An age-old debate exists between the camps of Nissan and Toyota fans, discussing the virtues and shortcomings of Nissan's RB26DETT and Toyota's 2JZ-GTE. These powerful inline-6 mills propelled legendary cars on the streets, around circuits, and down drag strips for several decades with comparable successes and accolades, as well as fueled countless debates on various automotive forums of the past and continue to light a fire during discussions on social media. These equally matched gladiators leave fanatics constantly wondering, "Which is the sexier six?"
Comparisons and competition fuel the flames of rivalries. In the automotive realm, automakers subscribe to the adage: "Race on Sunday, sell on Monday." By using racing events to showcase the technological and performance prowess of each company, manufacturers hope to incite sales in addition to gaining fans and loyalty.
One of the most classic of Japanese rivalries exists between Nissan and Toyota. Nissan competed in the Japanese Touring Car Championships of the late '60s against Mazda and then waged war on the track with Toyota from the late '80s through today in various classes of touring car championships, including Japan's Super GT series (formerly known as the JGTC). These automakers spared little expense in the quest for technological innovation and cutting-edge performance, which led to products consumers couldn't get enough of. The racing efforts served these automakers well, as fanatics of both marques helped to drive the popularity and sales of each brand. So much, in fact, that more than two decades later the brands' most noted engine offerings still carry a premium, along with a legion of fans on both ends.
RACING HERITAGE - NISSAN RB26DETT
Nissan's first Skyline GT-R, the GC10 of the late '60s and early '70s, proved a dominant player on the track, collecting hundreds of victories in its four years of production. It was equipped with a naturally aspirated, 160hp S20 engine. This straight six-cylinder engine propelled the GC10 Skyline GT-R to the top step of countless podiums while paving the way for its descendant, the twin-turbocharged RB26DETT engine. This high revving, 276hp engine was developed by Nissan Motorsports (NISMO) and introduced in the third-generation Skyline GT-R (BNR32) to satisfy race homologation requirements. The RB26 was a derivative of the RB25 that equipped the Skyline GT-S. It gave NISMO a competitive advantage in the Japanese Touring Car Championships and other racing series around the globe. Coupled with Nissan's motorsports-oriented, ATTESA E-TS all-wheel-drive system, the Skyline GT-R enjoyed a steeped advantage over its next closest competitors for several years. This largely unchanged engine also propelled the fourth-generation (BCNR33) and fifth-generation (BNR34) Skyline GT-Rs.
RB26DETT - RACING INSPIRED, STILL RACING TODAY
The RB26DETT engine (2.6 liters, dual overhead cams, electronic fuel injection, twin turbochargers) residing under the hood of every R32, R33, and R34 Skyline GT-R came practically detuned from the factory to meet the officially published peak output of 276 hp that many of the Japanese automakers unofficially agreed on at the time. However, Nissan engineered this engine with Group A touring car races in mind, leaving plenty of headroom for greater output levels. What few imagined was that over the next few decades, enthusiasts and racers would take the stock RB26 engine to output levels over 800 hp, well beyond Nissan's original expectations. Heavily modified RB26 engines have far surpassed even these levels. A shining example of the engine's potential took place in June 2018 in Australia, when Maatouks Racing's "King32" Skyline GT-R ran three personal bests in the quarter-mile. All were in the 7-second range; the quickest pass recorded was 7.007 seconds at 199.2 mph. That's a full-weight streetcar (factory glass and interior included) with 1,650 hp transferred to the pavement through four radial tires! While the King32 features a 3.2-liter RB engine, it's a prime example of the potential of the platform and the aftermarket interest and support that still exists for it more than 20 years after its initial release.
SHORT AND STOUT
The strong, cast-iron RB26 block features a closed deck (which ensures the cylinders do not distort like open-deck designs) with 86mm bores and a short, 73.7mm stroke that displaces a total of 2,568 cc. This over-square rotating assembly (where the bore is larger than the stroke) thrives at higher engine speeds (rpm). As a result, low-end torque suffers in exchange for top-end torque, horsepower, and a higher redline. Individual oil sprayers help to keep the pistons cool and lubricated, and a crank girdle prevents crank walk.
Up top, the RB26's aluminum cylinder head features a non-interference design. One of the first things to notice is the intake manifold has not one, but six individual throttle bodies, which help to sharpen the throttle response. The four-valve-per-cylinder design lends to improved volumetric efficiency and fuel mixture for better performance. The belt-driven camshafts lift the valves by way of a direct actuation, shim under bucket valvetrain that performs reliably at high engine speeds. This direct valvetrain actuation design removes lifters or linkage from the equation, reducing weight and minimizing the amount of moving parts that could go awry. Furthermore, the shims are located under the buckets for improved reliability at high rpm. The RB26 also benefits from a coil-on-plug direct ignition system, which does away with the traditional, mechanical/distributor ignition that was still widely used at the time (don't forget, we are talking about the late '80s, when coil-on-plug ignitions were a newer technology).
The RB engine series ranged from as small as two liters up to three liters in displacement. This family of engines powered a variety of Nissan's platforms, including the Fairlady Z (Z31), RWD Skyline coupes and sedans, other Nissan sedans and SUVs. The Skyline GT-R's RB26DETT is the highest-performing variant of the family, although not the largest. The RB30ET engine featured a displacement of three liters and a turbocharger, but was intended for the Holden VL Commodore. It did not have the same amount of block reinforcement that the RB26DETT had, which limited its peak output. By comparison, the RB26 block was available in two additional variations. The RB26 N1 block, intended for N1 endurance racing, differs from the standard RB26 engine in the number of reinforcement ribs cast into the block. The strongest and most valuable RB26 engine, the extremely rare and coveted RB26 GT block, was manufactured for racing teams. Only 1,000 examples were cast, and they feature the most reinforcement of any RB engine. The only indicator of a GT block is a series of three raised-letter Rs cast into the side of the block.
THE RB'S PITFALLS
Awesome as it is, the RB26 isn't a perfect engine, and it does have its share of areas in need of improvement. First off, for those of us outside of Japan or Australia, this engine and the Skyline GT-R it powers are not readily available, although it is now getting a little easier. The RB26's smaller displacement inherently lacks the low-end torque that larger displacement engines (like the 2JZ-GTE) can readily deliver. Increasing the displacement, while not impossible, is a costly aftermarket venture. The same goes for variable valve timing. Nissan did not engineer a variable valve or camshaft timing mechanism for the RB26; however, the aftermarket did, but it is expensive. Finally, the standard oil pump is prone to failure. Fortunately, this issue is resolved with an OEM Nissan N1 oil pump or your choice of aftermarket solutions. The bottom line is the aftermarket has remedied the RB26's weaknesses-it's just a question of your available budget.
NO INTERFERENCE, NO PROBLEMS
There are two different types of engines: non-interference and interference. A non-interference engine features adequate clearance between the valves at maximum lift and the piston dome at its maximum compression stroke or top dead center (TDC). If a timing belt or chain fails, a piston at TDC will not contact any of the valvetrain that is at maximum lift. By contrast, an interference engine tends to run a higher compression ratio, which does not permit adequate clearance between the valvetrain and the pistons, if a timing belt or chain snaps. The result is valves contacting the pistons at potentially high speeds will bend or break off and cause collateral damage to the engine. If you stay on top of the maintenance schedule (aka, follow the manufacturer's maintenance schedule and change the timing belt or timing chain on time), you will not likely encounter this expensive and undesirable catastrophe.
Toyota is certainly no newcomer to the sports car scene, especially since the highly collectible ('67-'70) 2000GT is often regarded as Japan's first supercar. It's 150hp, 3M inline 6-cylinder engine and the other members of the M-series engine family powered various Toyota platforms from the 1960s through the 1990s. This same family of engines powered the first three generations of the Supra model line. The iconic platform got its beginnings essentially as an enlarged Celica (then dubbed the Celica Supra), which featured a longer hood line than a standard Celica, to accommodate an inline six-cylinder engine. These longer and wider Celicas were the progenitors of the Supra model line, which stood alone as a Supra starting with the JZA70 Mk III of the mid-1980s. The JZA80 Mk IV Supra Turbo grew to become Toyota's sports car flagship by the early 1990s. It was the only Supra to come equipped with Toyota's legendary 2JZ-GTE engine, and not surprising, still carries a very high value today.
TOYOTA'S COUNTERSTRIKE - THE 2JZ-GTE
Toyota developed the JZ engine series during the mid-to-late 1980s as the successor to the outgoing M-series engines as the next generation inline six-cylinder engine family. It was during this time that Nissan's new RB26DETT-powered R32 Skyline GT-R proved dominant in various touring car championships in the late 1980s, prompting Toyota to channel its efforts into an engine that could go head-to-head with the RB26 on the track. Within a couple of years, the 2JZ-GTE made its debut in the '91 Toyota Aristo (aka Lexus GS) to satisfy touring car championship homologation requirements. It gained broad recognition as the JZA80 Mk IV Supra Turbo's powerplant. Earlier 2JZ-GTEs adhered to the same published output of 276 hp as the other automakers. The gentleman's agreement was no longer being observed by the time the JZA80 Supra Turbo reached American shores in mid-'93, equipped with a relatively high specific output of 320 hp. Toyota's contender had arrived.
BRUTE STRENGTH BLOCK
The flagship 2JZ-GTE (2: second generation JZ block, G: Dual Over Head Camshafts, T: Turbocharged, E: Electronic Fuel Injection) features a hearty, closed deck, iron engine block topped with a 24-valve aluminum cylinder head. Toyota retained the 86mm bore diameter shared with previous JZ engines, but designed the 2JZ with a taller deck and a longer, 86mm stroke. This square bore and stroke displace dimension of 2,998 cc offered a compromise of improved torque and a slightly lower peak engine speed. This engine also came with plenty of headroom for growth, over-engineered to withstand more than 800 hp with stock internals. If that's not enough, there is room to progress further, with aftermarket 3.4-liter stroker kits available from a variety of sources.
The high flowing, non-interference cylinder head complements the 2JZ block, offering good volumetric efficiency for optimum output. This head features dual overhead camshafts that directly actuate a shim-over-bucket valvetrain design that eliminates extra moving parts like linkages and lifters. An aluminum plenum with a single throttle body provides pressurized induction to the intake ports. A coil-on-plug ignition system ensures reliable spark delivery and more precise control of ignition timing. Toyota continued to make minor improvements during the 2JZ's production life, incorporating its proprietary variable valve timing system, VVTi, onto the cylinder heads starting in late 1997. Unfortunately, the USDM Supra Turbos did not gain this feature before Toyota discontinued sales of the Supra in the USA in '98.
Toyota's 2JZ contender comes to the table with a number of benefits and one-ups compared to the RB26. However, it's not without its flaws, even though they number very few. While the 2JZ-GTE is one of the heartiest of engines, capable of handling more than 800 hp in stock form, it is also an exceptionally heavy one. In addition, while it features a direct valvetrain actuation system similar to the RB26, it is a shim over bucket design. This system permits the same level of valve lash adjustment as a shim under bucket system. However, since the camshaft lobe lifts the valve by way of the shim located atop the bucket, the engine could suffer a failure if the valve(s) float at high engine speeds. In this instance, one or more shims could become unseated from the bucket and launched into the valvetrain. (Fortunately, the aftermarket offers Shim Under Bucket conversion kits for the 2JZ valvetrain.) Lastly, the traction control throttle body is not as friendly to high performance tuning as the standard throttle body.
The 2JZ-GTE and its naturally aspirated sibling, the 2JZ-GE, share a few similarities while several important differences distinguish them from one another. To start with, these engines share the same block, connecting rods, and crankshaft. That's the extent of the similarities, because the GTE model takes a giant step away from its sister with dished pistons, piston oil squirters, a higher flowing cylinder head, different valves, more aggressive camshafts, and, of course, a set of turbochargers.
The RB26DETT and 2JZ-GTE aren't exclusive to Skyline GT-R and Supra owners. They've become a popular swap into just about any RWD or AWD platform that can accommodate an inline-six block and have scored bonus points when transplanted into other chassis at car shows. If you've been following D1GP and Formula DRIFT, you'll have noticed that the 2JZ-GTE gained a lot of momentum against the LS V-8 engines, propelling numerous drivers to the top of the podium and even a championship. Tuners around the world recognize the potential of these engines, making them ever popular for swaps into chassis of their own marques as well as other brands.
Like any proper matchup, these inline six-cylinder contenders are by no means at a steep advantage on paper, on the road or at the track. Depending on the intended purpose of a build, either engine could out shine the other, albeit marginally. Aftermarket support for both engines addresses many of the shortcomings and levels the playing field further. In the end, it boils down to budget and preference. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, each has its die-hard fanatics, but both promise to deliver plenty of horsepower and excitement to make a weekend drive, a trip to the track, or a blast down the drag strip a thrill that never gets old.