The hulking industrial giant of Toyota has produced some of the most beloved engines of all time, like the unkillable 22R or the overbuilt 2JZ straight six. A cool one that you never hear about is this, the R36V.
Dedicated racing engines from Japanese carmakers rarely seem to get as much attention as dedicated road car engines, which makes sense. Tuner kids might bump into engines like the 3S-GE four-cylinder or 1JZ six when they’re building up their own Corollas or Supras in their garages. Nobody is going to seek out information about an engine produced in very limited numbers with no chance of making it into a road car project.
But this is still a super cool engine to read about. The R36V was a 3.6 liter V8 developed for legendary Group C racing in the 1980s, initially developed as a 3.2 liter R36V in 1988 but raced all the way until 1999 when it made a comeback in the GT1 era. It’s a product of Japan’s bubble years, when Japanese car companies lobbed almost limitless budgets at increasingly bizarre, wonderful, never-to-be-repeated projects. We saw an explosion of niche road cars and glory-seeking race cars like never before or since.
There isn’t a great deal of information about this thing online, but Japanese Wikipedia notes that it was a very new approach for Toyota at the time to make a from-the-ground-up dedicated race motor back in 1988. Group C was technically a fuel-economy formula, and it was easier for Toyota to make more power from less fuel using an all-racing engine than its previous heavily-boosted four-cylinder engines derived from road car use. This was one of Toyota’s first dedicated racing V8s, though I’m not exactly sure how it fits into the company’s timeline. Japanese Wikipedia states, “トヨタとしては トヨタ7 の5.0リットルV型8気筒以来の純レース用エンジンである.” Google translates that to “Toyota is a net racing engine since Toyota 7 ‘s 5.0-liter V-8 cylinder.” I don’t completely know what to make of that, but I’m intrigued.
The all-aluminum, 32-valve R36V was actually a development of the R32V, a 3.2 liter earlier version of the same design. Both were twin-turbocharged as was standard practice at the time. The R32V weighed 218 kilos and made between 750 to 1,000 horsepower at 16 to 24 pounds of boost all the way up at 8,500 RPM, as the Dome Museum explains. Later R36Vs made around 800 horsepower, as Toyota’s racing museum notes.
Even finding pictures of this engine is a challenge, but I managed to dig up these two picture of the 88C-V’s R32V at the Dome Museum.
The Dome-built Toyota prototypes in which these engines raced were routinely among the fastest cars in terms of outright speed, regularly nearing the top qualifying spots in racing, though they rarely finished particularly high, as remembered by a contemporary observer. The best finish these engines ever got was second at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That happened first in the 1994 running, a rinkadink year when the Dauer 962 won as a GT1 car and the Toyota 94C-V finished a lap back as an LMP1 entry. The second time that happened was in 1999, when the Toyota GT-One GT1 car with an updated R36V-R very nearly won outright until it blew a tire in the final moments of the race.
After all that, nobody thinks too much of this thing, powerful and righteous and nearly one of Japan’s greatest engines.