Monday, October 26, 2015

Found in the Wild: The Affordable V12 Classic

If you want a classic V12-powered car, you only have three options. If you have millions to spend, you can pick up a Ferrari, or if you have only have six-figures to spend, you can buy a Lamborghini. But if both those options are out of reach and you have less than $10,000 to spend, there is only one way to go. Jaguar. 

The Jaguar XJ was supposed to have a V12 as an option when it launched in 1968. But design delays, funding complications and general British-ness of the whole operation delayed the engine's introduction until 1972. Just in time for the global gas crisis!

The engine itself was complex, and undeniably odd. It was a 5.3 liter SOHC design that produced 242-horsepower in US form. In North American spec it was fed by four Zenith Stromberg carbs. And now the weirdness. The Jaguar V12 has an open-deck block. The bores are free-standing and actually stand above the deck of the block by a few millimeters. Also unique is that it has an almost perfectly flat head. The combustion chamber is formed by using dished pistons. If that wasn't weird enough, the distributor is driven centrally and pops out of the middle of the "V."

The downsides of all that weirdness was that due to the open-deck block, overheating could be lethal for the engine and repairs on the V12 are difficult to do at home. The XJ12 set new standards in over-complexity that wouldn't be matched until the Porsche 928 was introduced in 1978. For example, the XJ12's radiator has a radiator and the battery has a cooling fan. There are also three fuel pumps: two to send fuel to the thirsty V12 and one to send "unneeded" fuel back to the tanks. I say tanks because it has two fuel tanks located on the sides of each rear fender behind the wheels. And because these only return 10-12 real world MPG, you'll be filling them often. 

But when you're not filling it up with premium (again) or repairing it (again) you'll be enjoying one of the world's greatest engines. The powerful and smooth V12 made the XJ12 a genuine 140 MPH car. And while maintaining and feeding one might be expensive, it's a whole lot cheaper than saving your pennies to buy an Espada.  


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