BEAUTY IN IMPERFECTION
THE MISSILES OF EBISU
The Japanese motherland has thrown some amazing scenes in front of my camera, but none of these scenes 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 certainly had its time when battle scars were cool, rather than being a shameful reminder of a lack of talent. Coming face-to-face with some of the most infamous missiles in Japan has taught me that there is always more to these mythical drift weapons than meets the eye.
Sadly, there is a huge misconception surrounding missiles. Many view them not as practice tools but as scrap metal with a turbo up front on a one-way trip to total annihilation. 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 the issue. You either love them or totally hate them.
The term ‘missile’ has been defined 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.
“These cars aren’t scrap; this is actually my practice car, but many people refer to them as ‘missiles’ nowadays,” Shunsuke explains. Defining what constitutes a true missile is a grey area. For many, it’s a serious lack of panels, with everything being held on with zip ties, and the inability to work out what the car actually started life as.
The most important point is that true missiles don’t look the way they do because of intentional mistreatment and destructive driving. Instead, 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’re 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 — ‘ugly’ is often only skin deep. One of the most famous missiles of all time first arrived at Ebisu as a Tokyo Auto Salon show car, explains Shunsuke: “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 isn’t just a pretty Laurel either. Underneath the hood is a Tomei Genesis RB28 with no expense having been spared, all the way through to the drivetrain. Sitting a couple of pit bays over, Daigo’s JZX90 runs big power up front and a very similar suspension and arm set-up to his D1GP Chaser. There is no point in practising in a car that is totally different to the one you pedal when being judged. Yet, without knowing, you would walk right past it, mistaking it for nothing more than a beat-up old standard Toyota with a rusty arse.
With such visually polarizing aesthetics, for me, it is hard to imagine a backdrop other than Ebisu, so, when the two are combined, 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 buttclenchingly tight tandem battles, with both cars leaning on each other and 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 fairy tale for me behind the lens, these famous cars that I have slowly watched change form will now soon be 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 that these cars will begin to vanish from the track. For many drivers, these practice cars, or missiles, are the single reason they have been 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 will forever remain a classic.