Sometime in the last decade, Northern California garnered itself a bit of a reputation, and not a particularly flattering one, either... The upper half of The Golden State became infamous for its ugly drift cars. Of course, one could argue that ugliness is entirely subjective and that from a certain perspective (usually only the owner's), the cars were beautiful in their own way. Regardless of the debate, the label stuck. The hard truth was, subjective or not, the mismatched body panels, poorly applied paint, and rally car ride heights spoke louder than words. Looking deeper into this trend, there have been a couple theories as to why the NorCal region started to disregard a crucial part of the drifting culture. To date, the most reasonable theory suggests that the banning of drifting at Altamont Raceway in '07 drove enthusiasts to "less sanctioned" venues.
As drivers turned to the streets, industrial areas and mountain passes, some of the more established drivers started to pay less attention to the appearance of their cars—grudgingly accepting that in order to continue drifting, they would simply have to accept the narrower "tracks" and larger consequences, where a mistake no longer meant spinning out in front of your friends, but rather a totaled car and a ride home with a friend—at best. Faced with these circumstances, where body and suspension damage was a nightly occurrence and with the imminent threat of the police impound, the cars became disposable.
Despite the bleak conditions, a select few insisted on drifting cars that met uncompromising standards both functionally and aesthetically. These are the unsung heroes who stayed true to their roots, who kept street drifting from becoming nothing more than an illegal demolition derby. This story, however, is not about those who inspired, but rather about one man who was inspired by these legends. It was during this dark age of drifting that Adam Mao started his own journey. While still attending high school, he built his first drift car—a red Nissan S14 that received its fair share of attention. Naysayers abounded, assuming that the car had been funded by Adam's parents, the typical "parachute kid" story that had become so commonplace in California. His parents did indeed play a role in this unique situation, although it was not their finances but rather their absence that allowed Adam to build such a high-caliber car at such a young age.
Adam's parents had moved back to Taiwan when Adam was in the fifth grade to oversee their family business. From that point on, he lived with his older brother—a car guy himself who granted Adam use of the garage and backyard where side jobs were performed in exchange for extra cash to fund his projects. Much of Adam's passion for cars can be attributed to influence from his brother, such as attending shows together, riding shotgun in his brother's S13, and even a trek to Anaheim to watch one of the few D1GP rounds in the U.S. way back in the day.
Although building an S14 was Adam's childhood dream, that dream came and went, earning the resulting product a well-deserved spot on the short list of beautiful drift cars originating from San Jose. Once the car had been parted out and sold, Adam was ready for bigger and better things—literally. The search was on for a GS300. In '09, just a few months into legal adulthood, Adam found a promising example for sale. He and his brother promptly flew to San Diego and drove back in the new project, stopping in Los Angeles for an R154 five-speed transmission out of a Toyota Supra. From the start, there was no doubt in Adam's mind that the big-body Lexus would be primarily a drift car, so naturally the slushbox had to go. Working with what he was making as an assistant manager at the local Jiffy Lube, he started collecting the components necessary to retrofit the manual transmission onto the stock, naturally aspirated 2JZ engine—the three-week-long process being an exercise in equal parts research and trial and error. As soon as the car was back on the ground, testing commenced in the most appropriate fashion—on the street and sideways. Over the next two years, Adam continued to tweak the car little by little—a set of wheels, a subtle aero kit, coilovers, adjustable suspension components here and there, all the while leaving the engine stock. At this time the main focus was simply to enjoy the car, terrorizing the local autocross, attending open track days at Thunderhill and, of course, on his home turf—the horribly maintained but ever-so-enticing streets of San Jose.
For two years, the original engine remained naturally aspirated—happily accepting every bit of abuse that Adam could dish out, until one day it just wasn't enough anymore. Adam had recently started work at an independent auto repair shop. Along with the bump in pay, this shop allowed their employees to work overtime. Adam took full advantage of this and frequently pumped out 65-hour weeks, saving every possible cent to fund the next step of his project. With the extra dough, Power Dynamics in Texas was commissioned with the construction of the new forged bottom end, built to handle 800 hp. As soon as the block was in Adam's possession, it was mated to the freshly rebuilt, ported, and polished head. A Comp CT4 6265 Turbo was bolted on, blowing 24 psi through a custom-fabricated intake manifold, where 720cc injectors supply the fueling. Good for a reliable and usable 624 whp and 562 lb-ft of torque on 91-octane pump gas, this engine has proven its worth for Adam over the past two years.
The reoccurring theme with this ever-evolving GS300 appears to be equal amounts of time allotted to building and driving. Following this pattern, the now slightly beat-up Lexus was simply enjoyed for the next year. During this time, plans were formulated for the next phase of building, which was the exterior. An authentic BN Sports aero kit was imported from Japan, augmented by an enormous Voltex Type II wing, and Ganador Super Mirrors. A set of SSR Agle Minervas were purchased second hand, promptly resized to a ridiculous 19x11" -14 front and 19x12" -39 rear. They manage to somehow look perfect sitting within the custom front fenders and Serial Nine rear over-fenders. Finally, the entire car was re-sprayed at Crown Auto Body—a custom purple amethyst pearl with gold flake formulated specifically for this momentous occasion—the moment NorCal shed its reputation. Was the completion of this car really the tipping point that exonerated an entire region of its embarrassing label? Was this the culmination of a decade's worth of effort exerted by those who risked everything to keep the style in drifting alive, if only on the street under the cover of darkness? It's impossible to say, considering the increasing number of beautiful drift cars that now call the Bay Area home. One thing is for certain, however—when NorCal is known for having the greatest drift cars in the country, it will be cars such as this GS300 and people like Adam Mao who will be forever remembered for bringing light to the revolution.