By on August 8, 2012

“The V12 engine is a thing of the past. The engine belongs in a museum.”

Those are the words of Antony Sheriff, managing director of McLaren, who spoke to a Dutch publication regarding the future of its supercars. The new Mclaren MP4-12C, with its compact, turbocharged V8, is an impressive machine, but Sheriff may be exaggerating the demise of exotic, multi-cylindered engines.

In a sense, Sheriff is right; the glory days of the V12 are over. There will likely never again be an era where a V12 is casually stuck under the hood of, say, a Jaguar XJ. If anything, we are in a period of downsizing where something with half the number of cylinders is the more likely option.

That’s not to say that the V12 will go the way of the straight-8 or other obscure, exotic engines; it’s far too entrenched in the landscape of the automotive world to ever fade away. Can you really imagine something like a Pagani or a front-engined Ferrari without a V12?

In the 1970’s, the “quartz revolution” came and nearly wiped out mechanical watches. These little circuit-board time pieces were cheaper, more accurate, never needed cleaning or servicing. In every objective sense, they were superior. A mechanical movement was thought to be an arcane bit of craftsmanship destined for the dustbin of human achievement. Yet they endured, carrying on slowly, to the point where a few decades later, a fairly small but dedicated market is thriving for them, in high-end timepieces that most people give zero consideration to, whether they cost $100 or $100,000.

I think this is what will ultimately happen to the V10s, V12s and perhaps, even V8s. Most people will have no use for them. They will be regarded as symbols of profligacy and frivolity. But they will endure and be cherished by a select few.

It’s either that or a hologram…

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30 Comments on “QOTD: Is The V12 Really Dead?...”

  • avatar

    Interesting the juxtaposition between appreciation for these power plants with an appreciation for fine timepieces.

    I certainly could fall into this category with my dozen or so mechanical timepieces. There’s something about the attention to detail and craftsmanship which I find special in them.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      It also fits in with the idea of craftsmanship and human effort regarding fine details.

      The other way the analogy is apt is by equating accuracy in time keeping with the fuel/resource efficiency of car motors.

  • avatar

    V12 engines of cars are the Class A of amplifiers; the heavy bracing of turntables; the oilskins of raincoats; the tourbillon of watches. All were invented to solve a serious technical performance issue of that time.

    Now that they’re at the end of their product life cycles, they’re being sold (quite profitably I might add) because of their aura of exclusivity, workmanship, and pedigree, even though newer product classes (balance shaft and active engine mounts and resonators, Class A/B and D, lossless compression codecs, Gore-Tex, quartz movements) do it as well or better.

    • 0 avatar

      … the legs of coffee tables…

    • 0 avatar

      “Better” is relative. I choose to wear the skeleton movement automatic on my hand despite a plethora of more to the ms accurate quartz pieces because in the middle of a meeting, or during a slow part of the day, or even just while eating lunch, I can look at it and find something else I haven’t noticed before (and I’ve been looking for years.)

      A Casio or Honda is a perfectly serviceable tool that performs a particular job rather well. A Tag or a big Aston does more than that – it is just unfortunate that because they are expensive, people who have no appreciation of the work that goes into them buy them to look expensive themselves (rather conversely rendering themselves cheap.)

      • 0 avatar

        I think this every single day. My love in life is cars and watches. I wear an expensive watch that I like, and drive a cheap car that I like. The car is worth less. When people see the watch they can’t understand why I drive a cheap car – I get comments about it ruining my image. I see it as showing that I’m secure in myself, but not deliberately so. It just happens to be a good car that I’ve owned for years and I like.

    • 0 avatar

      @WaftableTorque: You should check out a 41hz AMP-6!

      Tripath-based chip-amps are Amazing.

  • avatar

    The V12 has more parts, is more expensive to fix and is typically heavier than a V8. Back in the day, many people equated the size of the engine with luxury. The italians refuse to build big Murcielagos without a V12 engine.

    I think as technology improves and fuel prices remain too high the V12 and V8 will continue to find more limited use. What’s the point of a V12 when you can get perfectly good power out of a forced induction V8 or V6?

    • 0 avatar

      I really think forced induction V6s are the sweet spot. Maybe even the new “big blocks”.

      • 0 avatar

        My uncle and I build Ford Capris using parts from Australia and crate V6 motors. He adds Turbochargers and helps me add superchargers to my own car.

        He SWEARS by V6’s.

        #1 low mass
        #2 easy to repair.
        #3 you can crank out tremendous power in small cars.

        Forced induction 4 cylinders aren’t bad either, but the v6 tends to be better in a small car.

  • avatar

    V8s and V12s sound right. Nothing else does.

  • avatar

    What really killed the V-12 is combustion efficiency. They’ve gotten so good at the physics that we’re using swept cylinder volumes that were unfeasible in the past. The 458 makes more horsepower than the 512M with four less cylinders and less displacement.

    The classic advantage of the V-12 was that you could rev higher than with lesser cylinders because the mess of each cylinder head was less and because it was easier to control the flame propagation compared to an engine with a larger cylinder volume. All that’s sort of hit the glass ceiling… a v-18 can hit 9000 today in street trim. I’d love to see a road car with a 10,000rpm ceiling, but something tells me it’s not happening.

    I have a wild dream that a certain maker of liter bikes would take the parts from 3 motorcycle engines, recast a new block and make some new cam shaft assemblies to produce a 3 liter v-12 road engine…. like the E-type engine reborn again, no 7 liter monstrosity needed.

    > …yet they endured, carrying on slowly, to the point where a few decades later, a fairly small but dedicated market is thriving for them, in high-end timepieces that most people give zero consideration to, whether they cost $100 or $100,000.

    Kind of an apt metaphor… despite loving watches, I lost interest in the current watch market a number of years ago when everything started becoming big oversized and gauche. I feel that’s the way the high end car market is going now, and it’s just an ostentatious arms-race at the top.

  • avatar

    The V12 isn’t dead quite yet, but it’s reserved for only the most ostentatious vehicles.

  • avatar

    Easy for McLaren to say, considering they don’t sell a V12 car.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, but McLaren used to use a V-12 in the F1 (and yes, I know that BMW designed it for them; that’s not the point).

      Today, McLaren is developing a successor to the F1 to slot in above the MP4-12C, and it won’t have a V-12. It will have a turbo V-8. That tells us something. The Koenigsegg Agera, one of the most powerful cars in the world, has a V-8. If cars like these can do well with V-8s, are V-12s likely to persist on the broader market? I’m not sure.

      • 0 avatar

        And when McLaren was building the aspro-engined F1, they were adamant that forced induction was crap compared to a properly designed aspro motor. McLaren in general, and Gordon Murray in particular, seem to be convinced that whatever they think is the most important priority automatically renders other peoples’ priorities inferior. Which makes it especially hilarious when they switch sides.

      • 0 avatar

        Why is that hilarious?

        There are certain fields of endeavor where you need self-confidence that borders on outright arrogance. If you don’t believe your way of doing things is better than the other guys’, then it might be time to get out of that line of business.

  • avatar

    Nice comparo between v12 and mechanical watches!

  • avatar

    V12s are always in balance so they don’t need the balance shafts or counterweights the other layouts need once displacement goes up. That would come in handy when luxury manufactuers try to pass the SAE standard champagne glass pyramid test.

    Also, as a Yakuza henchman, I find the low NVH helps my aim when firing from the sunroof of my 1GZ equipped Toyota Century.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    My Cadillac Revival plan is based on building a V12 Fleetwood and a V12 Sedan DeVille. No more Beemer wannabes. Real luxury cars. Not cheap, not for the middle class.

  • avatar

    In the world of supercars V12’s will always have a place (some people like bigger…, even if a quad-charged I6 could outperform it in everyway, as long as people are willing to pay $6-7 figures for cars V12’s or W-16’s will be offered (at that price point, fuel economy and everything else fall out the window.)

  • avatar

    The V12 will be around for a long time. Not because of more power with smaller displacement, but because of its smoothness.

  • avatar

    The Veyron needs a W16 to produce enough power to maintain speeds above 250mph. The V12 is in cars that do ridiculous speeds roughly 99.9999% of us will never do in a car.

    The V10 and V12 shouldn’t exist beyond the exotic car market and the V8 is quickly being phased out of the luxury car market. Either of these engines is fine for trucks though, but Ford’s proved you don’t need anything larger than a v8 unless it’s a diesel.

  • avatar

    All the more reason to have one. The trend toward turbo/supercharged four and six cylinders or smaller is hardly parallel to the mechanical/quartz or digital watch comparison. We’ve had trends like this before, and when a manufacturer needs to set itself apart or compete with another the number of cylinders will increase once more.

    • 0 avatar

      Ohhh… Bob Lutz you crafty bastard posting under the nom de plume panzerfaust!

      Seriously though, panzer you have a point, I can remember my old shop teacher proselytizing over 1.6 liter turbo I4s relegating V8s to the trash bin of history. Then again so did everybody else come to think of it ( back in the 80s) and here we are with 660 horsepower Mustangs and 580 horsepower Camaros that the average guy can buy even in the age of gasoline that dangerously fiddles with five bucks a gallon when our commodity trader overseers feel their wallets lighten the smallest bit,

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