What is a V12 Engine?

Good question. What exactly is a V12 engine? Basically it’s a V-engine that has 12 cylinders that are mounted in two banks of 6 cylinders each, but are not always sixty-degree angles to each other. These banks of six cylinders are mounted on the crankcase. There are 12 pistons that all drive a common crankshaft. A V12 engine gets a perfectly primary and secondary balance no matter what V angle is used and does not require balance shafts because each cylinder bank is essentially a straight six, which is inherently both a primary and secondary balance. A four-stroke 12-cylinder engine fires every sixty-degree of crankshaft rotation and has an even firing order. Basically the V12 engine with cylinder banks at multiples of sixty degrees, one hundred twenty degrees, or one hundred eights degrees. It will have even firing intervals without having to use split crankpins. So by using split crankpins or ignoring minor vibrations any V angle is possible for these engines. The one hundred eighty degree configuration is usually referred to as a flat twelve engine or more commonly as a boxer. In reality though, a one hundred eighty degree V can also be written as a V-12 because the pistons can and normally do use shared crankpins. We know, that was a very long, somewhat confusing and technical explanation of a V12 for those that might not be engine genius’s (we know we’re not). So what’s all the hype about? Why is it that these engines were used for years and years and years in some of our favorite cars but are now being used less frequently? Let’s give you a quick list of some of the most famous V12 engines and the cars that have used them.

  • Ferrari F140 – the F140 has been one of the most popular V12’s even within the Ferrari community that hasn’t always used a V12. These V12’s have powered some of the best and most powerful cars that Ferrari has ever built. They have produced cars that have ranged between 650-horse power all the way up to 789-horse power thanks to these V12 engines. There may be one more model of Ferrari that’s going to come out with a V12 engine in it before they completely retired these engines for good.
  • The Mercedes-AMG 7.3 M120 is a giant version of the Mercedes M120 and was a go-to choice for people who wanted the Zonda, which apparently was a fancy little number that was the brainchild of Pagani Zonda. People really wanted these cars but most people could not afford it. This car was a more affordable way to get the Zonda noise and power that people loved so much without the price tag that came with it.
  • The Jaguar 6.0 V12 powered a huge range of cars during the production years of 1971-1997. The XJR-15 was basically a watered down race car and only 53 of them were every built. It had a sixty degree 6.0 V12 in it that gave it 450-horsepower but it sort of stole the thunder from the V6 XJ220 car, which was the car it was originally built for.
  • The Lamborghini V12 was introduced back in the 1960’s with the 350GT. It was actually their first production car and they used the V12 all the way up until their last Murcielago and then they replaced it with a new 12-pot like the ones found in the Aventador. Lamborghini’s sixty-degree V12 actually evolved. It started as a 270bhp unit 3.5 liter and then made it to a 6.5 liter that kicked out 661-horse power in the Murcielago LP-670SV.
  • The Ashton Martin V12 rounded their V12 engine up to 6.0 liters and displaced the 5935cc. It came from some pretty humble roots, when you consider that this engine basically just took two, Ford Duratec V6’s and combined them. Ashton Martin did what a lot of other car companies are doing and they retired their V12 engines in 2016. All versions coming out now have different variations of a turbocharge engine but no more V12.
  • The BMW S70/2 has a V12 and it has been their most famous engine to date, but it is not actually made by BMW, believe it or not. Instead the McLaren F1 powers it. It has displaced the 6.1 liters and now is a 12-pot that can easily push out 627-horsepower in the F1 and can go from 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds. It tops out at 240 miles per hour, which most other cars couldn’t surpass for years after it first came out.

So if all these awesome cars have had such success with V12 engines, why in the world are all the car companies getting away from these beastly engines? One could suppose that it all started with the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, which was enacted in 1975. Basically the long and short of what the enacted regulations meant was that all cars that are sold in the United States have to meet a specific fuel economy and all auto manufacturer’s need to comply to these averages. If the car companies do not meet these targets then they are penalized financially and it can be an extremely costly mistake. No body wants to get stuck paying these giant penalties. These standards apply to the overall fleet of vehicles that a manufacturer makes and not to individual cars. What that means for example, is that Porsche can still sell their high priced 918 cars and it will balance out with all of the other entry-level Porsche Boxsters that are sold that have a more modest 2.7L engine. So as long as the car companies average out their cars sold, they can still fall within compliance of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations.

Another reason that a lot of car manufacturers are moving away from the V12 engine is because of improved technology. We have come a long way when it comes to how we build our cars and how efficient they are. The regulations that have been enacted allow car companies to gradually change their vehicles to eventually phase out their older, less efficient cars and make room for newer, higher efficiency and better vehicles. Keep in mind that moving away from a V12 engine certainly does not mean reduced performance, it just means that the engine companies are moving towards are more efficient and better for the environment overall, type of engine- and that has to be a good thing, right? American muscle car lovers have not been fans of displacement but technological advancements have made up for the loss in displacement. The new engines, even with the displacement, will blow away the old muscle car engines. Promise. Cars that are more efficient are the way to the future. We want to do better, be better and create better. There will be more force induction through superchargers and turbochargers, and probably fewer cylinders but it’s not all bad.

There are even more reasons that carmakers are moving away from V12’s. Sure, some of them are totally related to efficiency and power, some are related to economy, some are related to both. But the fact remains, V12 are notoriously complex engines. They have a lot more moving parts than some of their counterparts like the V8. Less moving parts will always mean more efficiency, which usually equates to more power for less money. The less moving parts we can have to worry about, the better. Here are a few more things to consider about V12 engines:

  • You have got to consider the size of these engines. Bigger engines always-equal bigger mass. Even with all of the advanced techniques we have and special alloys that make engines stronger and lighter if you considered all the engines on the market as being equal in all other aspects, the bigger engines get the disadvantage. Longer engines add weight because they require longer crankshafts. There is a huge difference in weight between V12 engines and the more standard V8 engine.
  • There is widespread use of force-induction technologies which has helped get rid of turbo lag, unwanted surges of power, stress on the engines, and has allowed people to get the same amount of power from smaller displacements.
  • Volumetric efficiency, which is basically performance per fuel consumption, is another consideration. With a smaller engine, you will use less fuel, which is always a positive during those times when gas prices are on the rise or ridiculously high. Even better, you are using less gas but not sacrificing much else because of forced induction.
  • Bigger engines have heavy moving parts that turn, spin, move and add to the engines mass and makes the whole engine harder to balance. It takes more energy to move the moving parts and even more energy to change their moving direction. It is called reciprocating mass and it causes a serious bottleneck in the engine when there are multiple parts trying to do multiple things at once. With all these moving parts trying to move and spin and turn and do everything they are doing all at once, your engine efficiency diminishes as the mass that needs to be moved increases. The way the engine is designed plays a huge part in how well your vehicle runs. When there are too many variables at play at once- it is complicated, inefficient, and adds more stress on your engine than necessary.
  • It is also very costly to produce bigger engines. At some point you have to try to figure out how to keep an engine both cost effective without sacrificing too much of the engines features. Bigger engines require more material, they also have to be built in smaller batches and can not be mass-produced as easily as all the smaller engines can be. The engine, particularly the bigger ones are also going to take a beating, because let’s be honest, these engines mostly go in race cars and sports cars that hit the roads and go crazy fast. Those that purchase these cars aren’t usually in it just for the opportunity to take a nice Sunday ride. No, these guys want to see what kind of speed and power these things have. People are trying to achieve more power by keeping the reciprocation mass as low as possible while still lowing high revolutions, the linear distribution of power through a rev range costs more money as well. Keep in mind; you can always take a smaller engine that performs almost as well for less money.
  • These engines are also very much in their own niche market and the supply and demand for them is down. Research and development cost have become more costly and most V12s are just doubled V6’s anyway but the power does not double as one might imagine. You can not keep the cost down, balance the engine to perform properly, give it maximum efficiency and not over-complicate things without it becoming a total engineering nightmare that is probably near impossible.
  • Most engines already have enough power. We need to spend less time worrying about more power, and more time working on vehicle dynamics. If we have enough power, then we can make the necessary tweaks to cost, drag coefficient and the efficiency issues that are correlated with that. We need to focus on improved handling, better technology, and reduced weight, lower center of gravity, which will help handling, aerodynamics, tire technologies and suspension.
  • We can also improve safety measures with better and more advanced passive computerized technologies. All of these things make for a good case on why we should be less worried about how many pistons an engine has or how much power it has and instead we should be focusing on some of the above points.
  • We also do have to take into consideration customer preferences when it comes to engine size, power, and design. If we looked at the entire world economy, there are very few people that can actually afford engines this size. It further validates the point that moving to more efficient and smaller engines is a good move. Even the Aston Martin which some would say was the sexiest car on the market and would have a heavy consumer base of people that wanted to buy one; saw a significant decline in sales for their large displacement and more expensive model. On the other hand the smaller and less costly V8 engine has had a rise of 8% for the same time period (2012). AG, BMW, VW and many other car manufacturers are all putting their time, focus, energy and money into smaller displacements, weight savings, and electric cars. They are all moving away from the larger V12 and V10 engines in favor of something else.
  • There’s also another big reason that carmakers are moving away from larger engines and that’s emissions regulations. The European Commission agreed on the ACEA agreement in 1998, which sought to significantly lower emissions for all passenger vehicles that were sold in the EU. The EU is one of the biggest markets for the auto industry and so the car manufacturers were obviously not going to ignore the regulations and not comply. If they did that, they would be penalized and would lose out on a massive number of their sales. It didn’t take long though for the manufacturers to just lower emissions across the board regardless of which country they were shipping their car to. Even in the top end luxury segments of these companies, they improved emissions. The United States and China also adopted similar emissions regulations like the EU did.
  • The norms for what regulations require are getting more stringent. It used to be that a car company could manufacture a whole slew of lower end, smaller engine cars that out vastly outsell their luxury lines and they could skate by with regulations. That’s not the case anymore. Now, car companies have to even sacrifice the luxury car line in order to comply with regulations that will penalize them if they don’t. As we’ve stated before, it’s a very costly and expensive fine to not comply. That’s why you see the luxury lines now gravitating towards the V8 engines instead of the larger V12 engines.

Anyone who is a serious car enthusiast has been slightly (or even more than slightly) sad to see the V12 wane in popularity and not get used very much any more. The V12 gave car enthusiasts something special that they couldn’t get with their regular V8’s or V6 engines. They love the sound, they love the rev, they just love everything about them even if they are big, bulky, less efficiently, more costly and complex. But, that being said, fewer emissions and more efficiency and less cost are all positive things. So hopefully it’s a win-win and those that are dying about the replacement of the V12 engines can get some pretty, glossy, fancy posters to hang up in their shops to remind them of what they are missing.