He’s the UK’s oldest competing drifter, but Gary Hughes shows the young ’uns how to skid in his 400bhp five-door Sierra
Thunder and sun. Chocolate and soup. Football and intellectual conversation. Ford and Nissan. Hang on: Ford and Nissan? Surely that’s highly irregular? Indeed it is. But this SR20DET powered Sierra is certainly not odd. This 400bhp five- door has been built to drift with the big boys, and its skidding ability far exceeds the Ford’s reputation.
Owner Gary Hughes – the UK’s oldest competing drifter – reckons the Sierra’s talents are severely underestimated. “There are lots of fallacies about Sierras,” he groans. “They say you can’t get lock. You can. They say you can’t get grip with the trailing arm setup. You can.
“If you run coilovers and standard ride height, you will remove negative camber, reduce squat and keep the full-size footprint. It will deliver all the traction you want.”
And Gary should know. He’s been sliding rear-wheel drive Fords since a string of Cortinas in his early days of motoring. A succession of three-litre Capris and 2.8is led to a couple of Sapphire Cosworths, including a tasty 440bhp, Moonstone Blue monster.
“Before drifting existed, it was just called enthusiastic driving, and I was known as Gary the Nutter,” he laughs.
So when British drifting took hold around 2005, Gary was keen to try his hand. He took his Moonstone Sapphire to an organised session, joined in – and blew it up. Then, while its engine was being rebuilt, Gary bought a rear-wheel- drive-converted Skyline GT-R packing 500bhp. It wasn’t long before he became wrapped up in the Japanese scene and competitive drifting.
But Gary stepped away from championships last
year. He’s still a Learn 2 Drift instructor (“It’s the best £70 you’ll ever spend,” urges Gary) and drives summer shows as The Stig’s Fat Cousin (“I’m no stranger to the odd pint of Stella, and I’ve had years of practice.”), yet it was only when he heard of a certain partially completed Sierra for sale that he decided to return to the game.
Breaking the mould
Gary says, “Most of it was built by Gareth Mould. It was 70 per-cent there, and what he’d done was very good. The theory was right, but it needed finishing.”
For Gary, the challenge was too tempting to resist. He bought what appeared to be a plain, white Sierra 1.8GLX with black wheels. Yet under the bonnet – slotted in very neatly – was a twolitre turbocharged motor normally found between the inner wings of a Nissan 200SX, known as an SR20.
Gary comments, “It’s effectively a Japanese YB, only it’s an alloy bottom end rather than something from a Cortina!
“The SR20 is a common conversion into Escorts. You can buy an engine for £800 and make 240bhp – or 280 at a push. This one’s been built by Gareth’s dad, and I really feel lucky; if it was a Cossie it would easily be a £30,000 engine.”
The Nissan-to-Sierra swap is relatively straightforward, requiring modified mounts, along with swapping around the sump and pickup to clear the steering rack. Uprated water and oil pumps will cope with the heat generated during drifting; rocker stoppers were included to limit the SR20’s tendency to break when revved hard; the forged bottom end means it will handle 400bhp with ease.
Gary switched the stock turbo for a T2871R, upped the injectors to 800cc items, and had the whole lot mapped by FC Tuning; at 1.3Bar boost it’s producing 375bhp, but once run-in there’ll be up to 1.8Bar.
“It will run over 400bhp and I can abuse it for the next couple of years,” grins Gary. “The more power you have, the easier it is to initiate a drift. At just 1100kg it’s shockingly fast.
“With a GT35 I could run 550bhp all day, but I always stick with a smaller turbo for instant response. Going off the line against a 1,000bhp Supra, you need to be somewhere near.”
To take that kind of aggro, Gary’s added a carbon clutch. A pity, then, that the Nissan transmission is already on its knees – although Gary’s plan to fit a rear-wheel drive Skyline gearbox sounds like a substantial solution.
Surprisingly, the Sierra’s braking system is basically a stock rearwheel drive Cosworth setup, albeit with the addition of a hydraulic handbrake. Gary says, “You don’t use the footbrake very much at all. Massive brakes, in my humble opinion, are totally unnecessary.
“The factory Sierra handbrake is poor, but I use
ARB’s been removed and steering arms extended for more lock
All of the battle scars have
been properly earned!
Sierra has been set up with
full drift-spec geometry