The Japanese motherland has thrown some amazing scenes in front of my camera, but none of the images have evoked a reaction quite like the missiles that slip, slide and scrape around Ebisu Circuit. The drifting world has become strangely accustomed to the term ‘missile’, and this trending style has certainly had its time where battle scars were cool, rather than being a shameful reminder of running out of talent. Coming face to face with some of the most infamous missiles Japan has offered up, has taught me that there is always more than meets the eye with these mythical drift weapons.
There is a huge misconception surrounding missiles, many view them as scrap metal with a turbo up front on a one-way trip to total annihilation. This misconception couldn’t be further from the truth, the term ‘missile’ has been pegged by the western world as a scrapyard on wheels but looks can be deceiving, and the stories behind some of these machines are as captivating as the visual presence of the cars themselves.
Defining what constitutes a true missile is a grey area. For many it’s a serious lack of panels, everything being held on with zip ties, and being unable to work out what the car actually started life out as. The most important point is that true missiles don’t look the way they do because of intentional mistreatment and destructive driving. They are the end result of pushing boundaries, finding the edge, and rubbing your friend’s door paint off in the constant pursuit of the perfect tandem.
These cars are the tool that you are prepared to bend while seeking drifting nirvana, you basically put your missile through everything that you aren’t prepared to put your regular drift car through.
So while photos tell one story about these mesmerizing creations, it is easy to see how they have been pegged as wrecks but ‘ugly’ is often only skin deep. One of the most famous missiles of all time first arrived at Ebisu as a Tokyo Auto Salon showcar, ‘I backed it into the wall on Minami to avoid the car in front who spun and the rest is history’. The Garage GTM Laurel wasn’t just a pretty Laurel either, underneath the hood is a Tomei Genesis RB28 with no expense spared all the way through to the drivetrain.
Sitting a couple of pit bays over was Daigo’s JZX90 that runs big power up front and a very similar suspension and arm setup to his D1GP Chaser. There is no point in practicing in a car that is totally different to the one you pedal when being judged, yet without knowing you would walk right past thinking it was just a beat-up old standard Toyota with a rusty ass.
So while I am a fan of these creations, there is a large portion of the drifting community that considers missiles a total cancer, and there truly isn’t any middle ground on this issue. You either love them, or totally hate them.
With such visually polarizing aesthetics, for me it is hard to imagine a backdrop other than Ebisu, so when the two are combined, visually it makes for superb photo opportunities. The seasonal matsuri events held at Ebisu are an overwhelming experience that consists of 72 hours of non-stop drifting. When the sun goes down, the crazy ramps up, and the limits get pushed.
Take one pinch of south course, add two D1GP drivers, shake well and you have butt-clenchingly tight tandem battles with both cars learning on each other, sparks dancing off the rear quarters all the way down the pit wall. It is scenes like this that have become famous all over the internet, and whether many want to admit it or not the reason Daigo Saito can jump like he does on minami is down to the countless runs he has executed in his missile.
While the past decade of drift matsuri at Ebisu has been a fairytale for me behind the lens, these famous cars that I have slowly watched change form are now merely memories captured via still image. As levels of safety have improved, so too have the requirements for cars that are out on track, which means these cars have been banished to the memory bank.
Throughout the sixteen years of the Garage GTM Laurel, the car has been driven to the ragged edge, but there was always an element of mechanical sympathy present. For many drivers these practice cars, or missiles are the single reason they were able to find their limits, and the stories they have provided along the way will ensure they are talked about for decades to come. In a world full of trends, Ebisu’s drift missiles shall forever remain a classic.