Technically you can fit any engine in to any car, but what’s actually a good idea? Well let us tell you…
If you look at the history of modified cars, I mean right from day one, it’s fair to say the core of modifying and tuning, the one thing that personifies it, is an engine swap. These days we’re spoilt for choice with engine tuning, so you don’t have to do an engine swap to get great performance anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer a good idea; it can still be one of the coolest mods to do, and often the most cost effective way to massive performance gains.
With enough time, money, and skill, you can have any swap you want, you can have a Bugatti Veyron engine BMX if you wanted to, but for the sane among us, especially as ‘easy’ is a relative term when it comes to engine swaps, we want the result to be great value for the time, money, and effort you’ve put in to the swap, and this is exactly what this feature is about…
VAG 1.8T in to any FWD or mid-engine RWD
Compact, super cheap, hugely tunable, and with a strong transmission, the 1.8 20V turbo lump found in countless VAG vehicle since the late 90s, as well as being a common and easy swap in to Mk1, 2, and 3 Golfs, has became one of the most popular swaps in to frankly, well, anything. We’ve seen them in Renault 5s and Clios, Peugeot 205s, Lotus Elises, MR2s, even a Ford Focus, and there’s no reason you can’t put them in anything you fancy.
While there’s no non-VAG fitting kits out there, there’s so much detailed info out there on doing 1.8T swaps, not to mention they’re so cheap and plentiful, doing the conversion is far less of a headache than most engines, so what are you waiting for!?
Saab Turbo in to Vauxhall
Saab aren’t the first company you think of when it comes to tuning or engine swaps, but they were one of the pioneers of turbocharging and made some damn good engines, and thanks to being owned by GM from the 1990s onwards, meant that they share a lot of parts with another GM brand, Vauxhall. This relationship means it’s actually very easy to put the strong and tunable turbocharged Saab engines in to both front and rear wheel drive Vauxhalls. For the front drive cars, the parts, even the suspension parts, are very interchangeable from Saab to Vauxhall, so you can pretty much buy a scrap Saab 900 or 9-3 Turbo and swap the entire thing over to your FWD Vauxhall, which is nice.
For rear wheel drives it’s not quite so simple, though the main headache on RWD swaps is a suitable gearbox, and lo and behold the Omega gearbox bolts to the Saab engine, so, as rear drive swaps go, it’s pretty damn easy too.
GM LS series V8 in to anything RWD
These swaps are getting so common they’re actually getting considered boring by some, but trust us, from behind the wheel, no LS swapped car is boring! If you didn’t already know, the LS is GMs modern V8, found from the factory in everything from pickup trucks to Corvettes, from 4.8ltr to 7ltr, and they all have one thing in common, and that’s massive tuning potential. With 500bhp coming either as standard or from mild mods on the performance versions, and the smaller versions from the trucks being incredibly strong, proven capable of 1000bhp+ on standard internals when turbocharged, it’s no wonder they’re popular.
Doing a big V8 swap usually has three massive issues, firstly it’s hard to shoehorn one in to your car, secondly they’re usually all automatics, and thirdly, they’re usually bloody heavy which ruins handling. And this is why the LS is a good idea! They’re not any heavier than a 2JZ or similar, there’s off the shelf LS conversion kits for practically every popular RWD car you can think of, and not only do the LS engines come with some super strong manual boxes as standard, but there’s full conversion kits around allowing you to use the common, cheap, but very strong BMW gearboxes; ideal!
Toyota 1/2JZ to anything RWD
Arguably the best all-round inline six engines ever made, JZ conversions have been done to countless cars over the years, even ones that already have fantastic engines in them as standard such as Nissan Skylines, 3-Series BMWs, Honda S2000s, and Mazda RX7s; they really are that good.
Relatively common and inexpensive considering their massive potential, it’s easy to see why doing a JZ swap is so tempting, and for many cars there’s full fitting kits available too. Combine that with the JZ being yet another engine where there’s a full conversion kit to run a BMW gearbox if you want, and the fact they sound pretty damn awesome, means it’s a wise move for any RWD with an engine bay long enough for an inline six.
Toyota 1UZ to anything RWD
Almost unheard of on the tuning scene until a few years ago, the 1UZ is a 4ltr V8 that while is normally only found in 1990s Lexus cruisers, was originally designed as a full race engine by Toyota. Because it was designed as a race engine, it’s incredibly over-built for the standard power level, so capable of massive power and high revs with ease. Since people have noticed their potential they’ve became hugely popular for engine swaps, fitted to all manor of RWD cars in naturally aspirated, turbo, and supercharged form, and while they only ever came with an auto box as standard, there’s kits out there allowing Toyota, BMW, and Nissan manual boxes to be used.
Another big reason they’re popular is they’re very lightweight and compact, barely any heavier than a typical four cylinder, allowing them to be fitted to smaller RWD cars like MX5s and AE86s without negatively affecting the handling.
Honda K20 in to MR2s and Elises
While we don’t need to tell Honda fans how good the K20 engine is, for the rest of you, listen up! It really, honestly, is, about the best transversely mounted engine you can get. Capable of over 300bhp with relative ease even when naturally aspirated is impressive enough, but most people when going to the effort of a swap add boost, via either a supercharger or turbo, and that’s when these things get really crazy. Massive power, massive revs, strong transmissions, and decent reliability too, so it’s no surprise these are getting popular to put in to the back of MR2s and Elises/Exiges powering the rear wheels, where they can really put all the power to the ground well.
There’s full kits and even dedicated companies to putting K20s in to Elises and MR2s, so if you want a mid-engine RWD supercar beater, this is the way to go…
Keeping it in the family…
As well as the big engine swaps already mentioned, some popular cars have very easy engine swaps from their bigger brothers…
Z20LET to Corsas
C20XE and C20LET swaps in to Novas and Corsa Bs were about the most common swap in the Fast Car world in the 90s and 00s, and fast forward to today and the Corsa C Z20LET swap is just as common, simple, and effective as these earlier versions.
With Corsa Cs costing peanuts and weighing under 1000kg, Z20LETs similarly cheap and easy to tune to serious power, and full fitting kits costing barely over £500, it’s no wonder this is a hugely popular swap; in fact it’s probably the cheapest and easiest swap out there!
Honda engine swaps
Just like Vauxhalls, there’s a whole heap of non-performance Hondas out there, but it’s actually pretty easy to swap in a VTEC B-Series, H22A, or K-Series, in to most 1990s onwards Hondas, partly due to the interchangeability of parts from the factory, and partly due to the huge Honda tuning scene.
Swapping big power Honda lumps in to base models makes a lot of sense for various reasons, from the fact they’re far more common to find for sale than the hot models, to the fact many of you will modify a smaller engine version when younger but want more power once your insurance prices drop to more sensible levels. The best reason is though, well, a H22A or K-Series powered EG or EK Civic for example doesn’t exist from the factory, and makes for a fast lightweight car even with a standard engine, and an insane one if you add some boost…
Mitsubishi Evo 4G63T in to Colts and FTOs
This isn’t as common as maybe it should be, as it’s a great conversion, but this is mostly as small front drive Mitsubishis just aren’t that popular in the tuning scene.
The Evo engine is pretty damn legendary so we don’t need to talk about that, and while you can’t easily transplant the four wheel drive system, if you want a bonkers power front wheel drive lightweight car, it’s surprisingly easy to swap the 4G63 in to a 1990s Mitsubishi Colt or FTO; mostly a bolt-in conversion in fact.
And how fast can you go? Well Richard Batty’s 4G63 FTO runs 8sec quarter miles at almost 180mph last time we checked…!
Great idea, but not easy… Yet!
Thanks to the car worlds newfound love for turbocharging there’s some awesome engines out there, and while lots look ripe for a swap in to a different car, there’s no easy solutions yet. Here’s a couple that will be big in the future, so watch this space…
This is the 3ltr twin turbo lump found in the BMW 335i amongst others, and frankly it’s an amazing piece of kit. Incredibly strong, incredibly tunable, with a pretty indestructible gearbox to match, and currently pretty cheap on the used market, it looks like the perfect engine to swap in to anything rear wheel drive. Unfortunately the electronics are so integrated in to the rest of the car that it’s very difficult at the moment to swap in to another car, but we’re sure it’s only going to be a matter of time until there’s an easy solution.
The 1.8T lump is a popular swap at the moment, but as of yet it’s successor, the direct injection 2ltr 16V Turbo TFSI lump, is fairly unheard of as a swap. The reason is much the same as the BMW lump, with complex electronics causing the main problems, but these engines are strong, hugely tunable, and often come with the great DSG gearbox, so swapped in to a lightweight car and you’ve got a real monster on your hands.