For Volkswagen fans, the ultimate “could have been” for the brand was the W12 Coupe Concept, or Nardó, as it’s more commonly known. This mid-engine supercar was birthed as VW was ramping up its quest to become the biggest automaker in the world. It was a testbed for much of the technology that would make its way into VW Group products across all of its brands, including the legendary Veyron supercar from Bugatti.
Nardó Inception: W12 Syncro
The Nardo began its public life in 1997 at the Tokyo Motor Show appearing in bright yellow as the W12 Syncro. It featured a massive 5.6-liter W-12 engine, one of the specific requests of Ferdinand Piëch, who was then CEO of Volkswagen Group. He also wanted the car to have a mid-engine layout and send power to all four wheels with VW’s own Syncro AWD system.
The 12-cylinder engine, which VW described as “as two narrow-angle V-6 cylinder blocks joined side-by-side at an angle of 72 degrees onto a common seven-bearing crankshaft,” churned out 420 hp, more than some contemporary exotics like the 375-hp Ferrari F355, but less than the 485-hp Lamborghini Diablo. VW wanted to show that it could produce an engine that could be used in its higher-end sportscars and luxury cars.
The Head-Turning W12 Roadster
An open-top concept followed the next year, this time at the Geneva Auto Show. The W12 Roadster wore red paint and dropped the Sycro AWD system in favor of a rear-wheel-drive setup. It produced the same power output as it closed-top sibling.
Final Form: W12 Coupe Concept
The final iteration of VW’s supercar arrived in 2001, again at the Tokyo Motor Show. This was the car that would be known as the Nardó, or W12 Coupe Concept. Remember how the earlier versions had less power than a Lamborghini? This time, VW upped the output to 591 hp and 458 lb-ft of torque, sent through a six-speed sequential transmission.
Despite beefing up the engine, VW opted not to bring back the all-wheel-drive system, and the now-6.0-liter W-12 engine drove only the rear wheels. Despite this, VW still claimed a 0-62 mph-time of 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 217 mph.
VW also included some high-performance components under the Italdesign-penned bodywork. It used double wishbone suspension in the front and the rear, had perfect 50:50 weight distribution, and wore ventilated Brembo disc brakes. The Nardó also had active aero in the form of a rear spoiler that deployed at 75 mph.
State of the Art
High-tech materials also found their place in the Nardo. Its 19-inch wheels were made from magnesium, and its interior featured carbon fiber in addition to traditional luxury materials like leather and aluminum. VW claimed a total curb weight of just 1,200 kg or about 2,645 lb. Onboard tech included an infotainment display that controlled air conditioning, navigation, and, as VW quaintly wrote in the press release, an “on-board computer and car telephone.”
Going Out with a Bang
Volkswagen asserted in the press release that the Nardo’s specifications weren’t simply made up. “All details and equipment on the W12 Coupé are fully functional and the concepts on display are close to production standards,” it said. VW stated at one point that a limited number of roadsters would be produced-200 examples at a cost of $175,000 per unit. A similar production run was promised for the Nardó in 2001-with VW stating that it would build and sell 50 cars for $200,000 each.
Despite never making its way into the public’s hands, a prototype of the car would subsequently break ten different speed records during testing, including the longest distance ever covered in 24 hours: It lapped its namesake, the Nardó Circuit in Italy, for an entire day, covering 4,800 miles at an average of 200.6 mph. At least the dream didn’t die without a little bit of closure.
While not remembered by many, the Nardó’s impact on the automotive industry should not be understated. Its double-V configuration engine is a precursor to the Bugatti Veyron‘s own W-16 engine. A W-12 would find its way into several Volkswagen Group products as well, such as the Phaeton, the Touareg, the Audi A8, and Bentley’s Continental and Flying Spur. Volkswagen even dropped one in a GTI to hilarious effect. In fact, over two decades after the first W12 Synchro’s debut, a twin-turbocharged W-12 is still in service in the Bentley Bentayga, Bentley Continental GT, and Bentley Flying Spur.
Check out the gallery for high-resolution images of the Nardó, W12 Syncro, W12 Roadster, and more VWs packing W-12 engines.
Volkswagen Nardó W12 Concept Coupe Fast Facts
- Engine: 6.0-liter W-12 (600 hp, 458 lb-ft of torque)
- Transmission: 6-speed sequential
- Suspension: Front and rear double wishbone
- Brakes: Ventilated Brembo disc brakes
- Curb weight: 2,645 lb
- 0-60 mph: 3.5 seconds
- Top Speed: 217 mph