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VW Nardo: The Volkswagen Supercar That History Will Never Forget

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

Remembering the Time That VW Inadvertently Invented The Bugatti Veyron. Via the VW Nardo.

The VAG stable is home to plenty of supercar thoroughbreds.

Make no mistake.

From the more affordable Audi R8 V10 and Bentley Continental GT Speed at one end, to the largely aspirational Porsche’s, Lamborghini’s and Bugatti’s found at the higher echelons. Admittedly, neither Skoda or Seat have pitched in as best we can recall. Yet many of you will be surprised to learn that the erstwhile Volkswagen has supercar lineage. The VW Nardo, anyone?

We’re not referring to the ‘flattering to deceive’ VW SP2. Nor are we talking about the DeLorean DMC-12. Both of which offered similar pose-to-power ratios amounting to next to nothing.

Despite very much looking the part(s).

Instead we’re waxing lyrical about a car that under no circumstances subscribed to this tired, yet unavoidable concept car cliche. The (ahem, clears throat) Bugatti Veyron.

Only we’re not. But we kinda are at the same time.

Confused? Don’t be.

Let Us Explain…

We’re actually referring to the sublime Volkswagen W12 ‘Nardo. Which to the uninitiated was what the Bugatti Veyron might have been. And what the latter essentially owed most of its future successes to. Ostensibly, without one, there wouldn’t have been the other.

Although positively dripping in performance labels such as Porsche, Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti, like today, back in the 1990s not one solitary supercar within the VAG portfolio bore the VW badge.

Which apart from being coveted by car owners obsessed with reliability and Beastie Boys fans during the previous decade, was widely regarded as a safe bet.

And the polar opposite of exciting.

Are You Telling Me The VW Nardo Was Purely a Vanity Project?

Unlike the skunkworks-esque BMW M1, the Nardo was created as a concept car by VW’s mainstream engineers back in 1997. The Nardo took its moniker from the iconic Nardo Ring test track. Geographically located near the Italian city of – you guessed itLecce.

Essentially the W12 came into being as something akin to a vanity project. Demanded by Volkswagen Group CEO at the time, Ferdinand Piech. Not quite as romanticised as the earlier demand from Ford, that Carroll Shelby build a Le Mans winner in the guise of the GT40 that could kick sand in Ferrari’s smug face. But an ambitious project, nevertheless.

But Why?

Why not.

VW’s hierarchy – with legendary automotive designer, Giugiaro on-board, together with his ItalDesign team – were instructed to ‘design a Volkswagen sports car that comprised a 12-cylinder engine in a ‘W’ configuration. As well as be mid-engined and also able to accommodate VW’s syncro all-wheel drive system.

Not so much of a big ask then.

The W12 concept arose from Piech’s vision to prove to the world that the Volkswagen Group could build a bona fide supercar. The automotive side hustle being that the large, reliable engine beneath the bonnet could also double up as a power-plant for VW’s more luxurious future vehicles. With one eye on the as-yet to be unveiled Phaeton and Touareg.

In the event, the W12 engine devised specifically for the VW Nardo is closely related to both the Audi R8 and Bentley Continental GT. As well as the aforementioned. While the Nardo supercar was pretty much built as a vehicle in which to showcase VW’s engineering prowess.

A wolf in wolf’s clothing, if you like.

What Happened Next Then?

Debuted in concept car form and function at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, a vivid yellow VW Nardo drew gasps from the assembled automotive press gang. With motoring journalists and critics alike flabbergasted by this unexpected curveball.

A bit like if Volvo had suddenly announced an estate car which wasn’t designed with set and T-squares. And then bolted on an engine lifted straight out of a jet fighter.

The sight of this 5.6-litre W12 engine which produced some 414bhp certainly captured the motoring press’ attention. But the real audience VW needed to impress was the supercar-buying public.

A year later, and the W12 Roadster had its dust covers whipped off at the Geneva Motor Show.

And then everything went a bit quiet on the VW supercar front until 2001.

Then What?

It was then that the Volkswagen Group released its most potent W12 supercar concept. A 6.0-litre monster which generated some 591bhp, Propelling – what was in this guise a vivid orange Nardo – towards the 60mph horizon in just 3.5 seconds. Quick even by today’s standards. It was also constructed from various hi-tech materials. Including 19” magnesium wheels and carbon fibre elements liberally sprinkled throughout the interior space. Juxtaposed with traces of leather and aluminium.

Elsewhere the Nardo boasted a smattering of infotainment before infotainment was really a thing. And had a glass roof which extended from the back of the car to the end of the roof.

It also incorporated what VW’s marketing department described as ‘an on-board computer and car telephone’. Remember, it was 2001 and all that.

Tell Me More About The ‘Nardo’ Race Track Pedigree….

Naturally, once the aesthetics and tech had done enough to make supercar rivals sit up and choke on their frothy lattes, the only place to put its performance credentials to the proverbial sword, was the race track. Enter the Nardo.

VW had to prove it was more than capable of building a supercar. One which extended beyond the parameters of vision alone.

Being a VW it had reliability nailed from the get go.

The W12 block just needed to flesh out some tantalising track times. Which is exactly what played out in February 2002, when the Nardo broke the world record for all speed classes over a 24 hour period at Lecce’s 7.8 mile Nardo Ring. Averaging a speed of over 200mph. While going on to record a top speed of 222mph during its stint of just a few miles shy of 5,000 miles.

All of Which Led to The Veyron Then?

All this behind-the-scenes graft did eventually pave the way for the Bugatti Veyron. Albeit after six degrees or so of separation. The famous double-V engine configuration (or ‘W’ to the rest of us) acting as the precursor to the Veyron’s own W-16 lump. Therein cementing its legacy.

In its own right the W12 engine, fettled into the remarkably photogenic shape of the VW Nardo, served as a testbed for much of the technology that made its presence felt in subsequent VW Group vehicles.

All Hail the Mighty VW W12 Engine

As aforementioned, products included Volkswagen’s Phaeton and Touareg models. While elsewhere in the VAG line-up the W12 made itself feel very at home in the Audi A8 and Bentley’s Continental and Flying Spur. Still working wonders in 2021, the twin-turbocharged W12 engine features prominently in both of these, together with the Bentayga.

The W12 also, somewhat bizarrely put in an appearance in a Mk5 Golf GTi back in 2007. You can read all about the Golf GTI W12-650 here.

For that reason alone, its far-reaching value should not be underestimated, or merely mentioned in the same breath as the Bugatti Veyron.

Sadly we’ve never had the pleasure of welcoming a Bugatti Veyron to our independent VAG service bays, but have worked on various Bentley’s and Audi R8’s. So our talented technicians are no strangers to specialist supercars and relish the opportunity to service customers’ beloved vehicles.

That being said, here at WCC we afford each and every car which comes into our state-of-the-art workshops as though they are a supercar. It makes no difference to us. Rest assured our standard of workmanship and customer service is peerless, irrespective of whether we’re working on a VW Fox or (maybe one day) Bugatti Veyron.

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