Hyperleggera

1991 Nissan 200SX

A Day at the Drifts

After four years of tweaking, Nino Karotta takes his Nissan 200SX to a racetrack for its first ever drift session.


The clouds have parted.

Through a rain-splattered window, I watch the drying track to a rocket launcher exhaust’s idle, my face chipmunked by a helmet into a puffy grin. Nino is checking the dials, poised in his brown leather Vespismo helmet with the Tricolore in the shape of a mod target on his temple. After four long years, his Nissan 200SX has finally become a drift car and on a forlorn racetrack by the highway, the green flag is about to drop.

First, though, first we need to get some hose clamps to fix the goddamn intercooler pipes falling off.


I first rode in the 200SX—European for S13 Silvia—in the summer of 2005, folded into what passes for back seats in a 2+2 coupé, immediately scared to death by a harrowing overtaking maneuver where Nino synched the SX’s turbo lag with the oncoming car’s speed, blasting out to overtake not a millisecond later than allowed by the constraints of spacetime.

Nino Karotta fixing the intercooler pipes of his Nissan 200SX

It was lovely. This was the summer when drift cars first appeared in Hungary and the SX was already on its way to becoming one. Its CA18DET engine had received a bigger turbo and cleaner piping, and the front end had been hacked away to fit an intercooler from a Skyline. It turned the somewhat nondescript coupé into a menacing Vader of a car, complete with 17″ black rims and an exhaust system that would have served well as a mortar in the Tajik civil war in both diameter and sound.

Chasing a Lamborghini Murciélago in the Nissan 200SX in the summer of 2005

On an August night, we ran with a Murciélago until Nino backed off as he remarked on the front suspension not being ready yet. At 140 miles an hour.

Spectators watch a BMW at the Kakucsring

Back then, drifting in Hungary was two guys in Hachis linking corners on airport tarmac. These days, it’s a family affair.

Drop by a racetrack on a late Saturday morning and you will see rows of home-tuned drift cars along with the inevitable piles of rubber torn to shreds and steel mesh. With wives and kids in tow, guys jack up their cars to fit scavenged rear tires, good for a few minutes of high fun.

They mostly ride in BMW E30’s with an E36 M3 or two thrown in. The coolest mod? The 3.5-liter straight-six S38B36 from an E34 M5 squeezed into the E30’s engine bay with not a milllimeter to spare.

The distance between a project car’s current status and its estimated completion date is usually constant and this was doubly true for the SX. Almost done by the fall of 2005, funds were diverted to turn a decrepit AE86 into a gunmetal gray road racer.

The SX spent most of the next three years tucked away in an underground parking garage as the intercooler piping got reworked, then a new ECU and a wideband oxygen sensor were installed. In spite of the upgrades, the SX became the pariah of Nino’s ragtag fleet of Datsuns, edging dangerously into for sale territory with a rather Ferrariesque 3000 miles a year.


Nino Karotta shopping for hose clamps

The car sits in a dark corner as we descend into the underground parking lot, armed with pastries, strawberries and spare tires, ready to roll. Save for the hose clamps, that is.

The intercooler piping has a weak part distant to where it exits the turbo: a silicone connecting bit holds onto a mere inch of pipe and as the turbo spins up, the extra boost lets the distant pipe fly. A proper fix would be impossible on a Saturday morning.

So we go for a hack: extra hose clamps! The ones for sale at the hardware store are the shoddiest kind, most likely made of recycled Coke cans. Nino dials down the boost for safety and we set off on the 25 mile drive to the village of Kakucs, home of the eponymous Kakucsring, stopping only to get gas and highway passes—

—and to log into the ECU with an old laptop to fix a high idle rev.

The track is already bristling with action as we arrive. Natalie and I climb the bleachers to watch the BMW’s do their thing while Nino gets ready to change into track tires and fit the extra hose clamps to the piping.

BMW’s perform tsuiso at the Kakucsring

Standing right by the track, we watch motor racing as it was meant to be. Pulverized bits of rear tires fill the air and coat our corneas. The engines you hear are not idealized representations of corporate budgets limited to 19,000 rpm but proper BMW straight-sixes and high-revving JDM four-pots, and they turn every conversation into frenzied shouting with Mediterranean amounts of gesturing. We nod in appreciation as two Bimmers perform a vibrant tsuiso lap.

Intermittent showers threaten to foul the afternoon but then the drift tires go on the SX, Nino fits the newly acquired hose clamps and we’re ready to go. Four years and a containerful of Japanese performance parts hinge on his makeshift installation.

The flag drops. Nino eases the Nissan into the first corner. I keep an eye on the water temperature gauge. It hovers steadily around 180 °F. We exit the corner. The intercooler piping is still in place.

Nino floors it.

I have never ridden in a drift car before and the sensation is wonderful. G-loads slam my helmet into the roof, the SX thunders from corner to corner, the power is huge, the upgraded turbocharger sending the CA18DET’s 180 horsepower into the three hundreds and we soon pick up the pleasant rhythm of controlled oversteer.

“This is fucking brilliant,”

Nino says and he applies opposite lock with a huge grin on his face then lets the car right itself. We blast into the next corner. “I have never imagined it would turn out as well as it did.”

The kids watching this on the bleachers, will they ever settle for a diesel sedan or an MPV when they grow up? E30’s will turn into E46’s, SX’s will turn into Z’s and GT-R’s, and one day, straight-sixes will turn into scramjets but going sideways with whatever you’ve got under the hood screaming away will probably be fun even on the way to Gliese 581 d.

The clouds gather yet again

and hit the track with a summer storm on the edge of hail. We run for Natalie’s Fiat and head for the highway, crashing through streams of deep water, wolfing down a sweet loaf and drinking milk straight from the carton, windshield wipers at full throttle.

My eyes burn with pulverized rubber. I wonder what a well-preserved E30 325i sells for these days.


Published on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

13 comments

By omm:

“At 140 miles an hour.”

Off course it all happens in Germany.

Peter, you doubled the -Nino says…- sentence.
And you finally make a big step to understand another littel piece of the “car-nerd” puzzle.
Driftin’ is pure pleasure.
Great post.

Posted on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

By Hofstatter:

not under a million huf, imho.
off course, you could get one from germany..

Posted on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

fuck yeah, nice to see you again Doc, hope you are comin for the meetin, get some nice wheels too, 6potters for life ;)

Posted on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

By omm:

…and that’s unfortunately the only way to get one in a really goood condition

Posted on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

No way, Miss Sylvia finally came alive? I would have never ever believed that. It was like the Phantom of the Opera: everbody talks about him, but no one actually has ever seen him. But finally… ;) Have fun!

Nino, wish you wide roads, and tight turns…
Doc, shorter post would do, too… It’s to late to think in english… :P

Posted on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

By ZsuKov:

There is no hope: S13 Silvia rules the universe.

Posted on Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

By Nat:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p07GQhBdIPQ A video of a film whose weaknesses are definitely characterisation and dialogue with all two dimensional types telling wooden words in a non-existing plot. However, it’s a movie about DRIFTERS!

Posted on Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

By omm:

OMG!
not this shit.
Nat please

Posted on Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

By Nat:

lol-hihihi

Posted on Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Since I’ve read this on my blog roll
I ran out of bog roll
on the floor I lol-roll.

If it was half as much fun as you described it, I’m proud to have had the honour of chauffeuring you guys around.

Posted on Thursday, June 12th, 2008

By omm:

maybe next week on kakucs, Nino…

Posted on Thursday, June 12th, 2008

By baowah:

“Since I’ve read this on my blog roll
I ran out of bog roll
on the floor I lol-roll.”

you are sick, yeah, I like it :)

Posted on Sunday, June 15th, 2008

By TéZé:

Nat, oMm.

Try this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsXYKtm4hug

Fasten your seat belts, sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Hachiroku rulz.

Doc, nice to see you again.

TéZé

Posted on Monday, July 7th, 2008