Today is December 12th, 2012 – 12/12/12. And unless some intelligent folks in lab coats come up with the solution to eternal life in the near future, this is likely the last sequential date you will ever live to see. So, in celebration, let’s have a look at three of the finest V12 engines ever produced.
The Italians have been making V12 motors for eons, so I figured it would be best to start this list with my favourite Italian of them all – Lamborghini. When they made their first car, the 350 GT, in 1964, it packed a 280 horsepower 3.5-litre V12 under the hood. The engine was originally designed with Formula 1 inspiration, and could supposedly produce over 400 horsepower. However, Ferruccio Lamborghini wanted a comfortable, reliable engine design, and ordered the engine to be detuned. That very same V12, however, continued to live a very long life – the basic design survived right up until the end of the Murcielago’s life cycle two years ago. The engine also served as a starting point when Lamborghini tried their hand at Formula 1 in 1989. In order to withstand the test of time, the engine has received many changes – by the end of its lifespan, displacement was up to 6.5-litres, it had four valves per cylinder, and the carburetors were replaced by electronic fuel injection. The engine also received dry-sump lubrication as intended by the original designer – a trait which was turned down by Ferruccio Lamborghini when he ordered the detuning of the engine. As a result, the engine could produce 670 horsepower before it was finally replaced by an all-new design in the Aventador.
If you thought the Lamborghini V12 had a long production run, the Ferrari Colombo’s will look downright outrageous. This engine first started life in the 125 S in 1947, but with several modifications, it survived in the 512 TR right up to 1995 – that’s 52 years of 12-cylinder service. In the 125 S, it had a tiny displacement of just 1.5-litres and developed 118 horsepower, but by the end of its life cycle it had ballooned up to 4.9L in order to produce 428 hp. It had also become what is known as a 180-degree V12, or in other words a flat-12. Throughout its phenomenal life, the Colombo powered many greats, such as the 250 GTO and the 365 Daytona. For those cars alone, this engine was definitely worth mentioning.
I could probably find another great Italian to end this list with, but in the interests of fairness, I decided to look to the Germans. Mercedes has made quite a number of V12 engines over the years, but none quite like the M120. Let’s start with the obvious – this thing is massive. It began its life as a 6.0-litre unit in the 1991 Mercedes S600, but it went on to spawn a 6.9L variant for the CLK GTR, a 7.0L for the SL70 AMG, and then the mother lode – a 7.3L unit developed for the SL73 AMG. But no good V12 goes without some kind of Italian link, and as it happens, a man named Horacio Pagani came to Mercedes in 1994 in search of a powerplant for his new supercar – ringing any bells yet? Yes, indeed, the M120 ended up powering the Pagani Zonda. It was originally powered by the 6.0L unit, but was later upgraded to the 7.0, and then the 7.3. For weight-saving purposes, the Zonda R was moved back to a 6.0, but make no mistake – the R packed the most powerful variation of the M120 ever, putting down a staggering 800 horsepower in R Evolution trim. This, of course, wasn’t street-legal, but the road-legal Zonda Cinque packed an equally-impressive 678 horsepower using its 7.3L unit. So, even though it may not have lived as long a life as the other engines on this list, it was certainly every bit as amazing.
Lamborghini 3512: Schuy/Wikimedia Commons
Lamborghini 350 GT engine: Dan Lindsay (CC BY 3.0)
Ferrari 250 GTO engine: Tennen-Gas (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Pagani Zonda R engine: Brian Snelson (CC BY 2.0)