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Import Motors '05 - Part One

We check out the current range of imported Nissan, Mazda and Daihatsu engines...

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • First of two-part series
  • A look at the current Japanese import engines
  • Nissan, Mazda and Daihatsu
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If you’re looking for a high-tech, high-performance engine, there’s no better place to start your search than at the Japanese import wreckers. There’s everything from sub-1 litre turbo screamers all the way up to medium capacity V8s.

In this two-part series we’ll take a close-up look at what’s currently available from Japan . So come along to one of Australia ’s largest importers – Adelaide Japanese Imports – and see what’s on offer...

Nissan VH45DE V8

One of the biggest bangers currently available at the Japanese import wreckers is the Nissan VH45DE – a 4.5 litre V8.

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The VH45DE boasts DOHC, 4-valve-per-cylinder breathing together with a curious intake manifold that creates the illusion that the engine is designed for transverse mounting – it isn’t. The VH45DE’s compression ratio is 10.2:1 you’ll find a huge 75mm throttle body (which is a hot item in itself). The heads and block are made from alloy while the steel crankshaft is safe to spin to a 6700 cut-out.

The big V8 was reserved for Nissan Japan ’s high-end rear-wheel-drive saloons between 1989 and 1996. In Infiniti Q45 trim, the engine officially makes 206kW at 6000 rpm and 400Nm at 4000 rpm (on premium unleaded fuel). The Nissan President version is rated at 199kW at 5600 rpm and 394Nm at 4000 rpm.

So what’s the mechanical difference between the Q45 and President engine, you ask?

Well, we believe that the Q45-spec engine was fitted with variable inlet cam timing to help make more grunt than the President. And rumour has it that the Q45 engine makes considerably more than the claimed 206kW...

Bob Dunn – the head of Adelaide Japanese Imports - says the VH45DE has recently become quite popular in Australia and availability in Japan is not a problem. He’s seen these engines go into ski boats, Nissan Patrol 4WDs and an old Holden ute - but these are a bulky engine that won’t fit into just anything. Oh, and the VH45DE was fitted with a 4-speed automatic transmission – a manual ‘box was not offered.

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A bare VH45DE is currently worth AUD$1850 while an engine package (with loom, ECU and sensors) fetches around AUD$2500. These engines are rarely given a thrashing in Japan and Bob isn’t aware of any reliability issues – keep in mind the VH-series engine was used as the platform in 450 – 500kW Indy cars...

Nissan VQ30DET

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The current range of Nissan V6s – the VQ series – is now widely available at the Japanese import wreckers.

At the time of writing, Adelaide Japanese Imports had a couple of VQ30DETs in stock and they frequently appear for sale in Japan. Bob says these are great engines that boast all-alloy construction; that contrasts with the iron block of the superseded VG-series. A VQ30DET engine package (complete with ECU, loom and sensors) typically sells for around AUD$2950. Bob has seen these fitted to early 300ZXs and a Holden HQ ute – but, again, we must point out that they are bulky engines.

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The VQ30DET uses a 9:1 static compression ratio and an intercooled single turbocharger to deliver 199kW at 6000 rpm and 368Nm at 3600 rpm. It’s a very smooth engine with generous off-boost response and torque. The VQ30DET was introduced in the 1995/1996 Cedric, Cima, Leopard and Gloria - all of these are rear-drive, automatic saloons. Oh, and an updated LEV version of this engine – the VQ30DET NEO – was released in around 2000. The NEO VQ30DET produces 206kW and 368Nm.

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The other VQ-series engine of interest is the 3.5 litre VQ35DE (as used in the rear-drive 350Z and Skyline, and front-drive Maxima). In Japanese NEO LEV form, the 350Z and Skyline engines make 206kW and 363Nm. These engines use variable cam timing. A simpler version of the VQ35DE – as fitted to the current Japanese-market Elgrand – puts out a modest 177kW and 353Nm.


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One of the most potent four-cylinder engines to go unnoticed is the Nissan SR20VE NEO VVL.

This is a high-output naturally aspirated version of the Nissan 2 litre four that features variable valve timing and lift (using separate cam lobes). It’s a direct competitor to the Honda VTEC, Toyota VTi-L and Mitsubishi MIVEC systems.

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With the benefit of VVL breathing and an 11:1(!) compression ratio, this motor rips out 140kW at 7000 rpm and 196Nm at a high 6000 rpm. Premium unleaded fuel is required. The SR20VE was most commonly equipped with a manual gearbox, but a CVT (with six preset ratios) was also available. The engine was released in the Primera of 1997 and continued until 2002.

Bob Dunn says due to high demand in Japan, this engine is very difficult to source. And when they are grabbed, you can expect to pay a considerable amount of money – around AUD$3000 or more.

Mazda/Eunos KJ-ZEM

A much underrated engine is the Mazda/Eunos 800 Miller-cycle KJ-ZEM.

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Sold in Japan from 1997, the 2.3 litre V6 KL-ZEM employs DOHC, 4-valve-per-cylinder heads with Miller cycle technology. The Miller-cycle principle involves closing the intake valves much later than in a conventional Otto cycle engine (the inlet valves are kept open for the first 20 percent of the compression stroke). This approach reduces pumping losses at part throttle. A Lysholm screw-type supercharger is an essential part of the system because it prevents the mixture flowing backwards out through the inlet valves (which are held open). Twin-air-to-air intercoolers are also fitted.

With a static compression ratio of 8:1 and boost pressure of around 14 psi, this sophisticated engine produces 162kW at 5500 rpm. Peak torque (294Nm) is available at 3200 rpm. Interestingly, the Japanese-spec engine is 13kW and 12Nm gruntier than the Australian-delivered version.  All KL-ZEMs are fitted with a 4-speed automatic transmission.

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Bob Dunn says this engine is always in stock and is easy to source. A bare engine (not including ECU, loom or sensors) is worth AUD$2850. We are told that the engine is reliable but the hard-working supercharger can develop seal problems. A replacement blower costs a few hundred dollars.

KL-ZEM on the Dyno
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In our test of the Mazda 800 back in 1999 (Eunos 800 Miller cycle) we decided to run the supercharged Miller-cycle engine on a Dyno Dynamics chassis dyno. As seen in this graph, the Australian-spec (149kW) engine produced 111kW at the wheels with strong low-to-mid rpm torque.

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Interestingly, intake air temperature shot through the roof during testing – after about 10 seconds running at full power, we measured 75 degrees Celsius after the little intercoolers (see pic)! Whack on some better intercoolers and you’re sure to have more power.

Daihatsu HD-EG (DeTomaso)

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If you want a ripper little engine with plenty of character, take a look at the donk from the Japanese-market Daihatsu Charade DeTomaso.

Coded HD-EG, this 1.6 litre in-line four uses the same block architecture as any other H-series Daihatsu engine. This means the DeTomaso engine will quite easily snuggle into the engine bay of a mid ‘90s G200 Charade. The DeTomaso engine was used between 1993 and 1997.

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With a modest 9.5:1 compression ratio and a SOHC, 4-valve-per-cylinder head with distributor, this engine puts out 92kW at 6300 rpm along with 144Nm at 4000 rpm. And it does this on regular unleaded petrol. Sure, there are other 1.6s that make more power (such as the Toyota 100kW 4A-GE) but the DeTomaso engine has plenty of character, it doesn’t need to be pushed to sky-high rpm (as shown in this power and torque graph) and its relatively low compression ratio lends itself to turbocharging. A 5-speed manual gearbox is commonly fitted to the HD-EG engine but a 4-speed automatic can also be found.

Bob Dunn says there are absolutely no problems with these engines – they’re relatively basic and very reliable. As a result, they’d be great in a Charade rally car, kit car or as a replacement engine for your tired G200 Charade. At the time of writing, Adelaide Japanese Imports has three DeTomaso engines in stock retailing for AUD$1350 each (for the bare engine).

Daihatsu fans should also be aware that the potent 1 litre CB70 DOHC turbo engine (designed for the G100 series Charade) is now extremely difficult to source in Japan.

Stick around for the second and final part of this series. We’ll check out some hot Toyotas, Suzukis, a Honda and Mitsubishi...


Adelaide Japanese Imports +61 8 8369 1156

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