The V12 era in automotive history is coming to a close.
The first V12 engine appeared in 1904 to power boats for racing, but its big, smooth power made it ideal for luxury and race cars. One of the first automotive uses was in a race car in 1913 in the UK, while one of the first applications for a production passenger car was the 1915 Packard Twin Six in the US. To this day, V12s are found in high-end sports and luxury cars. Japanese automakers tend to avoid large displacement engines, but the most luxurious Japanese luxury car, the Toyota Century, is the only one to use a V12.
Recently, BMW built its last flagship car with a V12, which signals the end of an era. Ferrari still makes a thrilling V12 in cars like the 812 Competizione, but tightening emissions regulations and the low-volume nature of the V12 as we rely more on hybrid power mean it won't be long before it is completely retired from the road. That means it's time to celebrate some of the greatest cars with V12 engines.
The Lamborghini Miura is one of the most important cars to have been built in sports car history. It was the first mid-engine supercar and set the blueprint for everyone to follow. The Miura's V12 was designed by Giotto Bizzarrini, a former Ferrari man, as a race engine for the road. The Bizzarrini engine debuted in the Miura in 1966, making close to 350 horsepower. Development of the engine continued through to its last appearance in the 2010 Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4 Super Veloce. In the Murcielago, the Bizzarrini V12 made over 660 hp from its 6.5 liters of displacement. On its way to retirement, the Bizzarrini V12 powered Lamborghini's most iconic cars, the Countach and the Diablo.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Jaguar was at the top of its game in production and race cars. The 5.3-liter V12 that made its debut in the 1971 third-generation E-Type was based on an engine developed for the canceled XJ13 race car. It became a benchmark for power and smoothness and a large part of the recipe that made the E-Type an icon of its era. Maybe not as much as its looks, which inspired Enzo Ferrari to make the statement: "Jaguar's E-Type is the most beautiful car in the world."
The engine did make it to Le Mans, most notably in the XJR race car, with a 7.0-liter version powering the car to a victory in 1988 and a one-two finish in 1990.
The Ferrari F50's Tipo F130B engine wasn't its first V12 in a road car by any means, but it remains one of the most spectacular by sound alone. When the F50 arrived in 1995, Ferrari did not want the numbers out there. When Car & Driver reported that Ferrari refused to let them benchmark an F50, the magazine reached out to private owners, who also replied with, "Numbers have nothing to do with Ferraris. The cars are about soul and emotion and a rich heritage." With the benefit of hindsight, though, we know the 4.7-liter V12 makes just over 500 hp. The F1 version, the Tipo 036, is one of the best-sounding F1 engines of all time. The 3.5-liter unit made 680 hp as it screamed its way to 14,000 rpm.
Speaking of the best-sounding V12s in road-going cars, the Mercedes-AMG M120 powering the Pagani Zonda also exists. Originally a 6.0-liter unit, it sounds incredible, and the engine itself dates back to the 1990s when McLaren dropped the original iteration into the S-Class. Before it got to the Zonda, Mercedes used the V12 in the CLK GTR Le Mans GT1 class car, where it won the FIA GT Championship. In 1999, the M120 found its way into the Zonda and then started growing in displacement. By the time AMG was done with the engine for Zonda, it had grown to 7.3 liters in displacement and was capable of 789 hp at 6,200 rpm and 627 lb-ft of torque at 2,400 rpm. At the time of writing, Pagani has discontinued the Zonda but still makes the occasional special edition.
Gordon Murray Automotive's T.50 is an insane car in so many ways. The headline here is that it uses the Cosworth-built GMA V12, and a manual transmission distributes power. When Murray commissioned the GMA engine, he stipulated that it had to be the fastest-responding engine ever built for the road and be affordable to service. The 3.9-liter mill makes over 650 hp and revs out to 12,100 rpm. It sounds like a 1990s F1 car but, reportedly, is cheaper to service than a flagship Mercedes or BMW engine. What you're looking at below is likely the last great V12 sports car to be designed and built.
When Gordon Murray started putting the McLaren F1 together, Honda built V12s for the company's F1 team. However, he couldn't reach a satisfying deal with Honda and approached BMW Motorsport's legend of engineering, Paul Rosche. The result was heavier than Murray wanted, but he ended up with one of the M division's most significant engines - the BMW M S70/2. It displaced 6.1 liters and used motorsport-derived technologies such as a sequential injection system using two injectors per cylinder, a magnesium dry-sump lubrication system, small ignition coils on each cylinder, and forged aluminum pistons. It's a masterpiece that makes 618 hp at 7,400 rpm and 479 lb-ft of torque at 5,600 rpm while surrounded by gold-foil insulation in the F1's engine bay.
The 7.3-liter dry sump V12 featured in the low-production Aston Martin One-77 is another V12 that didn't magically appear for that car. Its principle design was by Cosworth via Ford when it owned Aston Martin and evolved from its use in the 1998 DB7 Vantage. The Cosworth-Ford V12 started off as a 5.9-liter unit based on the Duratec V6 engine. By the time it reached the Aston Martin One-77 in 2009, it had grown to 7.3 liters and used a nanoscopic low-friction coating to get there. At the time, its 750 horsepower made the One-77 the fastest naturally-aspirated road car produced. If you still think the engine is just two Ford V6 engines bolted together, well, that's on you.