Published on February 24th, 2016 | by Jos Roder0
Drifting in Australia can trace its roots back to South Australia around 1998. Watching and learning from our Japanese friends, the sport slowly gained a foothold here as we learned both the art and also the technical aspects of modifying your vehicle.
In the early 2000’s the humble steering rack spacers started to find their way into local Aussie drift cars and the extra lock available to catch your slide and increase angle while drifting was an infectious modification. For a small cost, the modification was quickly adopted.
The natural progression of the sport and mankind’s tendency to always push further, resulted in both amateur Japanese drifters and serious D1GP teams spend time in the mid-2000’s engineering new ways to achieve extra lock. Modifying knuckles was the logical way to go about it.
Modifying knuckles involved changing the geometry of the knuckle itself by cutting the tie rod end of the knuckle. The geometry change would alter the angle of the tie rod in relation to the rack and lower control arm, allowing further movement range of the wheels without changing anything else.
Things didn’t start to get more serious with lock in Australia and the rest of the world until around 2007-2008, when a few local driver’s started to replicate or invest in the newly created ‘knuckles’ that were being manufactured or altered by Japanese companies and workshops. Side note: For the Aussies reading this, the first dedicated nissansilvia.com thread on knuckles started in January 2009 by Nigel of Engineered to Slide fame.
Names like GP Sports, Parts Shop Max, 326 Power and Hey Man were some of the early big players in Japan and while some Aussies chose the big dollar quality items (GP Sports Hyper knuckles were around $1,400AUD at the time!) budget restrictions and a can do attitude led to some locals fabricating knuckles up for themselves.
For those who were really wanting to maximise the benefits of modified knuckles, overcoming clearance related issues is needed in the form of longer lower control arms, offset or bent castor rods and lower offset wheels.
I have to be clear, this article is not a technical article on roll centre correction, pivot points, bind and geometry as I am not technically versed in this area. There is plenty of research on the internet and many years of trial, error and experience around the world.
Progression has now evolved to what I call forklift kits such as Wise Fab which are totally custom front end systems that create truly ridiculous lock angles! Where will it end, I’m not sure?
I had owned a four S chassis’ between 2004 and 2013 and the furthest I had gone with steering lock modification was the humble steering rack spacers. The philosophical debates around these modifications are for another time, however there is no doubt this modification transformed the scene around the world.
My old 180sx (240SX) that I named Mr Sparkle had steering rack spacers fitted and was often surprised at the lock angles it could obtain.
Going down the knuckles path had always been something I had avoided on principle. The possibility of having issues with bind and needing further front end modifications was another turn off. I felt my driving was the limiting factor, not lock, and the 180sx had enough lock to cover my driving. The car didn’t have a lot of power (standard T25 turbo) so over extending with angle was going to hurt my ability further to stay with other drivers in battles.
I eventually sold the 180sx and purchased a track spec JDM S15 Silvia with some basic mods that has been well covered on Drift Life previously.
At this point natural curiosity meant I bit the bullet and decided to finally experience the world of knuckles. I may have been about 6 years too late to join the knuckle party, but I was looking forward to the experience regardless.
I got talking to local S.A drift legend Simon Michelmore about knuckles after some social media comments mentioning I was toying with the idea. Simon kindly offered to modify my knuckles if I could send them over to him. Simon has over a decade of drifting experience and many years of modifying knuckles and after explaining my application, he said he could whip something up for me.
The only items I still needed to purchase were extended tie-rods and ends to suit the application. The lads at Forced Motorworx ordered in some new Nissan Maxima rods and ends for me that would hopefully do the trick.
I had some steering rack spacers from GKTech as well, so I had a nice fresh front end of lock modifications to install and test.
Not having the luxury of drifting regularly I wasn’t able to test a before and after scenario for a direct comparison on both front end feel and lock capabilities while sliding. My only experience with the standard setup was a grip day at Phillip Island which didn’t involve much drifting.
I was somehow paranoid the new setup would induce bind after a bad experience some years ago, however first session out at Calder Park in Melbourne, the front end felt light, the steering quite direct and after a warm up lap I thought I would get it on lock. Woah! I actually had a chuckle first time I pushed the car further out than I thought it would be able to recover from. Low and behold the car tracked back through the corner and continued on.
I don’t have many outside shots of the car at full lock, but the above shot shows my direction of vision and would certainly have resulted in a spin in my old car. Mid corner speed seemed quite good and the front seemed to track quite well. Initial bite to turn in was also positive and feel was still there.
The front alignment specs I was running were as follows
Camber: -3 deg
Caster: 6.5 deg
Toe: 4mm total toe out(2mm per side)
The only thing I struggled with is there is what feels like a dead spot in the neutral position between starting lock direction either way, or on crossover lock to lock. I believe this may be a characteristic of the S15 steering setup of the car itself. Any other S15 owners experience this feeling?
I’m happy with the characteristics of the car with this knuckle setup and look forward to testing their limits when I return to the track for a second time after another solid time out of the seat.
A huge thanks to Simon Michelmore for the quality knuckle modifications and advice along the way. Simon can modify your knuckles and to find out more email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him via his Facebook page.