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.
Words and pictures: Peter Orosz
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.
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.
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.
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.
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—
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.
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.
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.
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.
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