The Ultimate Engine

The V12 remains the greatest of all internal combustion engines.

The Ultimate Engine

As the internal combustion engine apparently enters the autumn of its long life – as the world transitions to electric power – so it’s worth paying tribute to the greatest of all configurations: the V12.

Historically the ultimate engine for sports cars and luxury cars, winner of numerous F1 and sports car races, the V12 today remains the greatest powertrain for top-end cars. It is still Ferrari’s flagship engine, powering the latest Purosangue, 812 Superfast and the Icona series (Ferrari Daytona SP3 and Monza SP1/SP2).

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Ferrari have spent 75 years mastering the most iconic internal combustion engine of them all: the V12

A V12 gives inherent advantages over engines with fewer cylinders. It is wonderfully smooth (its primary balance is perfect, especially with the 60-deg angle historically favoured by Ferrari), it can rev high, is powerful, has a superb soundtrack, has very smooth power delivery and is invariably exhilarating to drive. Little wonder that Enzo Ferrari was an advocate and that Ferrari’s early cars were all V12s. Its key disadvantage – complexity ¬– just added to the engineering challenge. And cost, the other significant problem, has never been an issue for Ferrari.

No car maker is more famous for its V12s than Ferrari. It did not invent the V12. The configuration was first used in racing boats in the early 20th century. In the ‘30s, V12s were used in luxury cars made by Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza, Lincoln and Cadillac, top-end car makers attracted by the engine’s inherent smoothness and refinement. Mercedes and Auto Union used V12s in pre-war GP racing, as did Alfa Romeo. However, the engines played little part in post-war sports car racing until Ferrari proved the format’s potential with its first car, the 125 S of 1947. It was soon winning motor races against machines with much bigger capacities.

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With the 125 S, the first true Prancing Horse, Ferrari demonstrated to the world the winning potential of the V12 engine

In 1949, a Ferrari 166 MM won Le Mans. With its 2.0-litre V12, it had the smallest capacity and the greatest number of cylinders of any Le Mans 24-hour winner. It was also the first V12 to win the French classic.

In 1951, Ferrari’s victory in the British GP (its first world championship win) was also the first Formula One win by a V12 engine. The first-ever world sports car championship (in 1953) was won by V12-powered Ferraris (the 340 MM and 375 MM).

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Today’s V12 incarnation powers the Monza SP1/SP2, the Ferrari Daytona SP3 and of course the mighty 812 Superfast

The first V12 Ferrari engine was designed, under Enzo Ferrari’s watch, by Gioachino Colombo, formerly of Alfa Romeo. At just under 1.5 litres, it would become the smallest V12 engine ever made. Yet with significant revisions, this venerable V12 would continue to power Ferraris until 1989 – when capacity reached 4.9 litres.

The V12’s versatility meant it was perfect for F1, sports car racing and Ferrari’s top road going sports cars (the classic 1962 250 GTO, now most valuable of all Ferraris, used a 3.0-litre Colombo V12; the 1968 365 GTB4 Daytona used a 4.4-litre version.). Its refinement and effortless power also made it ideal for less overtly sporty Ferraris, including Grand Tourers and Cabriolets.

The latest V12 engine family, known as the F140, debuted in the Enzo limited edition supercar in 2002. It was the world’s most powerful naturally aspirated engine.

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The 6.5 Litre V12 housed at the front of the Purosangue ensures its status as a pure Ferrari thoroughbred

Today, the same engine – but in a different state of tune – powers the 812 Superfast, 812 GTS, 812 Competizione and its spider version, the Icona series and the Purosangue. For Ferrari’s new crossover-style four-wheel drive four-seater, the V12 was chosen for its power (at 725 cv, the most powerful car in the segment), its soundtrack, its driving exhilaration and its smoothness. For the same reasons, in fact, that Ferrari has championed V12s since the birth of the company.

Report by Gavin Green for
Video by Rowan Jacobs

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