When talking about drifting, the inevitable V8 debate perpetually arises. Some of us prefer only Japanese engines, others a hulking American V8, while some do not have a preference at all. I have friends in other countries that simply do not understand why anyone would ever want to put a V8 in a drift car over an SR, JZ, or RB, for example.
I myself enjoy a turbocharged inline-6. I love the sound of 6 inline cylinders firing to the boosted whistle of a turbo, especially one with the OCD Works T51R mod. Do I hate on the V8? Absolutely not. If that is the route you would rather take, than do it. Do it for yourself. We should not build our cars to satisfy others, after all.
If we look back into the history of drifting, most of us know it started in Japan. From the just-for-fun street cars to top-tier competition builds, everyone had a Japanese engine in their car. Engine parts seemed relatively easy to get. If built by the right person, these engines were reliable, and provided plenty of power and torque for their intended purpose. Regarding availability of parts, I am referring to America, specifically. Throughout the rest of the world, parts for these Japanese engines are still available directly from dealerships in just about every country. The only exception to this is the 2JZ. America did get the non-turbo charged GE version in the Lexus SC300, GS300 and IS300. The only turbocharged GTE version for the US was offered in the mythical Toyota Supra MKIV. Nobody in their right mind is going to take the original engine out of that car and swap it into anything else. At least that is my humble opinion, since the car running and in good condition still goes for $30-$40,000 on the low-end, with some examples hovering at $100,000.
The first time I saw a V8 in professional drifting was Rhys Millen’s notorious Pontiac GTO. The car came with a potent GM LS-series V8 directly from the manufacturer. It seemed that almost immediately, this engine became the hot swap into anything from street cars, to weekend warriors, all the way up to professional competition chassis. There are levels to this, as the kids say. On the professional tier, I can say, in my opinion, that it almost does not matter what engine you choose in regards to cost. There is simply no cheap way to build a reliable 1,000hp engine, no matter the cylinders. Sure, you can cobble together a backyard turbo LS swap and make gobs of power, but this is not the right approach for professional competition. Most of the components for a 1,000hp pro-spec V8 are not available at your local parts store. Finding someone knowledgeable and experienced will be easy, if you are willing to fork over the moolah. Gotta pay to play! At the other end of the spectrum is everyone outside of competition.
Why has the V8 become so popular? My opinion: availability and knowledge base, simply put. Bear with me. For the sake of the debate, I am going to reference the pros. When you pull a V8 out of a donor chassis, the likelihood of it being a running car before you rip the goods out is high. Yes, there are cases when people buy a V8 swap and did not see it running before it was pulled. But if you are lucky enough to be able to pull the engine out of the car, chances are you can get the wiring harness, transmission, clutch, flywheel, engine mounts, and just about anything else you need to at least get it running. You still need a fabricator to mock up mounts, or go to one of the many engine swap companies to buy your engine mounts, transmission mounts, and custom driveshaft. If you are keeping your V8 stock, then yes, the majority of parts are available at just about any auto parts store across the entire United States.
Then there is the knowledge base. How many of us can honestly say we know somebody who actually knows how to properly rebuild a Japanese engine? You cannot simply take your JDM engine to a V8 engine builder and he will automatically know what to do with it, generally-speaking. Granted, there will be some rare exceptions, but the point is, the V8 has been a staple of American performance for a very long time. Even if you do not travel to drift, there are still a multitude of options when it comes to local troubleshooting, buying stock or upgraded parts, and sourcing the builder or tuner for your engine.
Let us recap. Almost the entire world got Nissan and Toyota chassis with factory SR, RB and JZ engines under the hood, and just about every other model was offered as either a rear or all-wheel drive turbocharged variant. What did America get? The only cool, rear-wheel drive, turbocharged, manual gear box Japanese cars we got did not have ideal powertrains or engine layouts for drifting, with the exception of the Supra Twin Turbo. We did not get the ubiquitous Nissan Silvia. We did get its anemic Yankee cousin, the Nissan 240SX, which is essentially the same vehicle but with the feisty SR ripped out and replaced with a low-revving light truck motor. Even if you buy a JDM engine, you can only believe what the importer tells you. Actual mileage? Will it last? Anyone’s guess. Do not forget to buy a new wiring harness, because the one that came with your swap is probably hacked to pieces. You will be lucky if the turbo is not toast, the transmission is not grenaded, the clutch is not burnt up, and all the necessary hardware is included straight from the importer. Then again, I have picked up healthy, complete engines from Ichiban JDM.
So who wins here? Well you do. We all do. We have options. We have choices. At the end of the day, we just want to go out and shred in our cars. Just remember to do it for the right reasons: to make yourself happy! There are pros and cons for going either direction when it comes to choosing an engine. Do not let the Internet tell you what is or is not cool, because if that is your guiding light, well, then you will find your shepherd with the rest of the sheep. Stay gnarly!
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