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V12 Countdown: 5 Of The Most Powerful, Most Important 12-Cylinder Performance Engines Ever Built

V12 engines have long been seen as the apex of performance and smooth operation. These well-balanced, torque-friendly designs hail primarily from Europe, where the long hoods of classic sports cars were easily able to swallow the plus-size proportions of 12-cylinder engine blocks.

Which of these motors have been the most powerful, and most important, to their respective manufacturers? We count down 5 of the best V12 engines ever built.

Mercedes-Benz AMG M120 V12

What Was It?

The first V12 ever built for Mercedes-Benz passenger cars.

What Vehicles Was It Found In?

1991-2001 S-Class coupes and sedans, SL-Class roadster, Pagani Zonda supercar.

Why Was It Important?

Mercedes-Benz needed to match BMW's 12-cylinder engine to keep up with the German Joneses, so to speak, and so when the W140 S-Class debuted in the early '90s it brought with it a 6.0L V12 that was good for around 400hp.

SL 73 V12

The most exciting version of this engine, however, was a special 7.3L unit that was developed to be used in the Pagani Zonda range of supercars. AMG engineers managed to massage the V12 up to 678hp and 575 lb-ft of torque before handing it over to Pagani.

Pagani Zonda

The automaker also squeezed the engine under the hood of the SL 73 AMG roadster, of which only 85 examples were every produced (and where it made 525 horses and 553 lb-ft of twist).

SL 73 AMG rear view

It remains the largest engine ever built by Mercedes-Benz for the street (and it's much more common in a Pagani, which had three times the production numbers of the SL 73).

BMW S70/2 V12

What Was It?

BMW's most advanced '90s-era engine.

What Vehicle Was It Found In?

The McClaren F1 supercar.

Why Was It Important?

BMW had made a splash with its M70 and S70 V12s, which joined together two of its smooth-running inline six-cylinder engines to create a 5.0L unit that was used in the 7 Series and the 8 Series.

S70/2 V12

When McLaren came calling in the early '80s (after being rebuffed by Honda) in search of a motor for the upcoming F1 exotic, BMW used the S70 as its starting point.

McLaren F1 trio

Almost everything about the motor was upgraded: highlights included a shift to a dry sump oiling system, magnesium cam carriers and covers, variable-valve timing, and entirely new heads that moved to four valves per cylinder.

McLaren F1 cutaway

Power jumped from 380hp to a whopping 618, which was more than even McLaren's Gordon Murray had asked for, and torque hovered around the 480 lb-ft mark. Even today, this 30 year old motor still commands respect from a performance perspective.

Ferrari Colombo V12

What Was It?

Ferrari's first V12 design, which would last it nearly four decades.

What Vehicles Was It Found In?

The Ferrari 125, 166, 195, 212, 250, 365, 400, and 412 would all offer a version of the Colombo.

Why Was It Important?

Designed by Gioacchino Colombo, this was the first engine Ferrari ever built in-house. Originally, it was found in a 1.5L version that would be supercharged for use in the company's original Formula One car in 1948, while also pulling street duty in the Ferrari 125.

Ferrari Colombo V12

Better known is the 250, which provided motivation for the original Testa Rossa race cars as well as the 250 GTO, which would become huge parts of the Ferrari legend.

Ferrari 250 GTO

Further editions of the Colombo would be made available in the 365 Daytona, with the final V12 finding a home in the 412i coupe that was built until 1988.

Lamborghini L539 V12

What Was It?

The first all-new Lamborghini engine in nearly 50 years.

What Vehicle Was It Found In?

The Aventador LP700-4 and various sub-models.

Why Was It Important?

Lamborghini Aventador V12 L539

Lamborghini introduced its first V12 in 1963 and then spent the next few decades evolving it through a succession of iconic cars, including the Countach, the Diablo, and the Miura.

Lamborghini Aventador

By 2011, it was clear that a replacement was in order, and so debuted the L539 in the Aventador LP700. Capable of just under 700hp in its initial tune, the 6.5L mill would eventually climb to 759hp in the SVJ LP770-4, and an eye-watering 770hp in the limited edition Centenario—all without the need for a single turbocharger.

Mercedes-Benz AMG M275/M279 V12

What Was It?

AMG's thunderous top-tier twin-turbo for much of the 2000s.

What Vehicles Was It Found In?

S-Class, SL-Class, CL-Class, and G-Class AMG models, as well as the Maybach line of sedans.

Why Was It Important?

In 2003, Mercedes-Benz decided it was going to stomp all over the luxury car set with a truly bonkers twin-turbo V12. At its outset, the unit was good for 510hp and 612 lb-ft of torque, making the 5.5L unit the mightiest option in the standard Benz stable.

SL65 Black V12

AMG would get its hands on the motor and punch it out to 6.0L, which would make for 603hp and an astonishing 738 lb-ft of torque across the board. Its ultimate evolution would be in the SL 65 AMG Black Series from 2008-2011, where larger turbos had it producing an exceptional 661hp and 885 lb-ft of torque.

SL 65 Black

In 2012, the M279 would debut, and it maintained many of the M275's characteristics while smoothing out performance and improving drivability.

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