Lamborghini has taken the unusual step of announcing details of its brand-new engine prior to the launch of the car it’s going to power. But as we’re talking about the Murciélago replacement, and the end of a V12 that has been around since 1963, the usual rules of new-car introduction have understandably been bypassed.
But the Giotto Bizzarrini-designed V12 was – and remains – a remarkable engine. Given that it was created nearly 50 years ago, much of the truth behind its origins has been lost in the mists of time. Legend has it that Bizzarrini was paid by the horsepower, in a challenge the engineer set himself and proposed to Ferruccio. He knew he was more than qualified to meet it.
During the short period between leaving Ferrari and receiving his commission from Ferruccio, Giotto joined Automobili Turismo e Sport (ATS) and helped build a Formula 1 single-seater and a GT racer, the ATS Serenissima. His engineering company, Societa Autostar, was subsequently tasked with creating a new V12 for Lamborghini, and Bizzarrini used the 1.5-litre Formula 1 racing engine design he produced while at Ferrari as his main source of inspiration. There are many conceptual similarities between the two.
Part of the Lamborghini V12’s mystique is that Bizzarrini was also alleged to have been involved in the development of the first Honda F1 engine – most notably by LJK Setright in the now-defunct Supercar Classics magazine. Whether or not this is actually true will probably never be confirmed because of Honda’s secrecy over the project, but it’s a good story.
Whatever its pedigree, the all-aluminium 3.5-litre V12 that Bizzarrini developed for Lamborghini was a real racer. The main step forward was its quad-camhaft configuration, said to be a deliberate one in the eye for former employer, Ferrari. And the 60˚ V12 was certainly more advanced than the Ferrari 250GTO design he was most famous for during his time as the chief engineer while at the Scuderia.
In May 1963, Bizzarrini’s Lamborghini V12 burst into life on a test bench at Sant’Agata Bolognese, and the dynamometer revealed that it produced around 370bhp at 9000-9200rpm. However, Bizzarrini reckoned that over 400bhp at 11,000rpm was on the cards with improved breathing.
The V12 was to be no racer, though. Ferruccio considered motor sport a distraction, and was focused on building a road car to beat Ferrari. With the prototype engine duly delivered, the V12 was passed to Lamborghini’s chief engineer Giampaolo Dallara to refine into a civilised road car engine. And when it came to powering the first road-going Lamborghini, the 350GT, it had been detuned to 270bhp at 6500rpm. But most importantly, it was utterly refined on the road.
The V12 proved more than capable of powering Lamborghini’s greatest cars. In 1965, it was expanded to 3929cc, raising the power output to 320bhp – and it was in this capacity that it went on to power the 400GT, Miura, Islero, Espada, Jarama and Countach. It’s testament to the brilliance of Bizzarrini that it managed to age so well, coping with regular increases in engine capacity – first to 4.8 litres in the Countach LP500S, then to 5.2 in the QV, 5.7 in the Diablo and finally 6.2 litres in the Diablo SV, Murciélago and Reventón. And all this despite limited development funding well into the 1990s.
The V12 also found success in sport – although its F1 career was average at best, not to mention shortlived. An enlarged 8.0-litre pushing out 720bhp did well in offshort powerboat racing, winning the prestigious Viareggio-Bastia-Viareggio, mounted in the Sun International, piloted by Stefano Casiraghi.
In its ultimate roadgoing form, the V12 that powered the 2009 Murciélago LP670-4 SV punched out 661bhp at 8000rpm and pushed the car to a top speed of 209mph. It was a fitting swansong for one of the industry’s longest-lived – and greatest – engines, and proof that the best power units owe their existence to motor sport. Even if this one failed to score significantly at its pinnacle.
…and in with the new
When it came to replacing Bizzarrini’s V12, Lamborghini’s engineers were given two fundamental principals to stick by in order to maintain true powertrain heritage: the new engine had to be a V12 with a 60˚ vee angle.
Considering that the current global trend is towards downsizing and turbocharging, this is a brave move from Lamborghini. But on figures alone, if the supercar manufacturer wants to remain at the top of its game – and ahead of rivals – this 6498cc V12 engine will be just the job. It produces 690bhp at 8250rpm and delivers 509lb ft of torque at 5500rpm: the first car it powers (likely to be named the Jota) will be designated LP700.
Although the engine capacity is near-identical to the outgoing V12’s, the all-new one (designated L539) shares no internals. The cylinder bore has increased from 88mm to 95mm and the stroke goes down from 89mm to 76.4mm – and the short-stroke layout will allow L539 to rev more freely. It’s also a dry-sump design, which helps keep the size down, so the engine is not only smaller but has a lower centre of gravity. It’s also lighter at 235kg, down from 253kg, meaning that the carbon-tubbed LP700 is going to be an even nimbler drive.