The BDC Engine Wars – The 1UZ

There can be no denying that the most popular heart found among the ranks of the BDC competitive grid is that of a Toyota. Many drivers in the championship have pumped to swap out their stock lump with a ferocious firebreather from Toyota’s JZ line. But what if six cylinders just doesn’t feel like enough, but equally, spending £10k getting an LS shipped over from the States seems too much like a rip-off?

Well, then fear not! A solution is available. It’s quite simple really. You head down to your local scrapyard or browse the dark end of the classifieds, select a 1990-1997 MOT fail Lexus LS400, steel saw the front end off, and after cutting a few pipes and undoing a few bolts, you end up with a 1UZ-FE.

The 1UZ-FE could possibly be the most robust petrol engine ever created. Toyota was launching the Lexus brand with the LS400, trying to tempt people away from the likes of BMW and Mercedes. One of the ways they sought to do it was all-around refinement and build quality. They needed this engine to be a picture of smoothness, longevity and reliability. Indeed, in the LS400 the engine was so well balanced that a coin on top of the inlet manifold would not vibrate when you revved it up. 

Allegedly, Toyota spent US$250,000,000 developing the engine, and there are stories about the test mules running 200,000 miles on a bench non-stop in testing. 1UZs have surpassed one million miles in regular use, as displayed by The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farah with his famous “Million Mile Lexus”.

So why are they so popular in the drifting world?

Well, originally a lot of it was to do with cost. The engines were quite cheap a few years ago, with an entire LS400 being readily available for under a grand. Yank out the engine, sell off the gearbox and the other bits from the rest of the car, make your money back, Bob’s your mother’s brother. 

Unfortunately, that was not a sustainable strategy, and in recent years the cost of early LS400s have skyrocketed. As such, the engines have ballooned from a few hundred quid up to over £1000 if you want a complete engine, still cheap in comparison to the LS engines and the JZs, but certainly not as cheap as they were. 

There are a few reasons why they’ve hung around though. 

One is their remarkable strength. 300 horsepower (ish) and around the same for torque when coupled with an un-restrictive exhaust may not set the world on fire but when you’re out hot-lapping as 300hp turbo four-cylinders are heading into the pits with blown boost hoses and overheating issues, it suddenly gets a lot more tempting. Many of the BDC drivers in Pro 2, including Max Fleckney, Josh Duff, Matt Holder and Alex Chapman have all opted for this strategy. 

This is all assuming you don’t do what Pro drivers Stu Jones and Huw Gwion Savill have done. And bolt a massive turbo to it. 1UZs, without any serious internal work, are known to withstand up to 550 horsepower. Plenty of power to keep up with the big boys.

Another advantage is the size of them. Despite being double overhead cam, the engine itself is oversquare (the bore is bigger than the stroke) meaning that it is quite a compact unit and will therefore fit in a lot of engine bays without having to cut massive lumps out of it. 

Additionally, the relative availability of parts to make them work is extremely strong. BMW gearbox adapters can be bought readily for a few hundred pounds, and the boxes themselves are again, just a case of heading to the local scrapyard with three score in one hand and a sawzall in the other. 

At the beginning of the 2019 season, Pro 2 driver Ash Jones ripped out the standard M52 inline six powering his E36 in favour of the Japanese V8, to which he bolted a giant Holset turbo for good measure.

“It has a perfect power range for drifting, and so much torque, you can just pick a gear and go if you’ve got a box with the right ratios, and it’s extremely reliable and tough too. And in terms of competitive drift car engines, it’s pretty cost-effective!” – Ash Jones

Sometimes the 1UZ is derided as the “Poor Man’s LS” but if the engines are readily available, relatively cheap, extremely stout and can hang with even the biggest guns the BDC can throw at them, what’s not to love?

So, what do you think? Is the 1UZ the engine for you or does your heart lie somewhere else?


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