The Lamborghini 3512
Screaming Lamborghini V12 Engines Entered the Formula One 3.5 Liter Normally Aspirated Era
By Barton H. Workman - Exclusive to the Lamborghini Registry
Images Courtesy of Motorsport Images
In 1988, the FIA announced the end of the Formula One turbo era which began when Renault debuted their turbocharged Renault Gordini 1.5 liter V6 which produced upwards of 1,300BHP at full boost at the 1980 British Grand Prix. The austere yellow, white and black factory Renaults proved that turbocharging was the way to go and soon Formula One was flush with manufacturers producing their own versions of the compact, flame-spitting turbo engines.
Unfortunately, and as per usual in Formula One, the costs of developing and maintaining the turbo engines (which had a way of exploding in flames with the high boost pressures teams were running) at the time were not economically practical. Faced with images of cars engulfed in flames from hand-grenading expensive turbo motors being pushed beyond their limits on a weekly basis, F1 had an image problem and the FIA had to react.
Likewise, the FIA also had to address the escalating costs and safety aspects of the turbo engines by controlling/lowering boost to reign in power while the engineers at Honda, Ferrari, BMW, Ford Cosworth and TAG Porsche, etc. were busy coming up with more clever ways to skirt the rulebooks and achieve increased speed with ever more radical aero and chemical fuel additive techniques.
The FIA mandated a change to normally aspirated 3.5 liter engines for the 1989 season. in the name of cost savings and safety as turbocharging had fallen out of fashion and was pricing F1 out of existence.
As long as the new normally aspirated engines measured 3.5 liters, they could run in any configuration (V8, V10 or V12) and manufactures responded with an incredible array of power units. The result was unprecedented manufacturer participation in Formula One with many historians pointing to the 3.5 liter normally aspirated formula era as the coolest in F1 history.
Existing big budget manufacturers such as Honda, Ferrari, Renault and Ford Cosworth were quick to commit to the new normally aspirated engine regulations. TAG Porsche pulled out, supplanted at McLaren by Honda. Further down the order a few surprise makes came to Formula One with their own normally aspirated 3.5 liter examples including Yamaha, Mugen, Illmore, Judd and long-time racing hold-out Lamborghini all throwing their hats into the Formula One ring. The result was a total of nine engine manufacturers supplying sixteen teams creating the most diverse and competitive era in F1 history.
Calling Lamborghini a reluctant racing participant would be an understatement. To date, Lamborghini had only been a novelty in racing with the company openly shunning racing despite being in the same market segment as competitors Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar et al., all of which were hugely accomplished in racing and elevated their brands with victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in Formula One (or both).
Company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini’s indifference to racing dated back to the 1948 Mille Miglia when he crashed his FIAT Topolino special into the side of a restaurant in Turin. This incident made Lamborghini less than thrilled about racing. Lamborghini as a manufacturer was notably absent from the entry lists of the world racing scene as only privateer and gentlemen enthusiasts entered Lamborghinis in one-off sports car races or hill climbs in modified road-going cars with little to no factory support.
However, with Chrysler’s purchase of Lamborghini in 1987, the thought in Detroit was that exposure of Lamborghini on the world’s largest racing stage with hundreds of thousands of fans in attendance at races and a massive (and growing) world-wide television audience of a billion-plus viewers would further expose the brand to a whole new demographic while advancing their road-going cars.
Chrysler Lamborghini Brings in the Big Guns.
Chrysler contracted legendary Ferrari engineer Mauro Forghieri and tasked him with designing and building the new Lamborghini 3.5 liter normally aspirated engine. Forghieri had been responsible for designing both cars and engines in Maranello dating to Carlo Chiti’s 156 starting in 1960.
The lanky, bespectacled Forghieri became the face of Scuderia Ferrari at Formula One and sports car events and was best known for design and development of the 312 series of cars and the famous flat-12 “Boxer” engine. He had also designed the first transversal automatic gearbox, also known as T-Gear.
Under Forghieri’s direction, Ferrari drivers won the Formula One World Championship four times with John Surtees (1964), Niki Lauda (1975 and 1977) Jody Scheckter (1979) and the World Championship for Constructors a total of five times (1961, 1964, 1975, 1977, and 1979).
Forghieri remained with Ferrari until September of 1987 when he was drafted by Lamborghini Engineering as their technical director. He was put in charge of building the F1 engine by Daniele Audetto who had been Ferrari team manager and then appointed as supervisor of all motorsport activities under the FIAT umbrella before moving to Lamborghini. Audetto had worked with Forghieri at Ferrari and had become managing director of Lamborghini Engineering as the two were reunited to oversee the company’s F1 engine program.
Forghieri then brought in another of his colleagues from Ferrari’s development department, the noted marine and automotive engineer Franco Antoniazzi, and asked him to work on the 3512 engine program. Clearly, there was no lack of racing or V12 experience at Lamborghini Engineering and all that was left was to find a chassis to mate it with.
And Then There’s Larrousse.
Lamborghini found Gerard Larrousse’s eponymous French-based team as the entrant to carry the first 3512 engines in 1989. Larrousse was a long time sports car and rally participant, famously with Alpine, Porsche and Matra-Simca. Larrousse achieved two victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans co-driving with Henri Pescarolo in the Matra-Simca MS670 in 1973 and 1974 as well as the 1971 12 Hours of Sebring in the Martini-Porsche 917K with Vic Elford making him a French racing legend.
In 1989, Larrousse came to Formula One as an entrant partnered with Didier Calmels and utilizing the Lola LC88 chassis mated with the Lamborghini 3512 V12 engines. The cars were brilliant in dark blue with bright yellow, red and green accents following Benetton’s lead with brightly liveried cars which stood out for the TV and still cameras. The first iteration of the Larrousse/Lamborghini partnership in 1989 was called the Equipe Larrousse Lola-Lamborghini LC88.
The Larrousse team became the de facto face of Lamborghini’s presence in Formula One. Despite other teams utilizing the 3512 motors, the Larrousse entered cars were always most closely associated with the brand having run the engines over the course of four seasons (1989, 1990, 1992 and 1993) with different partners as Lola was replaced by Venturi as chassis builder and the team shuffled drivers and sponsors annually.
In 1990, ESPO Larrousse gave the Lamborghini engine its best ever finish, third by Aguri Suzuki at the Japanese Grand Prix. This was in no small measure due to attrition including Ayrton Senna’s premeditated drive into the back of Alain Prost’s Ferrari in the first turn complex taking both out. However, Suzuki’s accomplishment cannot be overlooked as the delirious Japanese fans saw their countryman on the podium alongside Benetton drivers Nelson Piquet and Roberto Moreno. Lamborghini’s first and only appearance on the F1 podium was historic for the Italian marquis which had hopes of ascending to the top of the podium.
Venturi-Larrousse team was the defacto face of Lamborghini’s F-1 efforts.
Other teams which utilized the 3512 engines included Camel Lotus (1990), Ligier Gitanes (1991), Team Modena which was the Lamborghini factory entrant by Forghieri (1991) and Team Minardi (1992). Despite being paired with these top teams, the 3512’s lack of results had the same effect. The engine was thought to be too heavy compared to competing motors of the era, unreliable as seen with the amount of DNFs and under developed due to Chrysler’s reluctance to put any more money into the project versus the virtually unlimited funds competitors Honda, Ferrari, Ford and Renault were investing in development.
Thierry Boutsen Remembers.
Among the all-star line-up of drivers who sampled the Lamborghini 3512 engine was Belgian racing champion Thierry Boutsen. Boutsen, a respected F-1 and sports car star had accomplished three victories in Formula One with Williams (Canada and Australia in 1989 and Hungary 1990) as well as numerous other achievements, made him one of the true racing icons of the era. Boutsen moved to Ligier-Gitanes after a successful two year stint with Williams when Frank Williams signed Nigel Mansell once again for 1991.
Ligier-Gitanes, the legendary team founded by Guy Ligier was always resplendent in beautiful French Racing Blue had to wait a year for the all-conquering Renault V10 engines for 1992. But, for 1991, Ligier opted to use the Lamborghini 3512 engines for Boutsen and team mate Erik Comas, the 1990 Formula 3000 champion who came to Ligier as an F1 rookie.
For 1991, the Lamborghini 3512 power unit was unchanged from 1990 and rated as having 640BHP as Chrysler had halted development but nevertheless supplied engines to Ligier and Lamborghini’s in-house Modena team.
Thierry Boutsen took time out of looking after his current business interests, Boutsen Aviation (www.boutsen.com) and Boutsen Classic Cars (www.boutsenclassiccars.com) in Monaco to remember his experience with the Lamborghini 3512 motor by Email...
BHW: "After joining Ligier-Gitanes from Williams in 1991, this was your first experience with the Lamborghini 3512. The power output at that time was promoted as being 640BHP..."
TB: “I was thrilled to drive the Lambo engine, it was my first drive with a V12 engine ever. I loved the sound and just for that I could have driven 24/7!”
BHW: "What was your initial impression when you tested the Ligier JS35 and your first taste of the Lamborghini motor?"
TB: “Unfortunately the power output was not really exceptional, the V10 Renault that I drove the year before has at least 100BHP more. The other problem we encountered was the power/torque inconsistency between the engines, sometimes up to 2 seconds per lap from engine to engine.”
BHW: "Memories of initial test such as the track, conditions, etc.?"
TB: “The first test was at Magny Cours, in the cold winter, with some ice patches on the track... the goal was to make sure the engine fit well in the car. In fact the balance was quite good, and because of the cold weather the power felt good too!”
BHW: "Was the 3512 better in the low-revs (torque), at full throttle on high speed straights or was it that it was just a really heavy lump?"
TB: “Because of the 12 cylinders the rev range was very good, it was just lacking power which gave us two disadvantages: being slow accelerating out of the corners and in the straight, the lack of power imposing us also to run less downforce which is never good for lap times and tyre wear.”
BHW: "Derek Warwick who drove the 3512 in the Lotus Type 102 in 1990 described the engine as “All noise and no go”. Was your debrief assessment close to Warwick’s?"
TB: “This was in 1990, when I drove in 1991, there had been some improvements over the winter!”
BHW: "Since Ligier came away with no points during the 1991 season, was there anything positive about the power unit that could be pointed out?"
TB: “For Ligier this was a transition year, they were preparing the new car with the Renault V10. There has also been a musical chair game with the engineers at that time, a bit of confusion to deal with and, remember, only the first 6 were scoring points! Not like today. (where the top 10 score points - ed).”
BHW: "Was there a track(s) where the engine was actually well suited?"
TB: “On the slow speed like Monaco it was nice to drive.”
BHW: "Any more thoughts on 3512 engine?"
TB: “I think the basis of the engine was good, but the lack of development and consistency made it obsolete right away unfortunately. It is a shame. I would have loved to score some points with it, the people behind the scene (engineers and mechanics) deserved it too."
McLaren Tests the Lamborghini 3512
From 1988 to 1992, the all-conquering Marlboro McLaren Grand Prix team had a partnership with Honda which may only be described as phenomenally successful. McLaren/Honda dominated the Formula One Drivers and Manufacturers World Championships further etching the McLaren brand in stone and establishing Honda as a serious player on the world racing stage.
The on-track success which propelled Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna to World Championships and numerous race wins came to an end after the1992 season as Honda pulled out citing the world-wide recession concerns. McLaren had to settle for customer spec Ford V8 motors to fill the void left by Honda’s departure in 1993 as the Benetton team had secured the prime Ford Cosworth V8 engines.
Nonetheless, Senna was able to squeeze maximum performance out of the Ford engines winning three of the first six races of the 1993 season (Brazil, Monaco and the European Grand Prix at Donington). Senna briefly led the Championship until Prost asserted his dominance in the Williams/Renault V10 to secure seven wins (and) his fourth World Championship before promptly retiring for good.
McLaren team principal Ron Dennis was unsuccessful in securing Renault V10 engines which emerged as the dominant engine that every team wanted. So, McLaren was left to scramble to find a suitable replacement for the Ford V8 customer engines which were a short-term interim at Woking.
F1 new-comers Peugeot and Lamborghini were left as McLaren’s two main engine choices. Peugeot was better known as a World Rally Championship and Group C entrant that famously won the 1985 and 1986 World Rally Championship for Constructors, the 1992 World Sports Car Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall in 1992 and 1993. The French marquis managed by Jean Todt scored a brilliant 1-2-3 finish at Le Mans with the incredible 905 Evo 1B V10s on home soil when Group C cars were being called “Formula One cars with fenders”.
Word around the campfire was that Ron Dennis had already signed an agreement with Peugeot to supply V10 engines for the 1994 season but Senna pushed the McLaren team to test the Lamborghini 3512 V12 in closed sessions anyway.
McLaren built a modified version of the MP4/8B to be used as a test car to accommodate the larger Lamborghini V12 which was likewise modified to 710BHP to meet with McLaren’s approval. At the same time, Bob Lutz (then with Chrysler) wanted to prove that the Lamborghini engine could be competitive when paired with a top team’s chassis and the potential pairing with McLaren presented Chrysler with their best opportunity yet to break into the top tier of Formula One.
The McLaren-Lamborghini tests took place at Silverstone and Estoril with Senna and Mika Hakkinen driving. The cars were stripped of their familiar Marlboro livery appearing in all “sponsor me white” with only Goodyear branding remaining on them while the engine cover was rebadged with the Chrysler logo.
Senna had carried out the first tests at Silverstone on September 20, 1993 and his debrief to Mauro Forghieri noted that the engine’s top end was too brutal and that it would rather benefit from having better mid-range power. Forghieri respected Senna’s assessment and made the requested changes losing the engine 25BHP at the top end, but overall the engines gained 40BHP over the previous season’s engine to 710BHP.
McLaren new comer Hakkinen and Senna both reported that the changes made the McLaren MP4/8B easier to drive and better on tires than the Ford V8. And, while lap times were not published, it was later reported that the McLaren was not any faster with the 3512 engine.
Likewise, there were concerns about the 3512’s reliability as the engine’s obvious issues had been playing out over several seasons. During the test at Silverstone with Hakkinen driving, a 3512 motor blew up at speed where he reported that engine parts were actually thrown ahead of the car and into the cockpit, such was the force of the explosion which did not help matters.
The potential of the Lamborghini V12 was there as long as Chrysler was willing to invest in season-long development but history had shown that this was a bigger request than Chrysler was willing to accommodate.
Nonetheless, Senna was a big proponent of the 3512 engine and suggested to Ron Dennis that the team go with the big V12 but Dennis had already committed to a commercial tie-in and engine deal with Peugeot for 1994. It was just the same anyway, as Senna had already committed to Williams once Prost announced his retirement leaving McLaren with an open seat which was taken by Martin Brundle.
1993 would be the final season for the Lamborghini 3512 V12 engines in F1. Fittingly, they were mated with the Larrousse F1 LH93 chassis which went on to score 3 manufacturer points and 10th in the championship with drivers Phillippe Alliot, Toshio Suzuki and Eric Comas.
As it turned out during the 1994 season, the Peugeot engines likewise proved to be fragile failing spectacularly in the McLarens on numerous occasions. McLaren ended their relationship with Peugeot and moved on to a successful pairing with long time partner Mercedes-Benz in 1995.
Naturally, the loss of Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994 in the Williams/Renault shook F1 and the entire racing world to its core, which to this day is still felt globally.
We are only left to speculate now what would have or could have happened had the Lamborghini 3512 been utilized by a top team such as McLaren. Certainly, the screaming V12s were a welcome presence on the F1 grid but Chrysler’s reluctance to develop the engines, the lack of reliability and their emphasis on the power band being all on the top end diminished their chances until it was too late to recover.
Nevertheless, Lamborghini’s place in Formula One history may not be rated as successful in terms of results but certainly the big V12s hold special memories for those lucky enough to have witnessed and driven them personally.
Lamborghini 3512 F1 Statistics 1989 -1993
Races: 80 (49 starts)
Lamborghini 3512 Engine Teams/Drivers
1989: One team
Chassis: Lola LC88B/LC89
1990: Two teams
Chassis: Lola LC90
Chassis: Lotus Type 102
1991: Two teams
Chassis: Ligier JS35, JS35B
Chassis: Lamborghini 291
1992: Two teams
Chassis: Venturi LC92
Chassis: Minardi M191B/M192
1993: One team
Chassis: Larrousse LH93