While many might pigeonhole the ideal drift car into a few specific chassis codes, the reality is that basically any car that is rear-wheel drive can be engineered or pedalled to serve as an oversteer machine. Here in New Zealand, the iconic Toyota KE chassis of the ’70s is certainly not one of those original contenders, but it's now becoming a popular choice for those wanting to stand out amongst the drifting squares.
For Liam Sykes, the choice was a simple one. He is a fan of KE35s, or SR coupes if you will, dating back to his teen years. “The very first car I ever saw and really wanted was my older brother's best mate's KE35, when I was about 15. I always told him I'd buy it off him, and did so at 16 — I have loved them ever since,” Sykes says.
Four KEs later, the fate of this particular shell was sealed after a taste of the track. “I've just always loved drifting, but this SR wasn't meant to be for drifting, it was going to be a Sunday driver. The plans changed after our first track day.”
Liam enlisted fellow KE specialist, and owner of Kune RE, Sean Jones (NZ Performance Car Issue No. 227) to carry out the necessary fabrication. You see, a KE35 came from factory with leaf springs and a live axle, while up front it sported a rudimentary version of the McPherson strut. This chassis is now hiding a few secret weapons under its skin in the form of Nissan Laurel front suspension and steering with modified knuckles up front.
And out the back, a full Nissan S14 IRS set-up. Surprisingly, the width was nearly spot on. Rocking a set of 15x9-inch Rota RBXs, only a small flare was required. Running Nissan components front and rear has also meant a set of off-the-shelf BC Gold coilovers could be a direct bolt-in. As you can see, the early-morning session at the ZCD Lockotoberfest was a wet one, with grass covering nearly everything after a spin onto the infield.
Much like the suspension, the original power plant has long since disappeared. The under-bonnet artwork would lead you to believe its now turbo'd, but this angry little guy was actually the source of much frustration; well not the artwork, the engine it represented — a Mazda 13B turbo. But after blowing up three engines in as many track days, the fun was beginning to fade for Sykes.
The solution? To re-power with a Toyota Altezza Beams engine. The 3SGE and J160 six-speed found their way into the KE at the hands of Jones in the weeks leading up to Locktoberfest, with the event serving as a shakedown.
So far the only modifications are a set of HKS four-into-one stainless headers and a Link G4 Storm ECU. Making 189hp at the rear wheels, it's proving to be a super-reliable package from the outset.
Bride seats, six-point cage, and an alloy dash; things are kept to the bare necessity inside. Note the stock Laurel steering wheel, which is attached to a Laurel steering column. Hey, it works and Sykes loves it.
The tablet, which connects to the Link G4, displays vitals from the engine. Sykes tells us the 3SGE is proving to be a solid and reliable choice thus far.
While some might question the KE's ‘rough around the edges’ aesthetics, this car has been built for purpose, one it serves well as a grass-roots drifter. Effectively the world's most popular drift chassis of choice wrapped in a 1970s Toyota shell, and with the reliability of an Altezza. It's about as Kiwi as a drift car could be, and for that, we love it.