during the 1980s turbocharging craze, it seemed that every Japanese manufacturer ended up developing at least one forced-induction engine. A few of these were of the “gun” variety – boasting healthy power and big torque figures – and were ultimately slotted into highly-sought-after flagship models and top-shelf sportscars.
However for every legendary FJ20ET, G63B, 7M-GTE and 13B-Turbo pushed out to market, there existed an equal or greater number of lesser-known, lesser adored, more mundane cooking-spec engines which also happened to benefit from TEH POWAR OF BOOST. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the end result, the fruits of such labour were harnessed to power various Japanese iterations of the ’80s “hot hatch”, a market unto its own at the time.
one such example is Toyota’s 3E-TE engine.
virtually unknown outside of Japan until recent times, the 3E-TE was a 1.5 litre, SOHC 12v engine which was found in certain Corolla II and Corsa “GP-turbo” models (chassis code EL31) from 1986 through 1990. Visually these resembled a squashed-up EP71 Starlet with strong AW11 MR2 design cues and pop-up lights thrown in for good measure; perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing look in the world, but quirky nevertheless. from some accounts only around 6000 were manufactured, making the GP-turbo one of the scarcest Japanese “hot hatches” of the era, and the 3E-TE correspondingly rare. (Oddly enough its little brother the 2E-TE was far more numerous, but beyond the scope of this article…)
these days the 3E-TE remains relatively obscure thanks to limited production, the rigours of age, and its viability as an upgrade path overshadowed by the more readily available and modern 4E-FTE.
anyway, back to the engine. In standard non-turbo form, the 3E put out a sweet 79ps/12.0kg-m (88ps/12.2kg-m for the injected version), fine for punting around your average grandma-spec Corolla II. But with a decrease in compression from 9.3 to 8.0, beefier conrods, better fueling and the assistance of a small CT12 turbo and top-mounted intercooler, power jumped considerably to 115ps with a peak torque figure of 17.5kg-m at a low 3200rpm, roughly equal that of a comparable 1.8 litre N/A engine; even Toyota’s sporty 4A-GE only managed 15.2kg-m, and much higher up in the rev range. Not bad when you consider the GP-turbo only weighed 890kg in manual form!
There was even a “LO” boost mode (much like that found in the later 4E-FTE powered EP82 Starlet GT) which limited output to 105ps/15.6kg-m – gimmicky perhaps, but it did help with fuel economy.
As with all small-displacement turbocharged engines of the era the emphasis was on strong low-end and midrange torque, and while there was an obvious tradeoff in top-end power the 3E-TE possessed virtually no turbo lag thanks to the diminutive CT12. Not so good for the aspiring wangan racers perhaps, but perfect for boosting around town from one set of traffic lights to the next.
Just imagine the surprise when folks in 4A-GE powered AE86s suddenly found themselves being out-accelerated by these little shopping carts!
Photos courtesy of FOREVER GPTURBO
Toyota 3E-TE (latter-term)
Bore x stroke (mm): 73 x 87