Top 20 Best Sounding V12 Cars
This was going to have the snappy title “The 12 best V12s!” but Road and Track has a list of 14. Screw you R&T; we’re going to 20! Twelve cylinders is a lot to pack into a cramped, modern vehicle. Manufacturers still use them for one reason: they kick ass. Whether V12 or flat-12, the firing order makes them sound more refined than a rough V8 or raspy V10. A 12 cylinder under power sounds like an old Spitfire or Mustang flying off to punch Hitler in the face. The following vehicles sound great, so let’s take a listen.
The McLaren F1 has been eclipsed in power, performance, and price, but it will always remain one of the very best cars ever built. A BMW-sourced 6.1L making 627 hp in a car weighing 2,500 lbs is an incredible thing, even if it looks like crap. Fortunately, the F1 looks every bit as good as it goes, and sounds.
After Ferrari got tired of the Ford GT stealing their glory, they developed a new race car for Le Mans prototype class. The 5.0L flat 12 is nowhere close to road legal, but should be, as it sounds nasty. This is what modern racecars should sound like. I want this as my alarm clock.
The Ferrari Enzo is cool, but even better when made over by the guys at Maserati. Taking the Enzo chassis and 6.0L V12, the MC12 received a longer, more aerodynamic body, and n00b-friendly suspension. The end result looks pretty outlandish, but sounds great. This video is of the track-only version, but the street car is almost as wild.
The MS11 is a tiny and scary reminder of late ‘60s Formula 1. Tiny, as this car is less than half the weight of the McLaren F1, and barely fits the driver. Scary, as they basically sat on a 3.0L V12, just a few inches from their huge brass ones. Listen to this classic ‘70s engine porn.
Take the already awesome Ferrari Enzo and make it a track only testbed. That was the idea behind the FXX, and it accidentally created a better car. Take the Enzo, add 150 hp, pull out 200 lbs, and let rich people lease it only on a track. While it wasn’t the best value ever, the lessons learned from the program did help create the LaFerrari.
Aston Martin Zagato
Aston Martin loves a special edition more than most manufacturers, so to celebrate the anniversary of the old Zagato model, they released a limited run of Vantage Zagato models. Sporting a 6.0L 510 hp V12, it can certainly move, and sounds killer on the track or through the streets of Milan.
Since about the time the Gallardo hit the streets, Lambo has been going insane on concept cars and one-off specialty supercars. The Veneno is an Aventador-based car, with a 6.5L making well north of 700hp. For such a wild looking car, it has a livable idle. It’s an angry racecar with tons of power, but the V12 layout makes it seem rather smooth compared to a similar size/power V8.
Ferrari 275 GTB
This was grand touring in the ‘60s. The beautiful and limited production 275 has a 3.3L V12 that sounds like nothing else. A bit of clatter at idle, but once under power, it sounds exactly like what you expect a race car to sound like, as if Hollywood used the 275 exhaust note for all their generic racecar movies. And I’m okay with that.
I’ll be the first to admit: I don’t love the F12berlinetta. It looks a bit like Ferrari doesn’t know where to take the grand tourer, so the let the design go stale. Still, the engine is brilliant, one of Ward’s 10 Best, and lauded by everyone from Clarkson to Consumer Reports. The 6.3L makes and impressive 730 hp, and sounds remarkably good doing it.
The ridiculously expensive Pagani Zonda and Huayra are most likely worth every cent. The Italian masterpieces are hand built, including the AMG V12s of various displacement, between 6.0 and 7.3 liters. Horsepower on the early cars was mid-500 range, while the later cars were mid-700. In a car as light as a Zonda, that really moves. The AMGs sound great too.
Yeah, most of the E-Types had the smooth and respectable inline six, but the enthusiasts Jag is one with a V12. The 5.3 liter wasn’t known for big block levels of acceleration, but by the time Jag actually got around to putting the V12 in their car, the big blocks were disappearing. 272 hp isn’t bad at all, in an era when the Corvette dipped below 200 hp. Plus, for classy British backroads driving, it’s hard to beat that intoxicating sound.
The 1990s 8 series was available with a perfectly adequate V8, but if you wanted 300+ hp in your big, badass BMW coupe, you needed the V12. The range topping model was built during all of the ‘90s and was seriously expensive back in the day, but depreciated worse than day old coffee, making it a steal on the used market. It has German smoothness, but with an angry edge, and a fat torque curve. It may be as reliable as Dodge’s automatic transmissions, but it’s easy to repair and one of the cheapest ways to get into a V12.
Sure, it’s not stuffed in the back of some supercar, but the Toyota 1GZ-FE sounds great. You’ve likely never seen one in-person unless you’ve been to Tokyo, as Japan does not export the large and luxurious Century. Too bad too, as its 300-ish horsepower sounds great, and would be incredible in a top trim Avalon.
Mercedes CLK GTR AMG
Mercedes was aiming for the FIA GT championship by the mid-90s, and the CLK GTR was the result. The race car delivered a 6.0L V12 per spec rules, and sounded great. The class wrapped up in ’99 just when things were going great, and MB gave FIA the middle finger and made 25 road cars, with a 6.9L making 603 hp. THIS is why Mercedes needs to build more high-end sports cars.
Like I said, this is open to more than just V configuration 12 cylinders. One of my favorite cars ever happens to also make one of the best sounds out there. The 4.9L flat 12 packed 390 hp into the rear, making it the peak of ‘80s cool. Just ask Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. The Testarossa certainly isn’t the fastest car on this list, but it still looks and sounds incredible.
Posters of this car littered kids’ bedrooms from the late ‘70s into the early ‘90s. Its looks and performance arguably formed more gearheads than any other single production vehicle. Horsepower varied over the decade and a half the Countach was produced, starting with a 370 hp 4.0 liter, and improving to 455 hp by 1985. No matter the version, every Countach sounds amazing.
Formula 1 V12 era, Ferrari 3.0L
Formula 1 cars are more capable than they have ever been, using expensive tech to push the driver’s limits. While the current cars run six bangers that sound like turbo chainsaws, the V12 era delivered great performance and engine sound.
Race cars were brutal in the 1970s. The 917 was the last of the big and hairy racers in 1971, as the rules would cut displacement nearly in half the next year. Porsche dominated Le Mans with a 600+ hp 5 liter V12, sitting under the slippery bodywork. It went like hell and sounded amazing doing it, and the 917 is still a legend today.
Falconer Racing Engines (formerly Aircraft Engines) makes the most badass crate motors. Rather than your typical Chevy 350 crate, Falconer produces a range or racing engines for your completely custom build, including a V12 option. With no options, it makes 640 hp. That’s before the twin superchargers or quad turbos….
The Ferrari F50 isn’t as well loved as its predecessor the F40, even though the F50 has 4 more cylinders and 35 more ponies. However, its mix of ‘80s lines and ‘90s curves just wasn’t a crowd pleaser. Still, this 4.7 liter puts out an aural punch every bit equivalent to its power and torque levels. It sounds like Ferrari’s top dog should.
Keep in mind, this list of the best sounding 12 cylinder engines is in no particular order, so feel free to let us know your favorite or if there are any other good ones we left out.
Image Credit: CATS Exotics