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What Makes the 2JZ Engine Such a Legend?

The Mk. IV Supra’s engine is the icon behind the icon. We explore what makes the 2JZ engine so special.

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Mk IV Toyota Supra - pressroom.toyota.com
Mk IV Toyota Supra - pressroom.toyota.com

You can trace the popularity of the Mk. IV Toyota Supra and its engine, the 2JZ, directly to the first The Fast & The Furious movie. The film turned a generation of car nerds on to tuning culture and gave them a new automotive mountain top, crazy boosted ten-second cars with wild graphics and wild engines like the 2JZ under their hood.

But the 2JZ wasn’t just a pretty face upstaging Paul Walker on the silver screen. The Supra’s engine was and still is highly sought after by tuners who can coax 700, 800, or even well past 1,000 horsepower from the seemingly modest 3.0L inline-six. How they accomplish this goes back to one of the automotive world’s old saws: Toyota’s penchant for over-engineering.

The New JZ

1997 Toyota Supra 2JZ-GE - carsforsale.com
1997 Toyota Supra 2JZ-GE - carsforsale.com

The 2JZ wasn’t the first JZ engine in a Supra. The 1JZ inline-six started out in cars like the Crown, the Chaser/Cresta, and Supra Mk III. In 1991, Toyota began production on the 2JZ, with its first application being the Toyota Aristo. The 2JZ was a “square engine,” meaning its bore and stroke are equal, in this case 86mm x 86mm. It also featured an aluminum head, a cast iron block, sequential electronic fuel-injection, and four valves per cylinder. The naturally-aspirated version of the 2JZ, the 2JZ-GE, was fielded in a good swath of Toyota’s line-up from the Mk IV Supra to the Crown, Aristo, Progres, as well as the Lexus GS 300, IS 300, and SC 300.

While the 2JZ-GE is a good engine, making around 212-227 horsepower and 283-298 lb ft of torque, it’s the 2JZ-GTE that tuners salivate over. And that’s because the GTE version of the 2JZ is turbocharged. A sequential twin-turbo, in fact, with the first turbo kicking on at 1,800 rpm and the next at around 4,000 rpm. That the 2JZ-GTE is turbocharged from the factory gave it major advantages for those looking to do a little aftermarket work on their engine. Toyota’s engineers did everything they could to ensure the 2JZ-GTE could withstand far more than the factory levels of boost it had been built with.

The 2JZ-GTE’s Secret Sauce

Toyota 2JZ-GTE - powergt.club
Toyota 2JZ-GTE - powergt.club

The 2JZ-GTE was built to take punishment. First among its tough-as-nails attributes is its cast iron block. Along with a closed deck, the 2JZ block may have been heavy, but it was literally a massive hunk of metal perfectly suited to taking a thrashing. A forged steel crankshaft and strong bearings added to the engine’s robustness. Cylinder heads and piston heads were both aluminum which helped to both reduce weight and improve heat dissipation. Those piston heads were also dished at the top for a lower compression ratio, allowing for even more boost to be added. And then there is the high-capacity oil pump and oil jets under the pistons for further cooling and improved lubrication. The 2JZ is also a non-interference engine, meaning a broken timing belt won’t have your pistons chewing up your valves. In a word, the 2JZ was tough.

The 2JZ-GTE was overbuilt on purpose. At the time, in the early 1990s, street racing and widely publicized road accidents had Japanese carmakers under scrutiny for making dangerously fast cars. In response, Japanese manufacturers entered into a gentleman’s agreement to limit the output of their cars to a maximum of 280 horsepower. But like a similar agreement among American manufacturers back in the early 1960s, the Japanese carmakers were loath to abide by their own, self-imposed, rules. This meant that a lot of the greatest JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) cars of the era were engineered with aftermarket tuning in mind. If the engineers couldn’t build a car that exceeded 280 horsepower stock, they sure has heck could build one that could be easily modified to surpass that mark. (For more on JDM and the Japanese tuning culture, check out our list of the best JDM cars and our history of the Mid Night Club.

Common 2JZ Mods and Aftermarket Considerations

Modified Toyota 2JZ-GTE - That Racing Channel on youtube.com
Modified Toyota 2JZ-GTE - That Racing Channel on youtube.com

So, what does one do with a 2JZ-GTE, a car to put it in, and, hopefully, a pile of money? Stock, the 2JZ-GTE made 276 horsepower in Japan (to not exceed the 280 hp limit) and 320 horsepower in North American and European markets. Torque came in at 320 lb ft, and later upped to 333 lb ft with the introduction of variable valve timing (VVT-i) in 1997. Even in stock form, the 2JZ-GTE was swift. It clocked a zero to sixty time of 4.6 seconds and ran a quarter mile in 13.1.

But, if we learned anything from The Fast & The Furious it’s that family matters most…that and owning a ten second car. And that means backyard barbeques and lots of aftermarket tuning. Most common among Supra and 2JZ-GTE modifications is replacing the factory sequential turbos (good for reducing turbo lag) for a single larger turbo.

Next, tuners like to replace the side-mounted intercooler for a larger front mounted one. Then there’s things like an aftermarket exhaust manifold, a hi-flow exhaust gate, new fuel-injectors, fuel lines, and a new pump. And to top it all off, you’ll be needing a new ECU tune to meld all the above together. This might sound like a lot, but thanks to the 2JZ’s inline design, the engine bay is capacious which makes it easier to find room for all this stuff.

Modified Toyota 2JZ-GTE - REALSTREETPERFORMANCE on youtube.com
Modified Toyota 2JZ-GTE - REALSTREETPERFORMANCE on youtube.com

One important thing to keep in mind when considering a 2JZ swap is this: Toyota doesn’t make a 2JZ crate engine. (By contrast, GM does make crate versions of their LS V8, another popular candidate for engine swaps, boosting and supercharging, and all manner of aftermarket shenanigans.) The 2JZ may be over-engineered and hyper-durable, but any you find will inevitably be used. No matter how bullet-proof they are, at least some 2JZs you’ll encounter will have been abused. Be on the lookout for bad valve guide seals or, in the VVT-i versions, sludge in the valve covers.

These are, however, minor complaints. The 2JZ-GTE is undoubtedly one of the best engines ever created and makes the perfect canvas for a committed tuner to paint their next 1,000 horsepower masterpiece.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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