Drifting is one of the fastest-growing motorsports. Fun to watch, fun to try, fun to fail at, and fun to succeed. With enough tenacity, any vehicle can drift. But some features make a vehicle better at drifting than others. The four most desirable drift car features are: Rear-wheel drive, manual transmission, lightweight body, and abundant horsepower.
The Mustang is four-for-four on these features, which is why it makes a great drift car.
Ford Mustangs manufactured between 1994 and 2004, referred to as SN95 Mustangs, are especially good for drifting. These years featured some of the lightest Mustangs ever made. SN95 Mustangs are easy to find used and inexpensive to modify, two valuable traits.
Why an SN95 and Not a Fox Body Mustang?
While both SN95 and Fox Body Mustangs are light, it’s getting harder to find used Fox Bodies. As the Mustang’s third-generation transitions into new-classic, the SN95 is becoming the project car generation.
Fox Body Mustangs are still great for drift, but there are some advantages to an SN95 build aside from price. Ford spent over $700 million to update the Fox platform and transition into the Mustang’s fourth-generation. So, what did they get for that money?
A wider track, longer control arms, and four-wheel disc brakes. All pretty nice features. Not only that, but the SN95 is already running 5-lug hubs, which opens up a lot of wheel options.
Building an SN95 Drift Car
While the Mustang meets the minimum requirements for drifting, some modifications are necessary. No car comes from the manufacturer ready to drift, and figuring out what you need is part of the fun.
Most of the modifications for drift can be made gradually. This lets you decide how into drift you’d like to get while building an SN95 that’s fun to drive. Though there’s no “right” place to start, the first thing to consider is your engine.
Before you get started on drift-specific modifications, you should consider your engine. Engine choices could affect the rest of your build.
Basically, you don’t want to find out later you need a full-engine swap. That could make some modifications obsolete and force you to redo work.
How Much Horsepower?
The SN95 generation had more horsepower than the Fox Body generation. Towards the end of the generation, the Mustang hovered around 250 hp. Cobras were substantially better than that.
If you have a New Edge Mustang or a Cobra, your stock engine is probably sufficient. For drifting anyway. If you want more horsepower there are certainly ways to get it.
Modifying Your Engine
There are engine modifications for every Mustang. Which mods will work best for you depends on your engine configuration. V6 Mustangs had an overhead valve engine throughout the SN95 generation. Mustang GTs and Cobras transitioned to overhead cam configurations in 1996.
There are a lot of differences between pushrod and modular engines. Though there are people who will swear by one or the other, they both have strengths and weaknesses. There are modifications for both, though the best mods are different depending on your engine configuration.
If your stock engine isn’t in good condition or doesn’t have enough horsepower, you may want to consider an engine swap. There are a lot of engine options that will improve your horsepower. One of the most popular is a Coyote engine swap.
LS engine swaps make a little more sense for drift applications though. It’s a smaller, lighter engine that leaves plenty of space for other modifications.
While engine swaps get a lot of horsepower at once, they also involve replacing a lot of your stock parts. If you think this is a route you’d like to go, it’s best to explore that early in your build. You don’t want to buy nice parts for an engine you’re going to replace.
Stage 1 Drift Mods: 70% Performance 30% Drift
Even if you aren’t sure about drifting your SN95 yet, there are a few modifications that are just good ideas. These make drifting better, but they also make driving better. These are good first stage mods. Even if you decide to go in a different build direction, these changes will still help you on your way.
Coilovers are easily one of the best suspension upgrades you can make. While they don’t have the flexibility of an air ride suspension system, coilovers are easier to maintain and install.
Coilovers are stiffer than your Mustang’s stock springs. This results in better handling and control. They’re also more durable and able to withstand tough driving.
One major advantage of coilovers is adjustable ride height. It’s recommended that you lower your Mustang some for most performance driving. Cars with a lower center of gravity handle better. You don’t want to do a full stance-style lowering though. Bottoming out on a pebble won’t make for a pleasant driving experience. Just an inch or so will get you as low as you’ll need to go.
If you decide to use coilovers to lower your Mustang, you’ll also need caster camber plates. Lowering a vehicle necessitates recalibrating caster, camber, and toe. For drift especially, you’ll want to think about these angles and what impact they have on your driving.
Unfortunately, there’s no specific set of measurements that are “best.” Individual drivers have different preferences. The good news is that with coilovers and caster camber plates, you’ll have a lot of room to adjust as needed.
Sway bars are sometimes called anti-roll bars, which is a lot more descriptive. These bars link left and right wheels together to reduce body roll. Roll stiffness is important for managing curvy roads and cornering. That makes it very important for drifting.
Sway bars are available for the front or rear wheels. While either front or rear anti-roll bars will help, many people opt for both.
Cold Air Intake
A cold air intake is an engine modification that can go on almost any build. By improving an engine’s ability to pull in air, cold air intakes improve its power. Cold air intakes provide all the benefits of an aftermarket air filter. They also add distance between the airbox and the engine. The result is cooler, denser oxygen being brought into the combustion chamber.
Cold air intakes often need engine tuning. This means that SN95 Mustangs made after 1996 will have the easiest time finding a compatible cold air intake and tuner. That doesn’t mean there aren’t options for earlier Mustangs. It’s just not always the most efficient means of adding horsepower.
For drifting, a cold air intake is especially valuable. Engines can get hot during drifting, which makes them less efficient and increases the odds they’ll be damaged. Any modification that cools the engine even a little is a good one.
Mustang tuners allow you to adjust your car’s factory settings. This makes it easier to customize your ride and override settings that are limiting you. With just a tuner, you’ll be able to improve your horsepower and torque.
Tuners also allow you to make the most out of additional performance upgrades you may want to make. This makes them especially valuable.
Stage 2 Drift Mods: 50/50 Drift and Street
If you’ve already completed all of the stage 1 mods but still want to improve your drift capabilities, then these would be the next stage.
These modifications can improve your drifting ability, but likely won’t have much impact on your day-to-day driving. That means they’re perfect for people who already know they like drifting, but still need to drive their Mustang regularly.
Steering Angle Adjustments
Steering angle is the maximum angle your wheel can turn while still giving you steering control. Increasing your steering angle is an easy way to improve your drifting capability. Most performance builds aren’t overly concerned with steering angle, but it is a key component of drift.
When you see people drifting, you’ll notice they’re able to steer even when their vehicle is going almost totally sideways. If you’ve ever tried to do something similar, you’ve also noticed that your car doesn’t quite function that way.
The steering angle on your stock SN95 Mustang is right around 30 degrees. You can gain some steering angle by removing your steering rack limiter. To get more than that though, you’ll need to change out some more vital suspension components.
Control arms are what connect your wheel hub and vehicle frame. Equipped with bushings and ball joints, they’re designed to deal with flex. Just not as much flex as you’ll want.
Once upon a time it was normal to completely swap out your front control arms. While this did a great job of improving the steering angle, it was an expensive fix.
At the very least, you should replace your stock bushings with sets that are graded for performance. This will help to preserve your suspension. More durable control arm and k-member setups are hard to criticize though. They tend to last longer than stock setups and are more adjustable.
Considering good drift cars are lowered and have stiff suspensions, it’s no wonder bump steer becomes an issue. In a compressed suspension system, there’s less space for your Mustang’s suspension to adjust to road bumps. This means that when it does hit a bump, the steering angle changes.
Since drifting requires control, especially when steering, it’d be better if this didn’t happen. Bumpsteer kits can correct this issue. Essentially, these kits fix your vehicle’s tie-rod angles. With corrected tie-rod angles, the bump steer issue will disappear.
Changing out your Mustang’s seats is a good investment in safety. In time, every drifter ends up colliding with the scenery. This usually results in a little cosmetic damage and an opportunity to bond with the rest of the community.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Race seats are more supportive, which helps to reduce your odds of a back injury in a crash. More importantly, they allow you to attach a safety harness. Safety harnesses offer more protection than traditional seat belts. They’re also designed for the kinds of crashes that can occur in non-traditional driving.
Stage 3 Drift Mods: 100% Drift Builds
If you’ve completed all the stage 1 and stage 2 mods, it’s likely you’ve made up your mind about drifting. If you absolutely love it, it might be worth looking at some of the most drift-specific modifications. Just remember, as cars become more drift-focused, they can lose their ability to be dailies or street drivers.
Improving your engine’s power is a delight, and increasing your steering angle won’t negatively impact your daily driving. Roll bars and hydraulic handbrakes likely don’t fit into your daily commute. And even if they do, there are going to be some questions when you get to the office.
Unfortunately for serious drifters, an open differential just won’t cut it. Depending on how you upgrade this, you could negatively impact your daily driving. With an open differential, your wheels adjust individually as needed. In loose gravel, one wheel can spin while the other continues to grab onto solid ground.
In a limited-slip differential, more power will be sent to the wheel that’s on solid ground. This means that even when you lose traction with a wheel, your vehicle can still advance forward.
Welded differentials lock your wheels together. Since cornering relies on one wheel spinning at a faster speed, the result is the inner wheel losing traction. This makes oversteer, and drifting, easier.
Welded differentials also make daily driving challenging and unpleasant. If done incorrectly, they can also be dangerous. Differentials weren’t designed to be welded. If the weld doesn’t hold, you could end up with a shrapnel bomb under your car.
For the SN95 generation, knowing what type of differential you have is pretty easy. If you have a V6, you have an open differential. If you have a V8, you have a limited-slip.
There are several types of limited-slip differentials. For performance driving, a Torsen limited-slip would be a good upgrade. These differentials are the most efficient, but will increase road noise and vibrations.
Rear Gear Ratios
The other consideration with regards to your rear axle is your rear gear ratio. The rear gear ratio on the SN95 Mustang definitely leaves something to be desired. Fortunately, a pathway to better driving has already been cleared.
The Terminator Cobra is by far the best Mustang to come out of the SN95 and New Edge years. With a 3.55 rear gear ratio, it’s a perfect blend of performance and practicality. For all other Mustangs, changing to a 3.55 represents a major regearing.
Unlike changing your differential, most people agree that the Mustang is also a better daily driver with an improved rear gear ratio.
Mustang Stock Rear Gear Ratios
|1994-1998 V6 Mustangs
|1994-1998 GT Mustangs
|1994-1998 Cobra Mustangs
|1995 Cobra R
|2000 Cobra R
|1999-2004 V6 Mustangs
|1999-2004 GT Mustangs
|1999-2001 Cobra Mustangs
|2003-2004 Mach 1 Mustangs
|2003-2004 Terminator Cobra
If you’re planning to compete, you’ll need a roll cage. This has the double benefit of improving safety while also stiffening your Mustang’s chassis. That said, most people don’t find roll cages to be pleasant to drive with, and you will lose a lot of your interior space.
Is it worth it for safety? Of course. But it wouldn’t make sense to have a roll cage if you drifted one day every six months.
This is the first major modification people think of for drift. But outside of drifting, it doesn’t serve any practical function, which is why it should be a late-stage mod. That being said, using a handbrake is much easier than clutch-kicking every time. Drift specific handbrakes are also conveniently located.
Drifting Your SN95
If you’ve decided that you enjoy drifting your Mustang, there’s no reason not to improve your drift experience with modifications. By working on a build a little at a time, you can make sure you’re not overcommitting to one build before you’re sure it has features you’ll use.
Unfortunately, there’s no one “best of” list for modifications. Every driver’s style will vary, along with their corresponding needs. By feeling out what’s best for you, you’ll build the best drift SN95 Mustang for you.