Like cool wagons? W8 until you see this $11K Passat


Like any group of car fans, the writers here at Hagerty have wide ranging and (mostly) good tastes. We have our American muscle guys, our JDM freaks, a couple of Bimmer boys, and of course a few Porschephiles. I, for one, love my underpowered British heaps and euro oddballs. One thing we can all agree on, though, is that the latest Sale of the Week is a damn cool car, even if none of us would ever want to actually own it.

Fascinating eight-cylinder powertrain? Check. Six-speed manual gearbox? Check. Wagon body? Again, check. It even has a lovely color. It’s a 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 wagon, and it sold this week for $11,652. Seems cheap for something that ticks all of those cool car boxes, but there are reasons why it didn’t go for more.

2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 wagon front three quarter

The “B5” generation of Passat came out in 1997, and it received a significant update called the “B5.5” for 2001. These were strange, interesting times at VW. The Germans were buying up premium badges like Bentley and Lamborghini. They even brought Bugatti back from the grave. Meanwhile, company boss Ferdinand Piëch was pulling Volkwagen, the brand of Golfs and Beetles, upmarket with more sophisticated models. Sometimes, a little too sophisticated. The ill-fated Phaeton executive sedan is probably the most famous example of this early 2000s over-engineering, but before that was this truly wild version of the B5.5 Passat.

The star of the show was the W8 engine, and the fact that this thing made it into a family car like the Passat is crazy enough. Sort of like Toyota slicing two cylinders off the Lexus LFA’s V10 and dropping it into a Camry. The W8 was something of a test run for VW’s later W12s used in Bentleys and Audis and the W16s used in Bugattis. Essentially two narrow-angle 15-degree VR4s arranged in a 72-degree V-shape on a common crank, it offered V8 power in a more compact package. Calling it half a Veyron engine isn’t a huge stretch of the truth, but in the Passat the 3999-cc W8 was rated at just 270 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. It did at least garner praise for smoothness and delivering solid oomph on the highway. It’s the only engine with a W8 configuration to ever make it to production, and given the way the car industry is moving, it probably always will be.

The W8 Passat was available in either four-door sedan or five-door wagon body styles, and buyers could choose between a 5-speed auto or a 6-speed manual. All W8s came standard with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive. Base price was around the $40K mark.

An intriguing car, then. Even 20 years ago an eight-cylinder family car with an available stick was a rare and exciting treat. Writing for Car and Driver back in 2004, our own Aaron Robinson praised the suspension for “keeping the 3918-pound Passat from bobbing like a bath toy over fast-changing cambers, and the cleaver-sharp steering is from the Audi kitchen.” He also noted that “if you can live without rings, spinners or silver stars on the hood, perhaps the W-8 six-speed is worth your attention.”

But just because a car is intriguing doesn’t mean it’s easy to sell. There were contemporary Audis and BMWs that would do everything the W8 Passat could but did it for less money, and they did have premium badge on the hood.

In the end, only 11,000 W8 Passats sold worldwide, and just a tiny fraction of those buyers ordered theirs with a long roof and third pedal. Some sources say fewer than 100 manual W8 wagons came to the U.S., and it’s probably a safe bet to say significantly fewer are still on the road.

This one, though, is. The Blue Spirit Pearl over Flannel Gray leather wagon has 17-inch BBS “Madras” wheels, sport suspension, sunroof, heated power front seats and roof rails, while mild mods include EuroCustoms Tuning engine management software and a cat-back exhaust with four tips to clue you in that this isn’t an English professor’s Passat. Its New Jersey license plate reads “6SPDW8”. Nice.

Now for the not-so-good stuff. It has nearly 150,000 miles, and all the usual chips, dings, wear and tear of a 150k-mile car. According to the seller, the engine was replaced in 2009 after a mechanic dropped a bolt down into the engine block before somebody else started the car. That’s one expensive oopsie.

The car, on the other hand, is not so expensive, and another example of how easy it is to lose money in this hobby. The seller has enjoyed the car for 10,000 miles, but he bought it a year ago for $13,400, and that doesn’t include the maintenance he’s done.

2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 wagon side

That doesn’t mean there won’t still be plenty more maintenance for the new owner to enjoy. They didn’t sell many W8 Passats, but the Internet is still full of horror stories by former owners and mechanics, and just the timing chains look like the stuff of nightmares. Finding engine parts would be a headache, and of course the rest of the car is a 20-year-old VW, so there’s plenty of stuff to go wrong outside the engine bay, too.

Just like when it was new, this is a badass car. But it takes a special kind of person to actually want to put it in their garage. It’s hard to find that kind of person, in the Hagerty office or anywhere. That’s why it sold for cheap.




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    Pretty cool car. Our 03 wagon was a V6/5-speed (FWD). Not quite as much wow factor, but a great car, right up to the 175k mile point where our then 18 year old did some impromptu off-roading in a snowstorm (cuz even Blizzaks can’t create traction which doesn’t exist). He liked it so much that he now owns an S4 Avant.

    Supposedly less than 200 imported with a manual. Took one on the Alcan 5000 Rally in 2008. Luckily it was under a CPO warranty…had issues with cruise control crossing Montana with nearly 10k miles to go for the trip left. Dealer network came through with new stalk control that happened to be on the shelf in Bozeman. Had lunch, car was washed, and we got back underway and made it to the start of the rally in Seattle on-time. Dirt two-tracks and a run out on the Arctic Ocean ice road later, no issues all the way back to Indiana. Next owner had to do the timing chain guides, though.

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