A car’s engine is one of the biggest contributions to its personality; the way it behaves, the way it feels and the way it makes the driver feel. This is part of the reason why electric cars get so much negativity; without engine sounds or different revving and power band characteristics, there really is no personality to speak of. It’s often agreed that the peak of automotive engines is the V12. Twelve cylinders, a unique sound, a very dense power band and unparalleled smoothness in a lot of cases.
V12 engines are usually reserved for the very best the car industry has to offer. The implication there is, typically, luxury cars. Naturally, it makes sense that a luxury car with a V12 engine will include a (very strong) automatic transmission to make the power delivery even more buttery smooth and to add to the luxury. However, this doesn’t always have to be the case, as there have been a few supercars in the past that have paired V12 powertrains with a true, three-pedal manual transmission.
10 Ferrari 550 Maranello
From 1996 to 2002, the 550 Maranello was Ferrari’s flagship V12-powered GT car. It was the second-in-line of Ferrari’s revived front-engined V12 GT cars, replacing the 456. It was subtle, and rather stunning both inside and out, and it’s even considered surprisingly reliable in the Ferrari community.
The most notable thing about the 550 Maranello is that it was the last V12-powered Ferrari to offer a manual transmission only. The 550 Maranello’s 5.5-liter, 485 hp, sonorous-sounding V12 engine delivered its power to the rear wheels through a gated 6-speed manual transmission. The replacement for the 550, the 575, offered the “F1” paddle-shift automatic, which became the norm later.
9 Aston Martin V12 Vantage
The entry-level Aston Martin model was part of the brand’s new strategy in the 2000s. That car eventually became the V8 Vantage in 2005, and it was a surprising success. However, a 4.3-liter V8 simply wasn’t going to cut it as the only engine choice for the baby Aston, so in 2009, they introduced the V12 Vantage.
Gone was the V8 and in its place was Aston Martin’s signature 5.9-liter AM11 V12, later the AM28. It produced 517 hp, with a 0-60 time of 4.2 seconds. The later V12 Vantage S models added a seventh gear, and up to 573 hp, decreasing the 0-60 time to just 3.9 seconds. A new V12 Vantage is on the way, but whether or not it will offer a manual transmission is up in the air.
8 McLaren F1
Widely considered to be the greatest supercar of all time, the McLaren F1 was the first road car from McLaren Automotive. After dominating the F1 scene and consequently deciding to make a road car, McLaren simply decided that they will make the best one the world had ever seen.
Some of the stuff on the F1 was completely unheard of and way ahead of its time; a central driving position, gold in the engine bay to dissipate heat, and a top speed of over 240 mph. The 6.1-liter BMW M V12 in the back was paired to a 6-speed manual transmission, and combined with the aerodynamics, the F1 remains the fastest naturally aspirated production car in the world.
7 Lamborghini Murcielago
In Lamborghini’s historic family of mid-engine V12 supercars, the Murcielago was the fourth member, succeeding the Diablo and preceding the Aventador. It was also the first Lamborghini that featured a much more substantial involvement from Audi, soon after the Germans purchased the supercar manufacturer.
The original Murcielago is absolutely showstopping, and yet, compared to modern supercars, it almost seems subtle. The original had a 580 hp 6.2-liter V12, but that peaked to a 670 hp 6.5-liter V12 in the final Murcielago LP670-4 SV. It’s important to note that all three iterations of the Murcielago came with a 6-speed gated manual transmission as standard, which is awesome.
6 BMW 850CSi
The 90s 8 Series was BMW’s flagship; a 2+2 GT with one of the most iconic and well-sorted exteriors in history. Bonus points for the pop-up headlights. It was available with either a V8 engine, or a V12, but the top-of-the-line 850CSi was a different story.
Even though it’s not in the name, this is essentially an M8, and that’s clear in some of the production choices and the general ethos of the car. The size of the V12 grew to 5.6 liters, resulting in 375 hp, sent to the rear wheels through only a 6-speed manual transmission. Even though the 850CSi is a fantastic car from BMW’s back catalog, it’s very rare, and it’s getting expensive.
5 Pagani Zonda
Horacio Pagani was a man with a dream. As well as being the person who introduced supercar makers to carbon fiber, one day he decided that he would make a supercar that would blow its Italian contemporaries into the weeds. The resulting car, the Zonda, got very close to that achievement. To this day, it remains one of the most exclusive and famous supercars of all time.
The V12 engine in the Zonda, which maxed out at 7.3 liters in later models, was built by what we now know as Mercedes-AMG. Indeed, this is the only time that a Mercedes V12 was paired up with a true manual transmission. The Zonda is very rare and expensive, so if you see one on the road, you will definitely remember it.
4 Lamborghini LM002
This is the remnants of the canceled Lamborghini military SUV project. After it was declined, Lambo simply decided to tweak it a little, and put it into production as their first ever SUV. The LM002 was sold throughout the late 80s and early 90s, and it’s the embodiment of Lambo insanity in a seriously capable SUV package.
Unlike the Urus, the LM002 actually used the engine from one of the brand’s supercars, the Countach in this case. Even more unlike the Urus, the LM002 was pretty much unstoppable off the road. 4WD, specially engineered runflat tires with a sand lip, three locking differentials, and even an optional winch. In other words, the LM002 was the result of crossbreeding a Countach with a Humvee.
3 Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano
By the time the 599 arrived in 2006, Ferrari was slowly starting to dial down production of manual transmissions and rolling out the F1 sequential manual as the default choice. As a result of this, the number of 599s built with a manual transmission is minuscule, even though it was officially offered. The rest of the production line got the sequential gearbox instead.
It’s pretty surprising that so few Ferrari customers wanted to row their own gears in this car. The 599 used a 6.0-liter V12 with 612 hp. That’s still a lot today, but it was really a lot in 2006. Like most other Ferrari models, it’s fabulous to drive, and we’d imagine even more so with the manual transmission.
2 Lamborghini Diablo
The third modern Lamborghini supercar, the Diablo, debuted in 1990, and was built until 2001. The final 6.0 model (pictured) was the swansong to the Diablo, featuring the most powerful engine and finally offering AWD for the first time. One thing is for sure; the Diablo was the last V12 Lambo to be exclusively offered with a five-speed manual transmission.
It was also the last Lamborghini to feature that classic Lamborghini insanity. Or at least, that’s what lovers of classic Lambos would say. Audi did make some more sensible decisions, but Lambos are still big on the insanity. However, the Diablo was the last Lamborghini where that insanity meant silliness, instead of functional drama and panache.
1 Gordon Murray Automotive T.50
Even though V12 supercars seem to be on their way out, and even more so ones with a manual transmission, Gordon Murray seems to disagree. The designer of the original McLaren F1 has started his own automotive company, and he plans to make a car that could possibly be the last of its kind.
The T.50 uses a 4.0-liter naturally-aspirated V12 developed by Cosworth. This phenomenal engine revs to 11,500 RPM, producing a menacing soundtrack in the process. It’s paired to a true 6-speed manual transmission, and that just barely scratches the surface of the T.50; a central seating position, an actual fan to aid downforce, and so much more.
An artist gave the classic model a widebody, digital treatment to imagine what a revival of the Mopar nameplate could look like.
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