“Two-jay-zee engine, no shit... This will decimate all,” Jesse said in the original Fast and Furious movie after criticizing the hideous junkyard-grade Toyota Supra that was just towed into the shop. In the hands of the right tuners, decimation is what the Supra was all about. Understanding why requires us to look at perhaps the most legendary tuner engine in history: the Toyota 2JZ-GTE.
We’re sticking with inline-sixes in this second installment of our new series “Engines You Should Know.” Except this time, instead of a naturally aspirated, high-displacement, all-aluminum American motor, we’re looking at a twin-turbocharged, iron-block, 3.0-liter overbuilt powerhouse from Japan.
The Toyota 2JZ-GTE came into this world in 1991 during the peak of the Japanese bubble era, when that country’s auto industry, high on cash and possibly other substances, was cranking out everything from wild mid-engined exotics to wild mid-engined microcars.
It was a high point for the Japanese auto industry, and the 2JZ was a high-point for big, tough, iron-block straight sixes in passenger cars. There really hasn’t been much like it since. The market dropped out for these cars and the money dropped out for overbuilt engine projects in the ‘90s and hasn’t been filled, at least in Japan. Toyota only puts big straight sixes into trucks now, and its big rear-drive sedans have V6s. Now, tuners have gotten other engines in recent years to make as much power as 2JZs, but they’re more rare, more expensive and they have less aftermarket support. Any couple schmucks can drop a few thousand dollars to buy a 2JZ to cram into some old Nissan if they want to and make a high-horsepower car in their garage.
The engine arrived just after Nissan decided to shove the monster twin-turbo RB26DETT into its GT-R. But unlike Nissan, Toyota didn’t debut its stalwart in a sports coupe; instead, the company first showed the 2JZ-GTE in the four-door Toyota Aristo 3.0V (which we in the states know as the Lexus GS) to homologate the sedan for the Japanese Grand Touring Car Championship. Still, the 2JZ-GTE really gained its fame in Toyota’s halo car, the Supra.
The 2JZ-GTE is the head of the JZ family of inline sixes that launched in 1990 with the 1JZ-GE, a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter inline-six that Toyota slapped into a number of sedans, including the Chaser, Cresta, Crown and Mark II.
The 3.0-liter 2JZ-GE—a stroked version of the 1JZ-GE—came shortly thereafter, as did turbocharged and intercooled “GTE” variants of both engine generations. Those high performance GTE models received different aluminum cylinder heads with unique intake and exhaust manifolds, higher-flowing injectors, recessed pistons offering lower compression ratios (which allowed the engines to handle more boost), and oil squirters to keep the pistons cool.
Because of these differences, the GE models, which you can find all day in Lexus GS300s, are not as desirable in the tuning scene. But the 1JZ-GTE, whose crucial internals shared essentially the same design as the 2JZ-GTE’s, is still highly popular in the tuner community, even if the lower displacement means it doesn’t quite have the monster power potential.
The rest of the 2JZ-GTE’s engine code goes like this: “JZ” is just the engine family, “G” stands for performance-oriented dual overhead cam setup, “T” stands for turbocharged and “E” means its electronically fuel injected.
Thanks to a “gentleman’s agreement” between Japanese automakers at the time, the 2JZ-GTE was officially rated at 280 horsepower in its stock form in the Aristo and JDM Supra. That was a brazen lie. And in the U.S.-spec A80 Supra—which launched for 1993 with bigger injectors, stronger turbos and different cams—that number went up to 320 horsepower at 5,600 rpm.
Between the power, and the 315 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm, the Supra instantly became a force to reckon with despite its prodigious weight (the engine itself weighed over 500 pounds). The car could do zero to 60 mph in under five seconds, according to contemporary tests, making it a very quick car in its day.
That was stock. Nobody kept the Supra stock. Way too much could be gained if you messed with it.
From the factory, the 2JZ-GTE is already a pretty special engine. It’s got dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, a distributor-less ignition system, liquid-cooled sequential turbos keeping the power band nice and broad, and a “square” (one to one) bore-to-stroke ratio that provided a great compromise between low-end grunt and high-end power. Start tuning it, though, and the engine goes from “special” to downright supernatural.
The reason why the 2JZ-GTE is so prolific in the tuning scene is because of its strength. Its iron block is tough as nails, its seven main bearings—despite only being held by two bolts each—are absolutely gargantuan and hold the crankshaft firmly, its forged 12-counterweight steel crankshaft can handle huge power and high engine speeds, the oil pump and water pump can take the heavy mods without failure, the fully-closed deck means the engine can withstand enormous cylinder pressures, forged connecting rods are stout, and the oil-cooled cast aluminum pistons can handle a beating as well.
This all means you shouldn’t worry about doubling the 2JZ-GTE’s horsepower via mods. In fact, most tuners consider the 2JZ-GTE’s bottom end as capable of withstanding up to 800 ponies. Yes, 800 horsepower on stock internals. And many tuners have cranked theirs into the four-figure range with some more work.
Getting there isn’t really that difficult, either. Though there are a couple big-bore and stroker kits out there, most high-horsepower 2JZ-GTEs get that grunt by way of changing out the intake and exhaust, swapping those sequential turbos out for an enormous single turbo (67mm is common), installing a bigger front-mount intercooler, and bolting on some bigger injectors and fuel lines.
It was an advanced engine in its day, and for 1998, it became even more so, as the Japanese version got variable valve timing. Sadly, the U.S. market got nothing, and ’98 was the final model year for the legendary 2JZ-GTE in the U.S.
But despite its short run here, the 2JZ-GTE remains a crown jewel in the tuner community, with Supras and 2JZ-swapped anything else continually winning drag races and whatever else they’re called to do.
Even 25 years after its debut, the 2JZ-GTE continues to decimate all.