When it comes to the automotive industry, each manufacturer has a rich, diverse history that can be traced back for generations, and sometimes, centuries. With each new iteration of a platform, a change in the ripple of the road faring market begins to form, eventually immersing and engulfing the entirety of the manufacturing world until an idea is either overplayed or replaced by something entirely different. In recent years, small displacement vehicles have become the norm, but decades prior to our market’s current standing, increasingly large platforms and engine blocks were a mainstay. From straight four and inline six, all the way to modern day V8 engines, each different platform has found its niche as a preferred addition to some of history’s greatest vehicles. That being said, few have come close to the prestigious, gas-guzzling monstrosity that is the V12.
Oddly enough, the V12 engine isn’t a new concept — the design has been around for well over a century, even dating back to before the WW1-era. In 1889, Daimler was the first builder to create a documented V12, and by 1901, designers were putting the engines into motorboats for marine racing purposes. However, 1913 was perhaps the first time the architecture was introduced into a road faring vehicle. Louis Coatalen, the chief engineer for Sunbeam Motor Car Company, brought the first V12-powered vehicle to the Brooklands short and long handicap races. His 200 horsepower platform would change every manufacturer’s impressions of what could be achieved with a conventional power plant. From nautical vehicles and land faring racers, all the way to use in early aviation, the V12’s powerful 12-piston architecture would eventually become phased out due to the integration of less costly (and more efficient) diaphragm designs — but one thing’s for sure, the legendary engine architecture made its mark as one of the most innovative platforms of the era. Today, modern manufacturers utilize them in their vehicles to push the boundaries of both horsepower and torque ratings — although, for most, it’s the prestige of driving a rare V12 that draws interested motorists to the design.
What Makes A V12 Special?
A V12 engine is certainly one of the automotive world’s technical wonders, opting for a 12-cylinder layout that needs a lengthy stroke, smaller bore, and lighter valves than a traditional V8. While the unique cylinder layout of the V12 might need less movement within the block to perform at much higher RPMs than the V8, the fact remains that the monstrous engine utilizes four additional cylinders, making it larger and more cumbersome than its smaller competitors. When vehicles were first being made, these hefty variants were used to accelerate iron and steel chassis that were much heavier than they are today — on top of that, early engineers understood that the amount of air and compression that could be moved throughout the engine was tied directly to performance. Essentially, the addition of cylinders to a vehicle’s engine will allow it to move more air internally, resulting in greater acceleration and torque than a V8 motor would — at least in theory. However, in recent decades, smaller engine displacements have reached the point where they can utilize other means to create airflow, horsepower, and torque, leaving the heavy and outdated V12 to refine itself in their wake.
Regardless, luxury manufacturers still rely on the V12 for a handful of their niche models and often present the dynamic engine layout as part of rare, short-run vehicle production targeting drivers who want to own a prestigious, large motor. Below, we’ll outline some of the most notable V12 platforms to ever hit the market, as well as a few modern-day competitors that offer the 12-cylinder engine in limited runs.
Aston Martin V12 Vantage
Aside from being one of Aston Martin’s most prolific hand-built models, the V12 Vantage also boasts the title of the manufacturer’s most nimble vehicle. It was introduced by the English company to combat the growing sales of Porsche’s notable sports car, the 911, and provide an alternative to the rising number of exotic GT variants being injected into the market. The original Vantage was released in 2005 as a V8 platform, but by 2007, the car had been such a success that Martin decided to release a V12 variant, which housed an AM11 V12 engine and produced 510 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque.
Aston Martin Vanquish S
Aston Martin’s V12 Vanquish, and subsequent Vanquish S, would add yet another storied vehicle to the English company’s roster. Sporting a 5.9-liter V12 that expanded upon its predecessor, the Vanquish S would see a boost in performance thanks to a new nose shape, integrated spoiler, and an aerodynamic front splitter that would change the vehicle’s drag coefficient. At 520 horsepower and 425 lb-ft of torque, the short run ‘04-’07 vehicle would make its mark as one of the most aesthetically pleasing V12s ever built — and an exceptional GT supercar offering for those who weren’t necessarily impressed with the brand’s current offerings.
BMW 8-Series E31
BMW’s 8-Series E31 (850i) is widely understood as one of the German company’s most daring endeavors, opting for a newly adapted body style and V12 engine that would cater to an entirely different target audience than the manufacturer’s standard platforms. Production of the vehicle started in 1989, utilizing one of the industry’s first electronic drive-by-wire throttles alongside a multi-link rear axle, which was also a first for the German car maker. Though the car was heavier than its predecessors, it would win over the hearts of its proponents thanks to the inclusion of a 5.0-liter M70B50 V12, producing 296 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque.
Ferrari 250 GTO
Ferrari’s 250 GTO is one of the most legendary vehicles to ever be built — a product of its rich racing heritage and exceptional build quality. It would eventually garner the nickname ‘Colombo,’ competing alongside the likes of Shelby’s Cobra, Aston Martin’s DP214, and Jaguar’s E-Type in Group 3 GT races. A hand-welded oval tube frame served to lighten, lower, and stiffen the chassis of the car, while the tried-and-true Tipo 168/62 Comp. 3.0-liter engine, which was pulled straight from the Le Mans-winning 250 Testa Rossa, would bring the vehicle to 296 horsepower and 217 lb-ft of torque.
As another of Enzo Ferrari’s legendary vehicles, the F50 was created with a focus on Formula One heritage. To bring the brand’s race-oriented pedigree from the track to the public roadway, the manufacturer opted to implement a one-of-a-kind body style, elevated rear wing, and a 4.7 L naturally-aspirated Tipo F130B V12 engine that would bring 512 horsepower and 347 lb-ft of torque to the masses. Although the vehicle wasn’t a hit among reviewers (and, in turn, the general public) when it first launched in 1995, years of recollection have swayed the minds of a future generation — catapulting the vehicle into fame within the last decade.
Ferrari’s GTC4Lusso is truly a dark horse on any voracious V12 list, offering a one-of-a-kind four-seater with a front mid-engine design. It houses an improved version of Ferrari’s patented four-wheel drive system, which would later be named the 4RM Evo, alongside the company’s blistering 6.3-liter F140 V12 capable of 681 horsepower and 514 lb-ft of torque — which is unheard of for most shooting brake platforms on the market today. Although the manufacturer has since switched production of the GTC4Lusso to a rear-wheel-drive only variant (known as the GTC4Lusso T), the beastly V12 vehicle stands alone as one of the most powerful four-seat platforms in the industry.
Jaguar’s E-Type has made quite an impression on the motoring world. It was introduced in 1961 as one of the premier 3.8-liter inline-six platforms for the UK automaker, and eventually, the vehicle would garner so much attention that in 1971, the Series III platform was released — this time, sporting a healthy new 5.3-liter V12 engine. The two-seat fixed head coupe was also outfitted with both uprated brakes and a new power steering system to assist with the added weight and power brought about by the new powertrain, alongside textile-braced radial ply tires and minimal weight refinements that boosted the car to 318 horsepower and increased its top speed by around eight miles per hour. Due to a lack of interest, the Series III platform was eventually phased out — but even today, the bucket list-worthy car is one of the most impressive V12 vehicles to ever hit the market, especially for the time period.
Lamborghini is no stranger to the V12 game, and their famed Countach could very well be one of the most iconic V12s to ever hit the production line. Giotto Bizzarrini’s legendary V12 powered the beastly rear mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive vehicle, giving rise to the original Countach’s blistering 370 horsepower, which would later be usurped by the 5.2-liter, multivalve variant, which garnered close to 450 horsepower. Although the two-door vehicle was devised to replace the manufacturer’s Miura, both vehicles have earned their right to be included on nearly every V12 listing, thanks in large part to the Italian car designer’s legacy as one of the progenitors of the modern supercar.
The Lamborghini Miura is one of the most iconic V12 vehicles to have ever been devised, if not for its legacy as the brand’s very first supercar, then certainly for the insanely capable 4.0-liter engine that produced upward of 350 horsepower in 1966. For the period, the vehicle was an absolute monstrosity, breaking into the market as the predecessor to the industry’s greatest supercars. Aside from the Miura’s immaculate Italian styling, slimline design, and Transverse rear mid-engine layout, the vehicle’s later SV model would catapult the car into the spotlight even further, boosting its performance figures into the 380 horsepower range. Today, the Miura demarcates the auto industry’s earliest endeavors into the world of the supercar, and for that, we are thankful.
McLaren’s F1 was designed from the get-go as the quintessential vehicle for drivers who were looking to harness the thrill of the road. Launched in 1993, the iconic English supercar was originally devised as a platform to showcase the company’s cutting-edge technology and influential design principles. Oddly enough, the original platform was rumored to have been designed around a Honda engine — a powerplant that was later replaced by BMW’s legendary 6.1-liter S70/2 V12 motor, which would be released alongside the vehicle. Although the 627 horsepower F1 was introduced to the masses in the early ’90s, it’s still an avid competitor today — grooming the blacktop and standing toe-to-toe with modern-day supercars. For a naturally-aspirated platform, it’s even more impressive — reigning as one of the fastest vehicles to grace the industry in the past two decades.
Pagani’s Huayra is one of Italy’s greatest crowning achievements, debuting to the masses as a two-door coupe and roadster that was absolutely monstrous. A seven-speed sequential gearbox and single disc clutch were employed to keep the vehicle’s demonic 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged Mercedes-AMG M158 V12 in line, allowing the vehicle to reach a top speed of 238 miles-per-hour on Pirelli tires, alongside Brembo brake calipers, rotors and pads for enhanced stopping power. At 720 horsepower, the hypercar stands head and shoulders above its competition as one of the fastest road-faring vehicles to ever be conceived, and today, it’s garnered notable fame as Pagani’s crowning achievement.
The Pagani Zonda is the Italian manufacturer’s second claim to fame, sporting an ultra-limited production run and carbo-titanium hybrid structure that set it apart from its numerous hypercar competitors. The original C12 debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in 1999 and boasted a 6.0-liter Mercedes-Benz M120 V12 engine that was capable of 444 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque, mated with a five-speed transmission to keep everything in working order. The car would only get better with age, eventually ending up with a 789-horsepower variant called the Zonda HP Barchetta in 2017, solidifying it as one of the most powerful cars to ever hit the consumer market.
12 Best AWD Supercars
Now that you’ve got your fix when it comes to monstrous V12s, head over to our guide on the best AWD supercars to peruse even more lightning-fast vehicles.