When it comes to designing engines that are perfect for massaging massive amounts of horsepower out of, it’s no secret that Nissan’s been right near the top of the pile for a long time.
They’ve never been shy about their racing pedigree: it’s a characteristic that’s not only made them legendary on road courses and drag strips, but superstars in films and videos games as well. Barely a handful of auto manufacturers have ever had that kind of brand recognition.
Despite all the potential for coaxing oodles of horses from a Nissan, the unavoidable truth remains that you can’t cut corners building a strong motor. The best builds start with the best blocks – and from the inside out – so, let’s look at what the aftermarket has on offer that’s in line with their lineage, along with some of Nissan’s most revered powerplants.
Building it Correctly
Nissan enthusiasts have every right to be happy that the aftermarket has stayed in perfect step with their needs. It’s a happiness that’s still backed, however, by the stark reality that comes with engine building. You can’t build high performance engines with substandard parts, and starting with high quality Nissan performance parts will give every engine builder the upper hand when it comes to assembling bulletproof engines that’ll live up to their expectations.
Forge it in Steel
There’s no way around it: regardless of whether you’re doing a basic rebuild or building a mammoth stroker, you need to replace all your rotating part like pistons, rods and crank with forged components … especially if the old ones are cast iron, or (probably) fatigued older forgings. The truth is, you just don’t know much power a freshly assembled engine’s putting out unless it’s dyno’ed, and with the horsepower, Nissans are capable of producing, you’re inviting eminent disaster with a sub-par powertrain.
Who’s a Stud Now
Don’t even think twice about it: if you’re rebuilding, make the decision early to replace every head and main cap bolt with higher tensile strength studs. A perfectly fine looking factory bolt on the outside may only be a few extra HP away from failure; so why risk it. With new studs, there’re no worries about reusing or snapping bolts on an install: gaskets seat better on the top, caps won’t walk on the bottom, and they’ll contribute more than their share toward holding the whole engine together.
Hold Onto Your Bottom
If there’s any question about why some engines need girdles and stronger main caps, then you don’t realize just how much twisting force engines are actually placed under. Anytime you build a motor that’s capable of turning 7,000 RPM or more, your crank’s looking for any possible excuse it can find to exit the motor – and a girdle and hardened mains will deny it the flexibility to do so. Tunnel boring’s also advisable before bolting on a girdle; but if you’re contemplating making monstrous amounts of power, ensuring your main tunnel is straight before adding a heap of rigidity to the bottom end is absolutely necessary.
Big Motors Like Big OilHere’s another “non-negotiable” factor in a build. After assembling the ultimate powertrain, the last thing you want to experience is oil starvation. RB motors in particular are big fans of big oil, and you’ll want to keep them happy with both a high flowing oil pump as well as a drain kit to keep as much oil back to the sump as possible. It’s the lifeblood of your motor, and few things are more gut-wrenching than the sound of an oil starved engine seizing up.Minding Your Bearings
On the off chance that you have no desire to build the meanest motor ever – that you just want to refresh a classic, daily-driven motor that’s faithfully served you for years – there’s still one thing that’ll benefit it without the need to mortgage the farm: bearings. Most aftermarket powertrain components will come with their tri-layer bearings; but if you’re experiencing powertrain noise, low oil pressure or seeing metal shavings in your oil – and if you haven’t allowed the problem to go on for too long – a fresh set of rod and main bearings will give your engine a brand new lease on life.
The Kings of the Hill
Nissan’s engine stable is crammed full of big, capable performers; but there’s a handful of motors that stand head and shoulders above the rest. These engines are at the top of Nissan’s food chain for both potential and sheer respect when people realize what’s under the hood … the pinnacles of performance when you’re using Nissan aftermarket parts.VR38: The Modern Classic
These 3.8L aluminium V6s have been Nissan’s most potent, mass-produced engine since their debut in 2007. From the early 480 HP twin-turbo renditions to the 600 HP versions still being produced today; but stroked motors with beefed-up top ends, forged pistons and rods, and larger turbos are infamous for delivering 1,000+ HP at the wheels.
RB26: The Chairman of the Board
Race engines at heart that ended up in passenger cars; these cast-iron, turbo-charged, 2.6L 6-cylinder plants are the flag bearers of Nissan’s legendary RB family of engines. From the laughably low factory rating of 276 HP, to the more likely accurate 330 HP, to the tire-shredding 1000+ HP they’re capable of delivering after stroking and headwork; these motors have attained almost mythical status during their 30 years of production.
SR20: Who Said Size Matters?
Nothing sounds more intimidating than the mention of wringing 650 HP from an aluminium 4-cylinder – but that’s precisely what these high-strung, 2L twin turbos are capable of. With the high-end SR20DET units readily grinding more than 200 HP in factory trim, a more than a reliable bump to 450 HP on just a turbo swap, with head studs and nicely massaged internals is more than enough to embarrass most V8s.
RB25: The Prodigal Son Pushes BackAnother of the RB family’s offspring, these engines may concede 100cc and around 40 HP to their race-inspired RB26 brethren, but they’re not pushovers by any means. Building either a stroker, or a beefed-up RB25DET block that’s been strengthened top and bottom, and running a forged powertrain behind a larger turbo will both easily yield 500+ HP without breaking a sweat.
VQ35: Old Faithful
Possibly the most ubiquitous of the modern Nissan engines, these aluminium V6’s have been around the block ( … literally) more times than most people are aware. VQ35s have powered more than 20 different Nissan and Renault models over the decades – but don’t let its all-purpose guise fool you. Producing between 217 and 313 HP straight off the showroom floor; going all-out with an aligned and stiffened bottom end, forged internals, generous headwork and a turbo will have these motors grunting out 900 HP.
At the end of the day, Nissan engines are a league all their own. Few automotive brands have ever dedicated so much support to motorsports – either through their teams, or customer efforts – and even fewer brands have been so readily embraced by the aftermarket for their potential.
Capable of producing ridiculous amounts of power with even more ridiculous weight ratios; the availability of Nissan performance parts means the factory’s penchant for designing full-blooded racing engines hasn’t gone unappreciated by their fans … and certainly not unnoticed by their competitors.It’s only a matter of time before Nissan unleashes its next big-horse masterpiece; and fortunately for us all, there won’t be any hesitation toward enticing even more horses out of it.