Offering remarkable levels of performance and incredibly smooth power delivery, V12 engines have long represented some of the most advanced and sought-after powertrains ever to be used in cars. First utilized by the automotive space in 1916 for the Packard Twelve — a full 20 years before the UK debuted its first V12 car with the Rolls-Royce Phantom III in 1936 — V12 powerplants were originally chosen for their smooth, well-balanced, and luxurious nature, though have since become favored due to the high-revving engine configuration’s immense power output and performance capabilities.
With these elaborate and highly-involved dozen-cylinder setups powering some of the world’s most exclusive rides, it’s frankly unsurprising that V12 cars tend to be extremely expensive, with even most older, used V12 models still commanding exorbitant six-figure sums. There is, however, a handful of outliers amongst the V12 ranks that can actually be obtained for a reasonable amount of money. And it’s this group of vehicles that we’ll be exploring today in this guide to the best used cheap V12s you can buy. Alongside highlighting some surprisingly affordable V12s, we’ll also be delving into what exactly it is that makes V12s so special, some of the downsides to this engine configuration, and what factors one should consider when shopping around for an accessibly-priced used-market V12 car.
What Exactly Makes V12 Engines So Special?
Exotic, Powerful, & Perfectly Balanced
Directly responsible for the character and soul of a great many iconic exotics and supercars, V12s feature a number of traits that separate them from their 3,4, 5, 6, 8, and 10-cylinder counterparts. With absolutely perfect primary and secondary balance, straight-six engines are renowned for being ridiculously smooth. And with V12s essentiallly being two straight-sixes mated together via a common crankshaft, they share these same traits — a fact that not only makes them highly conducive to luxury models but also makes them rife for high-performance and motorsport applications.
With smaller moving parts than your average V8 model or even V10 car of the same displacement, V12 engines are able to rev higher and therefore are able to generate more power. This area is furthered by the fact that a V12’s configuration and layout are naturally balanced, allowing for the use of a smaller, lighter crank with less counterweight, thereby mitigating the engine’s rotational inertia. Combine these small cylinders with ample displacement, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for gobs of power — even more so when forced induction is brought into the mix.
Alongside possessing an undeniably exotic nature, V12 engines also just happen to produce a simply incredible sound, with a dozen screaming cylinders making for an absolutely stellar exhaust note. Additionally, the automotive industry’s ongoing shift towards an all-electric future will also soon likely mean the death of these twelve-bangers — making existing V12-engined cars all the more special.
The Downside To A Dozen
The Disadvantages & Shortcomings Of V12 Engines
Though all in all, V12-engined vehicles are extremely attractive to most gearheads and driving enthusiasts as a whole, they aren’t without a few pretty significant downsides. While V12 engines tend to boast impressive power figures that allow for quick acceleration and hair-raising top speeds, these mills aren’t actually all that potent, at least from a “pound-for-pound” perspective. Considering their displacement, V12s produce very little power per cylinder, making them markedly less efficient than high-performance 4, 6, and 8-cylinder cars.
What’s more, with 12 pistons and cylinders and anywhere from two to four-dozen valves, even performing basic routine maintenance on a V12 engine tends to be a fairly involved process. And, with most V12-powered cars being fairly exotic, one typically has to find a specialist mechanic that wrenches on exotics — another area you’ll be paying a major premium for. And, with more moving parts, there are more chances for components to fail. Also, whether laid out in a flat, V, or W formation, the use of 12 cylinders also makes V12s rather heavy.
Buying A Viable V12
The Main Factors To Consider When Shopping Around For An Affordable Used V12 Car
With much less focus on practicality and utility and a major emphasis on performance and luxury, buying a used V12 model is a very different shopping experience compared to purchasing a regular car. Below, we’ve broken down nine of the most crucial areas to take into account when shopping around.
Manufacturer: Depending on its manufacturer, a V12 car can vary in quality and performance, with some marques boasting much better reputations for driving capabilities and reliability than others. There are also certain elite makes like Ferrari, where purchasing one of their vehicles comes with a special status that grants access to a small but exclusive club of sorts — as well as a few literal ones. Some companies also offer markedly more factory support and replacement parts than others.
Engine Specs & Characteristics: Though every car on this list will feature an engine with a dozen cylinders laid out in a V formation, these powertrains can differ in a myriad of important ways. When looking at V12-engined models, you’ll also want to explore areas such as the powerplant’s cooling system, valve setups, displacement, whether it features forced induction or is naturally aspirated, and its kind of drivetrain, transmission, and gearbox.
Value Curve: Buying a used V12 doesn’t just make for an incredibly fun weekend or daily driver, but one can also be a stellar investment — depending on an example’s condition and that model’s value curve. While we’d ultimately recommend purchasing a car that you’re excited about, it’s still wise to look into the general value of a given car and what type of upward or downward trends it’s seen in recent years. And, because manufacturers don’t put V12s into regular commuter cars and tend to reserve them exclusively for elite and exotic cars — with the exception of a few high-end sleepers — a handful of used V12 models tend to make for pretty decent investments.
Ownership History, Condition, & Miles On The Odo: Just like when buying any type of car, you’ll always want to check out the condition of a particular specimen, checking under the hood and kicking the tires. In addition to a car’s total mileage, it’s also worthwhile to look into the ownership history of the car, as well as asking the current owner if they have service or maintenance records of any kind. Again, with these being fairly exotic cars that come with steep prices when new, many of them have been meticulously cared for — a factor that makes for a great second-hand (or even third or fourth-hand) purchase.
Mileage: While mileage will vary from V12 to V12, we felt it worth mentioning that pretty much all dozen-cylinder engines get pretty atrocious miles per gallon figures — though mileage obviously isn’t the reason one opts to purchase a V12-powered car. This not only makes them even more expensive to drive — especially with the current gas prices — but also means you’ll likely be hitting the pump far more often. This area is furthered by the relatively antiquated nature of many of these engines, at least relative to today’s much more fuel-efficient powertrains.
Interior: Considering that many of the cars on this list were produced decades apart, you’ll find that the cabins of these vehicles can hugely vary in terms of comfort, how well they’re appointed with amenities, and how overall luxurious they are. While, in our opinion, the car’s engine, performance, and outward appearance should take priority over a V12 model’s interior, with this being the part of the car we interact with most, it’s still worth taking note of.
Style: Just like the cabin of these vehicles, the outward appearance of V12-engined cars can also hugely vary, with just the models on our list ranging from everything from mid-century grand tourers to boxy ‘90s coupes to Italian-made supercars. And, while there are exceptions to this rule, more often than not, the more modern a V12 car looks, the more modern it will perform.
Maintenance & Upkeep: With a dozen sparkplugs, headers, and cylinders and several times as many valves, V12 engines unsurprisingly are fairly expensive to maintain, requiring markedly more labor than your average inline-four or V6-powered car. With more cylinders and components, there are also more parts that can break or fail — making upkeep that much more costly. This is a particularly important area to look into, as, just because you can afford to buy a V12 car doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to afford to maintain it and keep it on the road — especially if it’s being used for daily driving.
Performance: On top of their incredibly smooth power delivery and highly-balanced nature, V12 mills are renowned for their performance prowess. For this reason, if you’re in the market for a used V12, you’ll definitely want to explore a given vehicle’s engine specs, drivetrain, curb weight, acceleration times, top speed, and horsepower and torque figures.
Aston Martin DB7 Vantage
Introduced as a V12-engined option around the turn of the millennium, Aston Martin’s early aughts DB7 Vantage is a surprisingly affordable vehicle considering its thoroughly exclusive, high-end, and fairly contemporary nature. The DB7 Vantage was kicked along by a naturally-aspirated 6.0-liter V12 that allows for a 165-mph top speed and 0-60mph runs in 5.5 seconds. Boasting an ultra-luxurious cabin, this model was also offered with the choice of either a six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic transmission.
Engine: 6.0L V12
Power: 414HP & 398FT-LBs
The second and third-gen (E32 and E38) 7 Series models offer a unique blend of luxury and performance that’s typically reserved for M-badged BMWs. This Bavarian-built sleeper car features an unassuming appearance, though once its 5.4-liter engine roars, there’s very little doubt as to what type of powerplant is under the hood. Sporting an old-school yet dignified appearance and an incredibly plush interior, the BMW 750iL also lends itself to everything from daily commuting duties to family hauling to long-range touring.
Engine: 5.4L V12
Power: 326HP & 321FT-LBs
Produced from 1990 to 1999, BMW’s first-generation 8 Series (E31) is already an incredibly cool car, however, once you shoehorn a nearly 300-hp V12 under the hood, you’ve got something truly special. Boasting an unapologetically ‘90s aesthetic design, the 850Ci was also one of BMW’s first-ever models to utilize a drive-by-wire throttle and a multi-link rear axle. Clean 850Ci specimens can also be found on the used market for around $25,000 — making them cheaper than the latest base model Honda Accord. This wedge-style sports car offers a 155mph top speed and a roughly 5.5-second 0-60mph time, too.
Engine: 5.0L V12
Power: 296HP & 332FT-LBs
First debuting in 1992, the Ferrari 456 is a front-engined exotic that offers some pretty remarkable performance capabilities relative to its used price — with some touting the 456 as “the very last truly affordable Ferrari.”. Upon its release, the 456 represented the world’s second fastest production four-seater — only behind Porsche’s legendary 959 — with a top speed of 192mph. These figures are owed to the car’s 3,725-pound curb weight coupled with its 5.5-liter V12’s 436-hp output. This is also almost certainly the most expensive model on this list, however, it’s still a decent deal considering the caliber of the vehicle — and the fact that purchasing a 456 is a solid investment. And, lastly, in true Ferrari fashion, the quality and level of luxury on display in the 456’s cabin is second to none.
Engine: 5.5L V12
Power: 436HP & 404FT-LBs
With the exception of the BMW 750iL, every car on this list thus far has been given a V12 engine for performance reasons, however, the Jaguar XJ12 utilizes the dozen-cylinder setup more to bolster comfort and cruising capabilities. This British-built rolling land yacht features a vintage yet decidedly well-appointed and plush interior with plenty of legroom and cargo space. With that said, the XJ12 is no slouch either, with its naturally-aspirated 6.0-liter V12 affording a rather respectable 0-60mph time and a top speed of 5.5 seconds and 155mph, respectively.
Engine: 6.0L V12
Power: 313HP & 353FT-LBs
The Jaguar XJS is an elegant vintage grand touring sports car that features a 5.3-liter V12 engine and a shockingly accessible used price — with clean examples routinely selling for between $10,000 and $20,000. The car perfectly encapsulates the era of excess that it was produced in, with massive proportions paired with an equally behemoth engine and curb weight. It is, however, worth noting that, while extremely affordable, the XJS is notorious for being plagued with faulty mechanics and reliability issues. If you can stomach those problems, the 273-hp XJS is available in convertible or hardtop variants.
Engine: 5.3L V12
Power: 273HP & 297FT-LBs
Despite the model boasting a $120,000 price tag when it was new, the Mercedes-Benz S600 can now be purchased for just a small fraction of its original MSRP. This is a pretty stellar proposition as, for less than the price of a new Honda Civic, one can acquire a less-than-20-year-old German luxury car that packs a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V12 that affords a 155mph top speed and the ability to reach 60mph from a complete standstill in only 4.5 seconds. It’s also one of the more modern-looking cars on this list, as well as one of the safest, most well-appointed, and technologically advanced.
Engine: Twin-Turbocharged 5.5L V12
Power: 493HP & 590FT-LBs
Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG
Moving onto the only AMG car on this list, the S65 AMG is a truly high-performance sports car that can be had for an almost suspiciously low price on the used market. At the heart of the car is a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V12 that puts down a whopping 603hp and 737ft-lbs of torque — figures that translate to a 4-second 0-60mph time and an electronically-controlled top speed of 155mph. With seating for five, a generously sized boot, and 366 cubic inches of cargo space, the S65 AMG is also a fantastic family hauler and grocery getter — while still being capable of delivering more than a few thrills behind the wheel in the hills, canyons, and corners.
Engine: Twin-Turbocharged 5.5L V12
Power: 603HP & 737FT-LBs
While it may not be quite as powerful as the two above Benz models on this list, the fact that the SL600 sees a 6.0-liter V12 dropped into a compact, two-seat convertible roadster allows it to make the most of the 389hp that it has on tap — making for an excellent true driver’s car. For a myriad of reasons, the SL600 is also one of the lowest priced models in this roundup — which actually speaks volumes considering the bang for your buck that many of the previous entries offer. It is worth noting that upkeep on this V12 model is fairly exorbitant relative to the cost of the vehicle itself, though this is by no means unique to just the SL.
Engine: 6.0L V12
Power: 389HP & 420FT-LBs
12-Cylinder Auto Alternatives
Boasting a Bugatti-style W engine layout, the Audi A8L is powered by a W12 powertrain that’s good for a cool 500hp and 463ft-lbs of torque. While one could easily be forgiven for thinking this relatively modern, W12-engined Audi would cost an arm and a leg, the reality is that most of today’s new economy cars feature higher price tags than a used A8L. And, as one would expect from Audi, the car offers incredibly smooth power delivery, stellar reliability, and the level of comfort and luxury that the brand is known for. Plus, with a W16 under the hood, you can expect a spirited experience behind the wheel.
Engine: 6.3L W12
Power: 500HP & 463FT-LBs
As a W12-engined Volkswagen, the Phaeton is admittedly a bit of an oddball of an automobile. Another bonafide sleeper car with a 12-cylinder engine under the hood, this car was sold on U.S. shores, however, only a few thousand units were ever sold in the States, making surviving examples fairly rare. Despite their rarity, the Phaeton can still be found on the used market for less than $20,000.
Engine: 6.0L W12
Power: 444HP & 413FT-LBs
The 14 Best Cheap Mid-Engine Sports Cars to Buy Used
Want to check out an additional list of accessibly-priced exotics that aren’t limited to V12-engined models? Then be sure to cruise on over to our guide to the best cheap mid-engine sports cars to buy used for more than a dozen affordable high-performance autos.