Time is running out for the internal combustion engine. First introduced towards the end of the 19th century, we are all used to the sound and performance of petrol and diesel engines, but while uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) is slow in SA, around the world it is charging ahead.
The internal combustion engine is not going quietly, though, and many automakers are producing some of the most powerful and technologically advanced cars we have ever seen as they start to say goodbye to an automotive era that has lasted well over 100 years. Some are giving a nod to the transition by using plug-in hybrids, while others are going all out with huge V8s and V12s. Some will see it as the end of the road, but for the automakers, it’s a chance to push the limits and make the most of decades of expertise, even have a bit of fun.
We’ve already seen that in the Porsche 911 Dakar, an off-roading version of the iconic 911 that takes inspiration from the 959 Dakar of the 1980s. Lamborghini has its Huracán Sterrato, again a supercar for driving off the tarmac, and we’ve got last hurrah sports cars from Lotus and Ferrari. Even Ford is getting in on the fun with its Mustang GTD, a road-legal track car.
Then there are the big guns. Ferrari revealed another of its 812 Competizione models at the recent Monterey Car Week in the US. Powered by the famous Maranello V12, this bespoke model will be auctioned off for charity, but it wasn’t the only V12 at Monterey. The twelve-cylinder star of the show was the new Zenvo Aurora, a 1,300kg extreme performance hypercar that boasts a 6.6l, four-turbo V12 developing 1,380kW. It can hit 100km/h in 2.3 seconds and then keep going all the way to 450km/h. The flagship Aurora Tur does have two electric motors, one on each of the front wheels, but it’s the powerful V12 that grabs attention.
South African Gordon Murray, famous for designing the McLaren F1, today has his own company building supercars. Murray launched his latest venture relatively recently, but is using a Cosworth 3.9l V12 engine in models like the T.33. It’s proved a sales success, showing that there remains demand for big-engined sports cars with high price tags.
It’s not just sports cars either; Rolls-Royce might have recently launched its first electric car, Spectre, but it continues to produce bespoke and highly collectible models with big whisper-quiet engines. The latest is its Droptail series, sporty and elegant convertibles that are created to meet the specific requirements of each wealthy owner.
Many automakers are also choosing to celebrate the past in limited edition models for road and track. Lotus revealed its Type 66 recreation at Monterey, a track-only race car that is a reimagined version of the 1970 model. At about R20m, just ten will be built but these expensive, low-volume vehicles are highly desirable to collectors and petrol enthusiasts the world over, all keen to get their hands on the last internal combustion engined models and enjoy the theatre of sound and performance they offer.
That nostalgia is also why Bentley has sold all its re-creations of the famous 1929 Bentley Blower and it has just made a one-off Continental GT Speed celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Conti GT. Jaguar continues to make recreations of iconic models like the E-Type, C-Type and D-Type, and around the world, new businesses are popping up almost daily, re-creating models like the Porsche 911.
Many of the wealthy buyers of these models have an electric car in the garage too, but whether it’s a recreation of an old model or a brand new hypercar, there is clearly a big appetite for big engines and big performance. At what point that appetite will be satisfied is difficult to tell, but for now the internal combustion engine continues to rev emotions for enthusiasts and collectors around the world.