There’s something incredibly fun in throwing a car sideways around a racetrack with the front in oversteer and wheels pointing in opposite directions on the turn. This is drifting. Drivers use the throttle, brakes, clutch and just the right amount of steering input to get the rear wheels to lose traction and thrust the car into hairpin turns or doughnuts at speed. Drifting might not be the fastest way around a racetrack, but a drift car in the right hands comes close. Here you’re looking at rear-wheel-drive manuals with limited-slip differentials and coilovers. Or the likes of Nissan Skylines and Silvias, Toyota Supras, and Mazda RX7s and what started the whole drifting craze, back in 1990s Japan.
Fitted the right way, these can be extremely expensive pieces of kit. But if you don’t have thousands to spend, and are still sold on the thrills of drifting, go for the next best thing – a fully-kitted RC drift car. These are some of the newer additions to the RC world, but like real drifting, picking up die-hard fans by the minute.
Types of RC Drift Cars
RC makers cater to different crowds, with Ready-to-Run (RTR), drift car kits and chassis-only cars. All will get you drifting, though some will need more work in assembly but give you more options to the maker’s parts bin.
RTR Drift Cars
These are the least expensive way to get into drifting. They have all the essential ingredients to hone your drifting skills like getting the right lines, angles and speed when throwing the car sideways into a turn. Of course, there’s a learning curve, and you’ll have a few spin-outs and crashes along the way. But this is all part of the fun. Ready-to-run RC drift cars have everything you need to get going. This includes the pre-assemble car, the controller and charger. All you need to do is put in the batteries.
Choose a car with the right setup and this might be all that you need. RTR cars are geared more towards beginners, but step up to RTR drift cars costing a bit more and you get better components and cars that are upgradeable once you’ve reached their limits. Either way, there’s more than enough speed and both kids and adults will love them.
RC drift kits have all the needed parts, you just need to put everything together. There are pros and cons to this. The cons are that there’s a lot going on for relative newbies eager to get racing, but the pros are that you get a basic idea of what goes into a car, and can replace parts that are damaged or you want to be upgraded without putting too much thought. It gives kids (and adults) a basic understanding of mechanics and skills that they can use later on and in other ways.
If your RTR RC drift car gets damaged beyond repair, odds are you’ll need to throw it out and get a new one. This isn’t the case with drift kits, as parts are readily available. The skills you gain rebuilding the car is one of the advantages over RTR drift cars. Another, and more obvious one, is the choice of parts once you’re set on upgrading. This can be a sturdier chassis, more powerful motors, longer-running batteries, or tougher suspension. The downsides are the costs, which is why drift kits are for serious drifting enthusiasts. Most likely you’ll also need to splash out some cash for the electronics.
Chassis are either rear or 4WD bases that let you put in any parts that fit. This needs more skill than kits, as you’ll already know what each component does and how it impacts end results. The obvious thing to pay attention to here is scale, as this sets the groundwork for your build.
RC Drift Car Parts
The chassis in an RC drift car is often of the tub-style with a boxed section running the length of the car and holding the drivetrain or drive belt. Better built chassis will have good stiffness and seamlessly fit in the body shell. Cars higher up the range can have carbon fibre or aluminium flat pan type chassis with better overall rigidity.
Brushless motors have primarily replaced older brushed electric motors. The latter can still be found in cheaper RTR drift cars. Brushless motors are more efficient, offer a better run of speed and also last longer. The higher cost more than makes up for the advantages brushless motors provide.
Drivetrain and Suspension
If you want to replicate real drift cars, then get a car with rear-wheel drive. Beginner options are more about control and usually AWD and fitted with a solid drive shaft connecting the differentials at the front and rear. Some cars also have a centre diff to distribute power between axles. Belts-driven AWD cars are rarer due to inferior performance.
Rear-drive cars have gears to get power from the motors to the rear axle. These provide more fun, but need the skill to get the car into a controlled drift. Ultimately, they’re the closest to the real thing.
Suspension parts also resemble real drift cars. Even basic RTR cars have adjustable suspension both at the front and rear to get the car into the angles needed for negotiating turns. Shocks can also be adjusted for rebound, height and camber to give you the control over a specific racetrack. Fitted to the drivetrain and suspension are rubber or moulded plastic wheels and tyres.
Body shells are either polycarbonate, Lexan or in higher-end models injection-moulded ABS plastic. All are tough, but fit the chassis in different ways. Moulded ABS has more flexibility and therefore detail to the finish, so looks more realistic.
Batteries and Controllers
Batteries are either newer Lithium polymer (Li-Po) or older Nickel Metal Hybride (NiMH). Li-Po batteries are smaller for the same output, and lighter, have more consistent power delivery and can run cars at constant speeds that much longer.
Radio controllers are packaged in RTR cars, but more often you can buy these separately. They can have separate controls for the throttle and the steering, with pistol-grip controllers by far the most common type.