AE86 Tuning Guide: Crazy Conversions!


So we’ve looked at your basic mods, some hard tuned NA, supercharged 4A’s and turbo 4A’s, but what do you do when you want (insert Jeremy Clarkson here…) MOAR POWAHH!?!?!

Well, as the old adage goes ‘There’s no replacement for displacement!’ so what if you want to fit a bigger engine in your AE86? What engines are available? Has it been done before?

Here we will look at what has been done before and what works when it comes to bigger and badder engines!

First up any bigger engine you decide on with have to be accompanied by the appropriate drive train upgrades be it differentials or gearboxes. Where you can, you can often use the gearbox that matches to the engine for simplicity, but it may not be that simple anyway!



Almost indestructible, plentiful and cheap. If you want a simple turbocharged engine upgrade you really cant go wrong. About as sophisticated as an axe handle and just as strong, most CA18DET’s will happily pull 180rwkw and sitting on an 8000rpm limiter all day. All on factory internals.

Blessed with an iron block, alloy head and a T25 turbo from the factory the only down side to the CA18DET is its crappy ECU. But thats an easy fix. Being almost exclusively RWD the CA18DET is going to be the easiest non-4A engine to fit given that its physical size is almost identical to that of a 4A-GE. The mounts on a CA18DET almost line up perfect with the RWD 4A-GE mounts. But some fabrication work would be needed to get it right.

First upgrade should be a new ECU, such as an Adaptronic, Microtech or Haltech etc. this will free up a heap of power and allow for future upgrades such as new turbo.Also add a front mount intercooler to replace the weedy sidemount that CA18DETS usually have.

The CA18DET is similar to the 4A-GTE in that it likes to rev, and loves boost. So first thing to do would be piss that t25 off, and replace it with a later t28 or T28 ball bearing turbo from the later SR20 engines. You could also use a similar sized aftermarket turbo such as a GARRETT 2871r.

The standard CA18DET gearbox is not a bad thing and about the same size as a W5x series box, and the gear stick pops up in roughly the same place as a T50.


Brad (steriodchickens on the HR forum) has used a CA18DET to great effect with his car and it cuts a mean skid!

3S-GE/3S-GTE/3S-GE beams


The 3S-GE/TE is Toyota’s only 4-cylinder 2-liter turbo engine and 2-liter RWD engine. The 3S’s were first found in the ST165 Celica’s in non-turbo format then from ST185 onward Celica’s and also in the SW20 MR2 in both turbo and non-turbo.

Up until the late 90’s the 3S engines were all transverse mounted East-West. It wasn’t until the ALTEZZA/RS200 did they become longitudinally mounted in a north-south format. They also lost the turbo and gained VVTi, and DUAL VVTi on the later BEAMS motor.

In terms of fitment, the later RWD only BEAMS 3S-GE is going to be the easiest swap , but only because it is already RWD. The turbo 3S-GTE has been fitted a number of times but would need a bit of fabrication to fit. They do line close to the factory mounts but new mounts would need to be fabricated to make it perfect.

BEAMS installed into a Carina Van

The sump on the turbo models works well with in RWD as the largest part of the sump is in front of the subframe like a 4A-GE.

The BEAMS engine has the sump in the right place but the motor itself is quite tall, and a new winged sump would need to be fitted or have the engine sitting up quite high which is terrible for balance. A drysump set up could be used to great effect here but is quite costly and if your on a budget is really going to be very prohibitive.

The only gearbox to use with a 3S-GTE is a W5x series box, and if your BEAMS motor didnt come with its awesome 6 speed.

The 6 speed is actually a quite a bit longer than a W5x series and comes out near where the hand brake is, which is not necessarily a bad thing.


The only down side to a 3S’s is the turbo models. the early blocks have a known weak point between cylinders 2 and 3 with the water jackets. The cylinder walls are a lot thinner and weaker in this area, and fail quite often. The best thing to do is if you can is use the late model turbo engines from a ST205 celica (94 onwards) or Series 3 onwards MR2’s (95 onwards) as Toyota corrected this problem.

If you want to go nuts and have enough money then turboing the BEAMS engine is the best way to go. The BEAMS motor is pretty solid by itself, making 210PS (150kw) from factory and having a 8500rpm redline. with the dual VVTi it has power all through the rev range. To run the BEAMS engine you will need an aftermarket ECU as the factory ECU will not mate very well at all with the standard AE86 gear.

There are still quite a bit of aftermarket support for the BEAMS motor and with a set of individual throttle bodies (which TRD can provide) a decent tune and exhaust system near 300hp is not unheard of. In fact TRD state that you can get 270hp from the motor using their ECU, extractors/exhaust, and their individual throttle bodies!

The 3S-GTE can make a heap of power when done correctly. There is not a lot of aftermarket support for these engines when compare to say an SR20. But when built correctly, and to get the best out of them you should, a 3S-GTE will match most SR20’s in terms of power.

Again the basic items like front mount intercooler, upgraded turbo to replace the fragile ct26 ceramic turbo, and ECU will help you get the most out of you 3S-GTE. It really depends on the amount of power your after.The other up side with the beams engine is that the motor itself is not much heavier than standard 4A-GE. the 3S-GTE due to its iron block is a bit heavier but the power you make by far overcomes the weight problem.



This may seem blasphemous to some putting a ‘Dirty Datsun’ engine in your AE86 but in some ways it is a very logical decision.

The SR20 as most of you are well aware are found in all S-chassis Nissan Silvia’s. It is also found in a number FWD and AWD Nissan cars, like the GTi-R. Oddly enough Nissan bestowed its strongest and most powerful factory engine in the GTi-R, but its not interchangeable with any other SR20…

An SR20 in an AE86 really only works with the turbo engine. In all honesty its not worth your time with the non-turbo version as Toyota provides much better N/A engines with much easier fitment. So we are going to concentrate on that.

The SR20DET weighs almost exactly the same as a 4A-GE, it may be a couple of kilo’s either way but its so minimal you would hardly notice. Being a RWD engine again the SR20 is going to be simple to fit, and again new mounts would need to be fabricated. As of late the SR20 in AE86 engine swap has been completed a number of times and a workshop in the US by the name of  Johns Superior Performance is now offering kits for direct SR20 bolt in!

The biggest advantage the SR20 has over other factory turbo engines like the 3S-GTE is the aftermarket support. Its almost impossible not to make power using an SR20DET. There is a endless number of turbo, cams, manifolds, and ECU options for the SR20det. Making 200rwkw from an SR20 is a snap with a simple upgrade of turbo, ECU, intercooler and some baby drop-in cams. In fact a turbo upgrade isnt always necessary, if you use a later engine with a T28 turbo, close to 180rwkw is no problem with the bush bearing turbo.

So you can make all this power from the SR20, and you can just feel there is a big BUT coming. Yes you can make that power, its been done hundreds of times in most Silvia’s, BUT (there it is..) there is a fair amount of work that will need to be done to the transmission tunnel. The SR20 gearbox it actually pretty wide and long, so the stick again pops up near the handbrake.Most people just massage (read: bash the crap out of it) the tunnel to fit the gearbox.

Now the factory 5 speed from an S14 is the strongest SR20 gearbox, but if youR chasing massive power the RB25 gearbox is damn near bullet proof. Its pretty much the same size as the SR20 gearbox, but its lard arse. The RB25 box is so heavy its almost the same weight as the SR20 engine!

So be prepared that your biggest advantage you had with the AE86, its light weight, is no longer applicable as it will weigh a lot more now using an SR20.With an SR20DET engine going sideways has never been so easy. Currently D1 UK  and D1  USA Team Falken driver Darren Macnamara uses a built SR20 in his car and went all the way to 2nd last round in the D1 all stars in Irwindale!!



This is probably the most difficult conversion to complete as there are a number of issues you would need to over come first.First and biggest issue with the F20c is the physical height of the engine. the F20C is actually one of the tallest engines going around, and in the rather shallow AE86 engine bay that can be an issue.

Fitting the engine is not so much of an issue nowadays as there are a number of companies offering off the shelf F20C conversion kits available. Companies such as HOT STAFF and John’s Superior Performance make the engine a direct bolt in affair.

The second biggest issue is the price of the engine itself. With the F20C still commanding close to $8000 for the engine and gearbox its not going to be cheap.

The other issues for us Aussies and the rest of the right hand drive world is the fact that the exhaust and intake are now on opposite sides to the 4A-GE. So that means the extractors and exhaust system now run down right next to the brake master and clutch master cylinders. Not so much of an issue but there is minimal room which to run a decent exhaust manifold.

Other things like the battery and ignition location will also have to be moved. Again not an issue, as if you were performing a conversion such as this those items should have already been dealt with.One other thing that is an issue is that fact that nothing will wire up to the factory AE86, albeit simple things like aircon and the like will wire up but items like guages and the speed signal wont work any more.


So whats so good about an F20C? Apart from the fact its the worlds most powerful mass produced 4cyl N/A engine, and makes more power per cubic centimetre (CC) than any other engine! 250hp (175kw) 9500rpm redline, a sweet shifting 6sp gearbox and a glorious VTEC note!

Just take that in for a second… Now imagine that in a little lightweight AE86!  The Honda S2000 which the F20c comes from weighs in at portly 1270kg. your average AE86 weighs 950kg’s. The S2000 is no slug, but is quite heavy for what it is. So with the F20C in a car weighing 300kg’s less, your little AE86 is going to scream!!

There is quite a bit of aftermarket support for the F20C engine, and no doubt could be employed in an AE86. Certainly fitting a set of Quads to it would solve a lot of the intake piping issues…This is quite a popular conversion in the US as they do not have as many issues as we do with their Left Hand Drive cars. The US also gets the fantasticaly just as powerful but much torquier F22C. The F22C revs just as hard but only to 8500rpm instead of the  sky high 9500rpm of the F20C.

The 6 speed gearbox is one of the sweetest shifting things you’ll ever use. It just slots in place, doesnt slop about and very very smooth. The stick like all the others will pop up near the handbrake.  There is however a few people developing a bell housing to mate a W5x box to the F20C engines to make the conversion that much easier again.  I do think it will be a while yet before we see a F20C engine conversion on an aussie delivered car. Considering the previous conversion have been completed on a lesser budget and with great effect.


Starting with what will soon probably be a common conversion is the 1UZ-FE. Josh Young’s beast is probably the most infamous 1UZ-FE AE86, but I have heard rumours of one in Sydney somewhere and also one in Melbourne.


The 1UZ is an all alloy block and head, makes 200kw from factory and loves to rev. Toyota went to town in the over-engineering department blessing the 1UZ with 6 bolt main bearings, a sold steel crank and decent internals.  The 1UZ only comes with an auto box but you can buy a W5x bell housing to mate the 1UZ to a manual gearbox. Obviously you will need a hilux diff and a very well strengthend chassis to cope with the power and torque the 1UZ will put out.

Making a solid 250kw at the motor is pretty easy, using a aftermarket ECU, decent headers and with the addition of a set of ITB’s it will have THE greatest induction sound ever. Thats not to say there aren’t any issues. Josh had cut the sh*t out of the firewall to get most of the engine behind the front subframe for the best balance.


Another option, which is actually very popular in Puerto Rico, is the Rotary engine. Most commonly the 13B turbo which can make a bag of power in a very compact package.  The 13b engine is quite small, about half the size and weight of a 4A-GE engine and would be set quite a way back in the engine bay. Also the Mazda gearbox is quite compact, similar in size to the W5x gearbox.

This may sound great but there are many issues inherit with rotary engines. Firstly their massive thirst. To make power in a rotor you need to thing in abundance AIR and FUEL. The more of those 2 you put in the more power you can make. So the rotor will drink like a sailor on shore leave, and with a 50ltr tank in the AE86 you’ll more than likely be driving from servo to servo.

Secondly is their reliability. Most of the time a rotary engine will run ok, with out much issue. But they all start to fall apart eventually no matter how good a rebuild is they will start have massive issues. No matter how hard you try you cant avoid this fact.

A rotary engine is in terms of power delivery very linear, much like a N/A engine. As such they do not have much torque and you really need to rev it and keep it up high to get the best out of a rotary, especially a turbo rotary. This can be a challenge to someone who is use to a piston engine and its power delivery.

There is or was only one car in south australia that I know of that used a rotary engine in his AE86. Im unsure as to what happened to it as it disappeared a number of years ago. Most of this blog has concentrated on 4cyl engines mainly because there has not been many 6cyl engines fitted to an AE86. Years ago it was pretty common to fit a 1G-GTE engine but the weight of that thing is insane. All balance the AE86 had is thrown out the window.

There are a few 1J and 2J ae86 getting about but they are only used for drag racing. As one of the issues with this type of conversion is the length the of the straight 6 motor. Tt just doesnt quite fit… Not with out some sort of massaging.

I have been looking around and heard talk of the 3VZ-FE V6 engine being fitted. A couple of people have fitted this engine to their SW20 MR2’s with great results. The 3VZ is quite compact and fairly revvy and torquy and but being iron block and 4 bolt mains means its going to be heavy. There is also A 1MZ-FE which is all alloy and much much lighter. Both engines are making a lazy 150kw, so getting more power and being a very drivable engine would be quite easy. It would certainly suit some one who is after a circuit setup.

So Now What?

If your after more power and not wanting to use a 4A engine there are a number of options available for you. Some easy, some not so easy but each unique and individual in its own way.  Hopefully it has given you some ideas to think outside of the box with your AE86 modifcation.

Stay ‘tuned’ for the next AE86 Tuning Guide!


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