Gear: These Two Books About Engines Are Unexpectedly Great

These Two Books About Engines Are Unexpectedly Great

By Benjamin Shahrabani
April 13, 2016

The internal combustion engine may have fallen a notch or two in the hybrid, fuel-efficiency-obsessed world of today, but if you’re a reader of Petrolicious, it likely still ranks most highly in your eyes. It does in ours, too: it’s still one of the world’s greatest inventions, moreover, one that directly led to the development of modern society.

Two books on two very different types of engines recently arrived at Petrolicious HQ. In one corner, we have a heavyweight book about the mighty (and heavyweight) V12. Said to be the most sophisticated and smooth engine design, this type of engine has found its way into some of the most desirable luxury and supercars of yesteryear and today. In the other, we have a slimmer tome about the bantamweight Porsche 4-cam engine that made its home in some of the company’s most fabled sports racers starting in the 1950’s and culminating about a decade later.

If you have an interest in what makes cars go, might we suggest the following titles for your consideration?

The V12 Engine—The Technology, Evolution and Impact of V12-Engined Cars: 1909-2005
Author: Karl Ludvigsen
Publisher: Bentley Publishers
Pages: 590

We’ve certainly come a long way since the first cars with their single-cylinder motors, but many might not realize that engines with twelve-times the cylinder count came along not so long after. In The V12 Engine – The Technology, Evolution and Impact of V12-Engined Cars: 1909-2005, author Karl Ludvigsen chronicles and delves into almost a century’s worth of history and development of the V12 as used in automobiles, but also in a few alternative applications such as airplanes and boats.

This tome is a large one, much like many of the engines it documents, but all those pages are put to good use. Filled with the author’s crisp and detailed prose as well as copious cutaway drawings, engineering cross-sections, and photographs in both black and white as well as color, approximately half the book focuses on the Pre-War development and usage of the V12, predominantly by American, British, French, German and Italian manufacturers. To the author’s eternal credit, rarely is there an engine written about which is not also backed up by either a cutaway or photograph, essentially “putting a face with the name,” except this time with engines.

After the Second World War came to an end, the popularity of this engine type once again exploded and the author documents the engine’s declining usage in aeronautics with the advent of the jet engine, while at the same time notating the soaring popularity in both passenger and racing models by a host of manufacturers such as Ferrari, Maserati, OSCA, Matra, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Volkswagen/Audi/Bugatti, as well as Toyota, Mazda, and Honda. Grand Prix race engines in particular get extensive coverage in the latter part of the book.

Aside from a storied career in the motor industry, Ludvigsen is an acclaimed writer of more than two dozen motorsports books, so one knows going in that this one will be both thoroughly researched and well-written. There have been an astounding number of V12 engines produced over the past century, and the author illuminates both well-known examples, as well as more than a few obscure and unique ones which might not be.

More importantly, while there is a lot of information provided, the author’s approach to writing about these engines is more “biography” than engineering study, which makes for a more relaxed read for those less technically-inclined. One nitpick is the lack of an index at the end, but that is minor; this is an excellent book for anyone interested in the engines that powered some of the most legendary cars in history.

Who doesn’t love a V12? It’s just more…of everything.

The Porsche Carrera 4-Cam Engines
Author: Peter Pohl
Publisher: Peter Pohl, HAGI Publishing
Pages: 108

The Porsche Carrera 4-cam originally designed by Dr. Ernst Luhrmann is arguably one of the most complex and interesting designs of the 1950s and ’60s. While following the basic configuration of the standard Porsche engine of the time period, the Carrera engine managed to differ in almost every detail—aluminum block, four camshafts, dual-distributor ignition, dual twin-choke Solex carburetors, dry–sump oiled, and roller bearings on both the mains and rods. Initially developed for the “Type” 550 Spyder, the motor (and its variant successors) would find themselves installed in the engine bays of the 356, 718 RSK, RS 60 and RS 61, and 904 GTS models as well.

While the 4-cam was built for high speed and punched far beyond its nominally small displacement, it was not the most durable engine by any stretch of the imagination—this was a through and through racing engine. Porsche warned drivers not to drive above 6,500 RPM for extended periods (redline was delineated at 7,500 RPM) and later also discovered engines not surviving due to drivers lugging them below 2,500 RPM. They’re potent but can be fragile, with a somewhat narrow useable power band. But when it’s in the sweet spot? Not a thing like it.

Even in period, few technicians were qualified to care for or rebuild a 4-cam engine, of which only about 2,000 were produced—which is perhaps one reason why more than a few of these engines were simply replaced in period with their more prosaic counterparts when they went kaput. Today, very few Carreras can be found on the race track, for fear of costly engine damage.

Peter Pohl, a former engineer, has been a long-term owner of several of these special Carrera-engined Porsches, and penned The Porsche Carrera 4-Cam Engines. With over thirty-five years of experience repairing, rebuilding, and operating these rare cars, he is certainly qualified, and hopes to dispel owner’s reservations and promote more confidence in the engine’s reliability. The writing is clear, and logical, easily digestible even for even a novice, and accompanied by plenty of photographs, illustrations, and technical drawings. Besides instructing the reader through the practical steps of disassembling and rebuilding a Porsche 4-cam engine, the author also analyses each of the three different engine types, identifying nuances, strengths and weaknesses along the way. Practical tips for the proper maintenance, operation, and even modification of this engine are discussed in detail.

This is—with a high degree of probability—the only book written exclusively and in-depth about the Porsche 4-cam engines, hence it is at the same time both highly specialized and limited in scope. Those looking for a broader history of the models might look elsewhere.

If you’re into engineering, history, or have an interest in Porsche, consider it. The volums will certainly be of interest to a Porsche historian, or an engine builder—and is certainly essential to the owners of these cars who hopes to keep their 4-cams running sweetly far into the future.

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davidGGlinesPatrick Petersbrandon_najarianBenjamin ShahrabaniGuitar Slinger Recent comment authors
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I can’t find the pdf of The Porsche Carrera 4-Cam Engines. However, there’s an autobooks-aerobooks reference with the $189 price. On the other hand, I have a couple of excerpts and summaries with copied pages from

Patrick Peters
Patrick Peters

Also a nice read regarding (motorcycle) engine performance (and for free). The classic tuning for speed by P.E. Irving.


I’ve recently purchased “The V12 Engine—The Technology, Evolution and Impact of V12-Engined Cars: 1909-2005”, definitely a good buy. I highly recommend this

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

I know the magazine . I almost considered subscribing until I read a couple of issues . Suffice it to say even if the man’s criticism is correct … its a case of the Pot calling the Kettle Black . e.g. RET is more than a bit thin on the ground when it comes to the details themselves . Vapid information for the engineer wanna be says it all So my guess is … especially knowing Mr Ludvigsen’s writing as I do… [ my bookshelf has more than a few of his books ] … the man from RET has… Read more »

Franco Martinengo
Franco Martinengo

Mazda V12???
Mazda never built a V12!

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange

A quick google says Mazda’s 12 cylinder engine was a W12 Like a Bentley Continental not a V12 as such.

For ultimate Japanese V12’s how about Nissan’s R382 Group 7 ‘Can Am’ engine

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Ahem .. a correction if I may . Technically Mazda did not ‘ build ‘ a V12 . They ‘ borrowed ‘ Ford’s PAG V12 created from the Duratec V6 and used in Aston Martins [ to this day ] and Jaguars

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Anything Karl Ludvigsen writes is well worth the price of entry so there’s nothing at all unexpected when it comes to this book being ‘ great ‘ . Add to that its a book about V12’s [ is or will there ever be a more glorious engine configuration that a V12 ] .. plus the fact its a Bentley Publishers offering [ quality is an understatement when it comes to Bentley Publications books ] and I’ll be ordering this one ASAP .. The second book though ? Page wise .. especially in light of the subject matter its a bit… Read more »

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

On the 2nd book . $135 for 108 pages adding on at least another $40 for shipping and handling from Germany ? Ouch ! Great subject matter … but really ….

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Benjamin – Perhaps I should of been a bit more specific . Mr Pohl as an engine builder I know . Mr Pohl as an author I do not . The reality being just cause ya knows how to build them is no guarantee you can write worth a damn ! And sure .. if you’ve got a 4 cam in your garage .. paying upwards of $175 for the book …. might be worth it [ though really if you own one what do you need the book for … you’re in to it first hand ] For anyone… Read more »