The V12 engine is arguably the pinnacle of automotive engineering; we pick six of the best
Nobody needs V12 engines. They are time consuming to design and construct, expensive and complex to build, consume a lot of fuel, are built in small numbers and from a functional point of view can be easily replaced by a sensible 1.6-litre four-cylinder, perhaps with a small turbocharger or mild hybrid system for extra punch.
But what’s the point of a soufflé if you could have an egg sandwich? Why an automatic wristwatch when a £10 digital timepiece does the same job? What function does an impressionist painting fulfill?
V12 engines are mechanical tidbits that remind us both that focusing on functionality misses a lot in life, and that the arts are not a separate field, but rather an area that crosses into countless areas, including engineering.
The mechanical precision, emotion-inducing performance and dopamine-releasing acoustics that V12 engines provide ensure that they will always have their place, even as the automotive industry moves to a place where all new models will be electrically powered.
Here we mark the legacy of the V12 engine by profiling six of the best money can buy*.
*Terms & Conditions & Wallet Thickness Applicable
1. BMW S70/2
Car: McLaren F1
Displacement: 6.1 litres
The McLaren F1 can arguably be described as the best car ever made, and a similar assessment can be made of the engine.
The number of people who have driven in F1 is small, so most impressions are second-hand, but even from a distance, the V12 engine is a masterpiece.
The BMW-designed engine of the F1 produced 627 horsepower, a figure that would be sufficient for a modern supercar. exotic family tree.
The performance was and is nothing short of extraordinary, reaching a speed of 0-100 km/h in just 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 241 km/h. If further proof of the intersection between art and engineering was needed, the bay of the S70/2 was coated with gold leaf for thermal insulation, a design choice that produced an effect unlike that of a Fabergé egg.
2. Ferrari Tipo 140
Car: miscellaneous, ao Enzo, 599, LaFerrari
Displacement: 6.0 to 6.5 litres
The Tipo 140 has been in service for 20 years, debuting in the 2002 Ferrari Enzo and has been featured in several cars, including the 599, the LaFerrari and, more recently, the Purosangue SUV.
What makes the 140 so special? Aside from being the powerplant for some of the fastest, most iconic cars ever made, the 140 sounds symphonic, pulls right down into the lower end of the rev range well past 8,000rpm, looks amazing. with its crackle finish and is, according to some, the archetypal V12.
Car: miscellaneous, including S-Class, CL, SL, plus Pagani Zonda
Displacement: 6.0 to 7.3 litres
Take a quick look at the range of cars equipped with the M120 engine and the wide range of power it offers, and you will have no doubt that it is a special engine.
The M120 debuted as the flagship engine of the Mercedes S-Class range, where it embodied mill pond-smooth performance, and was later adapted for the Pagani Zonda supercar, where it was tuned to produce anything from 408 to 802 horsepower. Oh, and it also powered the Mercedes CLK GTR race car, which was also offered as a production road model.
The good news is that if you want an M140 engine today (along with a car to go with it), you can pick up an early 1990s Mercedes S-Class S600 for around £25,000. And while that’s quite a change, it does mean that access to this legendary V12 engine is a little more within reach than the BMW S70/2…
4. Toyota GZ
Car: Toyota Century
Displacement: 5.0 liters
While the Mercedes M120 above was in several cars, the Toyota GZ (or 1GZ-FE, to give it its full title) was used in only one: the second-generation Toyota Century.
The Century is Japan’s answer to Rolls-Royce, reserved (read: priced) for government leaders and high-ranking businessmen and with a focus on discreet rather than overt luxury. The Century Royal is now the official state car of the Emperor of Japan.
But this list is more about motorcycles than cars, so why is the GZ here? Well, it deserves a place as Japan’s only mass-produced V12 engine, for starters, while its smoothness and reliability are legendary.
The GZ exemplifies the expression ‘over-engineered’ thanks to a number of advanced features, including the ability to run on just six cylinders if something went wrong with one of its banks (which it never did). Oh, and as if to prove its durability, some tuners have taken 1,000 horsepower out of the GZ.
Car: various, including the Jaguar E-Type, XJS and XJ
Displacement: 5.3 to 7.0 litres
All the engines so far on this list have code names, but the Jaguar V12 is simply the Jaguar V12. In production from 1971 to 1997, the V12 was only Jaguar’s second engine and made its first appearance in a matching car, the legendary E-Type.
Later in the Jaguar XJ luxury car and in XJR racers, the Jaguar V12 could be silky smooth when it had to be (it was the powerplant of the Queen Mother’s XJ Vanden Plas, no less), and brutally powerful enough to make the XJR -12 to victory in 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans.
As an aside, while the Jaguar V12 was undoubtedly an impressive engine, it didn’t necessarily look good (especially later versions), usually resting in a tightly packed engine compartment with pipes, wires and control lines galore.
This led to the joke: “How do you know if you’ve put a Jaguar V12 back together properly? Pour a bucket of water over it. If something drips from the bottom, you have forgotten something.”
6. Lamborghini Bizzarrini
Car: miscellaneous, including 350 GT and Murcielago
Displacement: 3.5-6.5 litres
We’ve said that V12 engines generally sound pretty good, but we’ll leave Lamborghini to do justice to the sound – here’s the company describing its Bizzarini V12: “Each of the 12 cylinders should move in harmony with the others.” , like a series of 12 violins playing in crescendo, acceleration after acceleration”.
The Bizzarrini V12 arrived, to its own fanfare, in 1963 under the hood of Lamborghini’s first car, the 350 GT. He was then seen in the Miura, the Espada, the Countach and the Diablo to name a few, before landing in the Murcielago after nearly half a century of service.
The Lamborghini Bizzarrini V12 grew from 3.5 to 6.5 liters over its various iterations, proving it to be as flexible as it was powerful and sonorous. An interesting note: Giotto Bizzarini received a lump sum to design the engine that bore his name, but negotiated a bonus for every horsepower it developed over Ferrari’s contemporary V12.
It’s possible, if not likely, that we missed one or more V12 engines that you might find sacrilegious not to cover – certainly the BMW N73, Ferrari Colombo or Aston Martin V12 were certainly warranted inclusion, for example. And while you would certainly be right, we had to stop somewhere.
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