Last time we had a Junkyard Quiz, we asked if you could identify some Malaise Era royalty by a side-marker light. Many of you guessed correctly that it was an early ‘80s Imperial in period-defining brown. Well done! This week, Eric went with Junkyard Archaeologist/Fiction Writer “Crap Spirits” to a Chicago junkyard, where he found this high-dollar import gone to waste. Can you guess what it is?
It’s a 2004 Volkswagen Phaeton!
The Phaeton once topped the Volkswagen model lineup with an optional 6.0-liter W12 engine, which was more or less like a pair of DOHC VR6 engines joined at the crank. It was an amazingly complex way to make 450 horsepower, but Volkswagen and its sibling marquees touted it as an engineering pinnacle. Those W12-powered Phaetons featured an MSRP north of $75,000, which was no small potatoes for the same company that sold the Beetle.
The “base” Phaeton, like this one, still sported around 330 horsepower from the company’s 4.2-liter V8, an engine used in countless Audis. All Phaetons featured 4-Motion all-wheel drive and this one had a six-speed automatic gearbox. Like its platform partner, the Bentley Continental GT, Volkswagen’s flagship weighed well more than 5,000 pounds.
Creature comforts certainly played a part in the heft. The Phaeton had plush seats and enough insulation to temper the shriek of tires on the Autobahn 140 miles per hour. With all the additional creature comforts, the car added up to an absurdly complex maintenance nightmare. The size of some repair bills put many of these (though not this one) into junkyards with low mileage. Resale value probably lingers around that of a same-year diesel Jetta that sold for one-third as much when new.
For example, changing the trunk-mounted battery appears to require removal of a substantial fuse block unless we’re missing something here. And horror stories abound about the complexities of changing the 4.2-liter V8’s timing chain (Step 1: Remove 70 percent of the bodywork).
Eric had gone to the junkyard, by the way, because he was giving away the Chrysler 360 cubic-inch V8 from the now-crushed Project Regretmobile Dodge Magnum to The Truth About Cars contributor Crab Spirits, who needed it as a core. Crab is currently building a 1963 Ford Fairlane and swapping in the DOHC 4.6-liter V8 from a knackered 1990s Lincoln Mark VIII.
He needed some parts of the (substantial) wiring harness to make that engine work so Eric went along to see the donor car and see off the Magnum’s low-compression, high-sludge V8 (more photos of both in the gallery below).
Pro tip: When an experienced junkyard engineer like Crab Spirits—who was partially responsible for the Geo MetSHO and mostly responsible for the FireBug—asks you to visit the junkyard, you go with because they tend to have a nose for interesting stuff in the yard. Like a knackered 2004 Volkswagen Phaeton.
However, this luxury Volkswagen exhibited no direct signs of the model’s characteristic poor maintenance. While there were no ghoulish scenes inside—something you will find, like it or not, if you hang around the junkyard long enough—the window in the driver’s door nevertheless shows this Phateon was part of someone’s bad day before its final crash.