At the beginning of my four-week ‘Dream Car’ edition of History Hits, I laid down the rule that any car I picked had to be 25 years or older; essentially the same rules that everyone uses when classifying a ‘classic’ car. Even back then, I knew this wouldn’t last, and I would have to break my own rules one week. This week, as we make our way further east from our starting country of Japan, I look at cars from Europe and Britain, and the time for rule-breaking has come.
The car that causes this deviation from the rules may be unexpected to some, however the company probably won’t be. The car in question is the 19-year-old 1998 Aston Martin Vantage V600, a rear-drive, V8 grand tourer, although designed as if it were given to the literally-insane designer they keep staffed for ‘special occasions’.
Looking at the pedigree of the Vantage V600, the insanity is not immediately apparent. The V600 is based on the earlier Virage, which debuted in 1989 as a formulaic British Grand Tourer: lots of leather, 2+2 seating, V8 in the front, sending power to the rear tires. The V8 in question was a 330hp 5.3L V8, with 32-valve heads designed by Callaway, of Turbo-Vette fame. If the power number sounds tame, the rest of the driveline will not inspire enthusiast desire either: power was sent through either a 3-speed Tourqeflite transmission, or a five-speed manual. These pedestrian gear-boxes would later be replaced with an optional 4-speed automatic, or a 6-speed manual from the Vantage I desire.
The pedestrian, simple nature of the Virage continues with the rest of the cars design, as the rear suspension is based on the earlier Lagonda, featuring a de Dion tube rear suspension, which locates the shock absorbers with triangulated radius rods and a Watts linkage. Those familiar with their axle-lingo will be clued in by the use of a Watts linkage; the Aston Martin Virage produced in the 90’s, a car which was supposed to be the best most comfortable grand tourer produced yet, featured a live rear axle. While the front was independent with the use of a double-wishbone setup, the rear had more in common with a common Mustang, while a Civic had fully independent suspension.
A curb weight of nearly 4000lbs means the acceleration of the Virage was tepid at best. Automatics accelerated to 60 in 6.5secs, similar to a 1.6L Fiesta ST, while a manual only slightly improved this, turning in a 6.2 second time. While the V8 sounded good, and various convertible, four doors, and station wagon versions would be produced, the performance of the V8-powered coupe never significantly improved.
This changed with the addition of the Vantage model, based on the Virage, in 1993. Visually, the Vantage shared only the roof and the doors with the Virage, with the rest of the body featuring the requisite spoilers, openings, and width to display sportiness. The wide, 18in wheels with massive 14in AP racing brakes tucked inside further hint at actual sportiness compared to its Virage sibling.
The Vantage does not disappoint, producing 550hp and 555 lb-ft of torque, through the same 5.3L V8 of the tepid Virage. Aston Martin achieved this through the addition of a Roots-type supercharger to the top of each of the Callaway designed heads. As a V8 has two cylinder banks, and two heads, this means that the 5.3L now featured two Roots-style blowers under the hood.
To handle the added power and torque, Aston Martin had to reinforce other portions of the car. Automatics were ditched, and a 6-speed manual was borrowed from the contemporary Corvette ZR1, although the 6th gear was initially blocked off. The suspension was hardened, utilizing Koni dampers and Eibach springs, and as mentioned, the tires were widened.
It didn’t work. By all reports, the Vantage was still a complete handful on anything resembling a public road. The instantaneous nature of the Roots blowers—something usually praised—meant that huge gobs of power and torque were delivered right now, no matter when now happens to be. The rear-suspension design also meant that the car was slightly more of a handful than perhaps modern Astons might lead us to believe. It is important to remember that this is 1993—the year of my birth, 25 years ago (!) and three years before the rise of the Backstreet Boys; this kind of power is relatively new.
Over the next 5 years, Aston Martin continued to take orders for the Vantage, as well as the Virage—now dubbed the V8 coupe—however, they did not invest much in development. With a new V12 in development, and a Virage/Vantage replacement in the works, improving the old model was not a high priority. Despite this, in 1998 a new ‘model’ appeared, although the use of the word model is generous at best. That is because the V600 variant of the Vantage—the new model introduced—was never sold through dealers, and was instead a factory-option to be installed after delivery; to get past safety and emissions restrictions of course.
It is this particular model, technically classified as a 1998, which is my dream car from the European/UK markets. The package gained its extra 50hp over ‘pedestrian’ Vantage models through the addition of a second intercooler, allowing a safe increase of boost levels. In 1998 money, this twin-supercharged V8 grand tourer would run an eye-watering £232,950, about £40,000 more than a normal ‘V550’ Vantage.
While incredibly expensive, this extra money netted slightly more than an extra intercooler and more power. The bodywork was changed with the addition of claimed-functional vents, as well as the stylistically blocked-off grille. The wheels were lightened and widened, made of magnesium, while the interior was changed with the addition of a larger rev counter. To round it all off, the V600 package netted the addition of carbon fiber engine dress-up. All of this improved the 0-60 time to a claimed 3.95secs, although the quickest recorded was a 4.6sec time.
This package would prove to be the send-off of the insane Vantage model (although a V600-based ‘Le Mans’ edition is the official final edition, it is a dressed-up V600). In the year 2000, deliveries had to cease of the twin-supercharged V8 tire-slayer, due to tightening emissions and safety standards across the globe. As the new V12 had recently debuted, Aston Martin had a suitably modern, dramatic engine to quietly retire the 5.3L with, and the Vantage ceased to be.
Despite not being a looker, the fact that it is employing simple technologies, and necessitating the breaking of my own rules, I cannot help but desire the V600 Aston Martin Vantage. Anyone who is slightly good at math can tell you that the introduction year of 1998 is nowhere near 25-years ago, but I have a way around this. As the V600 was based on a normal Vantage, produced roughly 25 years ago starting in 1993, the entire package could theoretically be applied to a 1993 model, thus creating a 25-year-old V600.
Regardless of being an entirely fantasy scenario, this loophole lets me feel slightly less guilty about including the V600 on my list of classical cars that I desire. While my article conveys the general details of the Virage, Vantage, and V600, Jalopnik has a wonderful article on the detailed history of the Vantage model-line, which can be found HERE.
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I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.