The turbos arouse from their slumber at around 2000rpm; there’s little indication of anything before then. By 3000rpm you’re well on your way, and by the time 4000rpm arrives you’d better plan to shift, because from there to the redline you squirt forth with such alacrity that you won’t have time to get the job done if you wait any longer. You want to watch the tach, to see where the boost starts, to see that needle swing for the bleachers, but you can’t: the scenery blurs by so quickly it’s impossible to take your eyes off the road. You’re hurled forward, a gentle, unseen hand reaches through the windshield and presses you ever more firmly into your chair. Shift into second, and the acceleration gets stronger; both turbos are on full boil, you’ve got momentum and the sheer breathtaking speed of it squeezes a laugh out of you. You can’t help it; the sheer joy of leaping from 4000 to 7500 rpm in less time than it takes to tell is invigorating.
You expect that sort of speed in something small and boosted: a Lancer Evo, an STI. But unlike the junior rally stars, the Skyline never gets wound up as it gets going. The power is there, but it’s never hysterical: the speed comes, but you’re always feeling safe and in control in the cabin. The power borders on the effortless: it’s nicknamed ‘Godzilla’ for a reason, after all.
Such is the joy of Nissan’s RB26DETT. The RB26DETT, is a twin-cam, four-valve-per-cylinder inline-six with two intercooled ceramic-impeller Garrett turbos buried low on the passenger’s side of the seven-main-bearing block. The big bore and short stroke means that it yearns to run: 0-60 times around five seconds in a stock GT-R aren’t out of the question. Officially, it was (under)rated at 276 horsepower; this number was the basis for an unofficial “gentleman’s agreement” advertised horsepower cap between auto manufacturers. Moderate tuning can raise horsepower levels to 450-plus; indeed, subsequent generations of RB26DETT saw improvements in torque, and the redline inch ever northward, but with no official boost in power. Right.
Most performance cars have a hotted-up street engine, with re-profiled cams, a trick exhaust and some computer fettling; the GT-R was more of a racing homologation special, with a detuned race engine dropped between the fender wells to justify a racing program that rewrote the rules worldwide (and got it banned from competition on at least one continent).
If there’s any one issue with an R32/R33/R34-generation Skyline GT-R, beyond a general lack of availability in this country, it’s weight. While hardly fat, a GT-R’s comfortable-to-sit-in coupe body comes with a plump downside: an R34‘s weight is officially clocked at 1,540 kilograms (nearly 3,400 pounds), but that seems light for a car of this size: our guess is that there’s at least another 200 pounds of fluids and such in there, making for 3,600 pounds. (Can an R32 really weigh as much as a new STI? Really?) An R33 is another hundred pounds or more on top of that. And suddenly the GT-R’s abilities come into focus: it makes a gigantic coupe the size of your granny’s Buick act like a Lancer Evo in the corners. It’s mind-bending.
Now, strip away half a ton of weight. That’s right, one thousand pounds. (Picture your last eight girlfriends, combined—or picture the last three and add in their emotional baggage.) That all-aluminum straight-six isn’t working nearly as hard now; untweaked, it should fling you forth in something closer to four seconds flat. But what’s the fun in that? If you’re gonna tweak, man, go for the stars. Bump the compression half a point, to 9:1. Stir in a couple of HKS turbos. Since it’s understood that the stock 276 horse numbers were low to start with, compression and intercooled boost, with no computer fettling, will get you well north of 400hp, possibly closer to 450.
It’s a jaw-dropping formula, made all the more tantalizing once you understand the baseline of what a stock GT-R can do. Take away a third of a GT-R’s weight, and stir in an additional third more power? You’re piloting the Millenium Falcon through hyperspace, distant points ahead of you blur by in the peripheral vision before you have time to register what that was back there. Exhilarating. Monstrous. Fantastic. And not a little bit sexy.
This is what Marco Vargas has done. By dropping an RB26DETT into that most classic of old-school Japanese cars, an early Datsun 240Z, he keeps the former Fairlady’s straight-six geneology intact, keeps it all Nissan, and shaves a cool half a ton of metal off the proceedings. Or, put another way, he’s taken the power of a stock early ‘70s 240Z...a dainty Z-car, sold at home in Japan as the Fairlady, fer cryin’ out loud...and tripled it.
Now, Marco is owner, proprietor, head muckety-muck and chief potentate of SR20Store.com, a Southern California-based shop that does Nissan twin-cam four-cylinder conversions like most of us change underwear. (Assuming you wear underwear, of course.) But the full line of Nissan performance history is in his memory, his blood and his garage: ignoring the notion that he sold the cleanest, factory-stock, RHD “Supersonic” Bluebird SSS we’ve seen this decade, he’s currently got his name on the title of an SR20-powered 510, an RB26DETT-swapped S13 240SX, a Hakosuka Skyline GT and a MotoRex-imported R32 Skyline. All of them built in his shop, with his own hands (with some help, of course). Even so, Marco knows a few things about engine swaps, and about making power.
Conspicuously missing from that murderer’s row of Nissan insanity, until now, was a Z-car given that special touch of reliable Frankensteinian overkill that Marco excels at. What’s more, he insists that it wasn’t all that tough: “Everything fit in pretty neatly. All we needed was a custom oil pan to clear things. The shifter for the transmission came up through the stock location in the console. We had to go with a custom driveshaft, but really, so many Nissan parts are compatible.” Witness that rear axle, which has guts from two different-generation Skylines and brakes from an ‘80s front-drive Maxima.
With Marco doing the tough stuff—like figuring out how to harness 450hp to a pair of 225-section rear tires without going up in smoke at every brush of the accelerator—he ticked off the restoration-parts boxes at Motorsport Auto of nearby Orange, California, which carries everything from bumpers to fenders to a complete OE-style interior. That interior, despite the low roofline, is big enough to fit most American-sized frames. The tall and girthy need not forsake Z ownership; the commodious cockpit will accommodate most degrees of physical largesse. The Z’s popularity when new, increasing each year into the ‘80s and the ZX generations, speaks to the availability of parts today.
Granted, it doesn’t have the high-tech gee-whiz factor of an R32 Skyline, but the simplicity of the cockpit—black vinyl everywhere, a speedo, a tach and three ancillary gauges in the dash—harken back to an earlier time. It also demonstrates supreme confidence in Marco’s abilities that he doesn’t need a brace of gauges monitoring the immense amount of activity happening under that long, contoured hood.
Godzilla has crammed himself deep inside a Fair Lady; it’s not some weirdo ‘60s Hollywood porn movie mash-up, but the resulting roar is a noise that will have slash-fic writers in a lather for years to come.
1970 Datsun 240Z
Owner Marco Vargas
Hometown Gardena, CA
Occupation Owner, SR20Store.com
Engine 1992 Nissan RB26DETT; ported and polished head; CP 9:1 pistons; Manley H-beam connecting rods; ARP head bolts; Tomei 1.1 head gasket; NISMO timing belt; NGK V Power plugs with Nissan R34 Skyline coil packs; custom oil pan by TSR Fabrications; custom motor mounts by JER; twin HKS 2530 turbochargers with SSQV blowoff valve and wastegate; OE header; custom downpipes and intercooler; custom three-inch (catless) straight-thru exhaust; Optima RedTop battery; Motorsports radiator and hoses
Drivetrain Aisin 5-speed rear-drive transmission from an RB20DET; SPEC street clutch; NISMO flywheel; R180 Skyline differential with KGC10 limited-slip; A-Spec dildo shifter
Footwork & Chassis Custom Japan-sourced coilovers; Motorsports 1-inch front front and 7/8-inch rear sway bars; Energy Suspension polyurethane bushings
Brakes Front: six-piston Wilwood disc brake conversion with 13-inch rotors; Rear: 1987 Nissan Maxima 10.8-inch rotors with OE pads
Wheels & Tires 16x8.5" +1 (front)/16x9.5" +1 (rear) SSR Formula Mesh; 205/45R16, 225/45R16 Nexen tires; Circuit Sports lug nuts; alignment by Song’s Alignment
Exterior Motorsports bumpers, air dam, spoilers, headlight covers; JDM Fairlady flares and mirrors; red Dupont acrylic enamel paint applied by NASCAR Collision
Interior Motorsports OE restoration parts
Thanks You Mario Lozano from TSR Fabrications, Wayne from Phase 2 MotorTrend