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Beam me up, Chippy - Here's why Toyota's 3SGE engine has become a popular choice for petrolheads craving more speed

2018-09-27 07:23

Robin Classen

Chippy beams conversion

Image: Wesley Booysen

"Toyota's 3SGE BEAMS engine has become a common basis for conversions in cars such as Tazz and Corolla," writes Robin Classen and finds out from owner Wesley Booysen what it takes to complete the conversion.

"Why did Japan keep all the lekker 'Toy' engines and give us the slow stuff?" This was an admission from a petrolhead I will never forget.

Over the years we were blessed with local gems such as the Conquest RSI, Corolla RXI and the RunX TRD but arguably, all the good stuff was kept in the land of the rising sun, never to make its way to SA.

Introducing the BEAMS

With the recent news that Toyota has brought three of its 156kW Yaris GRMN to SA, only to find out that they're not for sale, was a blow for the company's local hot-hatch fraternity. It could've competed with the likes of VW's Polo GTI or Fiesta ST.

READ: Toyota unleashes Yaris GRMN - A fiery little 156kW hot hatch, part of Toyota's sporty revival

The Toyota RunX RSI released nearly 10 years ago and still remains a popular choice for 'boy racers' with its strong 2ZZ-GE dual VVT-i engine producing 141kW/180Nm. Toyota fans rejoiced when the 86 sportscar arrived but it didn't evoke as much emotion locally as the 'Trueno' once did in Japan.

What is the craziest engine swap you've seen? Or, if you have some advice on doing this conversion, please Email us and we'll publish your thoughts.

Local owners grew tired of fitting the 20-valve engine to their Tazz and box Corollas. On the other hand, Nissan now had a stronger alternative to their existing 105kW SR20DE with the 147kW SR20VE. Owners then started talking about the Beams engine...

Chippy's journey

The 3SGE Beams engine in question was most commonly found in the Celica. Its 2.0 litre engine came in both automatic and manual transmissions with the auto producing 141kW while the manual had a total power output of 147kW - both featured Toyota's popular VVT-i technology.

Chippy beams conversion

                                                                    Image: Wesley Booysen

I spoke to a good friend of mine, Wesley Booysen who performed the conversion to his 1998 Toyota Corolla.

It started out as a normal run of the mill 1.6-litre sedan but 'Chippy' as he is also known, is an ardent Toyota fan and has a penchant for speed. Eventually, the puny 1.6 was ditched in favour of a more powerful 4AGE 20-valve. He drove the car for a number of years but once word got out of the more powerful 3SGE, it was only a matter of time before yet another conversion was in the pipeline.

No mechanical parts from the previous engine could be retained; everything from the CV joints to the engine mountings had to be custom made in order to properly house the new powertrain. An entirely new engine management system had to be sourced as well. The 3SGE shares a similar stance in the engine bay to that of a Camry's, positioned somewhat hunched to one side almost like the F20 of the Honda S2000 but horizontally.

Not all smooth sailing

Anyone wanting to perform the conversion must have lots of patience because nothing during his build process was as simple. It is a matter of trial and error with plenty of changes and money spent in the process, says Booysen. It also helped that his mechanic lived right opposite his house so tune-ups were always on hand.

There is a bit of a downside to fitting this engine though. 'Chippy' notes that while the engine is an absolute monster, his biggest pain is having to source a cambelt and tensioner locally. He contacted a local Toyota dealership to assist in trying to source parts from Japan but they wanted the VIN number from the car the engine was derived from - a near impossible feat since it's an imported engine.

I spoke to a number of Toyota dealerships in Cape Town to find out if they could possibly source the component. Each of them asked for the VIN or part number, which of course I couldn't provide. I was excited to hear the person on the phone say 'this might be able to work' but the joy was short-lived however when I was told that the tooth difference on the belt was irregular.

E-Bay is also another place where it can be sourced but the biggest risk with going that route is making sure its the absolute correct part. Yes all these engines are the same but they were used in different cars and transmissions and the only way to be sure is to actually have it fitted.

I've been fortunate enough to experience the speed and power of this engine in a car; when the VVT-i kicks in, it's a burst of speed coming at you all at once. It was then and there that I knew why people sought out this conversion. Power is available from the moment you put your foot down.

Simple upgrades such as fitting a bigger exhaust and a cold-air induction kit can boost power by as much as 15kW. Of course there is the option to open the cylinder head and fettle with the internals but 160kW+ provides more than enough power to give a few modern hot hatches a run for their money. The price of the engine has gone up due to its demand but that is no stumbling block.

Wheels24's Janine Van der Post owns a Toyota Corolla 20V RSI herself and shares her thoughts on the Beams conversion:

"I love my RSI 20V and those who know me understand how pedantic I used to be about it. While I favour the 4AGE motor highly, the 3SGE engine is even more desirable with loads more power. There's just something magical when you're driving your car and 'lift' kicks in at about 3500rpm with these units.  

"I used to purchase and keep spare parts whenever I could, turning my one-bedroom cottage into a garage for Toyota parts. I would service my car every 1 000km or three months even if I hadn't driven it. Take care of your car, and it will go a long way. 

"Fit decent parts, service your car regularly and have a good exhaust system fitted, and your 4AGE or 3SGE conversion could even help save on your fuel bill. My RSI could average about 7-litres/100km when I kept my hand on my car."

"But finding a decent blacktop 20V 4AGE or 3SGE engine these days might take some work, it's the other bits and bobbins that comes with it that could give you headaches for days. It's important to do your homework and research viable options before you set about on this kind of project. Will you be able to source everything you might possibly need?"

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