What do the Cadillac Model 370A of the 1930’s, the Ferrari Daytona Coupe of the 1970’s, and the modern BMW 760Li all have in common? That’s right – each was one of the most desirable vehicles on the road during its time, and each sported a massive twelve-cylinder engine. It seems that motorheads’ longing for the effortless torque, screaming redlines, and gorgeous exhaust note of a twelve-cylinder engine hasn’t faded throughout the decades. But as the automotive industry moves increasingly towards “downsizing and turbocharging”, a twelve-cylinder powerplant has become difficult to find. The upper echelons of the car world, such as Bentley, Rolls-Royce, and the like, have remained true to the twelve-cylinder philosophy, but few others have.
Volkswagen Group shocked the world in 2004 with the introduction of their Phaeton W12 for the US market, a daring move that gave Americans an extremely rare and powerful sedan destined to become a collectible in the near future.
It’s names after the Greek god Phaëton, whose most famous feature was an ostentatious carriage. The Phaeton accomplishes a rare balance between immense performance and swaddling luxury. The 6.0-liter W12 engine produced 420 horsepower to go along with 406 lb.-ft. of torque, numbers that rocketed this 5000 lb. beast to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. The Phaeton put this power to the ground through VW’s 4Motion AWD system, a variation of Audi’s legendary Quattro system. Unbelievably, all of this performance arrived in a wheelbase that was the longest of any VW Group vehicle as of 2011, providing passengers with ample legroom and speaking to the luxurious aim of the Phaeton.
The Phaeton’s luxury features, however, extended far past simply legroom. Standard came a draftless four-zone climate control system, an adjustable air suspension system, and an 18-way power adjustable driver’s seat. In addition, base Phaetons received authentic walnut wood trim, a 270-watt premium audio system, and rear sunshades for the discerning passenger. Gorgeous, high-quality leather stitched to perfection filled every inch of a Phaeton interior, something that allowed the vehicle to shed its common brand name for a more Bentley-esque experience.
Though production of the Phaeton W12 continues in Europe, the American market only saw the big VW from 2004-2006, when the company realized that US sales were too weak to remain profitable. Only 452 Phaeton W12s were sold in the US for the 2004 model year, followed by a meager 30 W12 sales in 2005 – these 2005 model year Phaetons are sure to be some of the most desirable models for collectors in the future.
In addition, the Phaeton originally came in 21 exterior and 5 interior color options, with very few Phaetons ever leaving VW’s Dresden, Germany factory in the “Deep Blue Pearl Effect” or “Marais Green Metallic” exterior paint schemes. Even fewer Phaetons left the factory with the “Navy Blue” interior color due to its limited appeal, and cars graced with this interior color are some of the rarest Phaetons available. Though even the base Phaeton was extremely well-equipped, a few luxury options were still available for the massive VW. A Comfort Package, including climate-controlled front and rear seats, massage seats, and adjustable head restraints, was available at a $1790 premium, while electronic park assist and keyless go were available at $500 apiece. Even a $2000 “Klavierlack” high gloss finish for the exterior paint was available, showing the vast range of customizability from the normally cookie-cutter VW brand.
The Bottom Line
The Phaeton W12 was a serious risk for the VW brand – after all, many hesitated to buy a near $100,000 VW with a massive, exotic engine. Unfortunately, VW’s risk was not well-received by the American market, with production ending at a massive profit loss for the company. But the Phaeton’s absurdly low production numbers, exhilarating performance, sumptuous luxury, and a low used price continue to mesmerize car fanatics to this day, hinting at a bright future for this true modern collectible.
Please enjoy this TFLcar.com video of the Volkswagen Passat, the Phaeton’s little brother.