Engine Showdown: V12 Vs. Flat-12-- What Sets Them Apart?

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Lamborghini V12

Typically, none but the wildest of supercars and performance monsters get 12 cylinder engines. Mercedes-AMG, Lamborghini, and Ferrari are by far the best-known proponents of shoving huge powerhouse into a production car over the past several decades. Although the practice has died down in recent years, with the introduction of hybrids and electric cars (Lamborghini is simultaneously giving the engine a final send off for non-hybrid versions and a new look at the future with the hybrid Revuelto), there are few superlatives more indicative of a truly special car than a 12-cylinder. 

Throughout the years, there have primarily been two distinct layouts of 12-cylinder engines: the V12 and the flat-12. And there's no better way to illustrate the difference between those two powerplants than showing off the engines of perhaps automotive history's biggest rivalry: Ferrari versus Lamborghini. Lambos have extolled the virtue of the V12 since practically the founding of the company, and Ferrari has used a flat-12 (albeit in fewer models) in some of its most iconic cars.

The heart of Lamborghinis, the V12

Lamborghini V12

V12s, where each bank of six cylinders are arranged in a "V" formation, have been in Lamborghinis since the 1963 350 GT. That engine was a 3.5-liter that threw down 315 horsepower. That may not seem like a lot today, but it was a riot 60 years ago. The current V12 Lamborghini, the hybrid Revuelto is powered by a 6.5-liter V12 that generates 813 horsepower and exactly 1,000 horsepower when the electric motors jump in to help. V12s have shown up in automotive stylistic masterpieces like the Lamborghini Countach and left field entries like the LM002 SUV.

Lamborghini attested that its V12 was able to "provide unmatched power and performance, which turn into music for the driver's ears." Whether or not that's true is up for debate, but no one car argue that Lamborghinis helped place V12s on the map, more so than any other automaker. You can't talk about V12s without mentioning Lamborghini.

Ferrari's F1-derived flat-12

Ferrari Flat-12

The flat-12 is a little more obscure than the V12, but it's no less important. In 1971, the Ferrari 365 GT4 BB became the first car from the marque to house a flat-12. Opposed to a V12, the flat-12's cylinders are horizontally opposed to one another. Ferrari's flat-12, specifically, was derived from its Formula 1 cars. In the 365 GT4 BB, the 4.4-liter flat-12 generated 360 horsepower, which allowed the car to reach a top speed of just over 186 miles per hour, lightning fast for over five decades ago.

In the Ferrari 512 TR, first introduced in 1991, Ferrari got even wackier with its flat-12. That car was essentially a Super Testarossa, attempting to improve on everything about it. The engine was 5-liter that produced 428 horsepower. It allowed the 512 TR to rocket itself to 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds and reach a top speed of 195 miles per hour. 

Ferrari itself has retired from the practice of using flat-12s for now and has used mostly V12s in its most well-known cars like the Enzo or the more contemporary LaFerrari. But that doesn't make Ferrari's oddball flat-12s any less memorable.

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