Drifting is the motorsports equivalent of “falling with style” – it looks totally rad and it makes you seem like a master level driver, but at the end of the day, you’re still intentionally throwing a car into a corner and hoping you can control the ride.
In Brazil, this willful vehicular destruction is only made more manic by the (rather oppressive) taxes. That $300 bumper you just ruined? Imagine if it cost $750. That’s what the Brazilian drifters put on the line when they race.
Couple the cost problem with strict government regulations against importing cars and a total lack of rear wheel drive performance cars and it’s easy to understand why creating a drift community in Brazil could be a little difficult.
But fortunately, Brazilians are amazing problem solvers.
While the six drift cars I photographed represented a significant proportion of the (slowly growing) drift population in Brazil, the existence of these cars is a testament to the power of Brazilian ingenuity. Of the six cars, the most notable were two Nissan S15s, a Chevy Opala and two Chevy Chevettes.
The Asian Invasion
Remember how I mentioned that the government makes importing a car very difficult? Well S15 was never sold in Brazil, but these cars somehow made it here. Their journey from Japan to Brazil demonstrates how the rich solve problems vs the middle class.
One of the S15s, exists through a law that allows race cars to be imported for 90 day stretches. Considering the twin turbo V6 motor, carbon fiber clad cockpit, and red body wrap complete with a Samurai on the door panels, this vehicle definitely classifies as a race car.
The owner of this S15 was a drifter in Japan who brought his car over when he moved here for work. In order to reset the counter on the import license, he has to flatbed the car to the Brazilian border every three months. Furthermore, the strict police stance against modifications means that driving it on the street runs the risk of getting the car impounded.
While the first S15 navigates Brazilian bureaucracy to retain a car entirely legally, the other S15 skirts that line. The car itself was legally imported via a series of convoluted international loopholes, but the owner claims he daily drives it.
Considering that a past feature (Vinicius’s Civic) was impounded for a minor 1 inch suspension drop, how is this S15 daily driven? With money of course. The owner of the second S15 is wealthy. As a result, he is afforded a level of protection from laws that apply to most other people.
While the two S15s displayed a good sense of bureaucratic problem solving, the Opala and the two Chevettes are sterling examples of Brazilian mechanical ingenuity.
In Brazil, both the Opala and the Chevette were light (well maybe not the Opala), cheap rear wheel drive cars. In addition, their transmission and drivetrain handles abuse well, so while they may not have outright horrible cars, they are fantastic foundations for a drift car. The only problem is that the motor, The Chevy Iron Duke, doesn’t handle power upgrades cheaply.
Remember how two articles ago, I mentioned that Volkswagen would appear again in an unexpected way? Well here it is.
The guys at Interstudal (a Brazilian Drift Club), discovered that the Volkswagen 1.6L straight four mates relatively easily to the Chevette transmission. Since this VW motor handles power upgrades well, and a built motor comes cheaply, pairing it with a Chevette is a fast track to a drift car – just provide some sacrificial tires and you’re good to go.
It’s such an easy and effective way to build a drift car that one of the founders of Interstudal was able to build one while on a student’s budget.
While it may seem that the second wealthier S15 owner sort of “cheated” his way into daily driving a S15, the truth of the matter is that this is pretty representative of Brazilian problem solving.
The reality in Brazil is that the people and the government have existed in opposition for a long time. The government creates new laws to regulate the people, and the people find ways around them (leading to more regulation).
As a result, if you have the means to circumvent the government you do it. That is just how things are done in Brazil. And I believe it is at the root of the every man for themself (emphasis on the forced singular) mentality that allows Brazil to both be as dynamic and crazy as it is.
Since this site is dedicated to understanding national culture through cars, I couldn’t pass on this fantastic demonstration of Brazilian culture through cars. Fortunately it isn’t all negative. In a future article there will be a fantastic demonstration of how this mentality creates amazing experiences.