The naturally aspirated V12 engine has been at the heart of Lamborghini’s most prestigious product lines since 1963; in fact, to date just two designs have been produced for the super sports cars. The first, essentially a racing engine that was made more “civilised” for road use, was designed by Giotto Bizzarrini. It made its debut in the first Lamborghini, the 350 GT. The second engine, designed from scratch but with the main technical concepts unchanged, was introduced in the Aventador which was launched in 2011. This was a significant technological step forward for the company, setting new standards in terms of power and reliability.
The first engine underwent a significant number of modifications and evolutions over its lifetime in order to deliver increased power, and later to considerably reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Between 1963 and 2010, the engine was used in different positions. At first it was front-mounted in the 350 GT, 400 GT and the Espada. It was developed using aluminum for the cylinder heads, crankcase and pistons to bring the weight down to 232 kg. The engine was then used in a rear mid-engine layout, rotated 90 degrees to a transverse orientation in the Miura. Subsequently it was rotated another 90 degrees to a longitudinal rear-mid position, starting with the Countach, to help balance weight distribution.
As the size of the engine increased, from 3.5 liters in the 350 GT to 6.5 liters in the Murciélago, it became increasingly necessary to reduce the engine weight. To this end, new materials and new technologies were introduced to lower the engine in the chassis. Today, the V12 is the beating heart of Lamborghini’s Aventador, Sián, and Countach LPI 800-4, as well as the Essenza SCV12, the track-day car in which it produces 830 hp.
The start of a spectacular heritage
Since its inception, the V12 engine has been considered the most refined and prestigious of powerplants, even more so since they were mounted in Lamborghinis. Bizzarrini created a V12 that was meant to give the company a chance to enter the world of racing. Instead, Ferruccio Lamborghini elected to turn it into a production engine for his new model, and so began the love affair that continues to this day.
“The Lamborghini story was born with the V12,” said Maurizio Reggiani, former Chief Technical Officer at Lamborghini. “It is clear that in the 1960s, the V12 represented the pinnacle of technology, luxury and sportiness of every car.”
After the 350 GT and its derivatives, the V12 was mounted into the Miura in 1966, the Countach in 1971, and the Diablo in 1990 before finding its final home in the Murciélago. The versatility of the engine was proven when engineers fitted a 5.2 liter version of the engine to the LM 002, Lamborghini’s first Super SUV, in 1986. A special one-of-a-kind version of the LM 002 was also made, featuring a 7.2-litre 700 hp V12 usually used on offshore racing powerboats.
A radical change of thinking
Thanks to the double overhead camshaft solution for each cylinder bank, a first for engines designed for production cars, the ‘V’ angle of the engine could be increased, which meant that the center of gravity could be lowered. For the Miura, the transverse rear mid-engine layout was chosen to achieve better weight distribution and to shorten the car’s wheelbase. The gearbox and differential casing were integrated into the powertrain, helping to make the overall assembly of this legendary super sports car more compact.
Weight distribution is key
With a view to further improving weight distribution for the Countach, the design team used the same engine but relocated it to mid-rear position and rotated it an additional 90 degrees, basically 180 degrees compared to the first 350 GT. They mounted the gearbox in front of the engine, practically “in the cockpit”. In its final iteration, the Countach’s engine capacity had increased to 5.2 liters. With the model year 1986, the V12 mounted in the Countach was also homologated in the U.S. market. This milestone was achieved using electronic fuel injection, which replaced carburetors in markets where anti-pollution regulations were more stringent.
“With the increased capacity, the engine became longer, and that meant having to move the center of gravity toward the rear of the car,” said Reggiani. “This made it more difficult to drive, and you had more oversteering effect. The layout was revolutionized, using the engine to move the center of gravity. The Countach engine is really the first in a generation of engines that are still here today in terms of powertrain layout and position in the car.”
Meeting the demands of four-wheel-drive
Work started in 1985 on the development of the V12 in preparation for its use on the new super sports car, Diablo, which would debut in 1990 with the engine capacity increased to 5.7 liters and power delivery of 492 hp at 6800 rpm. In its VT version presented in 1993, the Diablo was the first Lamborghini super sports car to also be available in a four-wheel drive version. The Diablo SV-R, on the other hand, was created to race in the Super Sport Trophy, which debuted as a support race at the 1996 24 Hours of Le Mans. Thirty-two Diablo SV-Rs took part in what was Lamborghini’s largest ever racing program prior to the Super Trofeo championship inaugurated in 2009.
The 1998 Diablo GT, essentially the first Diablo model to feature the styling elements of the second generation that would debut in 1999, brought further major technical upgrades to the engine. Of particular note was the adoption of an individual throttle body for each cylinder, a choice dictated by the desire to improve the engine’s throttle response. This change was significant as well as futuristic, considering that similar technology is integrated into the new Huracán GT3 that will be racing in 2023.
New challenges with the advent of Murciélago
With Audi’s acquisition of a majority stake in Lamborghini, a period of sweeping change began. The new owners were aware of Lamborghini’s need to maintain its identity and exclusivity. “We were able to create a relationship between Audi and Lamborghini that set limits but also respected needs,” said Reggiani. “Right from the start, Audi understood what it could ask of Lamborghini and what it could not, creating a balance that allowed both companies to improve by promoting their differences. The specificity of Lamborghini, perceived by both the shareholders and the other brands in the group, has been one of the keys to our success. What we were able to demonstrate with the development of the V12 gave us the confidence that enabled us to fine-tune the V10 that debuted on the Gallardo and to develop all our other products in a distinctly Lamborghini way.”
Under the new ownership, a different approach was taken to the evolution of the V12. From achieving high power output, the focus began to shift toward volumetric efficiency to meet the increasingly stringent regulations. One example is that of the Murciélago, which was unveiled in 2001 with a 6.2-liter V12 engine that produced 580 hp. It was updated in 2007 with capacity increased to 6.5 liters and was capable of generating an impressive 670 hp. Moreover, the car was 100 kg lighter and the engine, upgraded in several areas, was fitted with dry-sump lubrication with oil recirculation using scavenge pumps. This allowed Lamborghini to reduce the distance between the crankshaft and the bottom of the car, which led to improved handling.
The development of the V12 engine for the Murciélago allowed Lamborghini to find its own place within the realm of Audi, but it was the decision to design a new V12 from scratch, after 45 years, that allowed Lamborghini’s designers to set new goals and take advantage of new opportunities.