Building a Fiat Drift Car

Part 1

Frankly, I used to find drifting a waste. A wantingly destructive motorsport, marginally edged out in its idiocy by NASCAR and county fairgrounds figure-eight races. Purposefully ruining tires and shredding bumpers on cars with build costs eclipsing the price of my house to no real productive conclusion seemed asinine. It’s incredibly difficult for me to admit it most times (ask any of my co-hosts), but I have to swallow my pride as bitter the medicine may be: drifting is epic. The combination of Gridlife and riding in a drift-spec GTO at an O Drift Collective event at Raceway Park of the Midlands lead to my 180. It is the embodyment of fun that is missing from most motorsports. While I know Formula D is not without its drama, local events exist purely for the enjoyment of drivers, photographers, and spectators alike. It lacks pedigree, it lacks ego, it lacks entitlement. And I have to do it. Now.

Those of you that listen to our show are aware that I am in the process of building an 1986 RX7 that’s LT1/T56 swapped, but unfortunately, it’s not close enough to completion to run this year. While the merging of the two wiring harnesses is quite well documented, the original RX7 wiring harness appears to have been previously owned by by Edward Scissorhands. As a result, much wire tracing needs to occur along with sorting out a tune. It will continue to sit in the corner of the garage until winter comes when I’ll have time to work on it again.

If I want to try drifting this year, that leaves the previously mentioned FIAT... and I do plan to drift this year, because I am impatient and a lunatic. I Googled “drift FIAT” and it turns out (surprise) it’s not a thing. I think I’m the only person in the history of the motorsport that thought a 124 COULD potentially drift and the only one stupid enough to try it. I’m not enough of a madman to think it’s going to be a good drift car, but it’s remarkably similar to an MX-5 and technically makes a bit more power, so I don’t really see what I have to lose.

The Preparation

First thing’s first: the car currently has an open differential. The limited slip for a 124 is an incredibly rare part that costs about $1500. The whole car cost less than a month's rent on a studio apartment in Manhattan and I’m too cheap to feel inclined to drop that much on a diff.   Luckily, there happened to a welded diff sitting on the shelf from a long-disassembled 124 that ran track days eons ago.  Out came the driveshaft and the axles and a quick swap of the diffs. Really quite simple.

The car currently has a fiberglass lip under the grille that houses the front brake duct intakes. Other than providing some cool air to the front brakes, it performs no other function than to make the car look a bit more aggressive. Obviously, drifting involves many agricultural excursions and fiberglass doesn’t tend to do well with direct impacts; it had to go.

With the front lip gone, I originally planned to remove the brake ducts. But again this is drifting: the Unofficial Motorsport of Zipties, so strapping them to the sway bar seemed more appropriate.

I typically do not run a rear sway bar on this car. In tight bends it picked up the inside rear tire and spun all the power away. The car only has 140 hp on a good day and I can use all the help I can get. Losing a bit of grip in the rear by lifting a tire could be just what I needed, so the bar was reinstalled.

With the car put back together, I bolted up a set of 5 year old Toyo RA1s to the rear and took the car for a test run to see if it would even spin the rears or if that old, rusty diff was as destroyed as Bobby Brown’s septum. Last year when I ran this exact same setup I was snaking all over over the tight go-kart track we use for time trials; I just couldn’t get the power down and the rear was wanting to step-out more times than Tiger Woods.  Thankfully, not much had changed and I was able to get the car to slide a bit in second gear… this might just work.