During the 60s Nissan was losing market shares overseas in the U.S. They were falling behind the competition and their cars were slow and unresponsive. A decision was made to develop a new engine, the Nissan L series engine. The first L series engine, the L13, and L16 were Inline-four engines and became a huge success, they were more powerful than the competition and still kept Nissan’s reliability and durability. Later on, the L series was also available as an Inline-six and was fitted to the legendary Datsun 240Z. The L series eventually was replaced with the VG and RB series.
The L series engine was Nissans main engine during its product life between 1967 through 1986. The L series engine became famous for its durability, and reliability, and is easy to work on.
The L series was available as either inline-four or inline-six configuration and displacement ranged between 1.3L to 2.8L and was used in a variety of cars such as:
And many more…
The Inline-fours were significantly smaller than the six’s and started out with the L13 (1.3L 1296cc) engine, whereas the number indicated the displacement. The largest displacement for the Inline-four was the L20B, and LD20 both with a displacement of 2.0L
The Inline-six started at 2.0L displacement with the L20/L20A and worked its way through to the top-model the LD28, and L28 with 2.8L displacement.
The Straight-fours eventually got replaced with the Z-series. And The straight-six got replaced with the legendary RB series engine.
Power for the straight fours ranged between 65hp for the LD20 (Diesel) to 110hp in the L20B.
The power for the straight-six ranged between 91hp in the LD28 and topped out at 180hp for the range-topping turbocharged L28ET.
Before the L series engine, Nissan had always been behind the competition in regards to performance, especially over in the U.S.
Nissan made low-powered engines, and in comparison, with the likes of BMW, Ford, and Toyota did not stand a chance when it came to performance.
It even got to the point where Nissans were considered dangerous, as you couldn’t really get up to speed when merging onto the highway.
If Nissan were to stand a chance overseas, a change was in need. And so, the development of a new engine began and was fitted in the Datsun Bluebird 510. The predecessor Bluebird 410 was considered sluggish, but the 510 with the new L13 and L16 engine was actually the fastest in its class and was marketed for its performance.
With the success of the Bluebird 510, Nissan realized that they could potentially develop a sportscar that utilized the same engine layout. And so, the Fairlady Z (Datsun 240Z) was born. And with it, the L24 I6.
The Datsun 240Z was a huge success, and Nissan proved that they indeed not only could make good commuter cars, but also sports cars.
The Development of the L series engine continued and in December of 1980, Nissan developed the L28ET, a turbocharged 2.8L I6 which was purely developed to fit in the range-topping 280ZS Turbo.
Back in Japan, this engine was actually considered too powerful at the time (180hp), which Japan’s Ministry of Transportation deemed to be dangerously fast, as turbocharges generally were only used for engines up to 2.0L.
The L series was Nissan’s experiment to enter new markets. Had the L series failed, there is a good chance that cars such as the GT-R, Datsun 240/260/280Z, 180SX, or 300ZX never would have been made. The RB series engine wouldn’t even have been thought of in the first place.
The L series proved to Nissan that they indeed could make great engines and great cars for that matter. And they don’t get enough credit.
Thanks to the new knowledge Nissan received from the market with their L series engine, Nissan was confident they could create an even better version. The huge success of the 240Z proved to them that entering the sports car market was not such a bad idea after all. Thus, the RB series was born, specifically manufactured to be fitted in sports cars.
If you want to learn more about the RB series engine, I’ve got a completely separate post covering all different RB engines, everything from the RB20 to the famous GT-R engine, the RB26DDET.
The L series is a fantastic engine. Both are reliable, durable, and fast for their time. Nissan put on their A-game and proved not only to themselves but to the rest of the world that they indeed could create a great engine, fit for a sports car. It was a daring move, but Nissan proved that they could not only manufacture a high-performance engine but also keep the reliability and durability which Nissan was famous for.
And we got a lot to thank for it, without the L series we likely wouldn’t have had cars such as the R32 Skyline GT-R or Datsun 240Z.
Clearly, the L series was significant and doesn’t get enough praise for what it has done for the JDM car culture. This is our small contribution.
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