Power Corrupts: Understanding Aston Martins Supercharged V8 Vantage

Adding two superchargers to the mighty V8 might have sounded like the wrong approach; bring it on, said Aston Martin enthusiasts.

There ain’t no substitute for cubic inches, the Americans say – something Aston’s 5,340cc V8 wasn’t short of in the first place. But supercharging has the effect of making an engine think it’s several sizes bigger – without the attendant lag of turbocharging. “That was a Victor thing,” says Nicholas Mee, referring to Aston Martin’s former owner and saviour Victor Gauntlett, who originally sanctioned the Vantage project in 1990. “He liked supercharging, preferring it’s linear delivery of power to the sudden boost of turbocharging. At the end of development, the supercharged V8 was the most powerful automotive engine, with world-market certification.”

First shown at Birmingham in September 1992, the new Vantage was developed from the Virage, the car that had been the sensation of the Birmingham Motor Show four years previously. Visually, only the roof, doors and mirrors were shared. The differences are everywhere: a tidier six-headlight front end; sculpted arches and shaped boot lid; four grapefruit sized taillights; 18in wheels over enormous 14in brakes. Under the skin there was more: new suspension architecture, interior and electronics, plus over 200bhp added to the already useful 320bhp output of the 32-valve Virage. Meaning, as one observer memorably put it, this power station of an engine could hurl the heavily reworked two-ton coupé down the road like it was a feather.

Aston Martin built just 280 of these evocative machines, including the 40 Le Mans editions before ending production altogether. Today, they cost less than you might think.

Aston Martin V8 Vantage V550
V8 Vantage V550
V8 Vantage V600
V8 Vantage V600
V8 Vantage Le Mans
V8 Vantage Le Mans

About the Vantage V550

​Retrospectively tagged V550. Aston’s long-lived fourcam V8, by now with four-valve heads developed by Reeves Callaway for the Virage, was a stout thing, but twin Eaton superchargers plus a stronger block and Cosworth pistons upped maximum power to 550bhp. Just as impressive was the torque, 555lb ft at 4,000 rpm. The 0-60 sprint took just 4.6 seconds – as quick as a Cobra – with top speed somewhere over 180mph. All were built as six-speed manuals. If you wanted an automatic you could take the car back to Works Service (now Aston Martin Works) to have it changed, as many cars have now been.


About the Vantage V600

If 550bhp and a matching amount of torque wasn’t enough, Aston Martin offered a new initiative from 1998: customer cars could be returned to Works Service for conversion to V600 specification where the engine was upgraded to 600bhp at 6,200rpm and 600lb ft torque at 4,400 rpm. That came from reprogrammed electronics, revised pulleys to spin the blowers faster (thus generating more boost) and a more efficient charge-cooling system. Most were converted to a five-speed transmission and wore five spoke Dymag alloys over larger brakes and revised springs and damping. Around 90 were made and there won’t be any more, as Aston Martin Works has ceased to offer the upgrade.

About the Vantage Le Mans

​There was one last hurrah for the long-lived V8 coupé. Honouring the company’s 1959 overall victory at Le Mans, Aston built a limited run of 40 special edition cars, with the prototype presented at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1999, three months shy of the 40th anniversary of the win. Each Le Mans was made to order, carrying its number on a specially commissioned sill plaque. Spot one by the twin-snout front grille and modified side vents replicating those on the DBR1, as well as a larger front spoiler, bonnet vent, side sills and rear skirt. Inside, a gigantic rev-counter set off a unique-to-the edition set of instruments, fixtures and fittings. Each car came with a detailed route map from Newport Pagnell to Le Mans and a Maglite fitted in the glove box. Claimed top speed was now 199mph, with 0-60mph in four seconds aided by now-standard traction control.

Vantage Le Mans
Short Chassis Vantage Volante, and the Specials

Short Chassis Vantage Volante and the Specials

After years of customer requests, in 2000 nine supercharged convertibles were commissioned by AM Works against VIP customer orders, continuing the use of the name first seen on the DB6 Volante. One of these was on the long-wheelbase chassis of the V8 Volante, the remainder on the shorter chassis of the coupé. Each was built to the individual specifications of the customer.

Not as well-known are the handful of special Vantages built for a significant Far Eastern collection. In the late 1990s, Aston Martin’s coachbuilt programme offered a number of one-offs and limited-editions: three Type 1 four-door Vantage V550 saloons were built, plus three Type 2 V600 four-door saloons with slightly different styling, all of them right-hand drive automatics. Additionally, there were three Vantage Special Series 1s with Zagato-esque single-headlight styling and DB7 doors allowing frameless windows – again, all RHD and V600 automatics – plus three Series 2s with twin headlights and DB4-type bonnet scoops. Last was the AM3 by Pininfarina, of which three were thought to have been built, plus the three-off AM4 with DB7-like styling, none of which have ever been seen in public.

Confused, well it seems very unlikely that these cars will be seen for many years, but let the record show

How the Supercharged V8 Vantage was made

Like the Virage and its predecessor, the V8, these cars were built by traditional craftsmen at Tickford Street in Newport Pagnell – some of the last cars to be made there – in a factory that opened as Salmons Coachworks in 1830 and finished building the last original V12 Vanquish in 2007.

Formed using traditional skills, the aluminium skin was rolled and beaten by hand and attached to a steel superstructure set on a platform chassis. Inside, sumptuous leather and wood interiors were hand-finished, each car subtly different according to owners’ bespoke requests.

The engine was a development of the long-lived Tadek Marek-designed four-cam all-aluminium V8 and, as with the earlier V8s, each one bears a plaque identifying who built it. The big visible difference here is the finned Eaton blowers high on each side of the motor.

Back on the dashboard, the boost gauge says ‘supercharged’ just to remind you…

Here’s Steve Cropley with an affectionate look at Newport Pagnell and the Vantage

How the Supercharged Vantage were made in the factory

What you need to know: The Nut and Bolts of the Supercharged Vantages

Production Numbers of the Supercharged Vantage

​Total production of the supercharged Vantage coupé reached 233 examples. 

Of these, 136 were right-hand drive and sold in the UK, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Brunei. The remaining 97 left-hand drive cars went to mainland Europe, the Middle East, Japan and South Africa. The Vantage was not homologated for sale in North America although it can now be imported on restrictive ‘Show and Display’ status.

In addition, there were, of course, 40 Le Mans and six coachbuilt Works Service four-door saloons, all of which used the same 70*** chassis number sequence. There are also five known DP2055 prototypes of which three are believed to have survived.

V550 Engine
The Engine on a V550
Le Mans Vantage

Colour Specs of the Supercharged Vantage

Two shades predominate. The 1992 launch car was painted in what appeared to be Aston Martin Racing

Green, so it will come as no surprise that 95 other examples were delivered in various shades of green.

The second most popular colour was blue, with 72 cars.

Key Model Updates

​From chassis 70091 (RHD) and 70064 (LHD) the top of the centre console – which had until this point only housed three instrument dials, a voltmeter, fuel gauge and oil temperature gauge – had the addition of an analogue clock. From chassis 70112, as the square Cibié headlights were no longer available, these were replaced by round, projector-style lights. 

From 70171 the Citroën CX door mirrors were replaced by new units from the Jaguar XK8. Also, the engine designation received a ‘/R’ to signify a revised engine management system to limit emissions further. 

From chassis 70173, the exhaust was changed to a type with a new, larger-capacity transverse rear silencer. In order to clear the new silencer, these later cars have a shallower bootwell. Chassis number 70194, and from 70198 onwards, had revised door handles and locks sourced from the Ford Mondeo.

Interior of the Vantage
Driving a Supercharged Vantage

Driving Impressions

​It’s a muscular car in appearance, though time and the fact that cars have grown larger more recently have seemingly shrunk the big coupé to more manageable proportions today. It’s not intimidating to place, but its authoritatively weighty footprint and sheer grunt mean you know you have charge of one. 

Power and the command of it is what it’s about, and in this respect the supercharged V-cars are spiritual successors to a Blower Bentley. There’s no waiting for a turbo to spool up or having to wind a peakier engine to its power and torque band: you just plant it and it goes, delivering a relentless push in a very linear fashion. In this respect, the automatic transmission suits a V-car well; there’s no shortage of torque, and the cushioning in the driveline certainly helps the driver in the real world of traffic and stop-start journeys. 

You can’t resist flooring it on clear stretches, though. The blowers whine with rising revs and the nose lifts slightly, sighting down the resonating bonnet louvres as if you were aiming a P-47 Thunderbolt down the runway at Westhampnett. It’s an appeal that never quite wears off however many times you repeat it. 

Conversely, it’s a superb and tall-geared cruiser, able to despatch many hundreds of miles without the occupants noticing, pummelling road imperfections into insignificance.

A closer Look at a V600 Engine

V600 Engine
V600 Engine
V600 Engine

Exploring the Aston Martin Vantage Le Mans with Sam Hancock

Seven time Le Mans 24hr entrant and professional racing driver, Sam Hancock spends the day exploring the Aston Martin Vantage Le Mans V600.

Sam Hancock

View from the Showroom: The Vantage Today

Nick puts some skin on the bone​

“An anachronism in its day, the supercharged Vantage as envisioned by AML Chairman and CEO Victor Gauntlett (before the Ford Motor Company took control) was to be a new car, built in the spirit of the legendary Le Mans Blower Bentley of the 1930s – another seemingly anachronistic design.

“Therein lies the fascination with this car. Unlike the small and lightweight Bugattis of the 1930s against which the Cricklewood company raced at Le Mans, Bentley’s 4.5-litre supercharged heavyweights, referred to by Ettore Bugatti as ‘the fastest lorries on earth’, are now the Holy Grail of serious car collectors​.

“A supercharged Vantage is no lorry, but the similarities of the Vantage in comparison with its Ferrari or Porsche peers in period are obvious. The most powerful of the Marek V8-engined cars, these wonderful machines are also the most refined and have an abundance of that special hand-built quality, all from the craftsmen and engineers whose skills were honed over 40+ years at the now demolished Newport Pagnell factory​.

“Having covered thousands of miles in Vantages, in relaxed comfort and at high speeds, for me there is no contemporary to the supercharged V8 that combines the comfort, performance and satisfaction of these commanding cars.

​“Anachronistic cars of this type exist in tiny numbers: there was little use for them as an everyday means of transport. Manufacturers design and build cars to sell in reasonable volume, after all. The supercharged Vantage is unequivocally not a car in that mould. Fortunately, though, the cars were built and do still exist. Just maybe our lives are a little richer and the roads more interesting for that. 

​“With limited availability and increasing appeal to the newer generation of classic car buyer, we believe interest in this model will continue to increase, and thus support the rising values we are seeing today. 

Nick Mee Speak

Interior of the Supercharged Vantage

Interior of the V550
Interior of the V550
Interior Seats in a V550
Interior Seats in a V550
Interior of the V550
Interior of the V550

Currently in the Showroom​


Finished in arguably the most popular colour for the model, Antrim Blue over Parchment hide interior, piped Pacific Blue over Blue carpets, we are pleased to offer this superb quality Vantage V550.

A quintessential ‘Brute in a Suit’, the 1993-2000 Aston Martin V8 Vantage V550 was the last model produced entirely by hand at the Newport Pagnell factory, with a mere 239 examples being built before the factory being closed and remodelled, for Vanquish production. An anachronism of its day, the Vantage V550’s only rival, that could claim to offer the same level of luxury and performance, was Bentley’s Continental T, the most expensive production car of the day.

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