The VW Group was a bonkers place back in the mid-noughties. In stark contrast to its sensible, post-dieselgate ethos, where streamlining, platform-sharing and cost-cutting joint ventures are the orders of the day, the 2000s was a decade of mad excess for the German car giant.
This was the era of the Bugatti Veyron. Of Audi’s enormously costly V12 TDI, which only ended up in one production car. If there’s one vehicle which sums up this period in VW Group’s history better than any other, though, it’s surely the Phaeton.
The brainchild of VW’s then-chairman, the late Ferdinand Piech, the brand’s take on the luxury saloon remit infamously had to fulfil 10 ‘parameters’ laid out by Piech himself. The full list wasn’t ever revealed, although the one perhaps quoted the most involved the climate control being able to maintain a pleasant 21 degrees celsius while the car was travelling at 186mph in 50-degree ambient heat. Handy for staying cool on those derestricted autobahn jaunts, you understand.
With this kind of emphasis on overengineering, the car VW came up with was a masterpiece. Probably the best thing it’s ever made. And also, as proven in time, a massive sales flop.
It didn’t matter how good it was - the VW badge was always going to struggle competing with the cache of Mercedes’ three-pointed star, BMW’s roundel and the four rings of VW Group’s own Audi brand. Pleasingly, though, the Phaeton today seems to be recognised more for the bonkers attention to detail involved in its creation, rather than the paltry number VW dealers managed to usher out of the showroom. And if you’re going to buy one today, you might as well make it the best available.
Up for auction with Collecting Cars (seven days remaining at the time of writing), it has the range-topping 444bhp, W12 engine, and is in the long-wheelbase configuration - the only guise the 6.0-litre version was offered in. If the numbers of Howmanyleft.com are to be believed, there are only 23 others like it on UK roads today.
First bought by VW UK in 2008, it passed into private ownership around 11 years ago. In that time, the current keeper covered just 16,000 miles, giving the car a total of 23,172 miles on the clock. Cosmetically, it’s not perfect, with a few marks and 18-inch ‘Aristoteles’ wheels that are in desperate need of refurbishment (you can blame life in London for that). But it’s been well looked after, having been serviced almost every year of its life.
It’s a good spec, too - Tarantella Black Pearl exterior paint is matched to brilliantly named ‘Sunny Beige Sensitive’ leather on the inside. The rear-seat passengers can enjoy an extra 120mm of legroom thanks to the wheelbase stretch, along with heated and ventilated seats plus individual climate zones.
Predicting how much it’ll go for is tricky. Diesel Phaetons start as low as £3000, but there are currently no other W12 examples for sale in the UK to compare this one to. Even bearing in mind the low mileage, it’ll sell for a fraction of its original purchase price, which works out around £100,000 when adjusted for inflation.
Of course, the outlay won’t end with the purchase price - keeping a W12 Phaeton running is going to be hellishly expensive, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. But maintaining what’s best thought of as ‘peak Volkswagen’ is surely God’s work. We’d just prefer if it wasn’t us emptying our bank accounts for the cause…