500 horsepower. It's a number that's as neat and tidy as it is impressive. It's a number that whoever made your car never thought it ought to have. And it's a number that'll distance yourself from the parking lot posers and stance queens.
There are all sorts of engines that are capable of reaching that elusive number, and there are all sorts of ways getting there. Turns out there are a whole lot of wrong ways, too, and overly expensive ones that led us to the experts to see how exactly 500 hp can be attained on seven of the most important engines you should care about.
A word from our lawyers: There's more than one way to 500 hp. But there aren't as many ways to get there reliably and for the least amount of money. The following recommendations from our panel of industry experts are some of the most time-honored solutions around.
Another word from our lawyers: This guide's meant to touch on the highlights of your 500hp build. Don't forget about the obvious ancillaries, like a heavy-duty clutch, finding the right tuner, and having a drop of common sense.
WHERE TO GET IT: Start with a 1.8L B-series that's already got VTEC up top and your job just got a whole lot easier. We're talking about the '94-'01 Integra GS-R's B18C1 or whatever Japanese equivalent you can get your hands on. Or piece yours together by way of an LS-VTEC or B20-VTEC conversion that the Internet will tell you how to do. A Type R engine will get you to that 500hp mark just as easy as a K-series but at the expense of most of the bits that make a Type R special.
THE NUMBERS: Horsepower varies here between the U.S.-spec GS-R's 170 hp and Japanese Type R engines that are good for another 30 hp. Either way, you've still got a whopping 300 hp to go looking for.
THE 500HP PLAN: Full-Race Motorsports' Geoff Raicer knows a thing or two about 500hp B-series engines and says the party ought to start with that bottom end. "B-series weaknesses are its pistons, rods, and sleeves, in that order," he says, pointing out that the stock cylinder liners can remain so long as E85 fuel is used along with proper tuning. Up top, stiffer valvesprings can help alleviate valve floating and, according to Raicer, titanium retainers and a "mild set of all motor cams" is all you'll need. "The stock ports and combustion chambers are really quite good," he says, "and can reach 500 hp." In terms of boost, Raicer recommends having a look at BorgWarner's online Match-Bot, which'll allow you to input all sorts of variables and end up with a turbo that'll meet your goals. "Most guys go too big and too laggy to get the dyno number and, as a result, lose the responsive powerband that makes a car fun to drive," he warns. Raicer also recommends 2.5-inch intercooler piping routed as short as possible and a relatively simple fuel system that's made up of an in-tank Walbro 400-lph fuel pump, 1,000cc injectors, and Hondata's S300 engine management system to keep it all in check.
WHAT TO PAY: Raicer says to set aside at least $7,500, however, turbo selection, exhaust manifold choice, and whatever engine management system you settle on can inflate that number in a hurry.
WHERE TO GET IT: Look to anything that's got VTEC on both cams, like the RSX's K20A2 and K20Z1 or the eighth-gen Civic Si's K20Z3. You'll be tempted by any one of Japan's Type R engines, but just about everything that makes those special will be yanked in your quest for big power. More displacement will never be a bad thing and can be found by way of the '04-'08 TSX's K24A2 or cheaper alternatives, like CR-V short-block conversions, that do away with their wussy cylinder heads for the RSX's or the Si's, for example.
THE NUMBERS: Power starts at 197 hp on entry-level 2.0L engines and is rated as high as 222 hp on select Type R's.
THE 500HP PLAN: Time Attack champ and owner of Canadian high-performance firm PZtuning William Au-Yeung knows exactly what it takes to reach the 500hp mark. Au-Yeung suggests starting with the K20A2 and then fitting its bottom end with forged pistons and rods—both of which are known weak links. The original cylinder liners can remain but the block and head have to be secured using ARP head studs, he says. It'll take something like one of BorgWarner's EFR7670 turbos pushing about 18 psi to reach the mark, along with the appropriate front-mount intercooler and exhaust manifold to make it all work. Just about any standalone system is capable, but few are as cost-effective as Hondata's KPro. Use it to control the Aeromotive 340-lph fuel pump that Au-Yeung says you need along with fuel injectors somewhere in the 1,000cc range and you'll have done just about everything you can to keep this K-series from blowing itself to pieces.
WHAT TO PAY: Au-Yeung says you'd better set aside at least $5,000 for the engine bits, and that doesn't include whatever fuel components and engine management system you end up choosing, so plan on tacking on at least another $3,000.
WHERE TO GET IT: There aren't too many places you'll find Mazda's sequentially turbocharged 13B-REW. Start underneath the hood of any third-generation RX-7 and broaden your search to the Japanese-only '90-'95 Eunos Cosmo for its similar 13B-RE if you must.
THE NUMBERS: Find yourself a North American version and start with 255 hp or look to Japan for its slightly more potent 280hp model.
THE 500HP PLAN: When it comes to balls-out horsepower like this, Mazda's sequential turbo setup is really no longer an option. Look to something T4-based and plan on pushing a good 20 psi out of it to hit your target. An external wastegate also ought to find its way into the mix along with a front-mount intercooler that's got more surface area than the wee factory unit. But 500 hp won't come easy nor will it behave exactly how you'd expect. That rotary mill will have to be ported to support the sort of flow you need, and the more it's ported, the less manageable it'll all become. That 13B will also need to be torn down, blueprinted, and updated with modified stationary gears, new rotors and housings, and ceramic Apex seals. Dial it all in with something like A'PEXi's tried-and-true Power FC, controlling a minimum of 850cc primary fuel injectors along with a larger secondary set, both sipping from a higher-flowing, in-tank fuel pump.
WHAT TO PAY: You won't be doing any of that porting yourself, which means you'll be tacking on labor to your bill. Plan on spending upward of $15,000 to do it all right.
WHERE TO GET IT: Nissan's RB series of engines dates back to the mid-'80s, but it's the later-model engines that you're thinking about. Look to the R32, R33, and R34 Skyline GT-R for the almighty RB26DETT.
THE NUMBERS: You haven't even touched it yet and this 2.6L DOHC inline-six is already good for a maximum of 280 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque.
THE 500HP PLAN: Raicer says that, at 500 hp, the RB's short-block is pretty much bulletproof. "We're starting with an iron block intended for high boost levels so it's a very strong but heavy foundation," he says. Raicer does warn that on R32-based engines, however, the oil pump and oil pump drive are failure-prone and must be addressed. The cylinder head can be a challenge. "For a 500hp target, you can run tiny cams and get there," he says, but any more power will be hard to come by without serious top-end modifications. Raicer also warns that Nissan's high-revving and short-stroke RB26 doesn't play nicely with turbos that have smaller A/R housings or turbine wheels and, again, recommends looking to BorgWarner's Match-Bot for the appropriate fit. "The ideal-sized turbos depend on the [horsepower] target, what turbo manifold is used, fuel [type], and the target boost level," he says. Tuning is critical here, too and, according to Raicer, should be left to the likes of a system from ProEFI, Haltech, Emtron, or AEM, along with a 400-lph in-tank fuel pump and 1,000cc injectors.
WHAT TO PAY: Considering how much a Skyline GT-R will cost you in the first place, the estimated $5,000 to $8,000 Raicer says it'll take to get 500 hp doesn't seem all that bad.
WHERE TO GET IT: It's the SR20DET that you care about—an engine you can find all over the place, any of which can be distinguished by turbocharger type and valve cover color and are native to both FWD and RWD layouts. The engine first appeared underneath the hood of the '90-'94 Pulsar GTiR but can also be found in select 180SX, Silvia, and Bluebird platforms, just to name a few.
THE NUMBERS: This 2.0L, DOHC four-cylinder is good for a maximum of 245 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque.
THE 500HP PLAN: When it comes to the SR20, Illinois-based TF-Works' David Lee knows what it takes to reach 500 hp and then some. Forged pistons and rods are the non-negotiables, he says, and you'd better plan on freshening up that 20-year-old block with new bearings and ARP hardware. "We recommend going with slightly higher compression [pistons] for better response and a broader torque band," he adds. Up top, Lee also recommends porting, more aggressive cams, stiffer valvesprings, and a larger-volume intake manifold. Turbo-wise, he suggests looking at Garrett's GTX3071R that'll get you to that 500hp mark and with little lag when tuned appropriately, like with just about any popular standalone engine management system. You could try your hand at a flash tune, Lee says, "but a good ECU has safety features that a stock ECU can't provide." Lee also recommends an external wastegate for better and more consistent boost control, a front-mount intercooler, and some sort of oil cooler, which he says "is a must" at this level.
WHAT TO PAY: Lee says that this story starts at around $8,000 but can exceed that number in a hurry, depending on the parts and whether or not you want the flexibility to make more power.
WHERE TO GET IT: There are nearly two-dozen renditions of Subaru's most popular flat-four, but not all of them will get you to that 500hp fantasy land. Start with the twin-cam and already-turbocharged EJ205 that you'll find paired with the '02-'05 WRX, the EJ255 from the next-generation model, or the EJ257 that came with the '04-'07 WRX STi.
THE NUMBERS: Start with 227 hp out of that EJ205 or make your 500hp goal that much easier to reach with the EJ257's 293 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque.
THE 500HP PLAN: According to Raicer, the EJ25's bottom end is fairly capable. "The first weakness is [its] pistons," he says, "followed by its rods, oil pump, and sleeves. For 500 hp, [forged] rods and pistons are all that are really mandatory." Even the heads and valvetrain can remain stock for 500 hp, although Raicer does say that "huge gains" can be found with the right headwork. For that turbo, you're gonna want to check out the MHI TF06-18K that Full-Race offers and that'll bolt directly up, internal wastegate and all. There are more capable options, Raicer explains, but if 500 hp is your target, this'll get you there and with little effort. "Subarus tend to have absurdly long intercooler piping, and it drives me crazy," Raicer says, explaining the need for a front-mount intercooler upgrade along with 2.5-inch piping that's routed as efficiently as possible. For tuning, he says the search ought to start and end with Cobb's AccessPort that'll control 1,000cc injectors by way of a 450-lph in-tank fuel pump. "Subarus aren't the most reliable at high power," Raicer warns, "but they are a lot of fun!"
WHAT TO PAY: Raicer says all that fun will set you back as much as $8,000, depending on which turbo you choose.
WHERE TO GET IT: Narrow your JZ search down to the factory-boosted ones like the twin-turbocharged 2JZ-GTE that any Mk4 Supra's got as well as select first- and second-generation and overseas-only Aristos. Later 1JZ-GTE engines will get you to that 500hp happy place easily, too; find one from all sorts of Toyota sedans, the most common of which is the '96-'00 Chaser.
THE NUMBERS: Start with as much as 320 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque if you've nabbed the Mk4's 2JZ.
THE 500HP PLAN: Few people understand Toyota's JZ engines as well as FSR Motorsport Creation's Ian Sai-Ngarm does. "Aside from a temperamental bracket that secures the tensioner in place, an oil pump seal that's notorious for pushing itself out, and a crank pulley that likes to come apart, failures don't occur often," he says about the nearly bulletproof 2JZ. Here, 500 hp comes easy, so you might as well set your sights a little higher from the start. Doubling the 2JZ's power output is easy and starts with a single-turbo conversion based on something in the 64-80mm range, a better-flowing front-mount intercooler, and a more precise external wastegate. You'll also need a higher-flowing fuel pump, 1,000cc injectors, and some sort of tunable ECU, like AEM's Infinity, for example. Aftermarket cams will make getting to that target power level a whole lot easier and are about the only thing you'll need to touch underneath the valve cover this side of stiffer valvesprings to avoid potential valve float.
WHAT TO PAY: Budget a good $8,000 to start but leave some leeway depending on turbo choice and whether or not you decide to add those cams.