The VR38 DETT engine guide

"Tuning the stunning Nissan VR38DETT"

The VR38 DETT is built by craftsmen and is one of the best engines around for tuning projects.

Able to hit really high power figures from relatively simple mods or with some serious upgrades you could hit motorsport power figures and still have a reliable daily driver.

In it's first incarnation the VR38 DETT offered 485hp and boasted two IHI RHF55 turbochargers. The strong block can cope with quite a bit more power and in just a couple of years Nissan had pushed up the power to 545hp.

Revised in 2010 the VR38DETT produced 530hp thanks primarily to better flow through the engine thanks to a new intake and larger bore exhaust.

In 2011 another set of upgrades were introduced with uprated fuel injectors, a new blow off valve and revised ECU map. This pushed power up to 545hp.

There are so many tuning options for the VR38 DETT and it is relatively easy to hit high power figures.

Nismo had a good few years to play with the VR38 DETT engine and extracted 600bhp using a few choice upgrades including revised turbos, fuel pump and ignition system changes.

Then the VR38 DETT was again revised in 2016 with boost raised to 13.5psi and a new exhaust system design. This saw power hit 565hp which for a reliable mass produced performance car is a fantastic accomplishment.

Best VR38DETT parts and tuning mods.

Significant gains on the VR38DETT can be made from camshaft upgrades. Altering the camshaft profile alters the intake and exhaust durations on the engine and can dramatically change the torque and power output.Please watch our video which covers the 5 principles of tuning your car. Be sure to keep up with our latest YouTube content and subscribe.

Best Engine Mods for your VR38DETT

  1. Engine Tunes - engine tuning/remapping provides the most advantage in terms of cost savings,  aftermarket ECUs, and piggyback ECUs are all alternatives.
  2. Fast road cams are one of the most significant mechanical changes, but they must be installed by someone who knows what they're doing and they are not always easy to source but you might find a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft.
  3. Intake and Exhaust - Note that on their own these mods will NOT ADD POWER in most cases, but they can help enhance power after other mods by removing the restriction.
  4. Upgrades to turbochargers and superchargers - forced induction is the most efficient approach to increase air supply, allowing you to burn more fuel and make more power. It is one of the most costly upgrades but provides the best gains.
  5. Head work - The goals of porting and flowing the head are to get air flowing into the engine while removing flow restrictions and turbulence.

VR38DETT Tuning Stages

Typical stage 1 mods often include: drilled & smoothed airbox, Fast road camshaft, Remaps/piggy back ECU, Intake manifolds, Sports exhaust header/manifold, Panel air filters.

Typical stage 2 mods often include: high flow fuel injectors, Fast road cam, Sports catalyst & performance exhaust, induction kit, Ported and polished head, fuel pump upgrades.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Competition cam, Engine balancing & blueprinting, Twin charging conversions, Crank and Piston upgrades to alter compression, Adding or Upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Internal engine upgrades (head flowing porting/bigger valves).

VT38DETT Performance Cams

Fast road cams commonly bump the bhp and torque over the rev range, you could sacrifice a little bottom end bhp but higher rpm power will be lifted.

Race cams, bump the higher rpm power band but as a result the car will not idle smoothly and low end power nearly always suffers.

For a car used daily must carefully try to match your bhp range to your preferences.

I'd be completely gobsmacked if you have ever thought or claimed that a VR38DETT Race camshaft is a pleasure to live with when driving in heavy traffic. The low end idle will be very lumpy and irregular, so something you would notice on a track when you drive in the upper third of the rpm band, but on roads this is a serious issue and we've heard from lots of drivers lamenting their decision to add an extreme competition cam profile to their engine.

Each engine responds better to mild cam durations so view each engine as unique.

The engine timing and fuel pump and injectors also have an effect on the torque gains you'll get.

Altering valve durations can alter the torque band and on most engines the exhaust and intake durations do not need to match, although most cams and tuners use matched pairs there are some advantages to extending the intake or exhaust durations.

The VR38DETT engines respond well to upgrades and we're finding that there are quite a few choices of parts and tuning parts about.


You will need to ensure that the engine is not starved of fuel so need to ramp up the fuelling when you start extending past 20% of a power increase.

Most tuners we speak with say to be generous with your flow rate on the injectors.

The rule of thumb is to add another 20% when fitting an injector, helps cope with injector deterioration and gives some spare capacity should the engine require more fuel.

VR38 DETT turbo upgrades

The turbo is the primary component for a large power figure and thankfully there are plenty of CR38 DETT turbo upgrades around. Garrett CHRA (2nd Gen) are popular with the following power figures on offer GTX 2860 900bhp, GTX 2867 1000bhp and the GTX 3071 1200bhp.

The Borg Warner EFR's are great turbo upgrades, the 7163 EFR in a twin setup will allow you to reach 1000bhp+ and we see quite a few tuners opting for the twin scroll EFR 7670 thanks to the early spool up and compact size. When watercooled and with a ceramic ball bearing you could see power hit 1200bhp with the EFR 7670.

There are tuning limits for every engine, with some being incredibly solid and some only just able to handle stock power

See where you'll find these limitations and install forged components to survive the power.

We see many drivers spending a lot of money on turbocharger upgrades on the VR38DETT only to have the whole thing catastrophically fail on it's first outing after it's been completed.

Large capacity turbo units often experience no power at low rpm, and smaller turbo units spool up much more quickly but do not have the top end torque gains.

In recent times the world of turbo units is always developing and we commonly find variable vane turbo units, where the vane profile is altered according to speed to lower lag and increase top end bhp.

Twin scroll turbo units divert the exhaust gases into two channels and feed these at differently profiled vanes in the turbocharger. They also increase the scavenging effect of the engine.

It is not unusual that there is a limitation in the air flow sensor (AFM/MAF/MAP) on these engines when a lot more air is being fed into the engine.

We see 4 bar air sensors coping with quite large power gains, whereas the OEM air sensor sapped bhp at a much lower level.

Tuning to 600bhp

The engines are solid and reliable and can easily handle power figures of around 600 bhp, it is usually the transmission that complains at this power figure.

A tune/remap (via a replacement ECU) is a great first point of attention for tuning if you are looking for a cost effective power upgrade. Remaps will release around 490 to 540 bhp  (at the wheels) with the earlier models benefiting from higher power gains than the better tuned later versions. The later cars, from 2012 onwards, flow better through the intake and boasts a better transmission so you can often see figures nearing the 600bhp mark.

Exhaust and intake mods usually yield around 30 more bhp and they provide a good basis for more extreme tunes offering more headway to work in.

Stock turbos will provide enough air to run around 620hp. Fuel injectors, pump and engine internals like rods and pistons should be upgraded when you hit 600hp.

Going beyond 600 bhp

For a monster like the GTR people will often want to push the tuning limits to the max. With a large turbo conversion and forged pistons and rods you'll open up a world of 800bhp plus power figures.

The airflow metering system will also need to be upgraded, now there is more air running through. A Map sensor makes good sense at these power levels.

TorqueCars have seen quite a few 1000bhp VR38DETT engines around which goes to show the potential of these blocks. The transmission needs to be particularly strong to handle this much power.

Stroker kits are often employed when looking for an 800bhp+ engine. Taking the VR38DETT to 4.1 litres or 4.3 allows more headroom and if the engine has been strengthened sufficiently you can build a serious competition car with 1500bhp or more that can still be safely and reliably driven to and from the track.

Headline power figures of 2500bhp - a positively dyno smashing earth rotation stopping level of power have been achieved on highly tuned VR38DETT engines.

The engines require regular servicing and fully synthetic oil of the correct grade if you are serious about maintaining it in good condition.

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One Response to “Tuning guide for the VR38DETT”

  1. Andrew says:

    Which engine is capable for more power.. 2jz, vr38 or rb26??

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