Some of the coolest cars of all time have V12-engines, and we thought we’d pull together some highlights to show you a few of the best V12 engined cars, well in our book anyway.
It took a lot of discussion, whittling down and a lot arguing, but we’ve got it down to five legends. And here they are:
We had to start the V12 section off with the Miura, because it’s the car that invented the term ‘supercar’. And that’s not hyperbole, it’s a solid-gold fact: this was the first supercar, the original, the don, the daddy.
What’s curious is that the design process was significantly informed by the Mini. That may sound crazy, but the bods at Lamborghini were fascinated by the little Mini – that’s why the Miura has a transverse engine with its gearbox in the sump, they brazenly stole the idea.
The Miura was so much more than that, of course. Those fluttering eyelashes, the sylph-like curves, the gentleman’s-club interior – it was a game-changing statement of what cars could be. And it was also a real slap in the face for Enzo Ferrari, who was still steadfastly refusing to build mid-engined road cars on the grounds that the public couldn’t deal with them. This car put Lamborghini on the map.
OK, the nose lifts at speed so you lose all the steering, and the carbs tend to spit fuel on the exhaust manifolds and set fire to the car, but just look at the thing. It’s so pretty, you could marry it.
The Toyota Century is one of our all-time favourite cars, and it’s one that a lot of you might not even have heard of.
Now, they’ve just released a new one of these, and the original Century came out in 1967, and these versions both have V8s – but the icon for us is the second-gen car with the 5.0-litre V12, sold between 1997-2016. If you’re a Japanese diplomat, or indeed the Emperor, this is what you get driven around in. No Rolls-Royces or Bentleys for them, the V12-powered Toyota Century is the ultimate statement of oriental opulence. It’s a sensible-looking three-box saloon with factory air-ride, plush wool-cloth interior, and every electronic gizmo you can think of. And it’s hella posh.
And just for fun – you know Top Secret, the iconic Japanese tuning house? They once built a Mk4 Supra with a V12 from a Century – it had 940bhp and a theoretical top speed of 250mph. Strewth.
Ferrari 250 GT SWB
The 250 GTO is very much the hero car of the genre, often cited as the most expensive car in the world. They’ve been known to change hands for over £40m – and that’s if they ever come up for sale. Only 39 were built, and they’re jealously guarded.
But we’ve chosen its short-wheelbase stablemate here, the 250 GT SWB. Why? Because, aside from the aforementioned Miura, it’s quite possibly the most beautiful car ever built. Plus it arguably handles better than the GTO (so we’re told!) – it may not be quite as rare, but there were still only ever 176 of them.
The Colombo ‘Tipo 125’ 3.0-litre V12 kicked out a meaty 300bhp, which was spaceship stuff in 1959, and these thundering battlers are still taking names on the historic race scene to this day. And just look at it! It’s sensational!
Lister Jaguar XJ-S
We’ve got a real soft spot for the XJ-S, because it’s a proper underdog. Honestly, how the hell were they supposed to replace the E-Type – the car that Enzo Ferrari himself said was the most beautiful car ever created? It was always going to be a tough gig, and the XJ-S got a lukewarm reception at best when Jaguar shoved it into the limelight like a frightened lamb and said ‘Look, we’ve done this’. People hated the flying buttresses. They though it had a weird face. But worst of all, it just wasn’t an E-Type.
Thankfully it sold in decent numbers though, and the crux of the matter is that 5.3-litre V12 – it had debuted in the Series III E-Type but, after five years, Jag repackaged it as the V12 HE, the letters standing for ‘High Efficiency’. This meant 295bhp, which was fun, plus better economy, which meant people would actually buy it.
But… that wasn’t enough for Lister. They enlarged the engine to 7.0-litres, threw in Cosworth rods and forged pistons and some other stuff, and ended up with a 604bhp XJ-S that’d do 200mph. Yes, that actually happened.
Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR
It’s hard to describe the CLK GTR without drowning in superlatives and dissolving into a dribbling mess on the floor. It’s just… barking mad. See, the road-going CLK was a mellow, sensible sort of mild sports car – not bad, but not tremendously exciting. But that has very little to do with the fire-snorting CLK GTR, which was a homologation special for the FIA GT Championship in 1997.
It’s basically a carbon fibre and aluminium honeycomb monocoque with ultralight double-wishbone suspension at either end, a 6.9-litre V12 in the middle, and some zany body panels draped over it that look like a seaside caricature of a CLK. It’s an absurd thing to have as a road car but, as required by FIA regs, they did build 26 of these things with number plates and tax discs. Which is nuts, as they’re full-on race cars.
How many bits of the regular CLK did it use? Just the grille, the headlights, and a couple of dials. The rest of it was a 200mph+ psycho. And we’re so happy that it exists – the world needs this kind of idiocy.
Check out our previous V-engine favourites in this series
Words Dan Bevis