10 May 2009 -
Catching the drift in China: Souping up cars for fun and racing
Car lovers really dig the summer movie hit "Transformers II" and love to watch the Hong Kong movie "Initial D" (2005) about an accidental genius in street racing and drift racing.
Some of them transform their own cars, souping them up, refitting and modifying them for drift racing, loud mufflers and all. It can be an expensive hobby. And learning to "drift" isn't easy.
Drifting is a driving technique and motor sport in which the driver deliberately oversteers, causing lack of traction in the rear wheels in a turn while maintaining high speed and control.
The rear wheels point in the opposite direction of the turn.
There are a lot of fans, and the Asia-Pacific Drift Open will be held in Shanghai for several days late in July.
The dates and venue are to bedecided, though the Shanghai Tianma Circuit in Songjiang District is a possibility.
That's where most of the city's drift racers drive.
They call their hobby "playing" cars.
Shi Xiang, 30, is an experienced D1 (D for drift) racer and is widely known as Max. Shi, who is Shanghainese, has been refitting and driving for more than 10 years.
He has raced since 2006 and took part in a major Japanese-sponsored race in Shanghai last June.
He has a lot of friends who "play cars," some modifying autos for professional racing, some just for fun driving.
There are about 20 in his circle, ranging in age from their 20s to 40s.
A word of caution: modified cars need to be properly registered after modification.
Cops like to stop fancy cars and check whether the photo registration matches the car.
Feng Hu'ou, also 30, is another car guy who is in the construction materials business and can afford the hobby.
He bought his first car 10 years ago and has owned more than 10 autos since, including BMW, Benz and Lexus.
His first car was an imported Honda with a right-hand drive. Before that he rode motorcycles.
"I love cars and driving, and change cars every year," says Feng who is an avid online car chatter.
One of his treasures is a BMW MPower car of 420HSP that he bought factory-converted.
"It might be one of only two or three on the Chinese mainland and everything about it is perfect," says Feng. It ought to be. Feng paid more than 1.4 million yuan (US$204,830).
Before this one, Feng had a Benz S500 that he refitted in 2006 for 60,000-70,000 yuan.
He improved the drivechain and changed the pipes, tires, rims and grille.
"Refitting is very complicated and it's necessary to consult a professional first," says Shi, who helps a lot of his friends modify their cars.
"Before you decide to convert your car, talk with an auto engineer in the car dealership or factory. The most important thing is safety and stability."
Many car guys start with Japanese cars and move up to European models. "We regard it as an upgrade of both technology and financial ability," says Feng.
Refitting a Japanese car costs around 30,000 yuan, but it takes more than 120,000 yuan to convert a European auto, say Feng and Shi.
According to Shi, changing the pipes of a BMW 530 usually costs more than 100,000 yuan.
A titanium-magnesium alloy axle costs as much as 30,000 yuan.
To reduce expenses, Shi and his friends do Internet research and ask friends to buy for them overseas.
"It's much more expensive to buy some parts for refitting on the mainland," says Shi, but car lovers who are not experts usually pay more.
Almost all these car fanciers have been stopped by police.
"The noise from the converted vent-pipes is very cool but draws police attention," says Feng.
All auto modifications, from engine to bumper to body color, must be registered, otherwise they are considered illegal.
"We will order them to convert back to the original when we find illegally converted cars," says Sun Guofu, a Shanghai traffic police officer.
Some drivers, however, have been able to register their modified cars.
Source: Shanghai Daily