While Shed of the Week’s value-based selection criteria often brings it back to the same type of car – Tony narrowly missing out on what would have been his fourth Jaguar S-Type of the year yesterday – Brave Pill tries to bring something new and fresh every week, even if the car in question is used and slightly wrinkly. But that desire for exclusivity does often mean the need to wait for rarer potential Pills to enter the classifieds.
Here’s one that’s been wearing out the ‘Find Your Next Car’ box since the column started: an Audi A8 W12. There aren’t many out there and they don’t come up very often, especially not looking as enticing as the one you see here. This is a car whose very existence only makes sense in the context of the collective madness that gripped the upper reaches of the German car industry in the early years of the century. And even then, not a great deal of sense.
Put simply, there is no rational reason for the W12-powered A8 to exist. Even without it the D3-generation Audi A8 already possessed what was probably the most top-endy range of engines of any saloon in history. Buyers opting for petrol could choose between two V6s, two V8s and the 5.0-litre V10 that powered the S8. This 10-cylinder made 444hp and 398lb ft of torque, and it’s hard to imagine any potential buyer turning it down for not being exotic enough.
But that’s clearly what Audi feared would happen – because Mercedes and BMW were both offering V12 engines in the equivalent S-Class and 7 Series. The naturally aspirated 6.0-litre W12 that Volkswagen had created for the Phaeton had been fitted to the earlier D2 generation A8 for a couple of years. So the company decided to continue to offer it in this one, despite the fact that its peak 444hp output was identical to that of the forthcoming V10, and the W12’s maximum 428 lb ft of torque only slightly higher. Audi quoted identical performance figures for both cars: a 5.1-second 0-62mph time and an electronically limited 155mph top speed.
So Audi had basically spent many millions of Euros on development and homologation to give the richest A8 buyers the choice of different exhaust soundtracks. More confusing was the fact that the W12 wasn’t actually better in any obvious regard than the S8 beyond its sparkplug tally and enhanced asking price. I never got to drive one in period, which is a telling detail given that Audi used to run the biggest press fleet in the country.
But journalists on the original W12 launch in Germany reported that the car was both less agile and – more surprisingly – less refined than the 4.2-litre V8 that sat below it in the hierarchy before the S8 arrived in 2006. The W12 was also seriously more expensive, too – a £79,800 list in 2008 made it the priciest car in the range, ten grand more than the S8 and three grand over the freshly launched R8.
A few private buyers did take the bait, but Audi itself was almost certainly the W12’s best customer in the UK. A significant percentage of the cars that made it here were first registered by the company itself to act as executive limousines, this being the period when a Z-lister heading to the TV Quick awards could blag a chauffeured Audi for the ride so the car would be seen in the red carpet shots. At one time there were apparently more than 100 cars for these PR shindigs, many of which were A8s and a few of which would always have been the 12-cylinder. Our Pill may well have started life as one of them.
Although it is hard to look at so much car wearing a £12,000 price tag without seeing a bargain, that figure does represent something close to the top of current D3 asking prices. When we featured an S8 in December 2017 it was up for just seven grand, although that was with the additional risk of having covered 150,000 miles and sitting on a set of low-grade Ditchfinder tyres which caused controversy in the comments.
Based on the limited photographic evidence of just five images, this W12 seems far nicer. The black-looking paint is apparently actually a very rare shade of Cherry Pearl metallic, and there is a purplish tinge to it. The interior looks similarly enticing with its dark walnut finish, this hiding the pop-up display screen for the sat nav which rises out of the top of the dash – a level of high-tech magic that used to pretty much draw crowds of onlookers when the car was new. The selling dealer also reports the car the upgraded Bang & Olufsen audio system which was a highly desirable option, plus a full service history – although the exact details of that will require some further research by any potential buyers.
The recent MOT history is as green as a Celtic-Hibs cup final with three advisory-free passes in three years, although each was just a couple of thousand miles apart. Given the W12 is on full whack road tax, £630 at present, that means keeping it in VED will almost certainly have cost more than fuelling it, even with an official combined economy of just 20.8mpg. But nothing on one of these is going to be cheap, with chunky routine maintenance bills and the doubtless expensive thrills of sorting out faults and failures.
But you can look at it another way. Our Pill is basically running a non-turbocharged version of the Bentley W12, and you’re not going to get a half-decent Continental or Flying Spur for anything like £12,000. Yes, the S8 might be just as fast and dynamically better – but nothing succeeds like excess, does it?
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