Photo: Yamaha

For reasons that will become clear at a later date, I have spent a decent amount of time today looking at the history of some weird and somewhat forgotten engines and after my coworkers stopped throwing things at me, I turned up one I hadn’t thought about for some time: the Toyota 3T-GTE, an engine that I still can’t make sense of.

In the early 1980s, Nissan and Toyota were in a heated rivalry, fighting for supremacy in sales and tech and right at the start of the decade, in 1981, Nissan scored a hit with the twin-cam, 16-valve FJ20, the start of modern Japanese performance. Toyota needed to strike back.

And it did.

Just not exactly how Nissan did.

The following engine was called the 3T-GTE, part of the T engine family that stretched back to the 1970 2T-G. That was Toyota’s first twin-cam four, thanks to a Yamaha-designed head. It was a pretty forward engine for the Japanese auto industry at the time, but again, that was 1970.

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Photo: Yamaha

That’s the 2T-G above, and the 3T-GTE below:

Photo: Toyota

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In 1982, Toyota’s 3T-GTE was built off that same architecture, the difference was now it was turbocharged. Out of 1.8 liters, it was good for 160 horsepower in the Toyota Carina, Corona, and the lovely Celica of the time, in GT-T trim. You can see the thing whipping at the end of this ad:

The engine also saves a dog in a Corona ad of the time:

This was Japan’s first twin-cam turbo, but it wasn’t a sixteen-valve. And what was weird that it was twin-plug. So it was an eight-valve, eight-plug engine.

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CELICA LIFTBACK 1800 GT-T
CARINA SEDAN 1800 GT-TR

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CORONA HARDTOP 1800 GT-T

“Double-plug ignition system,” Toyota announced at the time in its contemporary press release, “with two spark plugs per cylinder, shortens combustion time and improves combustion efficiency. This system is further enhanced by use of a two-phase power distributor, with each plug supplied with electricity from its own coil for optimum spark advance at all times.”

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Still, I can’t think of another engine with that layout.

It’s of little surprise that Toyota’s next twin-cam, the legendary 4A-GE, went with a proper sixteen valve setup, all for better breathing.

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But I’ll always like this half-measure 3T-GTEU, something like a mix of 1970s and 1980s tech, standing right across both sides of them in this weird early ‘80s valley.