Brian Waggoner's C6 Corvette.
In a sea of Asian and Euro imports, a few screaming eagles have managed to break into the drift scene and establish themselves as American-made, driftable rides. Mustangs have long been a go-to pick for drivers looking to keep it domestic, but the Chevy Corvette has really started to equal or exceed their numbers at drift events of late.
Drift Indy is fortunate enough to have some pretty damn cool, and varied, examples of ‘Vettes at most of our events, ranging from JDM-styled to near-purist levels of simple builds. But how and why did the Corvette make its way out of a New Balance-rocking, grass-mowing, 1-of-4,738 ZR-1s in Thin Blue Line Indigo-claiming retiree’s garage and onto the drift track?
Turns out it’s not all that far-fetched an idea! I sat down with Dayton Boy Brian Waggoner, Drift Indy co-founder TR Scrivner and Team Shade shredder David Whelen to talk through their builds and what made them pick a corvette in the first place.
Bwagg: They look cool.
David: Can look cool.
Bwagg: You’re right. They can look cool. Some people mess it up.
David: I chose a ‘Vette because they’ve got the right engine, you really don't gotta do much to them, and the parts availability is everything you'd need. Except tie rods. Yeah, the rear tie rods.
TR: Gotta get the FDF ones.
David: Everything for the engine is at the nearest AutoZone.
Bwagg: It’s gotta be one of the most produced engines.
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They make a good point. I’d much rather scavenge local parts for an LS than some Japanese motor that hasn’t been in production in 30 years (as cool as 30-year-old Japanese engines can be).
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Here's the engine bay of TR's C5, for reference.
TR: It is crammed in there, though. I mean, compared to other cars. It’s not like an S-Chassis. Everything’s different with double-A arms.
It’s just different than any other car that a lot of drift people have worked on, as far as the suspension’s set up.
Bwagg: But the nice thing is, out of the box, everything's pretty dialed. You're taking a sports car and doing racing with it. Otherwise you're taking old cars and you're replacing every part on it to make it drift where you don't have to do that with these.
I mean, you can, cause they make it to where you can replace everything, but I don't know how complex you guys' suspension is, but mine is just a bolt on knuckle and coilovers. And for the control arms, I don't have anything.
David: I have coilovers and lower control arms.
Bwagg: And knuckles?
David: I just have an adapter.
Bwagg: So mine's just a knuckle that changes the tie rod pickup.
TR: So, I’ve driven both and I think the best feeling steering on a Corvette is cut knuckle. Straight up.
When I sold my mustang to get back into a ‘Vette, I drove Jeremy [Jordan]’s car… I drove one lap of that car and was like “This is 1,000% better.” Just grip-wise, you can put the car exactly where you want it. Whereas, the Mustang would just wash out. I couldn’t put enough grip in it no matter what.
He [Jeremy] just had the Vette Nuts kit; it had all the angle you needed and the steering felt great.
I’ve got FDF Mild Mantis and lower control arms only, so I could add more camber, but I’d rather just not have adjustable shit because it’s just more stuff to go wrong. And I have upper control arms in the rear to dial out my camber, but that’s just more stuff to come loose, so.
Don’t do that. Don’t buy things.
Bwagg: It’s really easy to keep it simple in those cars.
I mean, I put that car together over a weekend and the first drift event I drove it in it was instantly the best drift car I’ve ever had. I mean, it’s still true to this day. I drive it and I’m like “Oh my gosh, this is mindless.”
While this isn't the volume David got second place in, he and Roy Outcalt did put on a hell of a show at Drift Indy Street League Volume 8.
David: The second time I ever drove my ‘Vette on modded knuckles, I got second in Street League.
It’s simple. It just drives easy. The grip that the car naturally has is, I mean, it’s amazing.
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I suppose a pretty glaringly obvious piece of the puzzle of why Corvettes haven’t been hugely popular drift car options until recently is their price. Bwagg was getting at that point a little. Corvettes have a higher barrier to entry than other chassis, at least traditionally, but a quick Facebook marketplace search showed plenty of clean examples of C5s under $20k, and some as low as $12 or $13k.
Compare that to 240s of a similar quality and you’re halving your horsepower to maybe save a couple grand. By the time you’ve gotten that s-chassis set up how you want it, you could have a more modern car with readily-available parts and as much power as you could want, at least to start out.
So, now that these three have convinced you to abandon your dreams of finding a mint s-chassis or RX7 or something and get a Chevy instead, where should you start? What should you look for in a used Corvette? How soon after buying one do you have to start tucking your polo into your jorts?
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Bwagg: I mean, my opinion is super biased on that because I think the Grand Sport's the best one to buy. Simply because it comes ready to go. It's a race car. I mean, it's got the LS3, it has widebody, has big brakes, has the good transmission, has a good rear end, has a dry sump. Which, I don't mess with any crazy oil like in other race cars, but it's nice that from the factory it has a dry sump.
It's got the power you need. I mean, not necessarily the power you need, but that car could have 350 horsepower and feel awesome. Since mine was so low miles, I didn't do any of the maintenance stuff. So my recommendation is just what I did. Coilovers, angle kit, handbrake. I didn't have to do anything to the rear end. I unplugged a couple of fuses and it works all the time.
Simple, sick and clean. What else do you need?
TR: The only suggestion I have, well there’s a few, but it’s just to buy the best Corvette that you can. That goes without saying for a lot of this, but a lot of the Japanese cars will hold up better with miles, and I mean, 100,000 miles is low mileage for me, but owning that and then having owned one with double the miles? Those cars are worlds different as far as how they feel, especially on a C5 with creaks and rattles and all that stuff.
But yeah, spend the money and also probably get a C6. The interior’s a little bit nicer and they did some stuff with heat shielding. These cars tend to bring some heat into the cabin.
Bwagg: Yeah, they’re mostly the same, aside from aesthetics and as you get newer the engine changes.
TR: Yeah, and the price is so close between C5s and non-LS3 C6s that you might as well. I mean, if you like pop-ups [then get a C5], but I think it’s worth a little bit extra and those cars will be newer and, generally, will have less miles and not have gone through as many owners.
David: If I were to do it all again, I would buy the same car I have. The car just works. The engine was already built, and if I were to rebuild the car, I’d recommend somebody just do what Brian said: Coilovers, handbrake, good seats and then maybe knuckle adapters, or , you know, SLR makes a good knuckle adapter kit that works great. Or you can mod your knuckles.
For a recommendation to get into a Corvette, I would choose an ‘01 or newer C5 because they’ve got the bigger torque tube that’s a lot stronger, you don’t have the stupid ABS control modules…
TR: Wait, they have a bigger torque tube?
David: Yeah, they go from 10mm to 12mm.
TR: I’ve got junk.
Is it hard to find aero and stuff for these cars?
Bwagg: Yes. My car is completely stock. That’s the way it came.
David: My car has a $100 front lip on it and $200 overfenders that I got off Marketplace.
TR: I have a lot of Ebay parts on my car. Aero from a Corolla, S550 Mustang, Honda Accord, you’ve really just gotta get creative. They’re starting to make more for the car, but they used to have front lips that would basically block the V-mount. I about grenaded my motor on the way to NSB two years ago because the front lip just blocked all heat and because I decided to give it a pull on the way and it decided to do some Chernobyl shit and, well, the temps were very hot, and then I saw zero oil pressure, and I added 8 more quarts after and it was fine…
TR's C5 has some pretty sick Batmobile vibes.
As far as aero, there’s a few companies out there that have said they were going to make stuff for the past two years, but they haven’t made anything for C5s yet. People would buy them, so I don’t know what the holdup is, but I’m sure there’s a reason for that. You know, there’s going to be like two cool kits that come out, and then everybody’s gonna buy them and have the same shit anyways, so I’m glad I have a stock body. I think it looks fine.
David: Yeah, so if Parts Shop MAX or 2F Performance wants to give David Whelen a kit like that, feel free to hit me up! I’d be happy to run it.
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If it wasn’t obvious already, these dudes love their ‘Vettes. I only included what amounts to a few minutes of a much longer conversation between the four of us, but if you’ve got any more questions I’m sure they’d be happy to answer them. Just shoot them a message or talk to them at an event.
They're just really good. That's all.
To sum it all up, Corvettes make for pretty damn good drift cars. They’re set up decently right out of the box, and with a few mods they can become crazy good, easy to slide rides. Are they perfect for everybody? No, of course not. One thing the guys touched on is how they require a little extra commitment on the throttle. They’re fast and pretty hooked up, but, in turn, they’re pretty adjustable with the right parts. Throw on a sway bar and they get snappier in transition. Swap in a bigger cam for some added grunt. Cop an angle kit to give yourself some extra steering angle and make even more minute alignment adjustments. Or, just leave it all stock, throw on some coilovers and have a ball.
At the end of the day, Corvettes add some ever-welcome variety to the drift scene. More options, more slides, more good. If you’re in the market for a new drift machine, or looking to get out of one chassis and into another, maybe take a look at some ‘Vettes. They’re getting more affordable, and they can be made to look pretty damn rad.