Project SCerious is at that moment of maximum anticipation much like a rocket ship that has just lit the afterburners but has yet to be released from the launch pad. All the pieces are falling into place; Supra transformation is at hand. The goal here is to get Supra performance, durability and potential at a fraction of the cost of a real Supra on the highly inflated used-car market.
In 2000, when I was in the market for a new car after my white T-Type was stolen, a decent near-stock Supra was a $22,000-to-$25,000 proposition. After its popularity rose, fueled by "The Movie," that same car is $32,000 to $40,000. I ended up buying a low-mileage Grand National, but have always respected, read and lusted after, the 2JZ-GTE's extreme tunability.
The idea of the Supra swap had been orbiting around my cerebral cortex for some time. I've written a few columns about putting a 2JZ in an old Chevy pickup truck and the SC swap. Now it's time to step up and do it. You saw the car in the last issue. Since then we've been tracking down Supra parts and have enough to do the swap at a substantial savings compared to buying a real Supra. Supra parts can be difficult to come by; here's how we did it.
Supra Power USA Vs. JDM
In this debate, JDM is divided into two categories-standard JDM and VVTi. The standard JDM version of the 2JZ-GTE uses a speed density engine management system. The bonus is you can save money on a HKS VPC-type product that deletes the U.S.-spec engine's restrictive mass air sensor while realizing immense power gains via ROM tuning. The catch is finding a shop that can ROM tune the Japanese-spec ECU.
The standard JDM engine has much smaller stock cams than a U.S. 2JZ and smaller turbos, so the U.S. engine is better for those setting their phasers to Stun not Kill because you can get more out of it easier. For bigger power appliations, turbo size and stock cam selection are non-issues because these items will be replaced with hardcore aftermarket stuff.
Too often the lure of the high-tech variable valve timing in the VVTi setup blinds the enthusiast of more practical matters. The VVTi runs a mass air sensor setup, but it's a hot-wire strategy compared to the Karman Vortex frequency-style mass air meter on U.S.-spec 2JZs. So there's no crossover.
The biggest shortcomings for the VVTi are cams, namely exhaust cams. There are very few (maybe zero) aftermarket exhaust cam options in Japan, which makes it difficult to generate more than 550-600 whp in a VVTi engine. The VVTi head gasket is different, which complicates replacement, and the ECU is much more difficult to ROM tune because of the variable valve timing maps.
So the VVTi doesn't generate awe-inspiring power figures. There is little aftermarket support for the VVTi engine in Japan and virtually none in the United States.
In contrast, the U.S.-spec 2JZ has a stout aftermarket following where it counts most-right here in America. The standard JDM engine is in the middle, as many U.S.-spec parts will fit right on the motor. The bottom line here is availability.
We didn't want a VVTi, but beyond that we didn't care where the engine came from. We searched engine depots, engine rebuilders, engine recyclers, dismantling yards and engine importers. We found that advertising an engine and having one ready to roll were two different things. The truth is 2JZ-GTEs are hard to come by. They're about the same price as popular JDM Honda engines but not nearly as plentiful.
The trail led to Car Tune Motorsports, a company that specializes in SR20/240 swaps and re-powering the Toyota MR2. Car Tunes is a one-stop shop, providing both the engines and labor. Car Tune made it look easy; it put out feelers and got a hit in about a week. Our trophy prize was a 1995 Toyota Aristo front clip that comes with 2JZ-GTE power. This particular example was backed by an automatic tranny, but the engine was super clean and all- together there.
We've since learned that the JDM automatic shifts crisper and faster than U.S. Supra automatics, so we plan to sell it and recoup some of our $4400 purchase price. It should be noted that the JDM engines we came across inherently had way fewer miles on them compared to motors sourced in the U.S.
The six-speed is the toughest nut to crack for the project. Think about it; all Supras have 2JZs, but only a percentage of these were also backed by a six-speed. Andy C. at HKS turned us on to Dan Phan, who runs rcrew.com Racing in the San Francisco Bay area. Dan says rcrew.com Racing is all about changing the image of the import scene by offering sound advice and fair prices on U.S. and JDM parts and products.
He happened to have a six-speed at his feet when we called. Seriously (or is that SCeriously?). The gearbox had an injured third gear and he planned to have it checked over before zeroing in on a price. The beauty of this deal is Dan uses a Toyota dealership in Whittier, Calif., a 10-minute freeway blast from my house. This would speed pick-up and save on shipping. As of press time no deal had been made.
The nagging little parts that always cause delays in a JDM swap include: wiring harness (we're getting a Supra six-speed harness because the auto Aristo harness won't work), proper relay boxes (part of our clip), oil pan (JDM unit hangs too low, swap to U.S. spec), engine mounts (use U.S. Supra mounts), tranny mounts and driveshaft. For our application, we need a Supra six-speed driveshaft and will have to lengthen it to fit. For those doing the six-speed swap but retaining the SC rear end, the driveshaft will have to be Frankenstein'd to connect to with a Supra yoke at the tranny and an SC yoke at the rear end.
The aforementioned parts are the ingredients needed to transform a Lexus SC300 from a luxury cruiser to street bruiser. We did it for less than $19,000; that's about half the price of a real Supra. True, you get a 100- hp boost right away, but it's the potential of the 2JZ that's the real catalyst for this swap. And it's this potential that we'll explore in the next SCerious installment. We plan to put the pieces together and introduce the hardcore parts that will generate stratospheric streetable power. Stay boosted.
Supra/SC Conversion Cost Breakdown
|JDM Aristo clip/auto||$4400|
|Supra six-speed trans.||$1500 (est.)|
|Supra six-speed rearend, driveshaft||$0 (trade for SC driveline)|
|Sell Aristo trans.||-$950|
This is how we did it. The factors with the biggest chance for variation are the price of the car and the price of installation. We got the car at a good price, but were burdened by the automatic tranny that came with our clip. Of course, getting a six-speed clip would solve the tranny issues as well as save money on a wiring harness. Installation price can vary. You may be able to save money by doing some set-up work like removing the stock driveline yourself.