You and I know the Toyota 2JZ-GTE as one of the most legendary tuner engines of all time, powering one of the most iconic cars of all time, the MK4 Toyota Supra.
But what if I told you the best Supra ever, doesn’t even use a 2JZ engine, but rather a little 2.0L four-cylinder?
Toyota’s Six-Cylinder History
Now for those who don’t know, Toyota has a pretty long history of building inline-six engines that go way back before the 2JZ was even a thing.
If we rewind the clock to 1935 we’ll find the Toyota Type A engine, which was Toyota’s first-ever inline-six engine, but it wasn’t particularly exciting in terms of power at just 61hp from its 3.4L of displacement.
Then we had the Type B engine all the way to the Type E. Then in 1965 they introduced the M engine, which was a little more exciting at 123hp from its 2.0L of displacement, and really this was Toyota’s first ever performance-oriented inline-six engine.
If we jump ahead to the 1980s, we’ll find Toyota’s first turbocharged inline-six engine, the 7M-GTE, which is ultimately the engine that laid the groundwork for the 1JZ and later the 2JZ.
The Legendary 2JZ-GTE
The 2JZ-GTE in particular, is one of the most known and praised engines of all time.
Part of that is because it’s extremely versatile in the context of aftermarket performance, but also because it powered what ultimately became the biggest fanboy car ever, the MK4 Supra.
The 2JZ truly is on a nearly untouchable pedestal, and whether or not it deserves that kind of praise and hype is a topic in and of itself, but there is no denying it’s a great performance engine and just a great engine period.
If you look around on the internet, it’s not hard to find examples of the 2JZ being swapped into practically everything from Miatas to professional Formula Drift race cars.
And on the extreme performance side, there are loads of examples of these engines making well over 1000hp and some as high as 4,000hp. It’s so ridiculous.
That’s the power of nearly 10 C5 Z06s. It’s truly ridiculous.
The TOM’s Supra
Now that takes us to this car here, the Castrol TOM’s Toyota Supra GT, one of the most iconic race cars of all time.
Now you might recognize it as a car featured in the Gran Turismo racing games, but it’s a lot more than just a video game car, it’s quite literally one of the most important race cars of all time.
But the thing is, it doesn’t use a 2JZ engine.
So, why did Toyota decide not to use its holy grail of engine engineering in what ended up being one of the best race cars ever?
Well, the TOM’s Supra was part of the Japanese Grand Touring Car racing series, which was a popular racing series found in Japan that ultimately ended up becoming the GT500 racing series, which itself is one of the most legendary racing series of all time.
Back to the Super GT series though, Nissan had been dominating the Japanese Touring Car Championship in the early 1990s, taking home the championship in 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1993.
As well as taking home the trophy in 1994 for the aforementioned Super GT series.
On top of that, the R32 GTR took home the overall victory in the Spa 24-hour race of 1991 and the Australian Touring Car Championship.
Nissan was absolutely dominating motorsports in the 1990s to put it lightly. They were practically winning everything and it wasn’t even close.
Keep in mind, that 1994 was the very first year for the new Japan Grand Touring Car Championship and that one year was all Toyota needed to fuel their rivalry with Nissan.
Now an important thing to note in these early racing series, is that the rules were pretty open and loose, allowing a fair bit of flexibility for manufacturers to develop their race cars.
One of the most important rules in this racing series is that a manufacturer’s race car was allowed the use of ANY engine, as long as it was in the original manufacturer’s range of engines.
For Toyota, that meant they could use any production engine they had ever built up until that point, which gave them a massive amount of options.
But ultimately they decided on using the 3S-GT engine, which is a little two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder based on their existing 3S-GTE engine.
Still, though, why not use the larger 2JZ? After all, there is no replacement for displacement, right?
And you’d be right to think that, especially when you consider that Nissan, arguably their biggest rival and the company that had been dominating motorsports with its GTR and its venerable RB26DETT engine.
Which, the 2JZ was pretty much a direct competitor, giving Toyota even more reason to use a 2JZ and prove it was truly the superior engine platform for both road use and racing use.
3S-GT vs 2JZ-GTE
So, why on earth did they use the 3S-GTE instead of the 2JZ-GTE? I mean, the 3S-GTE is a boring little 2.0L engine used in the Celica and MR2.
It just doesn’t seem like a good racing engine, but Toyota had actually already used this engine in racing before.
What I’m talking about is the 503E, which is a modified version of the 3S-GTE that Toyota had used in Group C rally racing, as well as other applications.
And in this form, they had already pushed the engine as far as 800hp reliably.
This meant they already had a ready-to-go, tried-and-tested racing version of this engine in their portfolio.
All they needed to do was plop it into the Supra and hit the track. And that’s exactly what they did after a few modifications as a name change to the 3S-GT.
But, still, the question remains. Why this engine 2.0L engine and not the 3.0L 2JZ?
Well, unknown to many of the Supra fanboys on the internet, there is a lot more to cars than seeing who can make the most peak power while also making their car as undrivable as possible.
There’s a lot more to life than roll racing.
Seriously though, the biggest issue with using the 2JZ-GTE in a race car application is weight and size.
You see, the 2JZ is pretty heavy and fairly long in length, which you can’t really do anything to fix, at least not easily.
For reference, a bone stock twin-turbo MK4 Supra comes in between 3200lbs and roughly 3500lbs depending on the trim and options. On the other hand, the TOM’s Supra comes in at just 2425lbs.
Now obviously they removed all the creature comforts from the car, because well, it’s a race car.
A better comparison would be to look at the weight of the individual engines, where the 2JZ-GTE comes in at around 600lbs without the transmission and a 3S-GTE comes in at around 400lbs with the transmission.
So, as you can see, the difference in weight between these two engines is pretty massive.
Using a heavy engine in a racing application can cause some serious issues, most notably having a huge effect on the vehicle’s weight distribution from front to back.
So, by using a smaller four-cylinder engine, they were able to take hundreds of lbs off the nose of the car and keep the engine further back in the engine bay, helping to give the car a much more balanced weight distribution.
With a better weight distribution comes much more favorable handling characteristics and improved tire wear.
You have to remember, this car was meant to turn and it was meant to win races.
The more you can conserve tires, the less you have to pitstop, and the further ahead you get.
Motorsports Success and Failure
Unfortunately, though, Toyota’s unique approach to using a smaller and lighter engine didn’t exactly translate to motorsports dominance, although they found some success with it.
In 1995 they had their first Japanese Grand Touring Car win at Sendai Hi-Land Raceway.
Then they got their second win at Sportsland Sugo, but unfortunately, those wins weren’t enough to score the championship that year.
Fast forwarding to 1997, the Calsonic GTR that had been dominating pulled out and was replaced by a new team to continue Nissan’s dominance, but Toyota planned to put an end to it and add another Supra to their roster.
And it was this 1997 season that finally saw the Supra crowned as the Japanese Grand Touring Car champion, with the first-ever tiebreaker for the driver’s championship that was between the TOM’s Supra and the SARD’s Supra.
Toyota was so obsessed with beating Nissan that they quite literally started competing with themselves.
But hey, it worked, only just enough to piss off Nissan who came back in the following year of 1998 with a new GTR, on top of Honda joining the action.
And well, that 1998 year didn’t go so well for Toyota. In fact, they didn’t win a single race that year. And then in the following year 1999, Nissan dominated once again.
And by 2001, Castrol and Toyota parted ways. But, in the end, the Supra finished its career with four total championships and even continued racing after Toyota ended production of the MK4 Supra in 2002.
Today you can find this car featured in quite a few different racing games including multiple Gran Turismo titles.
I don’t know about you, but I have a ton of fun driving this car in GT4 and GT5.
Of course, driving it in a video game is nothing like driving it in real life, but I’m too poor to become a racing driver and you probably are too, so that’s as close as we’re going to get.
Could They Have Used the 2JZ-GTE?
So while the 2JZ is an amazing engine that has quite literally changed the automotive aftermarket forever, it just wasn’t the right engine for the job when it came to powering the best Supra ever.
Now a question I have seen before floating around, is if Toyota could have made the 2JZ work in the TOM’s Supra and still have the same amount of success, and there answer is yes, it’s definitely possible.
Nissan had loads of success using the RB26 in the GTR which dominated racing. Nissan didn’t see a need to switch to a smaller and lighter four-cylinder engine, and frankly, Toyota could have done the same.
Would a 2JZ-powered TOM’s Supra have as much success as the real one did? Maybe, maybe not.