A frequently asked question: What does it require for a car to become a classic – besides time?
Well, it usually helps to be a sporting top model from a prestige marque. Here the VW Phaeton fails in two out of three points – but at least it is indisputably a top model. The performance of the big twelve cylinder engine (yet another sure way to classic status?) is there, but it’s just delivered in a purely comfort-oriented manner – to an extent where Bentley could later take over the complete driveline and basic platform, and let it form the background for… exactly, their sporting top models. Which, incidentally, also happens to be a rather handsome design, which one cannot say about a Phaeton. Unless you think a Passat is beautiful, of course.
But the Bentleys aren’t even built at their very own factory. That was the case for the Phaeton too, and the factory is quite the architectural gem – if you like the modern stuff, that is. Which you probably do considering you have come this far in an article headlining something as modern and high-tech as the Phaeton. The “Glaserne Manufaktur” factory, which is something as contradictory as an environmentally friendly car factory (in itself a completely absurd concept for an over two tonnes heavy luxury limousine) is located in Dresden, and was in actual fact more of an assembly plant. The noisy production of body parts and other metal components took place 100 kilometers away in Zwickau, where Trabants were previously built. Paradoxically one can’t possibly come further afield the concept of a cheap car for the masses than the Phaeton: It really is as far removed from a VOLKswagen as can be imagined. Which was perhaps in itself its biggest issue: Who wants a ridiculously expensive car for the ordinary people?
Not many, because only about 60.000 have been sold since 2001. The largest market was China, which I’m honestly not entirely sure what to make of. Regardless, in March 2016 production of the Phaeton ceased – which happened in considerably greater silence than when, for example, the Land Rover did so. But such a car is the Phaeton after all – extremely quiet and discreet.
Its only loud and attention-grabbing attribute was perhaps its massive sales failure. It’s claimed that the development of the Phaeton cost VW over a billion Euros, after which it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that producing a mere eight cars a week does not compute well. Not seen as an individual case at least – but the resultant rarity does of course help its potential classic car status. The same goes for the story that it was Ferdinand Piech’s personal prestige pet project, and that he himself was the man behind insane demands such as the car having to be capable of speeding at 300 km/h for a whole day – in 50 degrees heat. Oh, and without the interior temperature rising above 22 degrees Celcius! It’s an interesting thought, though. But funnily enough, also completely irrelevant, as the car was then electronically limited to 250 km/h.
The Phaeton was available with various smaller engines – V6’s and V8’s, and even diesels. But naturally, it must be the 450 horsepower strong W12 of 6-litre capacity which will (possibly) become the biggest classic. Only that is the true Phaeton, the embodiment of Piech’s vision. However, their market value has only fallen like rocks through thin air after the car has revealed itself as a massive sales fiasco – so there should be good cheap cars to buy now. Just be warned, though: It will be just as challenging for a new owner to get the calculation for potential value increases to balance with the thunderous operating and maintenance costs, as it was for VW to get the economy for development, build and sales to balance. It is believed that they on average lost 28,000 euros on every Phaeton sold.
So in short, a great car and a great failure. But an upcoming great classic as well? You’ll be the judge. Literally! Should enthusiasts like you start buying up Phaetons in large numbers, maybe they will gain in status and the market value will of course react in the northbound manner in which it always does. Or maybe enthusiasts just won’t show any interest at all… Watch this space.
Photos courtesy of: VW