Wednesday, 12 December 2012

12 Reasons 12 Is The Best Number

OK, so it's 12/12/12 today. Unless you write out the entire year, it's the last completely repetitive date of the millennium. So let's stick with the number 12, because when it comes to engines, it's probably the greatest number of them all. Here are 12 reasons why 12 cylinders gets 12 out of 10 from me. Twelve.

1 - Matra MS670 Le Mans

This is perhaps my favourite engine sound, an early-mid 1970s 3.0-litre, 450bhp V12 from French company Matra (back when France was still a major force in motor racing). The MS670 it sat in won Le Mans three times in a row between 1972 and '74. It also makes the kind of noise you just don't get from modern engines, even modern V12s.

2 - McLaren F1

(Skip to 4:07 if you just want engine noise)

The McLaren F1 is one of the top 5 greatest cars ever made, and many would argue that it still edges into the top 1. One of the many reasons for this is the BMW-sourced, gold-lined BMW 6.0-litre V12 that makes around 640bhp and propels it to a top speed (with a raised rev limiter) of 240mph. A long-standing record that has only been beaten by forced-induction cars (Koenigsegg CCR/CCX, Bugatti Veyron, etc.). So this is still the fastest-ever car with a naturally-aspirated engine. That will probably remain true for a very long time yet.

Either skip ahead to the business, or watch the whole video for an explanation of what it's like to drive and own.

3 - Ferrari

Of course, Ferrari have been championing the V12 engine since the 1960s, and never have they been lacking in the way of aural sex (if you'll excuse the racy pun). My personal favourite is quite possibly the 5.9-litre engine in the Enzo. There's something about deep-sounding 6- and 12-cylinder engines that just does it for me. It's very menacing while being far more interesting than some big V8. TVR Speed Sixes are a good example of a six-pot engine that has the same effect. After the Enzo and 599, the current-gen V12 just sounds a wee bit synthetic in comparison. Perhaps you prefer something a little more classical, though?

This isn't actually the best video for sound, but there's some pretty heroic driving in it!

4 - Aston Martin

Aside from the V8 Vantage, every Aston Martin since the Vanquish in 2001 has used the effectively the same engine, with various tweaks and updates along the way. It's a Ford-derived 6.0 V12 that has perhaps the most glorious sound of any road car. Frankly, in my books, the Vanquish was the best-sounding car for ten years, until the screaming Lexus LFA came along. If V10s or £300,000 Toyotas don't float your boat though, then revel in this British orchestra.

5 - Lamborghini

(unfortunately the original HD version of this appears to have been taken down...)

When it comes to supercars, though, nobody does exciting like Lamborghini. A whole range of theatrical sounds come out of that V12, developed from the original Miura right up until the above car, the 2010 Lamborghini MurciƩlago LP670-4 Super Veloce. Between those two cars, there was also this Countach, which sounds, well... like that.

The Aventador again sounds slightly less genuine than its forbears, but it is somewhat reminiscent of the McLaren F1...

6 - Pagani

Pagani may not be as historical as the other names on here, but in less than ten years since it started in 1999, they've managed to make themselves an established name in the supercar club with the Zonda, which for most of its life sported a whopping 7.3-litre made-by-AMG V12 engine making anything from 500-650bhp or more. The early '00s C12 S is deeper, whereas the subsequent Fs, Cinques and the astonishing Zonda R all had a higher singing range.

Sadly the 6.0-litre Huayra that replaced it this year is less operatic, being as it is muted by a pair of turbochargers. Perhaps the best blend of all the Paganis is the Zonda 760RS*, one of which was given a manual gearbox instead of the 7-speed sequential 'box and renamed "760LH" for a certain Formula 1 driver...

*your ears want you to skip to 7:52.

7 - Ferrari Formula 1

Speaking of F1 drivers, anyone my age will say that Formula 1 cars should have a 3.0 V10 equipped, and I tend to agree, because it's the sound I grew up with, but before the size and cylinder count was standardised, Ferrari ran a 3.5-litre V12, and it sounds like this. After pressing play, you will not need it explained.

What would a modern equivalent sound like? Perhaps a raspier, slightly higher-pitched version of the FXX and 599XX.

8 - Honda RA272

Long before Ferrari screamed in two or three different pitches at once, Honda made the RA272. In only their second year of existence they decided to take on Formula 1, using a 1.5-litre, water-cooled, horizontally-mounted V12 revving up to a then-unheard-of 14,000rpm. The innovative engine - a stressed member of the chassis - gave the RA271 and later 272 noticeably better acceleration than its rivals. After an unsuccessful opening bid, a year later in 1965 Richie Ginther drove a pole-to-flag victory at the Mexican Grand Prix to score the first ever win for a Japanese car. It also sounds great.

9 - Rolls-Royce Merlin

The following video contains sixteen Spitfires. The Merlin V12 was used in fighter planes and tanks, and pretty much saved our bacon in the 1940s.

10 - Auto Union Type D

To balance things up a bit, here's a dominant German machine. In 1930s Grand Prix racing, the "Silver Arrows" of Mercedes and Auto Union (now called Audi) dominated all.

11 - Jaguar XJ13

I almost forgot about this car, which I shouldn't have, what with how good it is in Gran Turismo 5. The 5.0-litre, Dual Over-Head Camshaft (DOHC) engine was mounted behind the cockpit for the first time in Jaguar's history, as they mounted a challenge on the Le Mans 24 Hours in the 1960s. Sadly, by the time the utterly gorgeous XJ13 was ready to go, it was already out of date compared to the Ferrari 330P3/4 and Ford GT40, so they canned it. Happily, the one car they did make still exists, and gets brought out for some fun once in a while. Yet more aural sex.

12 - Top Secret V12 Supra

I bet you can't tell me what the only ever rear-wheel-drive V12 car Japan has ever made is called. It's a Toyota, but not a Supra. It is in fact the second-generation Toyota Century! In that very Japanese-looking luxury car, the 5.0-litre engine is making a measly 280PS (276bhp) to conform to a now-defunct Gentleman's Agreement between Japanese car companies not to exceed that power figure. Well, not officially, anyway! A man called "Smokey Nagata", the boss of tuning company Top Secret, decided this engine needed to be put to better use, so he lifted it out of the sleepy limo and dropped it into a Mk.IV Supra. While the Supra's engine bay is designed for a straight-six, and is therefore long enough to accept a V12, the front end was reworked and, perhaps controversially, restyled. No matter, because when it's working you'll only see the back of it; the Top Secret Supra's V12 was, of course, heavily modified, now boasting twin turbochargers and 950 horsepower. Yeah, that should be a decent amount of power I think. The torque figure given in the above video is 100kgfm, which is 723lb/ft. This shove is enough to apparently reach a tremendous 420km/h, which is 261mph. Whether this is to be believed, who knows? It is nevertheless Japanese tuning's main contribution to V12s, and one hell of a bonkers car!

Here's another video of it revving up a bit. Like the Pagani Huayra, the twin blowers seem to have muted it a little...

So there. V12s are great. Long may they continue to survive against the urge from some car companies to replace them with smaller, turbocharged V8s or V10s. Happily, the long-serving masters of V12s, Ferrari and Lamborghini, are standing firm and saying that turbochargers and smaller engines in their flagship models will have to wait until at least next decade. Hurrah!

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