If there was ever any proof needed that Volkswagen was seeking to bury its proletarian background and join the other German manufacturers (Porsche, BMW, Mercedes and some of its Volkswagen stablemates such as Audi and Bugatti), at the top end of the market, it is the existence of the W12 Coupe.
Originally thought to be a concept car, the W12 took a huge leap forward last October when VW rolled it onto the racetrack and set a raft of performance and speed records, the most convincing being that the W12 averaged a staggering 294 kmh/183 mph over 24 hours.
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It was also announced at the prestigious Tokyo Motor Show that the W12 would go into production. Those figures plus the announcement of production status made the W12 coupe the heir apparent to the tag of the world's fastest production car.
More recently, VW decided to have another crack at the speed records and went back to the ultra-fast Narda track in Southern Italy on February 23 and 24, 2002.
This time the W12 smashed its existing world 24-hour speed record by 27.7 km/h, covering 7,749.4 kilometres at an average speed of 322.89 km/h - that's an extra 663 kilometres in the 24 hours.
Whilst these speeds in their metric guise may just seem ridiculously high to many of Gizmo's readers, convert them to imperial measure and you'll suddenly understand why VW went back to the racetrack.
The February records have now pushed the average speed past 200 mph for all records from 100 kilometres and one hour, through to 5000 miles and 24 hours.
Accordingly, the W12 is capable of averaging 200mph almost indefinitely, which makes it one weapon of a roadster.
At the heart of the W12 is a 440 kW (600 bhp) twelve-cylinder engine in a W configuration, which perhaps not necessarily by coincidence, is becoming the VW hallmark.
In the future, all Volkswagens in the upper and luxury classes will be equipped with the high-torque W-configuration engines, which are characterised by exceptionally low levels of vibration and the best possible acoustic qualities.
The Volkswagen Passat W8 is already using an eight cylinder version of this configuration, and the 12-cylinder engine will power several other Volkswagen Group upmarket vehicles, including the new Phaeton luxury saloon which debuted at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this month and a yet-to-be-released premium off-road vehicle - in both cases, the 6.0-litre engine will be in a lower state-of-tune, producing 309 kW/ 420 bhp.
A 16-cylinder version has also been developed and will be used in the beautiful Bugatti Veyron.
The engine is compact, harmonically balanced and ... awesome
The 440 kW, six-litre, 12-cylinder engine is made up of two very thin V6 four-valve modules which are configured at an angle of 72 degrees with a joint crankshaft with seven main bearings to make up a V-V or W configuration.
The cylinder angle is just 15 degrees within the two V6 banks. The engine is mid-mounted in the W12 and with a length of 513 millimetres, a height of 715 millimetres and a width of 710 millimetres, is particularly compact. At 239 kilos, the engine is also very light. A further indication of the systematic light-weight construction approach taken by VW can be seen in the valve and timing-chain covers, which are made of magnesium.
The engine, which is located between the passenger compartment and the rear axle, has an extraordinarily torsionally-rigid aluminium crankcase with wear-resistant cylinder sleeves. All other construction details of the W12 engine, which has a compression ratio of 12:1, are also indications of an extremely high-tech assembly: the spark plugs are positioned centrally in the pent-roof combustion chamber, making optimal combustion possible; the same applies for the flow-optimised intake ports.
A double-flow magnesium variable intake manifold supports the particularly dynamic torque curve. The variable intake and exhaust valve timing has a decisive influence on power development: the inlet camshafts can be continually adjusted through 52 degrees and the corresponding value for the exhaust camshaft is 22 degrees.
At 5,800 rpm it develops a staggering 620 Newton metres of torque and its top speed is in excess of 350 km/h. The W12 Coup' truly is one of the most exclusive and fastest sports cars in the world. Running gear - Double wishbone suspension and Brembo brakes system The enormous power of the engine is transferred to the rear axle via a sequential and thus very fast shifting six-speed gearbox located behind the engine.
The contact to the road is made via specially developed 19" magnesium wheels with 255/35 ZR front tyres and 275/40 ZR rear tyres.
The sophisticated front and rear axle with double wishbone, numerous electronics modules, an ideal weight distribution of nearly 50:50 and an extended wheelbase of 2.63 metres ensure that the W12 Coup' is both fast and safe.
The scope of active safety systems includes the electronic stability program ESP and the traction control system TCS. The performance of these systems in the correction of the vehicle response is carried out not only via the brakes system, but also via the central engine management system.
At the same time electronic differential locks (EDL) ensure via the brakes that the wheels do not overspin at speeds under 40 km/h. Anybody wanting to drive the W12 Coup' on a racetrack can deactivate the electronic running gear systems. The basic concept of the brake system has been perfectly adapted to suit these situations. Ventilated Brembo brakes with a disc diameter of 318 millimetres have been fitted at the front and rear. The handbrake has been designed for comfortable standard production: it is activated electronically by pressing a button.
Design by Giugiaro - the body of the W12 Coup'
The shape of the long, flat W12 body is the work of one of the most famous automotive design studios in the world: Italdesign, Giugario.
Due to the monocoque construction and the location of the longitudinal engine fitted behind the passenger compartment, the front end of the vehicle could be kept extremely flat. With a length of 4.55 metres and at more than 1.92 metres wide, the W12 Coup' has a very impressive appearance due to its dimensions alone.
This is further underlined by the height of the two-seater vehicle, which is just 1.1 metres and contributes significantly to the top speed of the car by virtue of its extremely low frontal area. The restrained styling of the rear spoiler at rest is another innovation - once speed passes 120km/h it automatically extends to improve downforce.
The car has two wing doors that open to the front and roof centre part made of special glass which extends from the windscreen through to the end of the engine compartment. The W12 engine with its visually-compelling double V construction can be seen through the transparent rear bonnet.
Red aluminium shines in the interior Leather, aluminium and carbon dominate the design of the interior of the W12 Coup'. Seats, fittings and door trims have been finished, for example, with a black/grey suede and a colour coded smooth leather. Smooth leather has been used for the element where the driver has direct access to the function elements - namely the steering wheel.
The steering wheel itself is not perfectly round, but is rather extremely similar in form and function to the concepts used in Formula One racing. Alongside the use of leather, the aluminium elements in the interior are particularly noticeable as they have a red sheen and thus correspond to the exterior colour. Volkswagen is using a new chemical procedure to achieve the colouring and surface coating of the unpainted alloy.
The layout of the instruments is classic. Two round main displays show the most important information such as speed, revs, fuel tank (100 litres) and engine temperature. A colour display in the centre of the dash panel is used to control the functions of the air conditioning, the navigation system, the on-board computer and telephone. VW has gone to great lengths to ensure the W12 is extremely comfortable and has plenty of interior space, despite the vehicle's exceptionally low height.
www.canadiandriver.com/previews/vw_w12.htm Canadian auto magazine Canadian Driver's take on the W12
www.speedycars.net/wallpaper/vw_w12.html Wallpaper sized pics of the W12
www.volkswagen.theautobahn.com/index.html?http%3A//volkswagen.theautobahn.com/models/index.html%3Fhttp%253A//volkswagen.theautobahn.com/models/prototype/w12/ Autobahn, a mwebsite on German cars, looks at the W12
www.edmunds.com/news/conceptcarspotlight/articles/48577/article.html Edmunds.com sees the W12 as a supercar for the people
www.cardesignnews.com/autoshows/2001/tokyo/gallery/index28.html An array of pictures from the Car Design NewsView gallery - 8 images