Figure 1 Building the Legend’s tera®. © Neville Swales
Is the 12-cylinder dead?
I ask myself, "Is the 12-cylinder engine dead?" I was about to introduce the tera®, Building The Legend Limited’s own unique quad-cam V12 engine. The type of power unit which could have been heard howling down the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans in 1966 and beyond. But why did I embark on this craziness? Why design and build a V12 engine? Why the name “tera”?
The last question is easily answered ….Can you think of a better name for one of these engines?
The tera® - "to the power of 12". © Neville Swales
Naturally-aspirated and boasting a capacity of 6.1 or 6.8-litres (372 or 488 cu in) with power and torque in abundance. An electric motor may silently propel you forward more swiftly but certainly not with such a big smile on your face ….
When BMW M CEO Markus Flasch was recently asked if the BMW V12 had any life in it, he answered, “Beyond what we have, I don’t believe we will see a new twelve-cylinder model in the foreseeable future.” With the likes of Ferrari downsizing V12 models to a twin-turbo V8 and Lamborghini considering a V8 for their 2024 Aventador, we can be forgiven for thinking that the 12-cylinder is a powerplant of the past.
I completely understand that it’s not easy to justify 12 pistons these days ...but, then, sit in the cockpit of a Ferrari 812 Superfast, a Pagani Huayra, or an Aston Martin DB11, or, dare I say it, ...stand alongside a tera® ... and put a finger to the start button.
Then listen to the resulting sound.
That, sir or madam, friends and fellow-enthusiasts, is the sound of life. The song of a living and breathing entity, the most soulful mechanical invention since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. That is the melody of a dozen cylinders working in harmony, full of anima (the part of the psyche which is directed inwards, in touch with the subconscious) and heart and fury.
Even if it’s no longer the obvious choice (or even the most logical), the 12-cylinder lives ...
In the past, a 12-cylinder engine was the only certain way to guarantee power and refinement. They propelled the fighter planes of World War I and II, and motivated early automobiles from Sunbeam to Packard to Cadillac. The Ferrari V12 was — and is — considered a hallowed Italian treasure, at least equal to anything inside the walls of the Vatican.
The late Cecil (Sam) Clutton, CBE [No-one was better known in VSCC circles than the 100% amateur enthusiast. Clutton was that Club’s President from 1954 to 1956 and had edited very entertainingly its Bulletin from 1935 to 1951. He raced his famous 1908 GP Itala over a span of 60 years, an unique record.] wrote after driving a Hispano-Suiza Twelve,
“There is an indefinable magic about every V12 I have driven, whether it is this one, or the [Rolls-Royce] PIII, or the splendid Packard, or the one-and-only 10 ½ -litre world speed record Delage”.
In this era, a V12 is no longer a necessity. All those super-chargers and turbo-chargers coax as much or even more power from smaller, more efficient engines which are lighter and less complicated.
This means that buying a car equipped with a V12 becomes a matter of CHOICE. You opt in because — just like the best watches — you love the connection with a long and wonderful history, a bridge from one bygone era to today—a little bit of a Supermarine Spitfire fighter lives on in your garage. It comes from the heart.
Wasn’t it Enzo Ferrari who proclaimed,
”Every man should plant a tree, father a child and drive a V12 once in his life”?
Try to explain the magic of a V12 to a novice, and you may talk about the boundless torque, the ability to rev into the stratosphere, and the smooth delivery of power.
But soon enough you’ll turn to the sound, the defining element which simply can’t be recreated by a trick turbo. While each car model has its own personality, they share a glorious commonality. The smooth, basso profundo rumble at the start is followed by a rise in pitch and decibels as you coax the revs higher and higher.
Damon Hill [British former F1 racing driver and 1996 F1 World Champion. He is the son of Graham Hill] said,
"I don’t know what it is about V12s, but this arrangement delivers a peculiar pulse that is the sonic equivalent of strawberry mousse and cream”.
“When I hear your 12 cylinders”, wrote conductor Herbert von Karajan [Generally regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century, he was a dominant figure in European classical music from the mid-1950s until his death.] to Enzo Ferrari, “I hear a burst of harmony that no conductor could ever re-create”.
At full tilt, a V12 produces a howl so sharp that it could cut meat from bone. And with a wide-open throttle, a roaring V12 resonates throughout the entire frame of a vehicle. It’s all around you—even your sternum vibrates like a tuning fork.
With the throttle pinned, the engine sends a thrum through the entire car - irrepressible, exultant…. magical.
The 12-cylinder lives
Perhaps the above goes some way to answering “why did I embark on this craziness?” It’s something that “just had to be done” … I’m sure most of my friends will “get it”. After all, for how much longer will we be able to buy one of these wonderful engines? As the large car manufacturers, egged on by vested interests and their governments rush headlong towards an all-electric future, our choices will become increasingly limited.
OK, so where did this idea for the tera® come from? From the outset, the tera® aims to be a beautifully sculptural engine and unashamedly “of the period”. An engine designed to be seen and with a purposeful beauty hinting at the power lying within.
Matra V12 1967
The tera® draws inspiration from Claude Baily’s [Claude Baily came to Jaguar from the Morris Motors design office. He had come to Morris from the Anzani Engine Factory who built aircraft engines. After designing Anzani and Morris engines, Claude went on to help design and develop Jaguars 'XK' six cylinder masterpiece as well as their first V12.] legendary quad-cam racing engine – an engine designed to return the company to its glory days of Le Mans triumphs and domination – as well as other engines of the period. Before any of our “friends” at Jaguar make any sort of claims about the tera’s® origins, I should emphasise that the tera® is NOT a replica or copy of Jaguar’s prototype quad-cam V12 engine. Instead, it draws its inspiration from Baily’s stillborn engine as well as other engines of the period.
Ferruccio Lamborghini and his V12
Baily’s engine was meant to power the car which should have returned Jaguar to Le Mans – the XJ13 – also stillborn. The one-off car was destined to never turn a wheel in anger and the potential of Baily’s mighty power-unit was never fully realised. Instead, the company re-designed Baily’s racing engine into a SOHC version more suited to sedate applications.
In the words of Jaguar’s Walter “Wally” Hassan …
“… Between 1949 and 1957 Jaguar were actively involved in motor racing in order to create the sporting image for their cars. Amongst their successes were the winning of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race in the years of 1951, 1953, 1955, 1956 & 1957 as well as Sebring and many other international races and rallies. These cars were powered by the six-cylinder XK twin-cam engine and it was thought to be desirable to develop a successor to compete in future races, particularly Le Mans …. in order to provide the maximum potential in power, a 12 cylinder ‘Vee’ configuration … was conceived to provide for safe running at 8000-8500 rpm. By way of comparison the 6-cylinder twin cam XK engine had been designed without racing in mind.
… during the development period it was decided to withdraw from racing and these policy changes eliminated the need for a competition engine and emphasis shifted to the production (SOHC) version.”
Drawing inspiration from Baily’s V12 and other classic racing engines of the period, Building The Legend’s tera® represents a “what might have been”. An engine born to race but whose potential was never fully realised – until now …
The engine is of course normally-aspirated and drivers of these cars will gain the full visceral experience of a howling V12 race-engine. Distributor-less with choice of period Lucas Mechanical or Electronic Fuel injection. Safe running rev-limit of 8,000 to 8,500 rpm. Available from street-spec to full-race.
The engine’s weight is similar to the classic 6-cyl engine with its cast-iron block. It can be installed in cars as diverse as the S3 V12 E-Type, XJ12 Coupe, V12 XJS and many other classic Jaguar saloons such as 420G and Mk10. It can even be installed in 6-cylinder cars with some modification (6-cyl E-Types included). Quad-Cam V12-powered XK120 anyone? Or a twin-engine power boat? The engine does bear cosmetic similarities to those powering classic V12 Lamborghinis and Ferraris …. applications of this engine are limited only by your imagination!
- Capacity: 6.1 L (372 cu in); 6.8 L (415 cu in)
- Bore x Stroke: 96 x 70 mm (3.8” x 2.8”); 96 x 78.5 mm (3.8” x 3.1”)
- Power: 350 – 650 hp (261 – 485 kW)
- Torque: 300 – 600 lb ft (407 – 813 Nm)
- Compression: 11.3:1, 12.7:1
- 2-valve, over-square architecture, duplex-chain-driven cams with convenient Vernier adjustment.