A review of Nissan’s Performance Engine Range.

18 01 2008

Nissans are hot right now, they’re topping the import lists and consistently placing well in motor sport. So whether you’re riding in one or racing against them, read on for the low down on the power plants driving them to success.

 Naming Structure 

Nissan uses a straightforward naming policy for engines. First a two letter family name, then the engine capacity in decilitres and finally the engine features are listed. So using the classic example the SR20DET engine. SR is the family name, 20 stands for 2 litres, then D for Dual Overhead Camshafts, E for Electronic Fuel Injection and T for Turbocharged. For a complete listing of the various features, check out the easy reference table below.


Engine Feature


Dual Overhead Camshafts or Direct Injection


Electronic Fuel Injection


High Revolution


Fuel Injected at Throttle Body




Electronically Controlled Carburettor




Twin Turbocharged


Variable Valve Timing

Enough background, onto the engines! When it comes to the performance versions there are four families you will be likely to encounter. The Inline four SR Family, the inline six RB family, the V6 VG family and the latest version, the V6 VQ Engines.

 SR Series Engines.

The successor to the CA series of engines, the SR’s improved on them in almost every way. Featuring in many of Nissans small to medium car line up, this engine truly earned its stripes in the turbocharged SR20DET format.


This legendary four cylinder engine first arrived in a bluebird of all places. But once paired up with the rear wheel drive S13 Silvia Chassis, history was made. N/A and turbocharged versions appeared, but it was the turbocharged SR20DET that became the sweetheart of the tuning workshops. Ranging from 150 kW in the original red top (named for the colour of the engine cover) the SR20DET slowly grew in power as it changed to the black top, and then was updated for the S14 and S15 versions of the Silvia. It finally peaked at 187 kW in the S15 Silvia.

The SR engines also appeared in the front wheel drive Pulsars and a special version was created for World Rally Championship homologation in the Pulsar GTI-R. The car was a flop on the rallying scene with over heating problems and a heavy chassis due to the addition of AWD. But the engine remained a favourite of the workshops.

Without serious modifications to the internals, the SR20DET engine are capable of 300+ horsepower with just bolt on components. This makes them an extremely potent, light weight engine and made them very popular for engine swaps. End result was the price of the engine skyrocketing. Expect to pay $3000 + for a good example.

 RB Series Engines.

Most people are well aware of the RB26DETT, the engine behind the legendary Nissan Skyline GTR, but there is also two other versions of note! The RB20DET and the RB25DET.


The baby of the family the RB20DET first appeared in the R31 Skyline as well as the R32. However later Skyline models switched to the larger capacity RB25DET for their performance variants. The RB20DET also found a home in Nissan’s Laurels and Cefiros. With 215 hp on tap this engine was no slouch, but mated to heavy car bodies it had a lot of work to do. If you’re looking for an engine swap you can pick one up for $2000, but be careful as they’re getting to be a bit long in the tooth and for a little more you could have the bigger brother.


The mainstay of Nissan’s performance inline six’s. The RB25DET was the engine powering high performance RWD R33 and R34 skylines. With 250 hp on tap it was well suited to the larger Skyline body shells, and from a modification perspective 550 hp has been recorded without modification to the bottom end. The engine can be sourced from $2500 and is my personal recommendation for an inline 6 engine swap.


The ultimate. This engine was built primarily for use in the GTR. The twin turbocharged inline six was originally going to be a 2.4 litre in order to qualify for the Group A category. However after fitting the GTR’s AWD system, the weight of the car resulted in poor performance from the small capacity engine. The decision was made to increase the size to 2.6 litres, and the rest as they say, is history. With 280 hp on tap and the quick response of the twin turbos this engine the ultimate version of Nissan’s inline six. So why do I recommend the RB25DET? The price. And RB26DETT can easily set you back $6000. The same money put into an RB25DET will get you far more performance. Unless your shooting for the moon with horsepower with an unlimited budget, you will simply get more from an RB25DET.

 VG Series Engines

Not well loved the VG series engines have been around in many versions since 1984. Nowadays the only model that isn’t ready for the retirement home is the VG30DETT


Found in the 300ZX this twin turbocharged V6 never found particular success with the modifiers, despite coming from the factory with 300hp. Noted for its overheating problems when pushed past stock performance, this could be traced to casting faults with the cooling channels for the rear two cylinders. A shame, because once remedied the block was proven to withstand more than 1000hp. Still the fact remained that it needed to be stripped down in order to fix the cooling problem before it could be improved. This made the engine undesirable to modifiers who preferred to simply bolt on components. Engines can be sourced from $3500, but be aware of the cooling problems before tinkering with them.

 VQ Series Engines

The successor to the VG engine the VQ family have won a string of awards, including making Ward’s 10 best engines list since its inception. There are several variants in its capacity as well as turbocharged versions, however locally the VQ35DE remains the only performance version sold.


The VQ35 travelled to Australia under the bonnet of the 350Z. Producing between 287 to 306 hp it’s an extremely attractive option and has won a string of awards. Widely regarded as the current world benchmark for a production V6 engine it will no doubt attract a following. Unfortunately its extremely hard to source one of these blocks currently due to their newness.

 VR Series Engines, the Future. 

Finally there is one last arrival due soon from Nissan. The twin turbocharged V6 VR38DETT, Nissan’s most powerful performance engine yet. This engine is slated for the all new GTR. With 473 hp from the factory one can only imagine what will happen when the aftermarket community get their hands on this beast. However I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for one to appear second hand. They will attract a premium price tag and will be as rare as hens teeth… five years from now though? Well we’ll just have to wait and see.



Singing from Six Cylinders.

18 01 2008

The day is nearly here when the songs will end. No more operatic bellowing from European exotics, no more throbbing baritone howls from big V8s and no more snorting and snuffling as Japanese power plants come on and off of boost. Fuel is getting expensive and electric alternatives are becoming viable. Soon the song of the fire breathers will be leaving this earth.

A lot of “experts” will tell you good riddance, they will claim there is no more music in the emissions from a cars exhaust than there is in the emissions of an overweight uncle after Christmas dinner. And they’d be wrong.

The ballad of internal combustion is a primeval tune. Many of us have lost touch as we grew older and now consider it nothing more than noise. But you only need to look at the face of a toddler drifting to sleep from the sonorous lullaby of the family car or children racing about, emulating their favorite four wheeled musicians. You’re welcome to disagree with me, you’re entitled to call it noise, but before you consider me a fool I’ll ask for just one request. Go and ask a 5 year old whether they think the work of Mozart or the howling of a pack of V8 Supercars is more exciting. Cars sing, there’s no denying that, the question is if you remember how to listen.

Even if you cant hear the songs of fire, I can tell you there are still petrol drinking vocalists that can bring you back. The wall of sound from a top fuel dragster or the Valkyrie like wail of an F1 car will have you reeling with their sheer power. The whistling turbos and explosions from the exhaust of a WRC car will resonate with your heart beat, and the enraged bellow from an Aston Martin driven in anger is guaranteed to make your hair stand on end. These cars will move you, even if you aren’t sitting inside them.

Well at least they still can for a little while… I acknowledge the internal combustion engines have to go. We’re running out of fuel, and the environmental damage they’ve caused has been nightmarish. I know and understand these things, but when the day comes I’ll still shed a tear. Like a diva with outrageous demands they’ve worn out their welcome, but by god when they sang they could make time stand still.

So where to from here? Once the last car falls silent, struck mute by the march of progress, will the revheads disappear? Will the enthusiasm run out when an excited roar turns into a washing machine like whir? Will the car become nothing more than a tool to move us from a to b?

Well of course it bloody well wont! Cars are an art form and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have something to say on the subject. Perhaps they like them small and cute like a Copen or huge and imposing like a 300C, sleek and sexy like a 430 Modena or bulging and muscular like the R8 Commodore. Or perhaps they are completely devoid of taste and like Hummers, takes all sorts. Whatever the style everyone will have a preference, something they find hidden within the body work of these wonderful machines that they believe represents them, their personality, something innately human. Cars, like all good art, make a statement and every one of us can hear them when the time comes to buy one.

That’s why the soul of cars will live on. That’s why the enthusiasts will never fade away. Cars might stop singing, but they will always have something to say. I’ll miss the sound of a burbling engine, but as I sat in a park the other day I looked at a statue by Stuart Elliot. It never had an engine, it’s never moved. It was simply the shape of an FJ Holden Ute skillfully carved from bricks and just as loveable as the real thing. Children scampered over and ran around it, that pile of bricks made them happy, it made them feel. That means it’s alive and it has soul. As long as we as human beings retain our humanity, the car will be more than a tool, more than a machine. The car will always have personality. It will be our traveling companion, our friend who will bring us the world at the turn of a key.

Well that’s it for sight and sound. I’m not going to bother with the senses of smell and taste. While I’m sure for some there is a thrill in licking a car seat, it’s not really what I’d call art. Of course there is that final aspect of cars, the feel. Did you know they dance? As a matter of fact there is an Alfa in the driveway for my next test which is just dying for me to come tango. Believe me, in my review I’ll tell all. Perhaps she will whisk me through corners, and need a steady hand to stay under control. Maybe she’ll be smooth and svelte or rude and harsh… it’s hard to tell with Alfa’s. Anyway my mum raised me to be a gentleman, so I won’t linger any longer pondering what I’m in for. After all, everyone knows it’s bad manners to keep an Alfa waiting.