Professor Clutchplate on… Drift Engines

We here at SA Drift get questions all the time from drift fans all over the country. So we have decided to bring you the answers in a series of articles that deal with all things drifting in South Africa. So strap yourselves in because here comes Professor Clutchplate!

 Professor Clutchplate on engines

Besides being asked what the best car for drifting is, the second most debated question and answer would have to be about engines.

In the drifting fraternity, this subject is discussed at length and if you’ve been to an event or walked through the pits, you would have heard a jumble of letters and numbers being tossed about.

These are engine codes and it’s pretty much drift shorthand that gets used when those in the know talk about engines. So in order to get everyone on the same page, we’re going to help decode this for you and we’ll talk about the most common ones you’ll hear.

So let’s talk engine codes by manufacturer… but do keep in mind, drifters are a funny lot and what you’ll find under the bonnet isn’t necessarily what the car came out with!



1JZ-GEThe 1J is a 2.5-litre, in-line straight six-cylinder motor that was found in many of Toyota’s late 90’s to mid 2000’s flagship vehicles. The early 1JZ-GTE is fitted with twin turbochargers while the later models were single turbo. The 1J is still the first go-to engine for many drifters but are becoming rare due ageing. Toyota later introduced the 1JZ-FSE, but this motor is rarely used as this was Toyota’s attempt to clean up their emissions with direct injection and the power output of these motors is minimal.


2JZ-GE– The 2J is very similar to the 1J but in fact only came out as a 3-litre variant and is fitted with VVVT-i (variable valve timing). The 2JZ-GTE, much like the 1J, is fitted with 2 turbochargers and much like the 1J it was also released in an FSE in later year models.



Both engines types were subject to the gentlemans agreement and power figures were capped at 276 bhp (206 kW). This agreement ended in 2005.


Lexus 1UZ-FE – The 1UZ-FE is Lexus’ answer to the LS. An all aluminium construction, the Lexus doesn’t make a whole lot of power to be super competitive and often needs to be slightly modified by supercharging it or running a smidge of nitrous. It does however, in its stock tune, have enough to get you going sideways at a relatively low price and makes a great starter engine for beginners.



3G-SE – This was essentially Toyota downsizing their engines for compact cars. The 3S-GE saw the heydays of large, insanely capable engines, being replaced with small technologically capable engines that had been neutered for the sake of the environment. The 3S-GE or Beams motor is a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder in-line that was originally produced for the Celica, MR2 and Altezza and a different colour engine cover was supplied when it was fitted to each of these models. You might hear the grey top, red top or black top is better but in fact these are all the same engine just with different technological upgrades such as VVT-I or ECU and headers.



Nissan uses a very simple naming convention of letters and numbers that tell you exactly what you have. The first letters denote the engine family while the numbers denote engine capacity with the last digits indicating any special additions to the engine. Nissan does not have a letter designation for single overhead cams so it is left out. The other letters you might see are D denoting a double overhead cam and the E and T, these indicate electronic ignition distribution and a turbo.

CA18 – This is where it really starts for most drifters that have managed to secure themselves an S-chassis car. Released in the S13 and S14, the CA18 came out in Naturally Aspirated (N/A) DE trim and turbocharged DET trim. So to put it bluntly the CA stands for the engine family, the 18 indicates the litres displaced.

The non-turbo CA18 made a whopping 85kW when new, but the addition of a turbo made it closer to 124kW.



SR20 – The successor of the CA18, the SR20 is a 2-litre, 4-cylinder in-line that is found in later model S14s and the S15. It was released in N/A (DE) and turbo (DET) with naturally aspirated version delivering 120kW while the turbo version was capable of up to 189kW. Still a firm favorite among old school drifters and beginners, the SR20 has become incredibly expensive to buy as they have become very rare and demand a premium, sometimes costing as much as a car.



RB25 – Arguably the most well-known and respected engine in drifting circles, the RB25 holds the number one place as the engine of choice among local drifters. Following Nissan’s naming convention, the RB denotes engine family with 25 dictating the engine displacement. Any letters that follow indicate cams, ignition type and turbo variant. The RB25 was released in NA and turbo variants in the Skylines of the early to late 90’s.

Nissan developed the RB26 and RB30 in response to Toyota’s 2JZ engines that fueled the battle between them.

More often than not this this is the engine of choice that drifters swap out into the smaller S-chassis Nissans.



Both engines types were subject to the gentlemans agreement and power figures were capped at 276 bhp (206 kW). This agreement ended in 2005.


General Motors

LS1 – 6 – The LS motor is a small block V8 from General Motors that is most commonly going to be found when an engine swap has taken place. The LS swap is an American practice that has filtered out to the rest of the drifting world as the light aluminium engine made predictable linear power that made the drift just a little easier.

The LS V8 comes out of many of General Motors later model vehicles. The Corvette, Camaro, Holden or Lumina SS, Charger, Suburban SUV, Cadillac STS and SUV and Dodge SRT range have all at some point donated their LS hearts to a drift car.


The downside is off course that these engines are VERY expensive and can only make so much power before they break and when they break it’s usually spectacular with the engine almost completely destroying itself and believe me I have seen this many times.



Mazda is the only manufacturer to use alternative petrol engine design. The rotary engine is such a unique and temperamental piece of engineering that it is no wonder so few drivers use them. The rotary has been in use in various Mazda vehicles for a long time, but for the most part we never saw those vehicles here in SA. The most common engine designation codes you will hear are 13B and 13B-REW.

13B – The 13B is the long standing bastion of the rotary engine in the vehicles that were sold in South Africa. Released in the RX7 FC and FD that jumped the border. The 13B’s party trick is that, compared to its size, it puts out an incredible amount of power. A tuned 13B motor from the FC can put out over 147kW while 13B-REWs from the later FD punched closer to 206kW.


20B –REW – We have only ever seen it once before but with properly insane engineering, which is actually something you can do with the modular design of the rotary and a little bit of black magic – a 3 rotor design was fitted to a drift car for local competition.



R26B – An enterprising engineer wondered what would happen if you strapped two 13B’s together. Thus was born the R26B… an engine so powerful and temperamental it was only ever fitted to one race car… the 787B Le Mans racer.

The R26B posted power figures in excess of 522kW and won Le Mans outright… and that sound!



Hopefully this hasn’t been too hard on the brain for the fans out there.

Naturally there are many other types of engines that could possibly be used to power your drift car and if we haven’t mentioned them maybe you’d like to drop us a mail at and let us know.


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All images courtesy of Wikipedia

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