There’s not getting away from this: The V12 engine is an endangered species.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem to be the case. After all, you can still get a V12 in a production car from BMW, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz, and Bentley offers a W12 into the bargain.
But sadly the end is nigh for most of those engines in the next few years, and with all industry looking to the post-combustion world, it’s hard to see them devoting time and resources toward a new generation.
Which is a shame; six-cylinders are the most inherently smooth engines, and V12s double-down on the overall balance. Time then to celebrate the V12, while we still can:
Packard Twin-Six (1915)
It’s true that Rolls-Royce produced three V12-powered cars in the 1900s, but the credit for the first proper series production V12 car must go to this Packard. It cranked out 88bhp from its 6.9-litre engine, which might not impress compared to the other cars in this story, but it was a start.
It also gave a 60mph cruising speed at a time when lesser models could barely manage half that figure. With refinements, the model continued until 1923.
Ferrari 250 (1953)
Ferrari built its name by building V12 road and race cars, some with a displacement as small as 1.5 litres.
From 1953 the V12’s displacement was increased to 2,953cc and this engine would go on to power a bewildering array of 250 models including the GTO, Monza, LM, Mille Miglia, California Spyder and GT SWB.
Jaguar XJ13 (1966)
Jaguar dominated the Le Mans 24 Hours in the 1950s, and for the 1960s it was set to campaign an all-new car – the XJ13.
It was fitted with a 5.0-litre V12 that was effectively a pair of Jaguar XK engines with a common crankshaft. Finished in 1966 the one car built was destroyed in a crash in 1971, but rebuilt in 1973. You can see it in the British Motor Museum in Gaydon.
Lamborghini Miura (1966)
It wasn’t the world’s first car with its engine in the middle as many assume, but the Miura did introduce the world to the mid-engined production supercar.
Now one of the most revered cars ever made, Lamborghini expected to sell just a handful, but over a six-year production run 764 rolled out of the factory, each with a 3,929cc V12.
Ferrari Daytona (1968)
Officially badged 365 GTB/4, the Daytona got its nickname from the 1-2-3 win at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1967.
With its pop-up headlights the Daytona was the epitome of cool after the more traditional 275 GTB, and although over 1,400 were built (including spiders), you’ll pay upwards of £700k for a good one.
Jaguar XJ12 (1972)
When Jaguar launched the XJ12 in 1972 it was the world’s only four-door saloon with V12 power. That was in the Series 1 XJ; the Series 2, Series 3 (pictured here) and XJ40 would all get a V12 option along with the X300 that ran until 1997 – that was the last car offered by Jaguar, to feature a V12 option.
Panther De Ville (1974)
OK, we’re not sure we could convincingly claim the Panther De Ville to be a great, but it was certainly intriguing – not least of all because while it vaguely aped the Bugatti Royale, the doors were donated by a BMC Landcrab.
Not all De Villes came with Jaguar 5.3-litre V12 power though; those on a budget could specify a Jag 4.2-litre straight-six instead.
Lamborghini LM002 (1986)
The VW Group has produced a few W12-powered SUVs in recent years (Touareg, Q7, Bentayga), but aside from the Mercedes G-Wagon we don’t know of any other production SUVs with a V12 petrol engine.
Long before the G65 arrived though, Lamborghini created this bonkers off-roader with a Countach-sourced 5.2-litre V12 – or for the really adventurous there was a 7.2-litre option.
BMW 850 (1990)
For years the BMW E31 8-Series has been out in the cold, but it’s starting to be recognised for what it is – a superb grand tourer that’s beautifully built and likely to prove an excellent investment.
While the 4.4-litre V8 editions make the most sense, one of the 5.0-litre V12s is rather more interesting; if you can track down one of the ultra-rare 5.6-litre 850 CSis, even better.
Bugatti EB110 (1991)
Bugatti has always been a marque for the kind of person who believes that too much is not enough – and the EB110 fits in perfectly with this ethos.
Created to mark 110 years since the birth of Ettore Bugatti, the EB110 came with a quad-turbo V12 rated at 550bhp and with four-wheel drive the car could sprint from 0-62mph in just 3.2 seconds.
Mercedes S600 (1991)
It seems incredible that despite its reputation for no-holds-barred luxury, Mercedes didn’t offer a V12-powered car until 1991, and that was only to compete with BMW’s 750i.
Initially fitted to the W140 S-Class, Merc’s V12 would go on to be fitted to a phalanx of Maybachs, SLs, G-Wagens, CLs and more.
McLaren F1 (1992)
It’s fast becoming the 21st century Ferrari 250 GTO, as values climb ever higher; a Federal-spec F1 sold in August for an eye-popping £12.9m.
Just 106 F1s were built, including prototypes and racers, each fitted with a BMW-sourced V12 that could take the McLaren all the way up to 240mph. There truly will never be another car like it.
Lister Storm (1993)
Designed and built to be a racing car, four road-going examples of the Lister Storm were also produced.
Each featured a 7.0-litre V12 rated at 546bhp; enough to give the car a top speed of over 200mph and a 0-60mph time of just 4.1 seconds.
Vector M12 (1995)
The Vector W8 was one of the great missed opportunities of the 1980s, so when Lamborghini owner Megatech bought Vector in 1994, and came up with a rebodied Diablo called the M12, hopes were high that the car would be a winner.
But sadly it was a failure with just 14 examples sold, but it does count as the last American production car to be fitted with a V12.
Toyota Century (1997)
This year marks half a century of one of the most intriguing cars ever created, the Toyota Century.
However, those first cars were fitted with an array of V8 powerplants. It wasn’t until 1997 that an all-new car came along, now with a 5.0-litre V12, making it the only Japanese V12-powered production car. And despite being priced at a similar level to the Lexus LS, the Century looks as though it’s driven straight out of 1972.
Aston Martin DB7 Vantage (1999)
The original Aston Martin DB7 had a supercharged straight-six rated at 335bhp, but things got a lot more interesting in 1999 with the arrival of the DB7 Vantage.
This was powered by a 5.9-litre V12 pegged at 420bhp, although things got even fruitier in 2002 with the introduction of the 435bhp DB7 GT.
Pagani Zonda (1999)
Ambitious supercar makers are 10 a penny, but most disappear as quickly as they arrived. Not Horacio Pagani though.
He unveiled his C12 at the 1999 Geneva motor show and the plaudits flowed in almost immediately. A steady succession of Zonda derivatives then flowed from the factory, culminating in the 789bhp Revolucion of 2013.
Rolls-Royce Phantom (2003)
When Rolls-Royce launched the seventh-generation Phantom in 2003 it was fitted with a 6.75-litre V12; a nice touch considering the firm’s iconic pushrod V8 had the same capacity.
But this wasn’t the first Roller to feature V12 power as the Phantom III that was produced between 1936 and 1939 featured a 7,340cc 12-pot engine.
Maserati MC12 (2004)
While its rivals produced one V12-powered car after another, Maserati was quite happy with eight cylinders; it wouldn’t be until 2004 that the company built its first V12-powered model.
Based on the Ferrari Enzo, the MC12 was more aerodynamic and bigger than its cousin, but slower in terms of top speed and acceleration.
Tramontana R (2007)
When Tramontana burst onto the scene in 2005 we all assumed that this Spanish company would quickly become a footnote in the annals of motoring history.
With its outrageously styled hypercar carrying a price tag of around £385,000 it would have been easy to write off the Tramontana (as it were), but with just a handful made each year, the company has hung on in there.
Audi Q7 TDi (2008)
A V12 engine doesn’t have to burn petrol – it can burn diesel instead. But only Audi has ever put a V12 diesel engine into a production road car and what a monster it was: 1000Nm of torque (740lb ft in old money), 493bhp and the ability to get from a standing start to 62mph in just 5.5 seconds.
Aston Martin One-77 (2011)
It’s a shame that only 77 people will ever get to own one of these magnificent beasts – and most of those will squirrel them away rather than drive them.
With show-stopping looks and performance the Aston is ludicrously quick; despite a kerb weight of 1,630kg it’ll do 0-62mph in all of 3.5 seconds, on the way to topping out at 220mph.
Lamborghini Aventador (2011)
Showing just how far the supercar market has come, Lamborghini built just 764 Miuras in six years but has averaged over 1,000 Aventadors a year since its introduction in 2011.
It’s the first car to feature Lamborghini’s all-new V12, which replaced the legendary unit designed by Giotto Bizzarrini that stayed in production from 1963 right the way through until 2011.
Pagani Huayra (2012)
We rather liked the Zonda, but the Huayra took things to a whole new level – as you’d expect, considering it arrived 13 years later.
Power (all 720bhp of it) still came from an AMG-sourced 6.0-litre engine and the top speed was now 230mph, but restrictions on engine supply means just 100 Huayras will be built.
Ferrari LaFerrari (2013)
It was the hypercar of the moment, the ultimate rich man’s toy, with values already way above the car’s original list price of £1.15m.
Just 500 were made, each one featuring a 6.3-litre V12 boosted by an electric motor to give 950bhp. Pictured is the even more exclusive and sought after LaFerrari Aperta, just 210 of which were made.
Lagonda Taraf (2015)
This is one properly rare and luxurious beast with its 6.0-litre V12 and 195mph top speed.
With a £600,000 price tag, and a production run of, as it turned out, just 120 vehicles. It was made primarily for the wealthier Middle East markets, though sales were later extended to other markets.
The V12 today
V12s are still available from a select few manufacturers, but it’s not clear for how much longer is some cases. BMW offers a 6.0-litre in its M760Li xDrive, while its Rolls-Royce subsidiary offers a version of the same engine in the Ghost, Wraith and Dawn models; the Phantom and Cullinan have a 6.8-litre version. Reports suggest that production of the engine will cease in 2023.
Aston Martin offers a V12 in its DB11, and standard on the DBS Superleggera, and Rapide. Ferrari’s 812 Superfast has a V12 as standard, and one is available on its GTC4 Lusso.
The Lamborghini Aventador has a V12 as standard. Mercedes-Benz features V12 power on its S65 AMG, available in saloon (pictured), coupé and cabriolet versions.