immense power, and (most critically) rear-wheel drive. That wasn't such a great feat in the 1990s, when there were many 10- to 15-year old cars capable of footing the bill. But here in the 2010s, things are a bit different.

Now, buying a 10- to 15-year-old car now means buying a car from the 1990s or early 2000s--probably the single worst period for manual transmissions and rear-wheel-drive in American history. That makes pickings for decent drift cars pretty slim in 21st Century America. Basically, unless you want a truck, Mustang or Camaro, you're going to have to spend more for a newer car, sacrifice performance with an older one from the '90s, or get a really old car and put a ton of work into modifications. There are also a few vintage Japanese cars that are great for drifting.

Obviously, none of this makes building an awesome drift car impossible. It just means that, unless you want a Camaro or Mustang, you'll have to be a little more creative and flexible in your approach. Think outside the box, and consider options that might seem a little weird or crazy at first. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and hardship the father of creativity.

Sure, you're going to have to be very creative to build a good cheap car for drifting these days. But that just means you'll end up with something awesomely unique, and completely your own creation. Not exactly a bad thing, most would say. After all, the best cars for drifting usually have tons of quirks and eccentricities.

back to page 1
1978-1994 Ford Fox Bodies
1978-1994 Ford Fox Bodie... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 14 Cheap Beginner Drift Cars That Don't Break the Bank
Photo: char1iej/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Fox-body Mustangs once were and still to some extent are the default choice for cheap American drift machines. Their weight and proportions aren't unlike Nissan's Silvia - "the Mustang of Japan." The big news with the Fox is of course its 5.0 engine, relatively light weight and fairly short wheelbase - all of which make it one of the best cars for drifting.

The Fox-body's greatest strength is that it has been around very long, is a very well-known quantity, and parts are fairly cheap. But good luck finding a cheap 5.0 that hasn't been completely thrashed. You'll probably get stuck upgrading a 2.3-liter or V-6 to a V-8, which will definitely add some cost to the equation. 
SN-95 Mustangs
SN-95 Mustangs is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list 14 Cheap Beginner Drift Cars That Don't Break the Bank
Photo: Sicnag/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

In theory, the SN-95 is just an updated Fox platform. But in practice, almost nobody will chose an SN-95 over a Fox. They're bigger, heavier, more expensive, more complicated, and ugly--especially pre-facelift models.

But, if you can get past the looks (or even like them) and don't mind putting a little more money and work into it, an SN-95 will drift and race with the best of the Fox bodies. You'll also find mustangs on this list of good project cars.

E36 and E46 BMWs
E36 and E46 BMWs is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 14 Cheap Beginner Drift Cars That Don't Break the Bank
Photo: Slambox RoleModel#1/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

The 1990 to 1999 E36 and 1998 to 2005 E46 chassis BMW 3-Series epitomize everything that has ever been great about BMW. These are the cars that really made the brand's name in America, and for very good reason. They're almost perfect. And believe it or not, pretty cheap to buy these days, if you're willing to get something other than an M3. That's the good news.

Bad news: They're cheap because BMWs, like all German cars, quickly become expensive nightmares when things start breaking and drivetrains start failing. Which they will. Constantly. But the silver lining here is that these days, you can buy a complete swap kit to put a full Ford Mustang drivetrain into an E36 or E46. It's not super cheap, but you'll end up with what might be the most perfect car ever: American power and reliability, European manners and handling. Truly an iron fist in a velvet glove -for the discerning hooligan. 
Old Aston Martins
Old Aston Martins is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 14 Cheap Beginner Drift Cars That Don't Break the Bank
Photo:  Silverstone Auctions

Wait. What? Isn't this supposed to be a list of cheap drift cars? What's an Aston Martin doing here? Fear not, we haven't lost our marbles. Believe it or not, old Astons from the '90s and early 2000s are pretty cheap these days. mostly because they were complete crap, and suffer from the same nightmare maintenance costs as any European car. However, if you can find a non-running example (which shouldn't be hard), you can pick up an awesome old Aston Martin pretty cheap. And if you're building an all-out drift car, just rip the drivetrain out, and drop in a small-block Chevy or Ford. There you go, job done. Enjoy your drifting, Mr. Bond. 

(PS: Anybody else notice how much a 1997 Aston V8 Vantage looks like a new Mustang? Is it just me? Maybe that has something to do with the fact that the original 1977 V8 Vantage was a note-for-note rip-off of the original Mustang fastback. And that Ford bought Aston Martin in 1994, afterward assigning the same design team to work on its "all-new" 2005 Mustang. So basically, the new Mustang is a rip-off of a rip-off based on itself. There's a weird case of corporate inbreeding for you.)