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Yes, the Ferrari Testarossa Used a V12

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author photo by Doug DeMuro May 2017

A few months ago, I did a review of the Ferrari Testarossa, where I announced that it used a V12. Everything went off without a hitch, but there was one little sticking point: A small number of people argued with my characterization of the engine as a V12, insisting instead that it was a "flat 12."

So today I've decided to dive deeper into this whole Ferrari Testarossa engine situation to explain why I'm right -- and why those people are (mostly) right, too.

First, let's discuss the difference between a "boxer" engine and a "V" engine. (This may not seem relevant, but it'll come up in a minute.) A "boxer" engine, used in most Subaru and Porsche models, uses one crank journal per cylinder -- the result being that the cylinders can move toward one another at the same time, which gives them a very distinctive look: They appear to be "boxing," hence the name of the engine.

A "V" engine, on the other hand, uses one crank journal per pair of cylinders, meaning the cylinders move more rhythmically: As one cylinder approaches another, the other pulls away at the same speed. Therefore, the cylinders don't "box." It should be noted that this is a very general explanation, but a better one -- with more detail and even pictures -- is provided here.

Next up, a discussion of automotive semantics. In my mind, when someone says a car has a "flat" engine, they're referring to a boxer engine. I say this because virtually everyone refers to a Porsche 911's engine as a "flat" six rather than a "boxer" six -- and the same goes for Subaru models like the WRX and STI, which also use boxer engines. As a result, I've come to equate "flat" with "boxer" -- and I think a lot of other automotive enthusiasts have, too.

With all that discussion out of the way, we move on to the Testarossa. One look in the engine bay of a Testarossa and you'll discover that the Testarossa's engine is certainly flat in shape, unlike other "V" engines. However, it uses one crank journal per pair of cylinders, which technically makes it a V12 -- even in spite of the fact that it doesn't actually form a "V" shape but rather a straight, horizontal one.

From here, the difference is merely semantic. Yes, the Testarossa's V12 engine is technically flat, so you could call it a "flat 12" -- but then you run the risk of having people confuse it with a boxer engine, which it isn't. This is why I will always refer to the Testarossa's engine as a V12 -- and when I worked at a Ferrari dealer several years ago, it's why all the employees there called it a V12, too.

Yes, "flat" is technically correct, simply due to the engine's shape -- but it also creates confusion, since the term "flat" is usually used to describe a "boxer" engine, which the Testarossa's power plant isn't. In reality, the correct description of the Testarossa's engine is a "180-degree V12." That terminology is a bit dense, but it does a good job of explaining both the "flat" bit (180-degree) and the actual design of the engine (V12).

To me, you can call it whatever you want -- V12 or flat 12 -- and you'll still be right. Just don't call it a boxer 12.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Yes, the Ferrari Testarossa Used a V12 - Autotrader