The V-12 Cars That Paved the Way For Cars We Love Today
These are the greatest classic sports and luxury cars powered by V-12 enginesby Ciprian Florea, on
Initially developed for use in racing boats in the early 1900s, the V-12 engine became a popular choice for luxury carmakers in the late 1910s and 1920s, especially in the United States. Following World War II, when it was used to power aircraft and tanks, the V-12 made a comeback in European sports cars during the 1960s. Although V-8 engines are capable of similar output in a smaller package, the V-12 remained somewhat popular in exotic cars from Ferrari and Lamborghini, as well as full-size luxury sedans and coupe starting with the late 1980s. Today, you can buy several cars with large V-12 engines, but let’s have a look at some of the vehicles that actually made them popular.
1916 Packard Twin Six
Packard was one of the biggest automakers in the 1910s, having already launched more than ten distinct models by 1915. Four years after it launched its first six-cylinder car, Packard unveiled the Twin Six, powered by a 60-degree, 6.9-liter V-12. An in-house design, the big V-12 delivered 85 horsepower, more than the inline-six and V-8 engines that were popular in luxury cars at the time. The Twin Six was the first production model to feature a V-12 and the car that inspired other American automakers to developed similar mills. Packard offered the V-12 in three more models until 1939.
|Production years:||1916 - 1923|
Although many American carmakers introduced V-12 engines in the 1920s, Cadillac remained true to V-8 mills for its flagship model and didn’t jump on the bandwagon until 1930. That’s when the Cadillac V-12 rolled out with a 6.0-liter V-12 engine under the hood. This unit was actually based on the V-16 engine designed by Owen Nacker and was essentially a truncated V-16 with a larger bore. It retained the stroke design, the 45-degree angle, and the overhead valves. It debuted in the Series 370 model for the 1931 model year and in the Series 80/85 from 1936 to 1937. The original engine was rated at 135 horsepower, but output increased to 150 horses in 1935.
|Production years:||1930 -1937|
Read our full review on the 1930 Cadillac V-12
1931 Lincoln K Series
One of the most iconic cars from Ford’s luxury division, the K Series is also the brand’s first vehicle with a V-12 engine. One of the most exclusive cars in the United States in the early 1930s, the K Series, was actually a competitor for both the Packard Twin Six and the Cadillac V-12. Lincoln’s V-12 engine displaced 7.3 liters and produced 150 horsepower. Lincoln introduced a second, 6.3-liter V-12 as a replacement for the V-8 in 1933. One year later, both V-12 engines were discontinued in favor of a 6.8-liter V-12. Production ended in 1939 after various upgrades to the car’s design.
|Production years:||1931 - 1939|
Rolls-Royce wasn’t the first European automaker to put a V-12 into an automobile. Daimler did it in 1926, but Rolls-Royce’s first V-12 car is one of the most iconic examples from Europe. The last vehicle that Henry Royce himself worked on, the Phantom III arrived in 1936 to replace the Phantom II. A big evolution design-wise, the Phantom III also featured a V-12 instead of the old inline-six engine. The massive 7.3-liter mill featured an aluminum-alloy design, which was state-of-the-art for the mid-1930s. The massive V-12 generated 165 horsepower through a four-speed manual transmission. Only 727 chassis were built from 1936 to 1939 and fitted with bodies from various coachbuilders. The Phantom III was the only Rolls-Royce fitted with a V-12 engine until the introduction of the Silver Seraph in 1998.
|Production years:||1936 - 1939|
Check out our full history on the 1936 Rolls-Royce Phantom III
Enzo Ferrari started designing sports cars in the late 1930s, but the first to feature a Ferrari badge arrived in 1947. And unlike the Auto Avio Costruzioni 815 from 1940, the Ferrari 125 S featured a V-12 engine. It was the first iteration of the iconic Colombo engine in the form of a 1.5-liter unit and paved the way to the modern V-12-powered Ferrari. Initially, a small unit rated at just 116 horsepower, the Colombo engine evolved into a 4.8-liter unit in the 1980s. This engine survived in various models from 1947 to 1989, an impressive 42 years. Iconic models fitted with this engine include the 250 GO, 250 TR, 275 GTB, 400 Superamerica, and the 365 series.
Read our full review on the 1947 Ferrari 125 S
The 250 GTO is powered by a V-12 derived from the original Colombo engine in the 125 S, and it’s by far the most iconic V-12 car in history. Produced from 1962 to 1964 as a homologation special for the FIA’s grand touring car category, the 250 GTO features a 3.0-liter version of the Colombo V-12 rated at 296 horsepower and 217 pound-feet of torque. Only 36 were made, and even though many of them were sold below their original sticker in the late 1960s and early 1970s, their value began to spike in the late 1970s. The first 250 GTO traded for $1 million in 1986, and by 1989 some examples were worth more than $10 million. All eight GTOs sold privately or at auctions since 2012 traded for more than $30 million. Chassis number 4153GT changed hands for $70 million in 2018, setting a record for any production model. Needless to say, the 250 GTO is the most desirable classic car out there.
|Production years:||1962 - 1964|
Read our full review on the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO
Just like Ferrari, Lamborghini entered the road car business with a V-12 engine, and it’s still producing vehicles with this type of mill. Although it’s not the most iconic Lamborghini out there, the 350 GT is the company’s first car, the one that started it all. What’s more, the 3.5-liter aluminum V-12 survived for almost 50 years in various forms and models. The engine grew larger and was upgraded seven times and went on to power the company’s most iconic models, including the Miura, Espada, Countach, Diablo, and Murcielago. The latter was discontinued in 2010, which means that this V-12 design survived for 47 years, more than Ferrari’s Colombo V-12. The V-12 generated 280 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque in the 350 GT, but it eventually evolved into a 661-horsepower and 487-pound-foot monster in the Murcielago SuperVeloce.
|Production years:||1964 - 1966|
Read our full review on the 1964 Lamborghini 350 GT
The Miura features a version of the same V-12 engine introduced in the 350 GT above, but it’s notably different thanks to its mid-mounted position. Launched in 1966, the Miura is considered the world’s first mid-engined supercar, although the idea was first seen in the Matra Djet in 1962. The Miura created a sensation when it was unveiled at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show, and many sports car companies began developing mid-engined road cars. Ferrari, for instance, followed in 1967 with the Dino. The Miura also paved the way for the iconic Lamborghini’s we adore today, including the Countach and the Diablo, as well as the modern Aventador and Huracan. The Miura featured a 4.0-liter V-12 that initially produced 345 horsepower and 262 pound-feet in the P400. The engine was upgraded for 365 horsepower and 286 pound-feet in the P400S and then to 380 horses and 295 pound-feet in the P400SV.
|Production years:||1966 - 1973|
Read our full review on the 1966 Lamborghini Miura
The Jaguar E-Type is one of the most iconic cars ever built; it’s usually at the top of every rank about the most beautiful automobiles ever designed. Based on the Le Mans-winning D-Type race car, the E-Type became a sensation when it was introduced in 1961 because it combined beautiful bodywork with high performance and competitive pricing. But the E-Type wasn’t a V-12 car from the get-go. Both the Series 1 (1961 - 1968) and the Series 2 (1968 - 1971) featured inline-six engines. Jaguar introduced the 5.3-liter V-12 in the Series 3 model in 1971, 10 years after the sports car made its global debut. Rated at 272 horsepower and 304 pound-feet of torque, the V-12 enables the E-Type to hit 60 mph in less than seven seconds and reach a top speed of around 150 mph, both impressive figures for the era. It’s also important to know that this engine proved to be very reliable and it was used for 28 years, until 1997. The mill also powered several variants of the XJ model that replaced the E-Type, as well as race-spec Jaguars modified by Tom Walkinshaw Racing and Lister. Daimler also used this engine in the Double-Six sedan from 1973 to 1997.
|Production years:||1971 - 1975|
Read our full review on the 1971 Jaguar E-Type
1987 BMW 750i
BMW is now pretty famous for using V-12 engines in a variety of flagship models, but it came a bit late to the party, in 1987. BMW’s first V-12 car was the second-generation 7 Series. Introduced in 1986 with an inline-six as standard, the 7 Series was also available in 750i trim with a 5.0-liter V-12. Rated at 295 horsepower, this V-12 was internally known as the M70 and went on to become one of BMW’s most iconic engines. The engine also made it in the 8 Series in 1989, and in 1992 it spawned a higher performance version called the S70. It was first used in the BMW 850CSi, while a modified version powered the McLaren F1. Another iteration known as the S70/3 provided power for the BMW V12 LMR race car that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999.
|Production years:||1987 - 1992|
1991 Mercedes-Benz 600 SE
Mercedes-Benz joined the V-12 battle in 1991, four years after BMW. Legend has it Mercedes delayed the introduction of the third-gen S-Class for nearly two years in order to develop its own V-12 following BMW’s unveiling from 1987. The massive 6.0-liter V-12 debuted in the 600 SE, which eventually became the S 600 in 1993. Output was rated at 400 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of torque, notably more than its competitor from BMW. The M120 V-12 is also known for being used by Pagani in the Zonda supercar. AMG eventually reworked the mill, and displacement increased to 7.0 and 7.3 liters. A similar engine also powered the CLK GTR race car and the SL73 AMG and CL73 AMG models of the 1990s.
|Production years:||1991 - 1998|
Arguably the most ambitious project of the early 1990s alongside the McLaren F1, the EB110 was the first Bugatti produced since the company ceased operations in 1952. Unlike other cars from the era, the EB110 featured a turbocharged V-12. Because it relied on four turbos, the mill was rather small at 3.5 liters. But power wasn’t an issue, as the SS version generated an impressive 603 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. Although the revived company and the EB110 itself didn’t survive for long, the quad-turbo design of the V-12 served as inspiration for the similarly turbocharged W-16 engine in the Bugatti Veyron.
|Engine:||quad-turbo, 3.5-liter V-12|
|Production years:||1991 - 1995|
Read our full review on the 1991 Bugatti EB110
The McLaren F1 arrived in 1992 not only as the company’s first road-legal car but also as the most advanced supercar in the world. Built almost entirely out of carbon-fiber, it featured a three-seat interior with the driver’s seat in the center and debuted many state-of-the-art features that eventually became common in the supercar world. McLaren originally wanted a Honda engine, but the Japanese firm refused, and the Brits were eventually approached by BMW. Based on the engine that BMW introduced in the 7 Series in 1987, this S70 was larger at 6.1 liters and developed by the company’s M division. The same engine also powered the subsequent LM, GT, and GTR versions of the F1, as well as the race-spec cars fielded at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The original F1 came with 618 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque on tap. In 1993, the F1 became the world’s fastest production car with a top speed of 221 mph. The benchmark was updated in 1998 at 240 mph. McLaren’s record soldiered on until 2005 when it was surpassed by the Bugatti Veyron. As of 2020, the F1 remains the world’s fastest production car with a naturally aspirated engine.
|Production years:||1992 - 1998|
Read our full review on the 1992 McLaren F1
From its introduction in 1948, the DB series needed a little more than a decade to become one of Europe’s most desirable grand tourers. Aston Martin then managed to give Ferrari a run for its money with the DB5 and the DB6, but the series came to an end in 1970. Aston Martin revived it with the DB7 in 1994, when it also introduced a V-12 engine alongside the traditional inline-six. Not only it introduced the DB series to a new level of performance, but it also started a new trend for Aston Martin, with almost all of its cars since them featuring V-12 engines. The 5.9-liter V-12 came with 414 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque on tap at launch in 1999.
|Production years:||1999 - 2004|
Read our full review on the 1999 Aston Martin DB7
The first production supercar from Modena-based Pagani, the Zonda debuted in 1999 with the 6.0-liter V-12 engine borrowed from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. But Pagani quickly upgraded the supercar to the AMG-modified version of the mill, a race-spec, 6.9-liter version with notably more power. By 2010, when the last Zonda left the assembly line, the engine was capable of 669 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque. In 2017, the unique Zonda HP Barchetta showed up with a whopping 789 horses and 627 pound-feet. The Zonda was proof that Ferrari and Lamborghini weren’t the only companies capable of designing V-12 engines with insane power ratings. The Zonda was replaced by Huayra, which features an evolution of the same V-12 mill.
|Production years:||1999 - 2010|
Read our full review on the 1999 Pagani Zonda