By on July 8, 2013


Derek writes:

I believe that anyone who is worth their salt should drive a V12 once before they die.

Actually, I didn’t write that. But that line was actually spoken (spake?) by David E. Davis, a man who we know never let reality stand in the way of a carefully constructed image. I tend to give the opposite advice when it comes to V12s. Those who aren’t fortunate enough to return their V12 powered automobiles after a 12 month long-term loan (or, a week) must live by the maxim “if you can’t afford it new, you can’t afford it used”. This is advice I frequently dole out when people ask me about buying a BMW 850i, since the words “two Inline 6s joined at the hip” somehow isn’t sufficiently scary.

This week’s instalment of “Crapwagons” may be the most wretched in terms of reliability, but also the most compelling way to get a dopamine high from throwing good money after bad.

First up is the legendary BMW 850i, with a very rare 6-speed manual. Only 60,000 km, no winters and apparently, a very rare color combination. It costs as much as a new Hyundai Accent, and you can probably expect to incur monthly fuel bills equivalent to the Hyundai’s monthly note as well.

But if we’re going to go down the V12 rabbit hole, we might as well go out in a blaze of financially irresponsible glory. For less than $15,000, you can own perhaps the Uber-crapwagon of the last decade, a W12 Phaeton. I can say without a hint of irony that I would do terrible things to own this car – likely because running it would require a side foray into prostitution. The amount of motors and solenoids and other finnicky componentry makes a Citroen SM look hearty and robust by comparison. Still, I don’t think there is a more elegant and understated luxury car, just as long as you don’t mind people asking you what year your Passat is.

Doug writes:

Although I often complain about Atlanta car culture, we apparently love our V12s. I discovered this when I set my search parameters to “12 Cylinders” and “Within 200 miles” and returned 164 cars. So I instituted a price cap – $30,000 – and still ended up with 47 listings. This may say more about monumental V12 depreciation than it does Atlanta car culture.

Anyway: with the price cap now at $25,000 (still 39 cars), I found it easy to pick some rather dubious 12-cylinder models in my area. Here goes:

This one is a pure curiosity. Yes, it would be impossible to run this segment without an XJS V12. But how about a 16,500-mile XJS V12? Offered by a Hyundai dealership? For $20,000? That’s precisely what we have here, along with 40 pictures and a surprisingly thorough description of the car that includes the words “John Egan.” Not what you’d expect from a dealer whose primary business involves helping customers decide between a $14,000 Accent and a full-year transit pass.

Here’s a 2003 S600 that I chose almost entirely because it’s painted Rental Car Blue Metallic. According to the seller, it’s “as luxurious as a Rolls-Royce,” “safer than a Volvo,” and “still faster than a Ferrari.” Unfortunately, he forgot “as expensive to run as Mozambique.” Still: at $16,000, there is absolutely no way to go wrong in this one, provided you have a close friend who buys it and gives you rides.

Finally, we have a 1998 CL600 located at a business entitled “Zam’s Used Cars.” My guess: Zam bought this at auction, drove it for a few weeks, then realized that a turn signal bulb costs the same as a 2001 Jetta. Now he’s trying to pass along the chrome-wheeled ticking time bomb to you for a mere $7,900. Never mind the fact that the Carfax clearly shows the odometer’s been rolled back. And it recently had an accident. And those wheels.

Ladies and gentlemen: there are many 12-cylinder used cars out there, especially if you live in Atlanta. But there are also many eight-cylinder cars, and six-cylinder cars, and five-cylinder cars. Buy one of those instead.

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50 Comments on “Derek And Doug’s Fantastic Crapwagons: 12 Cylinders, One Emptied Bank Account...”

  • avatar

    If you’re going to want a V12 Jaaaag, you might as well go “full [email protected]” and own a V12 ragged-out ragtop Jaaaag. In the $25k range within 200 miles of my neck of the Atlanta woods there’s a few to choose from:

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    You know, the same 6.0L W12 that’s used in the VW Phaeton and Bentley Continental was also offered for the Touareg…just not here in the States. The most we got was the V10 TDI…which must be a real torque-monster.

    As for the Phaeton itself, never mind the W12 engine; it’s got plenty of other insanely-expensive fail points, like the fiber-optics communications and air suspension…

    • 0 avatar

      Fibre optics should actually be very reliable. Air suspension, not so much, though.

      • 0 avatar

        Having run into a BMW or two with Fiber-Optic issues it seems the cabling is fine but when one “black box” or another fails it takes down the entire network. That means no HVAC or radio even if it’s just a peripheral item. At least the ones I’ve had to deal with still ran.

  • avatar

    “Unfortunately, he forgot “as expensive to run as Mozambique.””

    Nice. +1

    Hopefully one day their will be an LSx kit for those CL600s as their already is for V12 Jags. I’d love a 90s CL with a reasonable powertrain.

    • 0 avatar

      That is very true. When I lived in Boulder, Colorado about ten years ago, I saw a ‘pristine’ 1993 Mercedes-Benz 600SEL on the Dodge and Plymouth sales forecourt. The low price of $10,000 piqued my curosity so I arranged for the test-drive. Wow, the silk-smooth and sensational performance! I considered buying it outright.

      However, I found out that the air-conditioning was not functioning so I stopped by the Mercedes-Benz garage for the repair quote. $23,000 to fix the whole system, including countless hours of labour to dissect the dashboard and HVAC system. Not to mention replacing many parts. They added that the HVAC in W140 with V12 motor is very complicated and more difficult to work with.

      No wonder that car continued to be forecourt queen.

      • 0 avatar

        We’re all in the wrong business if you can get away with charging $23,000 to work on an car’s HVAC system. I don’t care if it requires all parts to be fabricated onsite out of diamonds, A/C coolant comprised of Unicorn farts, and a trip to the Congo to find the lost City of Zinj for wiring diagrams… 23K is a nice make for *one* repair.

        • 0 avatar

          That price sounds like a thinly-veiled “we don’t want to do this, now GTFO”

          • 0 avatar

            Ah you may be correct… not wanting to even do it hadn’t occurred to me.

          • 0 avatar

            Yuuuuuup. My garage will do the same thing to new customers who don’t have a referral and wince at $150 diagnostic charges. They also have an option to require a deposit on labor as well as parts for jobs that look like they are going to go south from the start.

            It’s frustrating dealing with people who pay $8k for a car that cost $90k a decade ago, and feel the maintenance should have depreciated with the value.

    • 0 avatar

      Than why not a CL500?? Nothing exotic about that engine. Beleive me, I’ve had several.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve considered the CL500, but much like any Benz you have to realize what you’re getting yourself into and prepare to spend accordingly.

  • avatar
    thats one fast cat

    ‘Tis true. Everyone needs a V12 at least once to see how ridiculous they really are.

    Me — I chose an 850i with four doors. A 2000 750iL with every possible convenience (LOVED the heated steering wheel!) and the operating costs, while a bit expensive, wasn’t all that extreme. Got around 18MPG mixed driving (YMMV, of course) with 20MPG on straight highways @ 75-80. Still miss that car. Bought at 60K miles –nearly $100K new, yours out the door four years later? $22K. Sold at 130K and 6 years later for $8K. Proves that depreciation, like gravity, does bad things to big items.

    The only time I was really shocked was the 100K service – apparently to get the back spark plugs out you need to disconnect nearly everything and have arms like Gumby. Oh yeah, that and the nearly $700 worth of spark plug wires.

    • 0 avatar
      jim brewer

      My 1998 750il wasn’t bad either. I too liked the heated steering wheel. I paid less than 12K for it new, drove it maybe 40K over five years and was paid 7700 when it was totaled in a minor rear end collision. Let my kid drive it to school. It did have a (muted)+ripping fabric sound.

      I remember taking our first big roadtrip together when my kid got her learner’s permit: ” When you pass the semi-truck on the two-lane road honey, make sure the road ahead is clear, signal, promptly swing out and briskly accelerate until you see the truck’s bumper in your rear-view mirror, then pull back in the lane.” We “swung out” at sixty and when we cleared the truck and pulled back in the lane we were going 100.

  • avatar

    The last 12 cylinder car I drove was a W12 in a Bentley Continental GT. While an incredible engine (in both power and thirst) I am content with having driven it then giving it back. In agreement witht he premise of this article, I wouldn’t want to own one as I don’t have the will or bank account to care for and feed such a beast. I might as well get some horses for the ranch, they would probably be cheaper and less hassle.

  • avatar

    Everyone should own a car like one of these once… or a boat. Either way it will at least insure that you have one of the happiest days of your life upon it’s sale. It will also give you something to talk about when the conversation turns to subjects like “The least.. The most.. The worst.. The most expensive..” because any one of these cars or a boat will more the likely top all those lists… Did I ever tell you about my ’71 Corvette?

    • 0 avatar

      +1 Having a boat means you have boat bucks. 1 boat buck equaling 1000 dollars. (Oh how do I know this so well.)

      V12 cars have car bucks and the exchange rate varies. The good thing about the car. It does not have a head to clog and rebuild when you are half way across the Atlantic ocean. (Been there, Curse Jabsco heads at inopportune times)

      I think I would rather have the boat all in all, since I already did the 1974 Jag XJ12L thing. It was not as expensive as the boat (about 1 to 300 exchange rate for car bucks even with doing all the work on it myself). But I do not think I can deal with the Prince of Darkness (and the cost of factory replacement genuine Lucas wiring harness smoke) ever again.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        “Having a boat means you have boat bucks. 1 boat buck equaling 1000 dollars. (Oh how do I know this so well.)”

        Heh. Or a small airplane. We have the same concept, we call it the Aviation Monetary Unit. 1 AMU = 1000 USD

        • 0 avatar

          @ Japanese Buick:

          One of the funnier bumper stickers I saw for sale at a pilot shop said “If God intended man to fly, he would have given him more money.”

  • avatar

    problem is all V12s seem to be nightmares outside of exotics

    i’d love to own a V12 one day… why? because cafe

    v8s are pretty much dead so v12s are worse

    besides the germans, only toyota makes a v12?

    that v12 can go into certain cars… hmmmm

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    One of these days I’d like to have a GMC Twin-six.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I’m the kind of crazy car collector who would want a heavy-duty truck or two in the collection.

      Also, what makes a W12 not a V12?

      • 0 avatar

        Staggered layout of the cylinders vs. a traditional setup of 2 banks of six. W-12 has 4 banks of 3.

        I’d like one of those GMC 12’s, too. Even if they’re underpowered and overly heavy, the cool factor cannot be denied. Especially if you shoehorned it into a T-bucket rat rod. Sublime.

        • 0 avatar

          Ah, that makes sense.

          And while the GMC Twin Six only made 250 horse, it had a nice fat 585 lb-ft of torque. That’s definitely enough to make the thing move.

        • 0 avatar

          In the case of the VW W12 in the title picture, it would actually be a “double-vee 12” which in French still means W12.

          Anyway, it’s two narrow angle VR6 engines (only 15 degrees themselves) joined into a 72* V of their own. It technically has 2 “banks” of cylinders with holes that are staggered looking straight down at them with the head off. It’s a pretty compact way to jam 12 cylinders under a hood.

    • 0 avatar

      Probably cheaper to run than them furrin jobs-

      Aw Hell, just go for the BADASSERY-

  • avatar
    Mark out West

    Uh, the BMW E31 came in both V-12 and V-8 variants. The V-12 850 is only slightly more expensive to maintain over the V-8 840, so your observations are bunk. Ditto the MBs V12/V8 cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      Quite true, the MB V12 engine is actually quite reliable. I’d love to get an SL600, but I believe the V12 version always comes with some other very expensive, difficult to service options like active hydraulic suspensions. If I could get just the engine upgrade I’d very much prefer an SL 600 over the SL 500 (with a V8).

      If I can find the right one, I think I’ll own an SL600 or maybe a CL600 one day.

  • avatar

    The Jag has a 5+ liter V12 putting out 260hp, powering a 3 speed automatic.


    • 0 avatar

      I remember a quote from Car & Driver years ago, saying the Jaguar 5.3L V12 didn’t have enough power to “rip the skin off custard” or something similar. :)

      Having owned a Jaguar V12 in the past, I found the engine itself to be the least of my worries. The biggest engine issue was the strange one-third/two-third cooling system split which ensured that each bank of the engine always operated at different temperatures. A marginal cooling system coupled with an engine which could not tolerate overheating without dropping valve seats was a recipe for disaster.

      • 0 avatar

        heard jag’s v12 death knell is the dirt which got sucked in to the rad as there’s space between the a/c condenser and the rad, leaves are magnets to those space, pretty soon it will clog up your free air moving into the rad.
        And then is going to be very expensive.
        I have an rad being ruined this way in my merc 300sd too, just too dust infront of the rad which i didnt know!

    • 0 avatar

      From intro and through the Eighties that wasn’t too shabby, but by the time the car was retired it was getting to be a bit weak. The addition of OD transmissions in the facelifted models helped a lot.

      There’s a lot wrong with the Jag V12 by modern standards, most of it due to emissions controls that they couldn’t afford to do right, coupled with trying way too hard to get fuel economy instead of just accepting it for what it was. The nice thing is that for a hobbyist there’s quite a lot to improve and some good power left on the table.

  • avatar

    People who judge cars based on cylinder count don’t know much about cars. There are fantastic cars with:

    V10 (R8)
    V8 Hybrid (LS600)
    V8 (too many)
    H6 turbo (911 turbo)
    Or even no cylinder (Tesla)

    And they are better than a new S600 or 760.

    • 0 avatar
      See 7 up

      Yes, but if you judge cars you probably know something about cars and you would realize that if power output was the same, the feel of 4,6,8,10, and 12 cyl engines vary immensely.

      So, don’t judge an engine on cylinder count alone, but don’t judge it on output alone either. V12 are nice. If there were no cost, weight, size, or efficiency difference, trust me most cars would run V12’s as most people would choose them after driving them.

  • avatar

    Always wanted to try a car with a v/w12/16

    But I’ll settle for Big block chevies, at least the 7.4 an 8.1 are cheap to own and upkeep.

    • 0 avatar

      Always wondered if anyone made performance parts for the 8.1.

      It could be a 500 horsepower engine if you could hop it up.

      • 0 avatar

        There’s some stuff out there for the final gen BBCs but it’s not very common and is expensive. Most people just go for the LS engines these days as they can make big block power for far less coin.

  • avatar

    A few months ago I was at a very run down BHPH lot looking at an ’88 Eldorado. Next to the Cadillac was an older Jaguar XJ. I started laughing when I saw it was a XJ12.

    They wanted $2900 for the Cadillac (over-priced for its condition), and $3000 for the Jag. I was tempted to ask for the keys just to see if the thing started.

    • 0 avatar

      This is why I loath most BHPH… 3K for an ’88 Eldo which is about a $500 toy car at this point (outside of immaculate condition/exceptionally low miles) and any V12 Jag which at best is worth scrap value and a sale to a customizer or a fool.

      Could be worse, asking that amount for an ’87 Eldo w/the 4100… hmm HT4100 vs Jag V12 in 2013, well that’s a Hitler/Stalin argument.

  • avatar

    I’m a cheapskate, only drove an Audi with 1/2 of the 12 (30 valve V6 with 4 cams, a real gas hog) until few weeks ago when it decided to give up the ghost at 100k miles despite top notch maintenance. Dealer quote was Euro 5k to repair without guarantee, Euro 11k to do the recommended replacement. My wallet would have nightmares contemplating what a V-12 rebuild would cost. Ugh.

    • 0 avatar

      Our family owned Audis for 15 years, sold our last one in June.

      Your dealer has a great gig going.

      Can’t maintain it well enough to keep it running for 100Kmiles then blackmails you into a new one.

      I thought only US medical professionals were qualified to perform. walletectomies, sign me up please don’t beat me too hard!

  • avatar

    I have done the whole driving an old car that there is no way in hell I could have afforded new bit. I would skip all of these. The wealthy see all of these as old crap wagons and the rest of us mere mortals just wonder if the hood release is broken since it never seems to shut.

  • avatar

    What, no tales of the fun in a Lincoln flathead? Those old flat-headed 12’s were my introduction to the genre. With Offenhauser heads and studs all chromed up. I cannot remember when I last saw one, but I sure remember the sound of one with headers and unmuffled side pipes.

  • avatar
    old blue

    Such a group of whiners.
    Why not a nice vehicle with a Packard 12 cylinder engine?
    Specifically, the Packard V-1650 which powered the P 51 Mustang.

    Now there’s an expensive, high maintenance vehicle that everyone should
    aspire to.


  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Speaking of V-12’s a shame Chrysler never built one out of two slant 6’s grafted together. IIRC there was a prototype out there in the early 60’s based on the aluminum version.

  • avatar

    I have a friend who bought a car from Zam’s Used Cars once. Due to the litigious nature of our society that’s all I’m going to say about that.

  • avatar

    I’ve only experienced a V12 once – an XKE that a friend owned from the passenger seat but that experience was enough to convince me that DED was on to something. The sound, the smoothness…there’s nothing else like it. For me, it would have to be the 8 series, as I want my 12 cylinders hooked up to a manual. given that the only other option for under $30k would be a Ferrari 400/412, the BMW actually looks like the sane financially prudent move.

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