The story goes that in 1997 late VW overlord and mad scientist-cum-engineer Ferdinand Piech requested Giorgetto Giugiaro and his Italdesign team style a supercar to properly signal VW’s plans for world motoring sales domination.
The first of three versions of VW’s W12 concept was unveiled at the 1997 Tokyo Motor show sporting a mid-mounted 5.6-litre 12-cylinder in a brand new W configuration, two narrow-angle V6s attached to common seven-bearing crank. A fully functioning concept, it used double wishbone suspension all round, featured an active rear wing and sent its 309kW through VW’s Syncro all-wheel drive system, another of Piech’s original ‘musts’ of the concept brief.
Classic MOTOR: Joss Supercar prototype
In 1998 a roadster version was unveiled but this time rear-wheel drive, which would later also be used in the final W12 concept iteration, the famed Nardo pictured above.
Revealed in 2001, the Nardo saw an increase to 6.0 litres in engine capacity, power also hiking to 441kW. The sequential auto of the previous concepts was replaced with a six-speed manual. VW claimed the Nardo could do 0-100km/h in as low as 3.5 seconds but proved its top speed of 357km/h at the track it earned its name in Lecce, Italy. In fact, over 24 hours and using a crack team of Le Mans drivers, the Nardo broke multiple speed records including most distance covered (7901km) and highest average speed (322.8km/h).
The W12 sadly never entered production, but spawned a family of engines that would power everything from Bentleys, VWs and Audis. But also it helped VW prove to itself and the world it was capable of attempting a properly ambitious supercar program – and would later give rise to the mightiest of them all, the Bugatti Veyron. For that car we’ve the W12 to thank and the Nardo especially.
2001 VW Nardo W12 specs
Engine: 5998cc W12, DOHC, 48v
Power: 448kW @ 7000rpm
Torque: 620Nm @ 5800rpm
0-100km/h: 3.5sec (claimed)
Price new: Erm, POA