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Three Ways to 1,000 HP: LS vs RB vs JZ Swap Info

HOT ROD logo HOT ROD 8/23/2018 Hot Rod Network Staff
003_HRD-RB26-2JZ-LS

Brand loyalty in engine choices is becoming less of a concern as time goes on. Largely driven by a pursuit of boost, three of the most-swapped engine platforms we see in drag racing, drifting, and time attack are the LS, 2JZ, and RB26—they're the do-all powerhouses for their respective brands. While we're deeply familiar with the LS family, the RB and JZ engines are new territory for many. These Japanese straight-sixes came out of Japan's real muscle-car era, the 1980s to 1990s, and share a lot of similarities with the LS in their respective roles as budget-friendly solutions for 1,000 hp.

Research

Nissan RB Series

If you've played Gran Turismo, you're already familiar with the RB26 and its brethren. The heart and soul of the early Nissan Skylines, the RB series was pumped from Yokohama, Japan, between 1985 and 2004. These straight-sixes range from 2.0L to 3.0L and get a little displacement enhancement with factory turbocharging. The RB nomenclature is very easy to decipher: RB is, of course, the engine family; the second number refers to the displacement; and you'll find tech details like whether it's dual-cam (D), fuel-injected (E), or carbureted (S) and whether it has a single turbo (T) or twin turbos (TT). For example, the RB26DETT from the 19892002 Skyline GT-R would be a 2.6L, dual-cam, fuel-injected, twin-turbocharged combination. Their cult status is well-earned in the Skylines, but what about as a swap motor candidate? This is why we grabbed Kostas Tatsis of Australia's Croydon Racing Developments (CRD), a shop that specializes in the Skyline and RB platform with several records down in the 7s with little more than a Turbo 400 and a fistful of boost. For the most part, we will focus on the RB26 and RB30, as they're the most commonly used blocks.

Common Donor Vehicles: 19852002 Nissan Skylines, 19861988 Holden Commodore (VL)

Displacement: 2.0L (122 ci) to 3.0L (182 ci)

Horsepower:200325

Torque:230290 lb-ft

Bore:3.07 in (78 mm) to 3.38 in (86.0 mm)

Stroke:2.74 in (69.7 mm) to 3.34 in (85.0 mm)

Block:Cast iron

Cylinder head:Aluminum, 24-valve overhead cam

Dimensions: L: 33 in, W: 26 in, H: 28 in (approximate with turbos)

Weight:550600 lbs (approximate with turbos)

We never got Nissan's "Godzilla," as it became known, but they were notorious in Australia. "They were racing at Mt. Panorama in the 1990s, and I think that's where the cult status came from. They actually banned them," Kostas recalls. "They were just too quick. They kept trying to restrict them, but teams kept raising the bar on the RB—and with AWD, you can throw big power at them and they're streetable."

With more than 30 years in the field, he mentioned the first bottleneck in horsepower for the RB is its turbo and fuel system. Most of the factory units max out around 1415 psi, and the later ceramic-wheel-equipped turbos will live very short lives at elevated boost levels. You'll find around 330350 hp at the wheels before the stock fuel system is stretched thin, but according to Kostas, "Most people skip half of that and go straight to a bigger single-turbo and do a heap of work at once."

The main issues are with the rotating assembly: first is that the factory oil pump lacks the volume needed at higher rpm (or was outright defective, as in earlier RBs), and second is that the cranks are not as stable as their counterparts from Toyota—though the aftermarket has healed these wounds for Achilles. With a billet crank and a larger, higher-volume oil pump (and an additional oil restrictor to the head, maintaining pressure in the crankcase), they can live above 1,000 hp with few worries. Stock cranks can manage 1,000 hp with a carefully balanced rotating assembly, but durability is a concern.

The major limitation of the block isn't the displacement of the cylinders, but the actual internal clearances for stroker rotating assemblies. "There's not enough room in the block for aluminum rods," Kostas says. "But we spin these things to about 11,000 rpm with steel H-beam rods in the 3.2—they definitely love to rev." Australia's Bullet Race Engineering has produced a billet block with room for bulkier al-yew-mini-um rods.

For the average builder, though, stroker combinations are popular. The RB20 is small-bore at 78 mm, but the RB24/25/26/30 share the same 86mm bore with strokes ranging from 69.785 mm, meaning that each foundation has room to grow. "Ninety-nine percent of the big-power stuff is all 3.2L, but we've started to see a big rush of 2.8s again," he says. The 3.2 is a combo that utilizes the RB30 block from Holden, which carries an extra 40mm of deck height, with the Nissan RB26 head. "Really puts them on the same ballpark as the 2JZ with similar displacements," noting the increased low-end torque is welcome.

Our pick? Grab one of the cheaper RB25DETs and a 2.8L stroker kit (Kostas recommends Nitto Performance Engineering) with all the right reliability mods, and have a ball. Something like this would be a riot in a Datsun 240Z or a 510—or maybe a 1967 Ford Mustang fastback.

Toyota JZ series

While we're all cheering for 1,000 hp on stock-bottom LS engines, the Toyota Supra's 2JZ has been churning four-digit numbers on the street even before Brian owed Dom a 10-second car. With factory turbocharging and seven main bearings, it didn't take long for the Supra to gain a notorious reputation in Japan for measuring horsepower by the Richter scale. In later years, the U.S. import invasion reignited interest in Toyota's tower of power, as it offered a big improvement in displacement and strength over the venerable four-banger found standard in most Japanese sports coupes. We met Jay Meagher during Drag Week 2016, when he placed third in Super Street Small-Block Power-Adder with a stout 8.277 at 163.272 mph. He runs Real Street Performance out of Sanford, Florida, specializing in Supras while keeping his doors open to most any late-model speed.

Common Donor Vehicles (Toyota JDM counterpart): 19932004 Lexus GS300 (Aristo), 19992005 Lexus IS300 (Altezza), 19912000 Lexus SC300 (Soarer), 19932002 Toyota Supra

Displacement: 2.5L (152 ci) to 3.0L (182 ci)

Horsepower:212276 (underrated)

Torque:209330 lb-ft

Bore: 3.38 in (86.0 mm)

Stroke: 2.81 (71.5 mm) to3.38 in (86.0 mm)

Block:Cast iron

Cylinder head:Aluminum, 24-valve overhead cam

Dimensions: L: 33 in, W: 31 in, H: 27 in (approximate with turbos)

Weight:595 lbs (approximate with turbos)

Jay is not shy about his views of Toyota's 3.0L straight-six: "I think the 2JZ is the Japanese small-block Chevy. They're an incredibly viable option and incredibly affordable to hot rod." The engine was prolific in Toyota and Lexus applications, though we only saw its purest turbo versions in the Supra. Out the gate, Jay recommends buying a USDM or JDM 2JZ-GTE with factory turbocharging if you can. You can find the naturally aspirated 2JZ in 1990s to early-2000s Lexus GS300s, IS300s, and SC300s. Without cracking them open, they can handle 500600 hp with a turbo, but by the time you've gone through one to prep one for the venerable 1,000hp mark, you would have saved money starting with a turbocharged variant that carries most of the hardware already.

The internet is full of rumors about which source of one is best, but regardless of domestic market (U.S. or Japan) or inclusion of variable-valve timing (VVT), Jay mentions they're all equally capable with the same supporting mods. In fact, the VVT reduces turbo lag significantly, if you need low-end response (road racing or drifting, for example).

We'll get to how easy it is to build power next, but first the oiling system has to addressed. Simply put, Toyota never intended it to rev as high as what racers needed.

"If you're going much more than 8,300 to 8,500 rpm, and you don't have money for a dry-sump, then you should use an aluminum rod," he says, in addition to an upgraded oil pump. Aluminum rods simply stress the rotating assembly less, saving the bearings as the 2JZ reaches for five-digit rpm numbers. Camshafts and springs are highly recommended, but take note to order a factory set of 3S-GTE valve shims and buckets. The 2JZ uses shim-over-bucket adjustment for valve clearance, meaning that at high lift the camshaft can actually spit a shim out. The 3S-GTE's arrangement places the shim under the bucket, eliminating this.

"If you want to make 700 hp, it just takes the right turbocharger, octane, and tuning on the stock ECU," Jay says. "A dry-sump and a proper ECU, like a Motec, is money well spent. The smallest turbo I'd use is something like a 66mm turbine—like a Precision 67/66 and add valvesprings, and you've got something that makes good power from 4,500 to 8,500." For serious horsepower, billet long-blocks are out there, but there's nothing water-jacketed for the street just yet, but there are stock 2JZ blocks in the 6s that prove the point.

General Motors LS series

It should be no surprise that the LS engine carried on the original small-block's tradition of being the solution for practically everything. Despite its compact dimensions, the LS supports big-block displacements, with the General offering options from 4.8L to 7.0L. Better yet, there's no shortage of them to trip over in wrecked trucks and vans at your local junkyard. We grabbed Westech Performance's mad scientist, Richard Holdener, as our ringer in this story—his Big Bang Theories are to blame for more than a fair share of LS swaps.

Common Donor Vehicles: 19992013 Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac, Hummer trucks and SUVs; 2003-current Chevrolet and GMC vans; 19972013 Corvettes; 19982002 Pontiac Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro; 20102015 Chevrolet Camaro; 20042015 Cadillac CTS-V

Displacement:4.8L (283 ci) to 7.0L (427 ci)

Horsepower:255638

Torque:285604 lb-ft

Bore:3.78 in (96 mm) to 4.125 in (104.7 mm)

Stroke:3.26 in (83 mm) to 4 in (110 mm)

Block:Cast iron or aluminum

Cylinder head:Aluminum, 12-valves (199900 LQ4s carried iron heads)

Dimensions: L: 29 in, W: 26 in, H: 2230 in (approximate, depending on oil pan and supercharger)

Weight:450550 lbs (approximate with exhaust manifolds)

"The most common engine people get is the 5.3L. It's the base engine for a ton of different truck and SUV applications, and they made millions more of them than performance cars," Richard says. One of the stark contrasts between the LS compared to the RB and JZ platforms is its physical size for the displacement. With their turbochargers, both inline-sixes are wider than the LS is while being about 4 inches longer.

The weight difference is a little apples-to-oranges, as the RB and JZ weights include the turbochargers, but even the supercharged LS9 weighs about as much as the other two. This is in part because of the technology gap, in lieu of advanced simulation, a lot of Japanese automakers engineered overkill cast-iron blocks to give themselves plenty of breathing room in long-term durability—the blocks also withstood a lot of horsepower at the expense of weight. Even with the iron block truck engines, the LS is a svelte motor thanks to its more advanced block design and webbing.

For the most part, the recipe of a 76mm turbo, uprated valvesprings, and a camshaft are about the only things needed to tickle 7501,000 hp. Turbocharger choice is up to the owner, and Richard suggests going with the best you can afford. "There's nothing wrong with someone on the street grabbing an off-shore turbo. If it lasts for a few years, but costs one-third the price, it's not a bad deal—buy another," he says. "I won't use off-shore wastegates, that's one thing I'll spend good money on, as controlling the boost is really important."

When it comes to the upper limits of the LS block, there's a notable difference between the Gen III and Gen IV short-blocks. Not only are the later, full-floating rods stronger, but the block itself has small reinforcements, too—meaning there's more headroom for horsepower before you go to an aftermarket block.

Beyond that, the last advantage of the LS platform is the community that supports it. Not only are our tech pages full of ways to build any LS you can image, but Holdener notes that, "What's great about the LS is you can use the factory ECU and harness, and start tuning. The nice thing about it is there's a lot of calibrations out there that someone can download for free. You know, if a guy throws a turbo on a 5.3—that's been done a million times. So you can download one of those and get really, really close before you go to a dyno."

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