What's the Best Engine?
Engine stuff you need to know
Best engine -- the A12?
There is no "best" engine, unless popularity counts for anything. Millions were produced with the A12 engine, making it the most successful. Plus, the 1971-1973 A12 simply fits into the 1200 engine compartment by design of Nissan factory experts.
Should I build up my A12, or just get a bigger engine?
Building up your A12 can be quite fun and very educational. However, it will generally be more expensive than getting a larger engine. You could easily spend $2500-$4000 USD building up the A12. Also it will generally mean time that the car is not driveable, while an A14 engine swap can be done in a weekend.
On the other hand, if you find used parts, you could keep the cost down. Even adding a turbo is inexpensive if you do all the work yourself. Paying to have a shop do it usually costs around $2500-$4500 USD.
So what kind of performance increase can you expect? For $2500, you could drop from the stock 20-sec 1/4 time down to 17 seconds. That will make the car feel twice as fast. See discussion.
A-series Nissan Engines
Similar engines in the Nissan A-type series are the 1974-and-up A12, A13, A14, A15 and A12A. All fit in the 1200 with only minor changes. These are by far the most popular swapping candidates, since they just about slide right in. Other pluses of the A-series are: light weight, smooth running, and availability of racing parts. These are all excellent engines, but the bigger displacement of the A14 and A15 means more power/torque than the A12, A13 or A12A.
The A12A uses the "short block" casting as the A12 and same stroke as the A12, but uses 75mm bore instead of 73mm. NOTE: bore of the A14 and A15 is 76mm. reference: Nissan Competition catalog. The A12A is not to be confused with the Japan/Australia A12 from 1974 up. The "A12A" is the official designation used by Nissan USA for the 1980-1982 1237cc engine.
A12A comparison data
12200-H8500 CRANKSHAFT ASSY B310 A12S, A13S
12200-H1000 71-73 A12 (superceded by H8500)
12200-H5001 A12 -7909 (replacement but different)
12010-H8661 A13 std 8011-
12010-H9022 all Canada A12A, USA 0879-0780
12010-H9512 USA A12A 0880-
12100-H8500 A12, A13, A12A
12100-H1000 71-73 A12
1974-up engines have the motor mount bosses in a different place compared to the 1971-1973 A12 engines. So the engine mounts are a bit different. This photos illustrates the difference:
Stock left-side mount in Datsun 1200, but Newer A12 engine. A better way is to move the brackets on the engine, to get the engine lower. You could also 1) use the 1974-up ute crossmember or 2) modify the crossmember.
See main article: A-series Engine Swaps
What's Better? A14 or A15?
It depends on what you mean by 'better':
- A14 often have better availability, meaning you can find one at an inexpensive price.
- A15 has 7% more capacity than the A14, meaning an automatic power increase in low and mid-range RPMs, all else being equal
- A14 and A15 stock bottom ends can both rev to 8,500 rpm so there's no advantage there. With modified short blocks, both can rev to 10,000 rpm
- Since both use the same cylinder head, there is little top-end power advantage with either engine (both will put out the same top-end power, but the A15 has additional power at lower speeds)
Remember: "There is no replacement for displacement" (aka "theres no substitute for cubic inches").
But isn't the A15 stroke to long to rev high?
If you drive an A15-powered car, you will see the tachometer rev up. No worries.
A long stroke determines fast wear occurs at a given RPM. But with even longer stroke Chevrolet smallblock V8s running at 10,000 rpm, the A15 stroke looks small by comparison. A15s could rev even higher, but just like the A14 would need special valve train modifications and a scavenging oil pump with dry sump to make it worthwhile.
Since A14s and A15s run the same cylinder head and valve train, maximum horsepower is for all practical purposes equal. All things being equal, with both the A14 and A15 using the same well-prepared and flowed cylinder head, they'll make the same top-end power.
Rod length-to-stroke ratio
A long rod-length-to-stroke ratios is more efficient. To get this, you need longer rods to match a longer stroke. However, A14 and A15 use the same length rod. From previous discussion, an optimal rod-to-stroke ratio is good for about 1% power. The A14 doesn't have an optimal ratio but would need a longer rod itself. But either way the A15 is 7% larger displacement across the entire RPM range.
Other Nissan Engine Swaps
Sometimes you just want a bigger engine. After all, there's no replacement for displacement. Or maybe you come across an engine for free or very inexpensive price.
- Discussion: A Series? L Series? or CA?
Following are some popular swap choices:
L-series OHC fours
The Nissan L-series engine (as in the 1600/510) e.g. L16, L18, L20B.
NOTE: The L20B is taller though so not commonly used, but it will fit under the hood. Nissan put the L14 in the Japan-only PB110. A super-rare racing engine was the LZ20 twin-cam, fitted to 1200 racing cars.
See Nissan Z Engine
The nice thing about the Z18ET is its a factory setup, legal in most Australia states for a 1200. The downside is how available is it, including the wiring harness?
E15, E15ET, or E16 OHC engines. These are plentiful in mid-80s Pulsars and Sentras, are similar to the A15 and have plenty of go-fast parts available.
See KA Engine Swap
A less popular swap is the KA24 engine, this is a big one! at 2.4 liters. In many countries, it is readily available and inexpensive coming out of Nissan pickups.
The main downside is that it is fairly heavy -- as heavy as an L-series engine (the KA24 is based on the L-series engines). One or two club members have swapped this into their 1200s with good success, reporting 14.0 second 1/4s with a stock motor. Reportedly, a stock KA24DE can handle a fair amount of turbocharger boost, but not as much and doesn't rev as high as the SR20DET or CA18DET. So it's a good engine for street use, but the others may be better for high-dollar supercar buildups.
See main article: CA-Series Engine Swaps
- CA18ET SOHC (not DOHC) turbo engine
- CA18DET. Many say this is the very best engine for a swap. Excellent engine. High power potential.
- The CA20 looks promising as it's a big 2.0 liter four similar to the A-series, but it has a poor reputation
- CA20ET from Nissan S12, same as the CA18ET but larger
The Nissan CG series of small-bore engines are excellent 16-valve all-alloy designs, lighter even than the A12 engine. There is a heap of performance parts for the CG series. This conversion has been done in NZ for a 1200 race car so it is possible. A 1.4 liter version is available.
For details, see CG engine.
Very rare is the Nissan inline-6 L20, L24, L26 and L28 engines, for example Ron Folck's L26-powered (260Z engine) 1200 race car
High-power Turbo Fours
The advantage of these engines are that they are fairly lightweight (being fours) and in stock form give more power than the A-series engines. But it does take considerable craftsmanship to fit one in including the intercooler.
How efficient are these engines?
This chart shows that the FJ, CA and SR Turbo engines are twice as efficient than most engines in the matter of power/weight ratio. I estimate a 300 hp CA18DET (282 pounds) would weigh just over half that of 300 hp GM V8 (500 pounds).
Of course, the easiest way to go fast is: less weight, more power. These turbo fours deliver.
See main article: CA-Series Engine Swaps
There is a lot of information in the main forum on all aspects of the CA18DET swap.
The SR20 can bolt-in without cutting the firewall, though it's easier with an originally automatic-equpped car (which has a bigger central tunnel).
See SR engine swap
The F20DET engine was basically a detuned race engine, a bit heavy but possibly Nissan's strongest ever engine. The stock engine can take massive boost and survive, while turning out incredible horsepower
See FJ engine swap
V6s and V8s?
Yes, V6s and V8s can be swapped into Datsun 1200s (and have been!), with increasing amounts of crafting and modification required. Your 1200 won't handle curvy roads too well with all that weight up front, but that's not the point of this, eh?
Nissan VG Engine Swap SOHC V6
Nissan VQ Engine Swap DOHC V6
See main article: V8
Challenge Engine Swaps
The following are not known to have been successfully completed.
More information on any of these subjects can be found in the Forums.
See QR-Series Engine
- QR25DE 2.5 liter Nissan/Infiniti engine. Pluses: 13% lighter than SR20DE, 20% lighter than KA24DE. 30mm shorter than SR20, so possibly fitting the 1200 very well. It also has twin, counterrotating balance shafts so it should be a nice smooth engine. The drive-by-wire throttle body should make for easy swap (no throttle linkage to worry about).
Mazda B6 DOHC Head Swap
Mazda B6 DOHC head on A-engine. Head bolts on, but water and oil passages are different.
The Nissan GA16 engine is similar to the A15, but distributor is in the back and RWD transmissions are avialable and Asia and Europe markets. The compelling part of this swap is 116 HP from variable cam timing. You could even carburete this engine and still use the VCT with an RPM-activated 12V relay.
See main article GA Engine Swap
HR16 replaced GA16, yet makes less HP.
HR16DE: 2009+ 112 HP GA16DE: 1992+ 115 HP with wikipedia:N-VCT QG18DE: 1999+ 114 HP (but with 130 lb ft torque vs 110 lb ft of GA16DE) QG18DD: 1999+ 114 HP, 128 ft lb torque 1999-2004 Nissan Sunny
Nissan Mystery Motor
Suzuki G-series B engine is a lightweight, high-output, twin-cam four cylinder. For example, the G13B from GTI Swift is lighter than A15, but 109 HP compare to 80HP for an A15.
See main article: Suzuki GB Engine Swap
Straight six motors may be swapped into a 1200 by using engine setback.
NOTE to newbys: Beware of mentioning rotary-powered or Toyota 4A engine-powered 1200s. Some club members may get offended! But really, these are also excellent engines that fit in fairly well. Just don't tell anybody ;-)
Tire-smokin' fast no-petrol Datsun 1200s. It's Electric
Discussion: Electric-engined 1200s.
Mazda Piston Engine
Mazda Wankel Engine
I'm in Australia. Are there limits to what engine size I can use?
In Australia, engine swaps are regulated by government guidelines. What's the largest size engine you can swap into a 1200? It varies by state, but most limit engine size according to the weight of the car. Commonly for the 1200, a 2.0 liter naturally aspirated engine, or a 1.8 liter turbo engine is allowed (hence the popularity of the CA18DET swap). An engineer must certify the installation per old-car Design Rules, so check before starting!.
If you must have a street-legal V8-powered 1200, it is possible but very expensive to certify according to new-car Design Rules. So search the forums for more details.
Engine weights and specs
|A12||87 kg||192 lbs|
|A14||93 kg||205 lbs|
|2ZZ-FE||97 kg||210 lbs|
|L18||118 kg||260 lbs|
|CA18ET||118 kg||260 lbs|
|QR25DE||121 kg||267 lbs|
|CA18DET||128 kg||282 lbs|
|E1||138 kg||304 lbs|
|SR20DE||139 kg||306 lbs|
|SR20DET||149 kg||328 lbs|
|FJ20ET||166 kg||366 lbs|
|Z20||157 kg||346 lbs|
|KA24DE||167 kg||368 lbs (estimated)|
|VG30||166 kg||360 lbs|
|VQ35 alloy engine||142 kg||313 lbs|
|VG30DETT||277 kg||510-610 lbs|
|Ford 2.8 V6-60||138 kg||305 lbs|
|Ford 3.8 V6-90||159 kg||351 lbs|
|Ford 3.0 SHO V6-60||211 kg||465 lbs|
|Ford 3.2 SHO V8-60||177+ kg||390+ lbs|
|Rover 3500 (215 cu. in.) V8||144 kg||318 lbs|
|Buick/Olds/Pontiac Alloy 3.5-liter (215 cu. in.) V8||145 kg||318 lbs|
|Ford 5.0||204 kg||450 lbs|
|Chevrolet Small Block V8||250 kg||550 lbs|
|Chevy Gen-III Alloy 6.0-litre (LS2)||220 kg||485 lbs|
|Chevy Gen-III Alloy 7-litre (LS7)||208 kg||458 lbs|
|Hemi 392||337 kg||745 lbs|
- Datsun A ja L moottorien tekn. tiedot
- Read discussion about how engine weight specs are varying (for example: Nissan RB engine weighs more than GM smallblock V8?): Hybrid Z's Complete Engine Weights Table
- [ Dave William's Engine Weight/Size] or http://www.bacomatic.org/%7Edw/txt/engfyi.htm or http://www.angelfire.com/ar/dw42/engfyi.htm
NOTE: Engine weights are measured different ways (with oil, without, etc), so take this with a grain of salt. Even more useful comparo would be the engine/trans combo weight. From this chart it may seem that a certain engine will only weigh a few kilos more, but add the weight of the matching transmission and it may be quite a lot more than the other engine/trans combo.
The total weight will be way up because of heavier transmission, diff, brakes, etc.
1200 after Z24 swap + 190lb driver (2150 pounds)