The time for these once celebrated engine building masterpieces is running out: the electric age is only playing the final chord for the monumental V12s. Be it Audi, BMW, Jaguar or VW: after 50 years, the twelve-cylinder has become a symbol of luxury and power.
In fact, local emission-free high-end electric cars like the Mercedes EQS, the BMW i7 or the upcoming all-electric Rolls-Royce should inspire the rich and powerful as visionary luxury limousines so that there is no room for sentimental feelings. say goodbye. On the other hand, not only tradition-conscious technology geeks know the fascination of twelve-cylinder engines that have been used in powerful luxury ships for exactly 50 years. Usually built as a V12, but also in a W12 layout from the VW group, these engines set performance standards in the most expensive vehicle class, surpassed only by sports hypercars.
Indeed, Europe’s first post-war twelve-cylinder sedan, the XJ12, designed by Jaguar boss Sir William Lyons himself and introduced in 1972, bore the title: “World’s Fastest Production Sedan”. From then on, the legendary “Queen Mum” of the British royal family preferred to travel with the Jaguar V12 or the parallel model Daimler Double Six.
It wasn’t long before the success of the English side attracted other premium players to the pitch with their superior fluidity and performance. BMW had a 5.0-liter V12 up its sleeve as early as 1974, but then the oil crises and changing markets required a postponement of plans for drinkable and emissions-friendly V12s. But in 1987 the time had come: with the 750i (E32), BMW began the race for the best prestige engine in the world, including the exhaust gas catalytic converter.
High-performance arms race in a global luxury championship
Almost 60 years after Maybach (1929) and Horch (1931) established the first twelve German spikes as the benchmark for majestic engines, experts attested that the Munich engine workers had developed “the most beautiful engine” in the world. modern age, as BMW proudly announced. With a 300-horsepower 5.0-liter V12, the BMW 750i / 750iL brought movement to the luxury class and sparked an unprecedented arms race in the global luxury championship.
“BMW surpasses all” headlined the specialized press after the first test drives, not only referring to the top speed of 250 km / h. Without reduction, 270 km / h would have been possible, but there were no suitable tires. Even more important was the prestige factor of the V12, which made the affluent clientele euphoric. Even before the premiere, BMW had counted over 3,000 blind orders for the flagship V12, which for the first time pushed the Mercedes S-Class out of the on-board parking lots, until the Swabians crowned their S-Class ( W140) in 1991 as 600 SEL. Its 6.0-liter V12 had 408 hp, a salute to Monaco, where 300 hp had to do.
However, the BMW 750i and 750iL weren’t just aimed at Mercedes S-Class buyers.Rather, the first twelve-cylinder with catalytic converter also successfully thwarted the V12 fleet of Jaguar and Daimler, which surrendered in 1997 and has since relied on the Supercharged V8s. In North America, the world’s most important luxury market, the 5.02-meter-long 750iL was even considered an alternative to the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit and Bentley Mulsanne.
The Bavarian power plant class was confirmed by Rolls-Royce in 1998, because now the Silver Seraph was equipped with the BMW V12. Five years later, Rolls-Royce is part of the BMW Group and the first Phantom V12 looks like a palace on wheels with a wheelbase of 3.82 meters, with a 6.7-liter engine that guarantees the highest level of refinement. . Bentley – meanwhile part of the VW Group – did not fail to answer: In the Continental Flying Spur introduced in 2005, a 6.0-liter W12 of the VW modular system ran, which reached 610 hp and 322 km / h Vmax, At that once, no V12 four-door car was faster.
Thin air but big wins
This was in line with the ideas of then VW CEO Ferdinand Piëch, who even wanted to establish the Volkswagen brand where the air is thin but the profits are big. In addition to a W12 sports car, which remained a concept car, the Phaeton would be successful as the best car in the world. The Phaeton was announced at the IAA in 1999, but production only began in 2002 at the purpose-built Transparent Factory in Dresden. The Phaeton shared components with the Bentley, but as a twelve-cylinder it cost as much as twelve Fox, VW’s entry-level model.
It was fatal when a Phaeton advertised buyers side-by-side with Fox in the dealer’s showroom. No S-Class driver could be conquered like that. Not so in Asia, where VW soon sold most of the Phaeton. The new rich Chinese in particular were enthusiastic about the luxury car, whose Passat-like lines cleverly concealed the high purchase costs. In fact, the Phaeton even found more fans in China than the first serious Chinese launch of the V12, the Hongqi L5 launched in 2014, a 5.56-meter-long sedan with a 6.0-liter V12 under the hood. In the 1920s, however, Hongqi is expected to go electric calmly.
Twelve cylinders for presidents, chancellors, emperors and kings
And the Japanese? In the Land of the Rising Sun, the Toyoda family in particular kept an eye on what led the leading Western brands. Lexus, the elegant Toyota subsidiary, entered the market in 1989 but opted for a smooth V8 to upset the usual rankings in the American premium sales charts. For Emperor Akihito and powerful business tycoons, however, there was the first smooth Japanese twelve-cylinder in the Toyota Century in 1997, an era that ended 20 years later in favor of a V8 with hybrid technology.
VW boss Piëch also wanted to equip presidents, chancellors and kings with twelve-cylinder insignia. That’s why he also updated the Audi. The first A8 (D2) replaced the S-Class under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Chancellor Angela Merkel and since 2001 there was a top-of-the-range 6.0-liter W12 engine.
For the then DaimlerChrysler group it was clear: now it was necessary to prove to the world that the Stuttgart brands shine above all others. In addition, the S-Class (W220) like the S 65 AMG had an incredible 1000 Nm of torque and 612 hp and the Maybach brand was revitalized with the feudal V12 prestige sedans Maybach 57 and 62. However, the giants, which were up to 6.17 meters in length, they weren’t able to capture even the rich and beautiful when the mythical model name Maybach Zeppelin was revived in 2009. Hollywood, China, the Middle East and royalty favored luxury brands that they were continuously on the market, like Mercedes.
That is why, since 2014, the Mercedes-Maybach brand has been reinforcing the claim to supremacy of the S-Class as a symbol of the utmost luxury. And while Audi’s V12 (A8) is a long story and BMW will also install its latest twelve-cylinder engine on a 7 Series in June 2022, the S-Class will continue to exist for the time being as the Mercedes-Maybach S 680 with a provocative V12 in a world that instead of the sophistication of combustion engines is talking about electric range and the performance of electric vehicles. However: the time of the twelve wheels is almost up and the witching hour for the latest V12 will soon begin.