When Ferruccio Lamborghini commissioned a new V12 for his startup in 1963, few could have guessed that the resulting engine would remain in service until 2010. Now that 1–12–4–9–2–11-6–7–3–10–5–8 is the new 1–7–4–10–2–8–6–12–3–9–5–11, let’s take a look back.
A quite remarkable testament to the longevity of the Giotto Bizzarrini-designed engine is the fact that Lamborghini was taken over by the Volkswagen Group a full 12 years ago. Yet instead of retiring the then-35-year-old engine, they went on to launch the Diablo’s successor with it—and it did serve the Murciélago well to the tune of 4099 cars sold, a rather high number for quarter-million-dollar supercars.
The Lamborghini V12 is a milestone in the most fecund decade of Giotto Bizzarrini, created two years after the Tuscan engineer departed Ferrari, where his last project
had been the 250 GTO. For an engine designed half a century ago for a then completely obsure Italian company, there are many stories about its inception. Legend has it that Bizzarrini was paid by the horsepower, that his prototype thus revved to 11,000 rpm to produce close to 400 hp, and that to do so, it was derived from an early Honda design for Formula One. What’s certain is that after the dichotomy between Bizzarrini’s vision for race cars and Lamborghini’s plan for grand tourers was settled, what emerged was an aluminum 3.5-liter double overhead camshaft V12, good for 280 hp at 6,500 rpm.
Pictured here is the one that powers the very first Lamborghini sold to a customer, the 350 GT owned by the gentleman in the white coat:
The V12 would remain to power all of Lamborghini’s non-V8-or-V10 through their turbulent history: the 350 GT, the 400 GT, the Miura, the Islero, the Espada, the Jarama, the Countach, the LM002, the Diablo, the Murciélago, and the Reventón. Over the decades, the engine gained fuel injection and 3.2 more liters of displacement until it ended up in the monstrous engine bay of the LP 670–4 SuperVeloce, the last iteration of the Murciélago.
Not many engines have stuck around for such a long time, with the notable exception of the Chevrolet small block. But then supercars should be about progress through technology, not museum displays of the high points of ‘60s engineering. While I won’t be removing the Dymo strip stuck to my computer that shows the firing order of the Bizzarrini V12—1–7–4–10–2–8–6–12–3–9–5–11—I can’t wait to hear for real the new engine producing those 700 hp at 8,250 rpm. Should history repeat itself, I have until 2057 to do so.
Photo Credit: József Erdősi, Máté Petrány and the author