There are a number of us Nissan fanatics out there, myself being one of them. I can vividly remember being fifteen years young in my parent’s garage getting my first SR20 swap to run. The car was so rotted it couldn’t be jacked up without endangering anyone’s life, but I loved it.
Nissan has graced us with a collection of great engines, many of which can reliably handle a ton of horsepower on boost without any internal work. This article will give you an idea of how to go about modifying Nissan’s most popular performance engines; the SR20DET, RB-series, VQ35DE and VR38DETT.
The VQ is more complicated to extract power from than the rest of the engines in this article, simply because it’s naturally-aspirated. Before spending any money on the VQ, you need to decide whether you want to stay NA, go supercharged or turbocharged. I’ve done a fair bit of work for each option, and it really comes down to how much power you want in the end, what kind of driving you do with the car, and what your budget is. The VQ has changed over the years as well, with standard, rev-up and HR variants.
I always suggest taking the supercharged route with the VQ. Unless you have a huge budget and are planning on building the engine, almost all turbo kits create enough power to throw a rod and blow the engine up right out of the box. The standard and rev-up engines are known to throw rods right around 400whp. Superchargers tend to create less torque than turbo kits, which can extend engine life. A supercharger has another advantage in that they produce less heat. The VQ is a wide engine. Strapping two turbos to it, or one single with a plethora of piping creates a ton of heat, and it’s been my experience that engine cooling becomes difficult. Superchargers are also more responsive, which in my opinion, makes them more fun to drive.
If you can live with a car that is moderately fast, some naturally-aspirated modifications can make the car quick, fun to drive and 100% reliable. This is the direction I point people in if they are planning on going to the racetrack with their cars, as power is really the last piece of the puzzle when talking about road racing.
If you want to stick with NA, your modification list should look something like this. It will net you around 280-300whp and be about the same price as the supercharged route below. A little less power, but a lot of reliability and an incredible sound:
• Camshafts: Large, aggressive cams. This engine needs cams to make power. Period.
• Valvetrain: Aftermarket valve springs matched to the cams.
• Exhaust: Long-tube headers designed with true merge collectors and a high-flowing exhaust.
• Engine management: ECU flash, dyno tuned to optimize cam and ignition timing.
• Intake: A properly designed aftermarket intake, preferably mated to a ported throttle body and a manifold plenum spacer.
The VQ has two major hurdles that occur right around 400-450whp. Number one, the engine is going to throw a rod—that much is certain. That hurdle requires a built block, which is going to cost you $7,000 on the cheap side if you don’t do the labor yourself. The second hurdle is the factory returnless fuel system. This is great for simplicity, but it’s not good for performance. A return fuel system is expensive, but necessary. For those reasons, the best bang for your buck really comes at 350whp with the stock engine and fuel system. A 350whp supercharged system would look something like this:
• Supercharger “tuner” kit: Any kit with a front-mount intercooler that you desire—just don’t buy into the gimmicky fuel solutions that are often offered.
• Larger fuel pump: modifications to the factory pump assembly will be required to work with the higher output fuel pump.
• Larger fuel injectors: up to a maximum of 740cc.
• MAF: Higher capacity MAF sensor element.
• Engine management: custom re-flash tuning for the new injectors and MAF will be required. This is the correct solution for the engine as the factory ECU is still controlling the system, rather than being tricked by other electronics.
• Exhaust: Aftermarket cat-back exhaust system.
• Spark plugs: One-step colder spark plugs to reduce the likelihood of detonation.
• Aftermarket clutch and flywheel: the stock flywheel is a dual mass unit and makes the car incredibly boring to drive. Get rid of it.