In the late 1990’s Volkswagen were finalising their W12 engine. With VW’s recent purchase of Bentley, it was decided the new engine would power the forthcoming Bentley Continental GT. But the W12 found a much more exotic home shortly before it was slotted into the British grand tourer. The W12’s first home in a working car was in fact, the Volkswagen Nardo.
Launched at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, the W12 seemed to be a rolling testbed for VW’s exciting W12 engine (the first cars were confusingly named after the engine). But the W12 was so much more than that. The first W12 featured VW’s new ‘Syncro’ four wheel-drive system which would later be known as ‘4motion’. The yellow original from 1997 also had a 5.6-litre mid-longitudinal W12 constructed from two VR6-designed engines producing 414bhp.
Volkswagen unveiled an open top version the following year, called the W12 Roadster. It had the same W12 engine but instead of four wheel-drive, VW gave it rear wheel-drive.
In 2001, Volkswagen’s supercar concept got a refresh. The Giugario-designed body was given new lights and more vents – handy given the W12 engine was now tuned to 591bhp. This extra power gave it a 0-62mph of 3.5 seconds and a 222mph top speed. 2002 is when the updated car recieved its Nardo name. VW took it to the Nardo Ring in Lecce, where it broke the world record for the highest average speed over 24 hours for a car – 200.6mph.
While the Volkswagen Nardo created history thanks to its record-breaking run, it became somewhat forgotten thanks to the cars which went on to benefit from its revolutionary technology. The Audi A8, Bentley Continental, VW Phaeton and Touareg all had models which used the W12. Even the Bugatti Veyron’s famous W16 engine couldn’t have been developed without the Nardo’s pioneering W12. The Nardo never came close to getting the green light for production, but it still manages to be one of the most important cars in Volkswagen’s history.