The 90s was a wild time; Tim Berners-Lee had just invented the World Wide Web, Will Smith was still The Fresh Prince, and Aston Martin decided to hand build what would become the most powerful production car in the world, the V8 Vantage V550.
During the 90s, Ford had their Budweiser-drinking, burger-munching, American flag-saluting hands grasped firmly around the ownership deed for Aston Martin, along with Jaguar and Land Rover. While it wasn’t exactly ideal from a British perspective for their three most important automotive manufacturers owned by Americans, it did help Aston out a great deal to have some actual funding. With the wealth of the Ford Motor Corporation fanning the creative flames, Aston managed to produce their first all-new car in over 20 years with the introduction of the Virage in 1989.
The Virage had been designed with a whole new philosophy in mind, Aston Martin was looking to the future and was determined to make a modern, lightweight car to prove their manufacturing prowess. Sure, the chassis was still made of steel but Aston had given the Virage an all-aluminium body, which they figured would keep the weight down. Unfortunately, it did not, but on the bright side, the Virage did manage to just undercut the 2-tonne mark. In fact, the Virage’s heft was so considerable, and its suspension so soft that during a launch the car would squat hard enough that the rear wheels would rub in the arches. In addition, despite being “all-new” the Virage used the same V8 block that Aston had been using since internal combustion had been invented, albeit with some new valve heads. Clearly, they had nailed what they had set out to do.
Aston looked at their all-new, lightweight sports car with deep adoration. This, they decided, would be the perfect basis for a new high-performance model, so they set to work on creating the V550. The Virage made 330 bhp, which was clearly a big issue for Aston Martin. Their solution? Two Eaton superchargers. This was a good solution, the twin superchargers pushed the power figure up to a colossal 550 bhp, hence the name, and gave the V550 such ferocious torque that it would break traction if the word ‘acceleration’ was even whispered within a mile of the right pedal. A six-speed manual transmission was given the unenviable task of translating all that power into forward momentum. The V550 had a lot of momentum too; the Virage was already a big boy by anybody’s standards, and all that added performance meant that the V550 tipped the scales at a tarmac-cracking 2200kgs. To combat the handling issues that plagued the Virage, Aston Martin stiffened up the suspension and put the car on tires so massive that they would have looked more at home on a cement roller. The bulging bonnet and swollen wheel arch department had clearly been utilised to their full potential here as well, with the only panels carried over from the Virage being the roof and doors. Aston Martin had clearly taken Colin Chapman’s philosophy of “simplify, then add lightness” and done the complete opposite.
However, despite its monolithic weight, the performance figures are still what you would expect from a car with 550 bhp and 550 lb-ft of torque, and shit got even crazier in 1998 with the introduction of the V600 package, which gave this smoking lounge on wheels a ludicrous 600hp and the title of most powerful car in the world. With the V600 package, Aston claimed car could reach 60mph in just 3.95 seconds and would top out at 200mph. These figures placed the V600 among and above the Ferraris and Lamborghinis of the day in terms of outright speed, but while they were lightweight, mid-engined sports cars, the V600 was two tonnes of opulence, with more wood than the Amazon rainforest and more leather than Donald Trump’s face. Unfortunately, all that power and portliness came at a price, in both the figurative and literal sense. The V600’s combination of incredible thrust, incredible weight, and suspension that was perhaps still a little too supple made it “violently unpredictable” to drive; even our own Hedi Sersoub said it was the most terrifying car he has ever driven. Finally, Aston Martin decided to add one last eye-watering figure to the V600’s long list, pricing their last coach built car at an eye-watering £232,950 when new, almost £400,000 when you account for inflation today. 20 years later, Tesla has introduced ludicrous mode in the P100D, but in V8 Vantage V550 it wasn’t a mode that could be turned on or off, it just was ludicrous.