Feed me power. Engine swaps can be the quickest way to dramatically increase power… play it wrong and they can be the quickest way to dramaticaly decrease your bank account. Sure sometimes mechanical failure can force one’s hand. But for the most part engine swaps are a power grab. They represent quick ways to modernized the power of middle-aged rides, add reliability to heavily stressed powertrains, or make a light-year jump in displacement. All with an eye toward modifying the swap to maximize its potential.
In some cases the process of fitting the engine is fairly straightforward with companies making conversion kits to match mismatched engines and vehicles. The good kits will also address wiring harnesses, tuning, and in some cases suspension and cooling system updates. Other times swapping is a pain and may require more intensive custom work. Labor could include modifying the engine to fit into the car, fabricating engine and transmission mounts, and of course modifying the engine bay itself.
Without further ado, let’s jump into the top five engine swaps.
Toyota’s 2JZ-GTE was the heavyweight champion of the ’90s with a Mike Tyson knockout punch and, fortunately, much more lasting power. The revered 2JZ-GTE engine is a 2,997cc 24-valve DOHC twin-turbocharged inline-six engine that features an iron block, alloy cylinder head, forged pistons, and sequential twin turbos.
E39 M5 with 2JZ-GTE swap.
On stock turbos these engines can be coaxed into producing around 480 horsepower. The next ledge up the power mountain is 600 to 700 horsepower where internals finally need to be addressed. There are tons of single-turbo kits that will easily realize these numbers. It is not unheard of for street tuned, fortified 2JZs to realize 800 to 1,000 ponies… in street trim.
According to JDM Spec Engines, North American versions of the motor produce 320 hp and 315 lbs-ft of torque stock at 5,600 rpm. It should be noted that engines sourced from Japan, like in the Toyota Aristo, have smaller turbos and lower power ratings. This is not a big issue because the stock exhaust manifold and turbos are the first things to hit the dumpster as most swappers are going for the gusto with a single-turbo conversion.
Possible engine swap destinations include 1992-2000 Lexus SC300 (preferably one of the manual transmission models), a non-turbo Supra, 2001 to 2005 IS300, 1993-2006 GS300, or 1985-1992 Toyota Cressida. The third generation RX-7, S2000, and 240SX transformations are more challenge because they are cross brands.
Would you swap a 2JZ into a BMW M5?
Regarding costs, you’re looking at dishing out at least $7,500 for a 2JZ-GTE engine and the sweet, factory-issued six-speed Getrag gearbox. Despite its potential for huge power gains, the downside to this engine swap is availability. The 2JZ was the top dog during the heights of the import drag racing scene and you had to arm wrestle race teams (and their checkbooks) to get one. Today demand is down but due to time so is supply. The six-speed gearboxes are the unicorns here. They are hard to come by but worth every penny of their premium price.
Nissan 300ZX with RB26DETT swap
Introduced in 1989, Nissan’s RB26DETT engine powered the legendary R32 Skyline GT-R. The 2.6-liter DOHC twin-turbo inline-six engine is rated at 280 hp at 6,800 rpm.
Furthermore, the RB26DETT’s cast-iron block is capable of containing big boost and its internals are happy to rev up to 8,200 rpm. Uniquely, the engine’s turbos are arranged in that each turbo is dedicated to its own trio of cylinders.
Coming from the venerable R32 Skyline GT-R, the RB26 is an exotic swap to begin with. The powerplant is known for its expensive maintenance, and the RB26DETT is also one of the most costly engines to modify because of its exotic nature and the fact that many go-fast parts can only be acquired from Japan.
Nissan’s RB26DETT; the heart of Godzilla.
With production of the RB26DETT and the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R ending in 2002, the engine can be a tough catch as most enthusiasts prefer to keep their GT-R and its RB26 together.
According to Alex Gorodji, author of Nissan GT-R, the RB26DETT’s only severe weakness is its lubrication system. Due to its high degree of attention to maintenance, oil has to be changed often on this vehicle, especially after spirited driving or track days.
Jumping into an engine swap with the RB26DETT is a big leap. The most popular car is the 240SX, and McKinney Motorsports and others make mount kits to pull it off.
The average cost for the motor will run you about $5,000 to $6,000. This includes the RB26DETT motor and a rear-wheel drive transmission.
Unlike the 2JZ, the RB26DETT was designed to race first. Its odd 2.6-liter displacement was arrived at by calculating the rules for Super GT racing. So those who manage the swap are in line for some major fun.
LS Chevy V8
Chevrolet’s LS V8 engines are a more recent arrival in the engine swap realm. They make their bread and butter by the all American ‘size matters’ slogan.
Chevrolet LS1 V8.
The 5.7-liter V8 LS1 motor is the stock offering in C5 Corvettes. The LS1 is the most common engine to be chosen for engine swaps but any LS is fair game.
At the end of the process you get a big-inch engine that can handle the stress of boost more easily than some of the four cylinder engines out there. Just check out the drift scene.
Talk about role reversals, one of the first and most popular landing spots for the small-block Chevy is the Mazda RX-7. The swap jumps the Mazda from 1.3-liters to 5.7… that’s more than four times more displacement!
LS1 engines can be converted to fit into cars such as Mazda Miatas, FC and FD series RX-7’s, Toyota Supras, BMW’s, Datsun 240, 260, and 280Z’s, 240SX, FR-S/BRZs, and there was even a kit to drop a Chevy V8 into the back of a Porsche 911.
With tons of potential and many different ways to gain horsepower, the most beneficial modifications are installing a supercharger, turbo system, and an exhaust system to help pound that raw power into the pavement. These V8s are tough, plentiful, and cheap…when you can find them in junkyards. You can also start with a clean slate and get a brand-new bullet via Chevrolet’s Performance Parts website.
LS1 swap on RX-7.
According to Chevrolet Performance Parts, the retail price for a brand new 376ci 6.2-liter LS3 V8 engine is $7,760. Not including any conversion kits or other support, it boils down to preference… the higher the number after (except the LS6) ‘LS’ the more it will cost. Also remember to consider tuning as some of the swaps may require a stand-alone system. The swap kit market for anything LS is a continuously expanding segment. And the beauty of it all is as more enthusiasts make the jump, the quality, inclusiveness, and ease of installation of the kits also increases.
Nissan’s SR20DET is a factory turbocharged, 2.0-liter, inline-four cylinder engine, typically found in Japanese market S13/14/15 Nissan Silvias, S13 180SX’s and S13/14 200SX’s.
According to JDM Spec Engines, the engine’s durability is given by its cast aluminum block, whose cylinder walls are reinforced with iron liners. In addition, the motor is rigid, with its intake and exhaust manifold positioned in a cross flow orientation.
The SR20DET motor has a few variants such as the S13 Red Top or S13 Black Top, which power different Nissan Silvia’s. The first generation SR20DET engine utilized a Garrett T25 turbocharger that provided 7 psi boost.
The S13 Red Top and Black Top engines crank out 205 horsepower and 203 lbs-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. A swap in any 1989-1998 240SX is a simple, straightforward process… one of the easiest and most common swaps out there.
SR20DET motor swapped into Datsun 510.
Notably, the SR can be retrofitted into any Mazda RX-7, Miata, or classic Datsun 510. The cost for this swap is around $2,000 to $2,800 depending on the vintage.
For a non-native chassis, it can cost substantially more due to fabricating custom engine mounts and purchasing necessary electronic components. Oddly, Malaysia used to be known for dropping these Baby Zillas into 3 Series BMWs.
The SR20DET is capable of making 350 horsepower easily by adding a cold air intake, bigger turbo, down pipe, and exhaust system in accordance with proper tuning. But high-revving versions may require valvetrain fortification because the stock hardware can be compromised operating at high speeds for extended periods of time.
While the SR20DET has been out of production for more than a decade, the pipeline is still flowing.
Mazda’s rotary is the contradiction on the list. It is both cast aside and swapped in. You will have noticed the RX-7 serving as a final resting place for most of the swaps on our list. A good deal of the action can be attributed to the rotaries funk factor. Some people don’t like to tinker with rotors, apex seals, and eccentric shafts. Others revel in it. There is no denying the twin-turbocharged 13B-REW, a 1,308cc dual-rotor engine makes a unique sound as it effortlessly revs to stratospheric levels.
According to Mazda Global, the 13B-REW is the first engine from Japan to be mass-produced with a sequentially paired turbocharger system.
13B-REW swap on Mazda RX-8.
Manufactured from 1991-2003, the 13B-REW can only be found under the hood of the third-generation RX-7 in North America and Japan respectively. With estimated power outputs between 252 to 276 horses at 6,500 rpm.
The 13B-REW is not an engine for loose cannon tuners who like to play with boost more than fuel. The apex seals do not like hiccups… back firing, detonation, and the like. Play with fire and you’ll get burned. Popping the seals is like loosing cylinder compression in a piston engine… big-time bad news.
But get it right and the 13B-REW is capable of high horsepower gains. It also has the ability to run efficiently and problem-free for years. The 13B’s aggressive howl and unique power delivery can be quite intoxicating.
The average cost for this specific engine swap is about $2,500 with the Eunos Cosmo powertrain included, but cast off can be had for less if you look hard enough. Some of the popular recipients include the Miata, Toyota Starlet, Corolla, and Corona, Datsun 510, and RX-8.
Engine swaps epitomize out of the box thinking, true gearhead tinkering, and a strong lust for power. An engine swapped and firewall shaved engine bay garners attention at car shows, meet ups, and, when properly tuned and applied, get respect on the street… what’s not to like.
The honorable mention list, deserving engines that didn’t make our list, includes the Honda S2000 engine, B- and K-series FWD swaps, Subaru STI swaps, and we’re sure there’s more.
These specific conversions mentioned here are sure to turn a few heads when you pop open the hood. What are your thoughts? What are some other desirable engines worth noting and what would you put them in? Feel free to comment below.