Walk into a Volkswagen dealership in the early 2000s, and it was clear that the brand had taken the people’s car upmarket. The Mk.4 Golf/Jetta looked decidedly more modern than the Mk.3 holdovers from 1998. The 2001 introduction of the B5.5 Passat splashed chrome, leather and wood all over the mid-range sedans and wagons and offered exotic-sounding performance from the wild optional W8. But it was this car that really signaled VW was operating on a different plane; not only did they bring over the D1 platform Phaeton, but with it they brought the monstrous 6.0 W12.
While to many the Phaeton looked like a reskin of the D3 Audi A8 and indeed the two did share some componentry, the D1 platform was actually shared with VAG’s other subsidiary Bentley. Both the Continental GT and later Flying Spur shared the infrastructure, meaning the Phaeton enjoyed extreme levels of refinement, ride quality and fit/finish that weren’t typically associated with “the people’s car”. While all the luxury added up to north of 5,000 lbs without passengers and it lacked the twin turbochargers the Bentley boys got, the Phaeton W12 was still the fastest car in the VW showroom in 2004. With 420 horsepower driving all four wheels, the Phaeton was capable of effortless and nearly silent 5.5 second 0-60 runs and could break 200 mph unrestricted.
While it sounds great, there were two drawbacks. One was that to nearly everyone your Phaeton looked just like my Passat. And while a loaded W8 4 Motion Variant Passat was really, really expensive, you and your significant other could drive out of your local dealer with not one, but TWO fully loaded Passats for the price of just one W12 Phaeton. It’s no surprise that the U.S. market wasn’t ready for a $90,000 Volkswagen, and a scant 482 were sold here before the model was yanked. But today, that means you can get these market-busting models for pennies on the dollar: