Vale: Aussie drift legend Levi Clarke

The Aussie drift scene has lost a legend this week with the passing of Levi Clarke

Photographers: Steve Kelly, Noah Thorley

We received word this morning that Aussie drifter Levi Clarke had passed away after a two-year battle with brain cancer. At that moment, the feature on his Drift Rod (pictured below) was on the presses for the August edition of SM. The photoshoot was done only two weeks ago, with Levi determined to make the most of the time he had left. Putting the story together was deeply moving for us and a genuine privilege.

Levi remained positive throughout his fight, telling us, “No matter what life throws at you, you don’t need to give up on your dreams. I just love putting on a show and making people smile.”

The entire Street Machine team extend our sincere condolences to Levi’s wife Kristi and son Taj, along with his family and many friends.

With the price of Japanese hero cars going through the roof over the past few years, Aussies have turned to domestic rear-wheel-drive machines to take sideways racing. That means V8s are not an uncommon sight at drift events these days, but what most certainly isn’t a common sight is a car like Levi Clarke’s 1932 Ford pick-up, the Drift Rod.

“I have always wanted to build a hot rod with my dad, so we bought this shell privately in Helensvale,” said Levi. “It sat on the property for a few years until COVID hit and I decided it was time to start the project. My goal was to have the first custom, purpose-built drift rod in Australia.”

Levi’s been drifting at the top level for years, doing most of that in a Nissan S15. The Drift Rod, his latest toy, forms part of the demo group in the Exedy Clutch Australia Drift Team.

Amazingly, Levi and his old man Daryll worked out that the Drift Rod only took around six weeks in labour to complete. While it may look old school, everything but the 1930s Ford body is modern drift tech. The chassis is nicked from a Datsun 720 ute, shortened to replicate the wheelbase of a Nissan S15. There are no leaf springs or live axle; the rear geometry uses a Nissan R32 GT-R IRS with a Winters quick-change diff. The front is much the same story, with Toyota Mk4 Supra IFS basics and a cantilever system for the shocks. Control arms are extended to ensure Levi has all the drifting lock required for sliding duties.

The important fabrication and a decent chunk of the build was taken care of by Peter Kay from Kay’s Fabrication, who also oversaw much of the development of the unique machine.

While many components beneath the Drift Rod’s skin are Japanese, one part that does fit the hot rodding bill nicely is the carby-fed, Hi-Rammed LS V8, built by Levi’s mate and fellow drifter Mitch Pullen of Pullen Spec Engines. Mitch renovated the LS3’s internals to handle 8000rpm of sideways abuse with a K1 crank, Callies rods and JE pistons nicked from his old HiLux drift ute. The camshaft is a hydraulic-roller made by Crow Cams according to Mitch’s secret recipe. The whole lot is kept well fed with oil thanks to a Barnes four-stage dry sump system, essential for high-end drift cars pulling big lateral g-forces.

Topping the LS is a pair of Quick Fuel 4150 carbs sucking E85. “That was Levi’s call to go with the carbies; I think because it fits the hot rodding theme,” said Mitch. “It’s one of our more basic packages, the big thing being we increased the bore size. That unshrouds the valves and makes a lot more power, and it’s specced to 12:1 comp to keep it safe.”

Ignition is controlled by an Emtron ECU, and singing to 8000rpm, the LS yielded 595rwhp – more than enough to fry the 265 tyres.

Behind that screaming LS is a TR6060 six-speed cog-swapper, along with an Exedy twin-plate to cop all the clutch kicks Levi needs to maintain angle.

After an initial shakedown in June last year, the Drift Rod’s first major outing was during the drift demos alongside Mitch Pullen’s Nissan S13 Silvia at the World Time Attack Challenge in Sydney. Only weeks later, Levi and the rod were at Calder Park in Melbourne, doing more demo runs with the likes of Mad Mike Whiddett at the LZ World Tour. Fans of the Supercars Championship may also have seen the car doing drift demonstrations at the Perth round in its fresh black livery. “We haven’t done any competitions yet, but during those demo runs, the car has shown real potential,” Levi said.

Sadly, Levi ran out of time to explore that potential, but the outpouring of grief today leaves us in no doubt that Levi was well-loved by many and spent his time on Earth well.


Induction:Holley Hi-Ram
Carbies:Quick Fuel 4150 E85
Heads:CNC-ported LS3
Camshaft:Crow Cams
Pistons:JE dome
Oil pump:Barnes four-stage dry sump
Fuel system:Carter Black pump
Cooling:PWR radiator
Exhaust:CRG headers
Ignition:GM coils, Emtron control
Clutch:Exedy twin-plate
Diff:Winters quick-change
Front:Mk4 Supra IFS, Shockworks coil-overs
Rear:Nissan R32 GT-R IRS, Shockworks coil-overs
Brakes:Nissan discs (f & r)
Rims:Cosmis 18×9.5 (f & r)
Rubber:Premoza 265/35R18 (f & r)

Exedy Australia; BSF Mobile Cranes; Martini Racing Products; Pullen Spec Engines; Kay’s Fabrication; Shockworks Suspension; Everyday Engineering; Cosmis Wheels; Japanese Parts & Performance; LowCo Customs; CRG; Opal; Nerang Tyre & Mechanical; Kincrome; UAV Me; Premoza Tyres; HardTuned; Batchelor Autoworx; Clarke Signs;