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Jaguar XKE Series 3 V-12

Jaguar XKE V-12 Engine Origins
It was against this darkening background that Jaguar unrolled the drawings of a V-12 engine that it had designed in the very different times of just a few years before.

V-12 engine in the Jaguar XJ13 midengine test car
The idea behind the V-12 in the Jaguar XKE Series 3
could be traced to this V-12 in the XJ13 test car.

Actually, the thought of someday building a Jaguar V-12 dated back to the early XK years of the late forties and early fifties. The idea finally took substantive form in the mid sixties, when some of the firm's competition-oriented engineers secretly built and tested a sports-racing car that promised to again raise high the Jaguar banner at LeMans.

This was the XJ13, an open two-seater with much of the immortal D-Type in its body and chassis, but powered by a massive 5.0-liter, four-camshaft, 500-horse V-12 mounted behind the cockpit in modern mid-ships configuration. The man primarily responsible for the engine-code-named XJ6, by the way-was Claude Baily, a member of the team that designed Jaguar's XK six.

According to the original thinking, the quad-cam twelve would have been developed and proven in racing, then detuned for docility and longevity as a passenger-car powerplant. A sound plan, as Ferrari, Maserati, and others had shown.

For reasons both political and financial, Jaguar abandoned the racing program, but the initial "competition" engine would serve as the conceptual and experiential basis for a new V-12. However, this second unit was never intended for the race track. It was envisaged strictly as road-car power, primarily for a future range of sedans.

Why a V-12, exactly? Engineer Wally Hassan once explained it in an interview with Motor: "Jaguar have always tried to provide luxury at a reasonable cost. Our problem was how to make the most reliable engine with the power to do the job and a lot of torque and refinement as well. We chose a V-12 formation because it gives perfect balance and, as vibration spells noise, this means a quiet as well as a smooth engine. In addition, the three-plane crankshaft is known to be the best configuration from a torque point of view."

Hassan left unstated the equally important commercial consideration that, at the time, only Ferrari and Lamborghini offered this many cylinders in roadgoing automobiles, albeit in very high-dollar exotics. Jaguar could bring the romantic song of the twelve to a great many more people.

For more on Jaguar and other great cars, see:

  • Jaguar Cars: Check out more information on the great sporting cars.
  • How Sports Cars Work: Get the lowdown on hundreds of fantastic sports cars from the 1940s to today.
  • Classic Cars: Learn about the world's most coveted automobiles in these illustrated profiles.
  • Ferrari: Learn about every significant Ferrari road car and racing car.
  • New Jaguars: Reviews, ratings, prices, and specifications on the current Jaguar lineup from the auto editors of Consumer Guide.
  • Used Jaguars: Reviews, recalls, trouble spots, and more on pre-owned Jaguars starting with the 1990 model year. From the auto editors of Consumer Guide.