Engines are absolutely magnificent. We always tend to associate the looks and the feel of driving behind the wheel to the characteristics of the car, but whilst they are important, the engine is truly what defines the car. They are the biological anatomy equivalent of the heart in a car and like us humans too, it brings life to a car for us to experience and enjoy.
The history of the internal combustion engine traces it’s roots back to the 1800s and to the point where we are now, this invention has evolved in so many forms and iterations in the spirit of technological advancement. With the internal combustion engine at risk today, we love to remind ourselves that regardless of the cubic capacity and cylinders, nothing can amount to the same visceral experience behind the wheel. But if we lined-up some of our favourite Modern Classic cars ever made – the Toyota Supra JZA80, the BMW M3 E46, and the Nissan Skyline R34 GTR – we find that these iconic cars have one singular common factor… 6 cylinders!
Crowd Favourite – Thanks to social media and the absolute overhype, the 2JZ in-line six engine is just so adored by the online community. As a result of it’s association with the MkIV Supra, this engine has won hearts everywhere around the world thanks to the world of tuning and modification. But what is it that makes this engine so special beyond just internet hype?
It’s all about the block – Toyota built the 2JZ block out of a heavy-duty cast iron which has made it absolutely infamous for it’s durability to withstand higher power without cranking up the bottom end. The square design of the bore and stroke (86mm x 86mm) accompanies the in-line six’s balanced configuration; where unlike V engines, in-line design gives a more even weight distribution from the engine block that ultimately enables it to rev higher for longer. For a lack of another word, the 2JZ is as good as bulletproof up to about 800bhp.
Naturally of course, Toyota made the 2JZ in both GE & GTE between normally aspirated and forced induced turbo setup. But it’s characteristics are purely derived from the GTE version in which was made popular by the Mk IV Supra Twin Turbo. The development in aftermarket parts and tuning based off the 2JZ over the years has put this engine on the map, and if it’s power that you’re looking for, you will be spoilt for choice. A quick google browse to spark your interest and you will be able to find various bolt on parts and recipes to power of up 2000bhp with just a few clicks.
Toyota being a mass manufacturer of automobiles enabled an open accessibility to find this engine block for relatively cheap. And thanks to the universal language of power, you will find installation kits made for almost any car you’d like to work with for a 2JZ swap. Over a period of 16 years, Toyota continued to make various iterations and updates, yet sadly the 2JZ barely went circuit racing. But thanks to it’s limitless tuning potential, it most definitely concurred the Drift and Drag scene that even till today, it will always hold that legendary status.
BMW ///M S54
Unadulterated Power Delivery – The S54 block is an ///M division developed high performance engine based originally based on the older generation S50 block that was used on the E36 generation M3. BMWs of it’s generation were famed for it’s aluminium block technology, however the S54 was made based on an iron block hence it must not be confused with the baseline M54 engine used in non ///M models. Being a skunkworks engine, the S54 was only ever put on a handful of cars but of course, this block was mainly developed and produced to be paired with the E46 M3.
The skunkworks recipe – take the S50 3-litre in-line six engine, rebore to increase the displacement by 200cc overall, install uprated camshafts and increase the compression ratio to make it a more potent engine. In a way, the S54 can be considered as a factory approved modified engine, made for the Motorsports division use. These uprated traits delivered a performance of more than 100hp per litre, churning out a rated output of 343hp from it’s normally aspirated design that revs all the way to 8000rpm. It’s free-revving characteristics has made it an iconic experience, one that can’t be found in any other performance car in it’s time.
In terms of tuning potential, generally European sports cars are not as excessive as the JDM world. There are various ways to port or force induce the engine, to unlock a bit more potential out of the S54 block. But ///M cars are generally about balance between engine performance, and handling which deduces the love from its fans and followers – hence finding 1000bhp like you may on a 2JZ may not be proven and straightforward.
The engine’s success however did not bring home many accolades on the Motorsports world. However, the S54 did win Engine Of The Year award 5 years in a row between 2000-2005 for it’s unbound performance and reliability. It must be said however that the importance of the M3 to BMW ///M division meant that putting the right engine was absolutely crucial for the brand. The E46 generation has grown to be an absolutely successful Modern Classic, with over 85,000 units built over just a 6 year period.
Nissan’s RB26 engine denotes it’s DNA with the Skyline GT-R, reigning the hearts and ears of car enthusiasts everywhere for 3 generations in the form of the 32, 33, and 34. Famed for it’s Individual Throttle Body (ITB) setup from factory and durable characteristics from it’s iron-cast block, the high-revving nature of the RB26 has earned this engine it’s reputation in the tuning world – particularly with the Nissan tuning scene.
Nissan first developed the RB series engine block first came around in the mid-80s with a 2.0-litre unit. However, not until the BNR32 came around that this engine block truly made it’s stride. From factory, it features an in-line six 2.6-litre iron cast block and an aluminium cylinder head, mated to 6 individual throttle bodies that is matched with a parallel twin-turbo setup that is good for a factory rated output of 276ps. But as we all know, the agreement between Japanese manufacturers were to hold the power out to the ‘276’ maximum figure on paper, but truly, the RB26 had much more potential even in factory mode.
The standard engine block is known to be good for up to around 600bhp, as Nissan developed this engine for it’s halo’ed GT-R models which were meant to go racing. Aftermarket tuning parts are accessible and in it’s prime, the RB was as good as untouchable both on an off the streets. Stroker kits from major tuning houses like HKS and JUN paved the way to the Skyline’s cult success, and time unlocked talents from countries like New Zealand and RIPS Racing who specialises in enhancing RB blocks from top to bottom to reach limitless performance capabilities. Finding 1000bhp-1200bhp out of the RB26 is not impossible these days.
The world of motorsports has truly blessed the RB26 thanks to it’s success in races like Japan Touring Car Championship (JTCC), Japan GT Championship (JGTC), Barthurst, and even Pikes Peak just to name a few. The Skyline GT-R was unstoppable on circuits, making the car a true icon and the engine part and parcel with the car’s success. As the Skyline moniker forge it’s place in automotive history, and prices continue to rise, Nissan themselves have began reproducing the RB26 engines through NISMO for restoration projects around the globe.
For more hands on experience and a review of what these engine’s are like to drive in a car – watch our In-Line Six shootout review film here.
Written By | Qhalis Najmi