Aside from a few vehicles that are exotic enough for 16 cylinders, 12 seems to be the magic number for the right power and sound that people expect from a high-performance engine. Often more soulful, wailing, and voluminous than V8s and V10s, through decades of success in racing, Italy—and Ferrari in particular—have laid claim to some of the best V12s ever built.
We’ve been lucky enough to film quite a number of them, too: here’s our playlist dedicated to the howl of an Italian V12 engine.
To date, one of our most highly-regarded films has been “The Ferrari 250 GTO Speaks for Itself”, focused around Derek Hill and—without a doubt—a V12-powered legend. On the top, the raw sound, driving-only Director’s Cut. On the bottom, the full feature.
When the Sunoco Ferrari 512 M first appeared at Daytona in 1971 it was a revelation. It had a dream team that included owner Roger Penske, chief mechanic John “Woody” Woodard, and drivers Mark Donohue and David Hobbs, and the car combined Ferrari’s pedigree with Penske’s legendary attention to detail in everything from his crew’s uniforms to the polished wheels.
This 512 M was the odds-on favorite every time the Penske team rolled it onto the starting grid. In a historic run of bum luck, however, the car never won a single race. Still sounds epic, though!
The Lamborghini Miura is a car that will never not look otherworldly. From its sinuous shape to its powerful and throaty V12, owners in period had little competition from other drivers once the throttle was cracked.
As its driver says, the car “sounds like you’re ripping sheets…” yeah, this Ferrari 312PB really does make an incredible racket.
If you’re going to build your own Ferrari, better install a V12 engine—just as the astoundingly talented Peter Giacobbi did to build his bare metal dream car.
The 625/250 TRC is the winningest Ferrari ever, and it’s probably because you’re looking at the only such car fitted with a V12 engine—the rest were four-cylinders. How successful was it? Well, it won the Grand Prix of Mexico and races in Laguna Seca, Salt Lake City, Riverside, Nassau, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, Pomona, Sacramento, and the list continues. Even after the car was sold in 1961, it continued winning into the 1962 season with Ken Miles at the helm! Imagine a top tier, five-year old race car winning today…
Perhaps the only thing more exhilarating than driving a V12-powered Ferrari would be if you were being chased by one—for a time in Italy, some speeders were so unlucky.
Twelve cylinder Ferraris make great grand tourers, which is why Matthew Lange, on the right, and Skip Barber, on the left, enjoy racking up the miles in theirs—a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 “Daytona” and 275 GTB, respectively.
Jack’s definitely an outlier, but just wait until you hear how many miles he’s put on his V12-powered Lamborghini 400GT.
Can a 12-cylinder car be art? Yes, it can—and this is one of the few cases where the car is as attractive stationary as it is in motion.
Still smarting from losing the Constructor’s International Sports Prototype Championship to Ford in 1965 and 1966—and, in 1966, watching a trio of Ford GT40s finish 1-2-3 at Le Mans—Enzo Ferrari turned to his chief engineer, Mauro Forghieri, with a simple instruction: win. In world then dominated by Carroll Shelby and Ford’s formidable 7-liter engines, this would be no easy undertaking.
When you hear this car’s 12-cylinder purposeful howl, just remember: it was the car that put Ferrari back on top.