The Vantage V550 doesn’t fit in with Aston Martin’s classy brand image of today. Based on the Virage, this engineering experiment was meant to send Aston Martin into the modern age. But due to its outdated chassis, the Vantage V550 lacked the finesse of competitors so, Aston’s solution was horsepower, a lot of horsepower.
Although it was cursed with the heavy chassis of the Virage, this didn’t stop Aston from working very hard to dress up the Vantage V550. With a massive curb weight of 4,850lbs, the Vantage’s performance was compromised from the beginning. To compensate, Aston fit massive 362 mm diameter ventilated discs and four-piston AP Racing calipers that were the largest brakes fitted to a road car at that time. With a car of this weight, Aston’s only hope was to increase the size of all other performance components to compensate.
After solving the issue of stopping all 4,850lbs of Vantage, Aston needed horsepower. To accomplish this, they simply slapped an Eaton supercharger on each side of their 5.3-liter V8. The resulting 550 horsepower and 550 lb-ft of torque helped remedy the Vantage’s shortcomings in the acceleration department. This hugely powerful V8 created the basis for one of the most powerful cars of the 1990s. I’m not exactly sure why they chose twin superchargers but I can’t say I’m surprised. Haphazard solutions like this were the norm at Aston Martin and I’m sure nobody gave it a second thought.
Today Aston Martin seems to have their shit together but it was a mess before Ford finally took a controlling stake in 1989. The British company struggled with the transition to modern car design. During the Aston Martin Dark Ages, a time between the DB5 and DB7, Aston tried very hard to transition into a modern car company. The Brute force approach to performance favored by Aston was semi-successful. By the time Ford was able to make a meaningful investment in Aston the Vantage V550 was too far gone. This meant the bulk of their engineering effort was focused on the new DB7 and Vanquish.
With the company turning toward new models the Vantage V550 was the last of old Aston Martins. It was an engineering sledgehammer which made it very difficult to drive fast. With all the inflated numbers associated with the V550, it’s easy to see why it was a tough car to drive. Managing all that momentum with big brakes, massive 295 section tires, and a powerful engine isn’t the easiest solution especially thanks to its soft suspension. Astons of the period were hand built cruisers meant to be comfortable. This proved to be a huge issue in the V550 even though Aston tried its best to firm up the suspension.
The world’s biggest brakes and most insane engine were not enough to turn this heavy coupe into a drivers car. The V550 suffered from terrible understeer followed by a healthy dose of oversteer. These handling characteristics made this crude car difficult for enthusiasts to embrace. The V550 was a novelty at best. Its huge horsepower and other mind-boggling statistics got your attention but the lack of substance made it easily forgettable.
Many journalists described the car’s handling as violent. They then went on to explain how the engine output was unpredictable. One Journalist who loved the V550 was none other than Jeremy Clarkson and I’m not surprised. The car was loud, crude, and English just like him. But unlike Jeremy Clarkson, the world forgot about the Vantage V550.
The interior of the Vantage V550 was a strange mixture of parts bin raiding. It had buttons from GM, a steering wheel from Ford, Audi headlights, and VW taillights. This car is then the ultimate collection of 1990s car parts. Mixed in with the random outsourced parts were fine leather seats. A beautiful wood grain dash and other upscale features. This weird combination of parts was only possible in an Aston Martin.
The V550 is a reminder of what Aston Martin was doing during its forgotten era. This brute of a car lacked the poise of its Italian competitors and suffered from an unfunded development process. Although Aston lacked the infrastructure, it was still able to build a truly special car. We may never see another massive twin supercharged V8 like this again in a production car. The V550 was the end of an era for Aston Martin.