Sometimes it seems we’re drinking in the Last Chance saloon where engines we actually want in our cars are concerned. But, of course, we’re not. A last chance offers at least the hope of redemption, an opportunity to mend our wicked ways. But so far as the V12 engine is concerned, it’s the No Chance saloon, the place you go to get absolutely plastered before being wiped off the face of the planet.
Which is why there are so many of them. If I can be allowed to mix my metaphors, it’s called making hay while the sun shines, because everyone can see it’s about to slip beneath the horizon, never to return.
BMW has one, as does Bentley (okay, a W12 but let’s not sweat the small stuff here), Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz, such as that fitted to this S65. And let’s not forget that Cosworth has recently been commissioned to design from scratch brand-new V12s for both Aston Martin’s Valkyrie and Gordon Murray Automotive’s T.50. You’d barely believe there was a problem at all.
But now ask yourself how many will still exist five years from now. Well, the Cosworths will have been and gone, I doubt BMW will persevere with its one and we know the Mercedes motor is right on the point of quitting and will not be replaced. Which leaves the Italian supercar manufacturers, both of which have been defined by the V12 from the very day they were founded, Rolls-Royce, which, I imagine, will be heading down the all-electric route long before then, and Aston Martin. We know Aston’s twin-turbo V12 won’t be going into any Lagonda and we also know the company is heading rapidly down the hybrid route and designing its own in-house petrol-electric V6. I expect it will keep the V12 for as long as demand remains or legislation allows, but will it be replaced? Given how relatively new it still is, I doubt it.
But what is it about the V12 that has made it the most revered engine configuration of all? I think it is the rather wonderful confluence of two factors that lend unique qualities to the V12, as even a short drive in the S65 illustrates rather well.
First, there is the refinement. A six-cylinder engine enjoys perfect primary and secondary balance and so, therefore, does a V12, but with twice as many cylinders for any given capacity, the V12 is smoother still, which is why it was favoured by luxury car manufacturers long before it was recognised for its sporting potential. Packard was first to offer a V12 in a standard production car as early as 1916 and soon all the real quality US brands – Cadillac, Auburn, Lincoln and Pierce-Arrow – were at it. The first British production V12 was fitted to the Rolls-Royce Phantom III in 1936.