In August — that feels like years ago — I bought a crashed Volkswagen Passat W8 for $800 with the intention of turning it into my next off-roader. I didn’t think these cars were any more special than a Phaeton V8 or an Audi A8, so it never clicked that I shouldn’t kill this beast. On the drive home, I realized I had unintentionally bought an incredibly rare piece of Volkswagen history. And now, like my colleague David Tracy and his holy grail Jeeps, I have a holy grail manual-shift Passat W8 that I want to restore.
What makes it a holy grail find? According to VW fans across many forums, of the scant 4,931 Passat W8s sold in the United States, only 424 were manual transmission cars. Even rarer are manual wagons; just 95 of those came here. If you see one for sale, chances are you won’t see another for sale for years.
These Passats feature a unique W8 engine that, loosely speaking, consists of four banks of two cylinders each; it makes 270 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, with 273 lb-ft torque peaking at 2,750. (It’s said this engine was made by combining two VR4 engines, but Volkswagen never made a VR4 in a production car. So to make the W8, VW deployed tech it hadn’t previously used.) All this is run through a glorious six-speed manual and transmitted to the mechanical full-time AWD 4Motion system.
So this car? It’s properly special. It doesn’t deserve to be thrashed. But that means I now have a restoration project when I wasn’t even looking for one. I am the third owner of this 114k mile autobahn bomber. What is there for me to fix?
Let’s start off with the easiest issue to correct. The car has a constant misfire, with a code stored for a misfire on coil number six. I’m still trying to figure out which coil that is, but under this functional engine cover (it isn’t just pretty, it’s also the intake ducting) I found four coils that look new and four coils that look old. I figure I’ll start by replacing all of them.
This car was involved in a rear-end crash that resulted in it sliding into a curb, which then caused the car to flirt with a pole. Said pole fell onto the car and straight through the sunroof. The glass and all of the plastic mechanisms it attaches to were completely obliterated. For the time being, I’m using a cut-up inflatable mattress, a sheet of vinyl and a tent rainfly to keep water out of the car. This will be the first thing I fix.
I scavenged a sunroof cassette from a regular Passat at a pick-n-pull.
I’ll have this installed before the end of the week. It took roughly 28 minutes to liberate the cassette from the junkyard car so I don’t expect this fix to take too long.
The carpets up front and in the rear of the car have been soaked ever since I brought the car home. I suspect this is the result of clogged water drains and the car’s body damage. As I repair the car I hope to find the source of all this wetness. That brings us to the next problem.
The crash caused damage to the trunk, passenger door, right front fender and right rocker panel. It also dented the left rear quarter and the right A-pillar (windshield post).
The plan here is to get a new trunk lid, then hammer out any bends in the metal, which I hope will result in a clean panel gap. Next, I’ll ditch the gray door for a proper black one with a correct interior door card. I’ll then replace the destroyed rocker, properly mount the replacement fender and install the new taillights waiting for me in the trunk. I suspect some of the water inside is coming from the bad panel gaps on the trunk.
The passenger-seat airbag deployed in the crash, destroying the seat with it. I will replace this seat with a unit in much better condition.
The previous owned apparently ripped a hole into one of the flex pipes of the custom exhaust system when loading the car onto a trailer. Between the hole and the misfire, the car sounds like a really mad Subaru Impreza WRX. It should really sound something like this:
For this repair I’ll take the car to my local independent muffler shop and have a new flex pipe welded on.
That’s about it, really. The car has only 114,000 miles, and it doesn’t really have rust or any other issues. I will mostly be reversing some neglect and repairing crash damage. When it’s done, I’m certain that the car’s best days will be ahead of it. I even have some mods planned, including replacing the dead factory stereo with one meant for the Chinese market that has Bluetooth. I also want to modify the headlights for easy bulb replacement and do some silly interior improvements. Remember these?
Yeah, I’m going to make a headliner out of one.
I’m hoping to find a W8 parts car to make most of this restoration happen, and I’ve begun scavenging what useful parts I can from my dead Passat TDI for this W8.
This build series launches really soon! I can’t wait to have the Passat finished, and you’ll get to watch it happen. In the meantime I should open this trunk and see what goodies await..