Nissan SR20DET engine modification guide

SR20DET has lots of potential for your tuning project."

The SR20DET is a fantastically tunable engine from Nissan and is extremely strong and reliable. Based around a light alloy block with alloy heads the twin cam setup uses tried and tested parts and the relatively recent T28 turbo and intercooler made the engine stand out among it’s peers.

Production started in 1989 where it was insitially transversely mounted. Later the engine was rotated to a longitudinal setup which work best for the many rear wheel drive cars Nissan planned to produce.

It was fitted to a wide range of cars and is frequently used in motor sport applications. Most people see power figures of 300bhp on stock internals with relatively simple turbo and fuelling upgrades.

If you just want a cheap easy large power boost on your standard SR20DET tuning project, all you have to do is fit a boost controller and nitrous kit. Most of our members are looking to add parts over time rather than take the car off the road for 6 months for a complete overhaul and the SR20DET is able to offer this upgrade route.

Plan your power targets before you begin. Is the car going to be used as your daily drive or is your desire for a competition ready car? If you do your upgrades in the right order you’ll keep the car drivable and can spread your upgrade costs.

Plan your SR20DET tuning project carefully, decide on your power target and then uprate the components to get your there.

Exhaust and fuelling upgrades are a good base to start with, but you’ll not notice much more power until you start tweaking the boost and timing.

Later engines are always an improvement over earlier models, with various revisions and enhancements introduced. 1995 saw the “bent cam” (named after the curve of the rocker cover at the back which makes it look bent) introduced on the 200sx which saw the introduction of variable valve timing control VTC but also nicknamed VVT in some regions, addition of the Garrett T28 turbo and uprated injectors.

The stock engine will reportedly tolerate power figures of 350-400bhp with some reporting failures of the sleeves around 475bhp indicating that some lucky owners have a block which can cope with more than 400bhp reliably.

The fuel pump upgrade makes a lot of sense when you increase the power as the stock fuel pump does not flow that much fuel (140 liters per hour) and tops out around the 390bhp mark. 550cc fuel injectors give plenty of tuning potential.

The stock MAF sensor is good for 300bhp, any more power than this and you should upgrade the MAF (the 300zx MAF is a good option here for a cheap upgrade) or if you are targeting much higher power gains, then upgrade to a MAP sensor. It is always best to overshoot your fuel requirement a little to give you a little more tuning headroom and as a bonus you’ll improve reliability. There is little point going mad with the injectors and fuel pump capacity if you are only seeking modest gains as your tuning budget is best used elsewhere.

Smaller intercoolers suffer from heat soak, a build up of heat which is something a larger intercooler will resist. The more boost you are running the hotter the intake air will become (due to compression of air causing a temperature rise). Relocating the intercooler to the front of the car (obviously in front of the radiator) will allow more air to flow through it, and, as most are wing mounted this is a good performance upgrade to help resist heat soak. Larger intercoolers are a good upgrade option if you suffer from heat soak and the associated loss of power.

You don’t even need to go to the aftermarket suppliers if you want to keep costs down, the intercooler from higher power cars can be front mounted and give you a capacity boost.

Regular maintenance on the SR20DET

Copper tipped plugs should really be changed every 6 months or 5000 miles or so on a tuned SR20DET. The more expensive Iridium tipped plugs last longer and cope with lots of heat. Use a fully synthetic high quality oil and the engine will prove to be reliable changing this every 6000 miles with a new oil filter.

Cooling is usually a priority upgrade for SR20DET owners, with larger capacity radiators. Interestingly most opt to retain the OEM fan and fan cowling as this is quite efficient and fits nicely into the space available although it’s not the prettiest option.

Boost controllers will make a significant power gain and pared with a remap or aftermarket ECU gives you the ability to fully realise the potential of your modifications.

If fitting an aftermarket ECU to your car please ensure it is fitted with a knock sensor, as this can avoid costly repairs and we have seen too many engines destroyed when this could have been prevented. Your car needs to be setup on a rolling road and tweaked on the fly, a hit and miss try it and see approach will take a lot longer to do right and affords more potential opportunity for things to go wrong.

Turbo upgrades for the SR20DET

You can make the job of working on the engine a lot easier if you upgrade to flexible turbo oil and coolant pipes, the standard metal ones have a tendency to crack and break wreaking havoc on your engine, and every time you remove or refit a turbo this risk increases.

A general turbo tip: For performance turbos we insist on using ball bearing turbos or ceramic coated bearings, the thrust bearings suffer from noticeable lag and do not cope that well with larger performance gains as they wear.

For power upto 400bhp you should be good with most T2 turbos which should usually be a straight bolt on swap with your OEM turbo.

The T28’s from the S14 provide power in the 240-280bhp range, A Nissan Sylvia turbo will offer around 300bhp so makes more sense to the power hungry.

Some of the new hybrid turbos offer wider power bands and up more quickly and deliver more power at the top end. The Garrett GT28 RS or GT2871R are extensively used by our members as upgrades on their SR20DET engines.

The GT2871R provides loads of power up the high end of the rev range, but does not suffer from low down lag so would be our recommended turbo upgrade for those seeking power figures of 320-330bhp. The SC61BB is the turbo for the serious track day user offering lots of torque and low down power.

Going beyond 300bhp

There are many suitable T3 turbo upgrades on the market with hybrid internals. Thanks to modern profiling and optimisations, the new large capacity turbos do not suffer from turbo lag and produce power right up to the redline. Obviously you’ll need to uprate the oil feed pipes, air pipes and cooling pipes to cope with a larger turbo but the benefits outweigh the hassle when you have a good strong block like the SR20DET to work on.

Stroker kits and rebores will increase capacity to around 2.2 litres and you’ll find many kits around to achieve this.

Drop in a gas flowed head, high flow exhaust, manifold and sports catalyst (if you want to stay road legal) and you are set for higher power gains.

Fuelling will need to run at 190 liters per hour for 400bhp, if you want more than this then a 225 lph unit will get you there when mated to the right injectors (assuming power figures taken from the crank TorqueCars suggest injectors of around 550cc for 390bhp, the 740cc injectors hit around 500 and 850cc will deliver fuel for over 600bhp). If you run lean you could destroy the engine so make sure you have some spare capacity in your injectors and fuel pump.

Don’t pay too much attention to induction kits and air intake unless you are hitting power figures over 300bhp, and even then please ensure you have a cold air feed and are not sucking in warm engine bay air.

The cam profile makes a large difference and fitting vernier pulleys will allow fine control and put the power band exactly where you need it to match your gearing. Avoid pairing a light weight single mass flywheel with an aggressive cam profile or you’ll end up with a very lumpy engine.

Please help us complete this article, add your tips suggestions and corrections via the feedback form below, we do rely on user submissions to help keep our tuning tips at the cutting edge. Our forum is also a great place to go if you want more specific tips or are having trouble with your SR20DET engine tuning project.


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