THIRTY years ago, a group of Aston Martin customers began taking delivery of a majestic new model that was the most potent production motor car yet created by the British marque and a true supercar of its time.
The V8 Vantage V550 had been unveiled a year earlier at the 1992 British Motor Show. By the time production cars were ready to be handed over in late 1993, the model had already begun to acquire near mythical status.
Rave reviews in the motoring media, including Jeremy Clarkson’s very first road test for The Sunday Times, had created a frenzy of excitement around the new car. “Calling the performance explosive is like calling the space shuttle jolly clever… you will not have felt, or heard, anything like it in your life before,” he wrote.
With peak power of 550 bhp, and 550 lb/ft of torque on offer at just 4,000 rpm, the V550 offers 220 bhp more than its predecessor the Virage from broadly the same 5,340cc quad cam V8 petrol engine.
While the V550 is no waif, weighing in at 1,990 kg, with so much power and torque on tap it is also ferociously fast. The 0-60 mph dash takes 4.6 seconds with a top speed of 186 mph delivered via the driven rear wheels and a six-speed manual gearbox.
Styled by designers Ken Greely and John Heffernan, the V8 Vantage V550 embraces the ‘more is more’ approach to luxury with features such as six headlights positioned in two banks of three and placed behind heated glass cowling. While, at first glance, the car looks similar in some ways to the Virage, only a few of the aluminium panels were carried over and the overwhelming bulk of the design was new.
There is the trademark Aston Martin grille plus extensive intakes and vents to support cooling of engine and brakes. To that end, the V550 features what were at the time the largest brakes available on any production car in the world. Mercifully, perhaps, Bosch four-channel ABS is standard. Inside the four flared wheel arches sit 18-inch six-spoke alloys shod with 284/45 rubber.
Inside, the V550 is a celebration of British luxury motoring. Wilton carpets, Connolly hide and a surfeit of burr walnut veneers leave the driver and passengers in no doubt that this is an opulent place to be. The four-spoke steering wheel contains an airbag – a first for Aston Martin then – and the two front seats have a suite of electric adjustment controls mounted in the inboard bolsters.
Proudly carrying the Vantage name forward, the V550 quickly came to represent the pinnacle of British sports car desirability, notwithstanding its price tag of around £177,000 at launch – equivalent to roughly £440,000 today. Production ran from 1993 to 1999, during which time only 239 V8 Vantage V550 were built at Aston Martin’s factory in Newport Pagnell, making them hugely rare and desirable both at the time and today.
Paul Spires, president of Aston Martin Works in Newport Pagnell – the heritage home of the Aston Martin brand and the place where many of its most iconic models, including the V8 Vantage V550, were built by hand – says: “The V550 holds a particularly special place in my heart, as I know it does for the small band of lucky owners who possess one of these cars.
“I recall the launch of the car, and can well remember the excitement among dealership staff, and buyers, as the first customer cars began to be delivered from Newport Pagnell 30 years ago.
“What stands out for me today, though, is the way the V8 Vantage V550 has matured into a genuine modern classic. It is an occasion to see one on the road, let alone be lucky enough to drive one, and I am delighted that we here at Aston Martin Works continue to service, repair and indeed now restore these exceptional cars.”