When it comes to iconic engine configurations, the V8 will always be the first that springs to mind. But there’s one other type of engine that’s powered many icons of the motoring world, and that’s the V12.
With two banks of six cylinders, V12s understandably tend to offer vast performance combined with silky smoothness – thanks to the inherent balance of engines with multiples of six cylinders. Yet with tightening fuel economy and emissions regulations, the V12 engine may not have long left – it’s being dropped in several manufacturer’s ranges for turbocharged V8s instead.
We’ve rounded up 12 of our favourite V12 cars in deference to this brilliant engine configuration…
The very first supercar came from Lamborghini, and from the off, it was a classic. Along with gorgeous Italian styling, it had the performance to boot, thanks to a 4.0-litre V12 capable of producing about 350bhp when it launched in 1966 — while later ‘SV’ models boasted up to 380bhp.
The engine proved so strong that it was developed further and used — albeit in an extremely advanced form — right up to 2010 when Murcielago production ended.
The McLaren F1 may be one of the finest examples of British engineering in the last century, but did you know that beneath beats a German heart?
Powering the Woking-built chassis is a BMW-sourced 6.1-litre V12 that produces an at-the-time mind-boggling 618bhp. It made the F1 capable of 0-60mph in around 3 seconds with a top speed of 243mph possible — making it still the fastest naturally-aspirated production car ever.
BMW 8 Series
BMW has never really made another car like the 8 Series. The daring wedge design, the iconic pop-up headlights and best of all, the 296bhp V12 engine under the bonnet of the 850i model – it all added up to create a really iconic grand tourer.
BMW’s unlikely to take as many chances with the new 8 Series – already, its looks are far less outrageous than its predecessor. That’s probably for the best, as the original 8 Series was never the success BMW hoped for. Still, a constant barrage of improvements meant the last cars were almost unrecognisable in the handling stakes – for the better.
So the Ferrari F50 may be the forgotten child of Ferrari halo cars — with stiff competition like the F40 and Enzo to compete with — but it’s still one of the all-time great cars in our eyes.
With Formula One DNA, it offers a race car-like experience on the road that few cars can deliver. It may not have been a hit with reviewers when it landed in 1995, but time has seen it become a bit more loved and its ever-rising value proves just how sought after these once-ignored machines are coming to be.
If there’s one ultimate expression of luxury on the car market today, it’s this – the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Combining a silky smooth V12 engine with, put simply, the most comfortable interior on sale, it manages to be equal parts opulent and classy, without any of the vulgarity of something like a customised Mercedes S-Class.
Rolls-Royce doesn’t reveal too much about the engine, only reluctantly admitting it has 563bhp. The company would prefer to describe it as ‘adequate’ and focus instead on the engine’s best qualities – its refinement, smoothness and inherent waftability.
It doesn’t really get much more luxurious than a V12 Jaguar, and the XJS is one of the best-remembered of the breed. The XJS looked thoroughly modern, especially thanks to those distinctive ‘buttresses’ at the rear window and the oblong headlamps.
Despite being launched into an oil crisis, suffering without type approval in Germany and Jaguars, shall we say, interesting reliability record, the XJS was a great success for the brand and stayed in production for 21 years.
You’d be forgiven for having never heard of the Toyota Century. Very few make it out of its home country of Japan, for one, and even then, Toyota only builds very few. The Century is Japan’s answer to the Rolls-Royce Phantom – it’s a super-luxury car that does things a bit differently, and is powered by the country’s only home-grown V12.
Inside, you won’t find such vulgar materials as leather. The Century’s seats are coated in cosseting and warm wool instead. Tinted windows are seen as attention-seeking in Japan, so the Century instead has tiny lace curtains. It’s mad, it’s totally Japanese, and we love it.
Mercedes-AMG models are often at their best with the smaller 4.0-litre V8 engine rather than the 5.3-litre V12 – it’s lighter and almost as powerful. But come on – it’s not really the same, is it? For the top-spec S-Class luxury saloon, we wouldn’t hesitate in choosing the V12.
The massive engine suits the massive car perfectly – it’s biblically powerful, makes an incredible noise and seems to be exclusively owned by oligarchs. Exclusivity is the name of the game.
Pagani Zonda Cinque
The Pagani Zonda is a car that has never really seemed to want to die. Production began in 1999 and, despite countless ‘final’ versions, the last example was made in 2017 — although we suspect if you ask founder Horacio Pagani nicely, he’d build you one.
Perhaps the best version though came in 2009 in the form of the Cinque. Just five of these ultra-rare machines was made, all sporting a striking white/carbon paint finish with a red stripe down the middle. It also boasted ‘carbo-titanium’ hybrid materials for its structure, creating a stiff housing for its 7.3-litre, 669bhp AMG V12.
While Lamborghini is best known for its incredible supercars, the 80s saw the brand experiment – and get back to its roots as a tractor manufacturer. Well, sort of. While the LM002 was about as good off-road as a tractor, not many farm vehicles featured the V12 engine from a Countach.
The LM002 remains one of the most ridiculous cars ever made, with a bizarre combination of supercar performance, looks that only a mother could love, and a certain rugged aesthetic leading some to dub it the ‘Rambo-Lambo.’ It’s now been succeeded by the Urus, which sadly only receives a twin-turbocharged V8. Not as much fun, then.
Aston Martin V12 Vantage
Aston Martin and V12s go hand-in-hand, and we think the best example can be found in the form of the V12 Vantage.
It seemed wild for the British firm to shoehorn its big lump into the baby Vantage, but the effect is astounding. Its compact, yet sleek looks were heightened with the addition of more aggressive bodywork and four vents that made the V12 variant stand out from the less-potent V8 model.
Ferrari Daytona/365 GTB/4
Surely this is one of the prettiest Ferraris ever made? The Daytona takes its name from the Floridian coastal city and iconic speedway, though it’s officially designated the 365 GTB/4. The name was applied to the car by the media to commemorate Ferrari’s 1-2-3 finish in the 1967 24 Hours of Daytona.
Its gloriously slinky body and front-mounted V12 combined to give it seriously impressive performance for the time – 347bhp pushed the Daytona to 60mph in just 54 seconds and top speed was an amazing 174mph. This car, then, had just about everything – style, speed, and a truly iconic badge.