The first of many?

Hi there.

Why a blog? This is more of an intro and a justification for the preceding blogs (as in, why you should read it and why you should care what I have to say).

I guess it’s sort of a sales-funnel too, although I would probably still write it even if we didn’t want to eventually sell you things.

Who Are We?

I am Nelson Hartley, owner and head of design/R&D at Hartley Engines, in New Zealand.

We design, build, develop and manufacture high performance engines for race cars, other engine builders, and small car companies (a lot of what we do is under NDA and doesn’t get advertised).

We almost never build our race engines from catalogue parts… why? Because they are very seldom the right solution to the problem.

Our main strengths are our ability to design and manufacture in house. So, in the past, our core business has been the development of race engines for high level categories, normally with a set of rules to compete within.

Why does that make us different?... Well, anyone can build a high Horsepower engine. You want a 500hp V8 for a race car, to run in a class with no rules against all sorts of different cars? That’s easy, just buy some parts from a catalogue and slap it together, doesn’t need a lot of refinement.

You want more power out of your turbo street car? … Easy, just add more boost and a window sticker, job done.

However, when you want to compete at a high level, against others competing at a high level, that’s a little different. Take for example one of our core products, Superstock engines, which we build to class specific rules and sell as a turn-key package with track side support.

(NZ superstock are an interesting class, the largest semi-professional form of high-level motorsport in NZ, and full contact)

There are engines rules: max 4000cc, max 10:1 compression, a single carburettor of up to 4 butterflies, pump gas (includes E85), multivalve engines must use an OEM block and heads, and there is a limit on valve lift; 0.5”.

Sounds easy, just find something OEM that is 4 litres, add some performance parts and off you go.

… Not really. That will work, you can “compete”, but it won’t be competitive.

Problems vs Solution.

The problem is we want the best and we want to win. The solution, we need to optimize. Our flagship Superstock engine uses the Nissan VK56 V8 as a base. The main reason we chose the VK56 is the bore size and valve size. We take it from 5,600cc down to 4,000cc. We go bigger in the bore than standard, and then make a billet crank that significantly shortens the stroke. We do it all for cylinder area and combustion chamber shape. Because we run a carburettor (we have to, the rules), we want to get our air speed really high, so we make the standard heads smaller in the intake ports by filling them with billet and epoxy and then CNC machining them.

*The old story of short-stroke engines make more top-end power, long stroke engines make more low-end power is not true… that was only relevant for 1960’s and 70’s designed boat anchors (I am talking about you, the Small Block Ford and Chev V8).

We make almost everything bespoke in-house, and if we don’t, we at least design it and outsource the production.

Almost every season we develop an update. For this season we did another new cam profile, a subtle change to the combustion chamber shape, and a new exhaust design (the three things all sort of work together). Our goal was to take a little bit of our top-end power and spread it out a bit more across the power band. It was in response to a change in the way some of our customers cars were handling and being built. Through in-house testing, we achieved what we wanted, and as a result we were able to help our customers stay at the front of the field.

We go through these motions almost every season. It is super fascinating, and our data base of experiment and result keeps getting larger and larger. The added bonus is, when it comes to designing new parts for new projects we are about 10 steps ahead of most people just starting out.

*as an FYI, our 4 litre superstock engines are making approx. 575hp out to 10,000rpm


We have been doing this every year for the last 40 years (my father started this company, and we still work together on development). We also do this same thing across multiple race categories.


Why am I telling you this?

Apologies if this sounds a little like a bragging competition… but I do want to set a foundation for any future blogs and start sharing the awesome opportunities that we get given.

*I will be fully transparent here… we are entering the retail market, so you can accuse me of being a shark and trying to ram our products down your throat too, there is some truth to that, but I also love to share what we do!


I probably get 2-3 messages/phone calls/emails/visits each day with people wanting to talk to me about their project, ask advice etc. I love to talk, so naturally I try to reply to as many as possible (I fail to get to them all, and am sorry if you haven’t had a response from us).

I have been noticing a couple of trends in the performance car scene:

-The rise of Youtubers. I get forwarded links to a lot of people with Youtube channels doing car projects. I personally don’t watch much of it. (Although I recently did some work with the guys at The Skid Factory, and I have to say they really impressed me!). But some of the other stuff I see just makes me cringe… To be fair to the Youtubers, I also felt the same about the “Drive to Survive” Formula One series on Netflix (maybe that had more to do with the season my brother had been racing in Formula One… who knows)

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the channels are doing cool work, making nice looking parts, fun builds etc, (actually, maybe I am just jealous?) and it is awesome that they share, but I see a lot of info that is so far wrong I can’t bear to watch it.

Sorry, I am not trying to have a go, but just because its shiny does not mean its going to work well, and likewise, just because its tunned rich to run rough at idle doesn’t mean it’s a race engine. Oh and the big one, just because you did one dyno run with way too much boost and 3 days of turbo lag, doesn’t actually mean that its practical to have a “daily-driven 1000+hp 2JZ” (This is me actively trying to help… did somebody say “compliment-sandwich”?). I do genuinely think it’s awesome that the car community love to share their projects, and that it is alive and well. But!... more views don’t make the information more correct.

So, I get a lot of people wanting advice on how to do similar builds.


-Forums. Damn there is some bad info in forums… its very seldom correct. And just because somebody knows every part number for every OEM part in a Toyota 4AGE 16v, doesn’t mean they know anything about what Compression ratio you should have and what sort of Camshaft profile would match it.


-Neche manufacturers. I find a lot of retail products are made the way they are because the guy that makes them has one of those machines. I.e. someone who owns a CNC machine one-day decided to make a manifold for their SR20 (has never built a race engine in their life/doesn’t know what CFD is), so now everything they make and sell is made from Billet. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes billet is the right choice, we use it lots! But it’s not ALWAYS the right choice. The same goes for fabrication, someone who is good at welding is now an expert at engine design (provided the parts can be welded together).

I am not saying this is bad, we all work to the skill set we have got, and some of the manufacturing talent in the world is impressive… but it’s not necessarily optimized.


-David Vizard books. We get out the straws to see who pulls the shortest one whenever someone comes into to visit us with one of David Vizards books under their arm. (haven’t heard of David Vizard?… that’s good, you don’t need to. He wrote some really good books on engine development back in the 60s & 70s, but internal combustion engines have come a long way since then)


I’ll give one quick case study that occurred the other day, and then I’ll wrap this up so you can all clean-up and get off the toilet (I know how it works… we all like a bit of a break from the factory floor).

A young guy came into my office the other day, really nice kid, big ambitions. Wanted to know if we could machine some flanges and fuel rails for an intake manifold he was wanting to make.


Simple answer is, yes, we could make them, but we are not really a “job-shop”, and it turns out we already have a manifold solution for the engine he was working on. Anyway, we got talking, and he started telling me about his project.

His goals were: 1000kw, BMW V12 (the old 2-valve one), street-car, occasional track use.


On YouTube, that would be an awesome project. In reality, horrible.

The intake manifold he wanted to make was going to end up with one single throttle body, about 5 feet from the engine (I think he saw something similar on the internet)

And the car the engine was going in was going to have a maximum 9” wide tire on the rear.


The reality is, an NA engine with less than 500hp in the same car would probably be faster. The engine he was wanting to build, with an intake manifold like that will probably never make even close to 1000kw (that is soooo much power), and if it did, it was going to have so much lag, and no throttle control it would be horrible to drive.


We spent the next 20 minutes talking about engines, how much power a car actually needs to go fast, drivability, cost, and reliability.

Hopefully, he went away with a better, more achievable direction to focus on. Either that, or I just really bust him down at the knees and he now thinks I am a prick. The reality is he probably went to the next engine shop he could find and they told him what he wanted to hear, sold him some parts that wont do what he wants for far too much and let him go back to his unachievable project. (I hope not, I see so many people get taken for a ride)



If you have made it this far, I apologise for coming off a bit strong. The following blog posts are going to be about specific aspects of engines, and the components we and others like us make, and why we make them the way we do. Along with a few bits of advice around how you can achieve what you want on your own projects.

In the next blog post, we are going to look a bit closer at a couple of our flagship engines, Ill start with the Toyota 1GZ V12 (I have been doing some re-engineering on our 1GZ range this month so its fresh on my mind), and then probably a similar blog on the Nissan VK56… mostly because these are the two engines we are publicly known for working with, although we do a lot of other stuff outside of what you would have seen our social media.