Fewer than 300 Virage-based Aston Martin Vantages were ever built between 1993 and 2000, and one of those 550 horsepower monsters was delivered new to music legend Sir Elton John in 1997. That car is now up for auction, and my god is it lovely.
Going up for sale on Feb. 24 is the black 1997 Aston Martin that John got new in May of that year. The auction house’s photos show the car to be in gorgeous shape, with the listing saying it has only 8,663 miles on the clock. The auction site describes the car’s immaculate condition, saying:
We are extremely pleased to offer this particular UK-supplied, right-hand drive Aston Martin V8 Vantage V550, which was delivered new by H.W.M Ltd. in Surrey on 13th May 1997 to Sir Elton John. Finished in Black with a black leather interior, chassis #70174 is a manual gearbox example, making it hugely desirable and a joy to drive. Open the driver’s door to the cabin and that ‘new car’ smell still lingers, with acres of polished figured Walnut and cashmere-soft leather greeting passengers, along with a Motorola phone and, as you might expect, an uprated audio system.
This car has been thoroughly maintained throughout, with the service book showing 19 stamps in total, with invoices for maintenance in 2015 at H.A. Fox Ltd, considerable expenditure at respected marque specialist, Rikki Cann in 2016 and a full service and other work totalling more than £7,600 in 2017.
You can read all about the ’90s-era Aston Martin Vantage’s amazing history in our in-depth story, but I’ll just summarize it here.
The overpowered sports coupe started out as a 330 hp Virage, which was Aston Martin’s first all-new car in two decades when it debuted for 1989, just a few years after Ford had purchased a 75 percent stake in the company. The new sports coupe promised to bring Aston Martin into modernity with an aluminum body and 32-valve version of the outgoing Vantage V8's 5.3-liter engine, but that didn’t quite happen.
The Virage was no technological marvel; it was heavy, had an extremely soft sprung suspension (the rear wasn’t even fully independent), and shared a bunch of interior parts with Ford, VW, Jaguar and GM.
But after offering a 6.3-liter V8 version of the car, Aston Martin decided to twin-supercharge the Virage’s 5.3-liter V8, and turn the car into a 550-hp, 550 lb-ft, 4,800-pound animal called the Vantage. Yes, the engine (the most powerful one in the world at the time) came with a stiffer suspension, wider tires some aero updates and a six-speed out of a Corvette, but as Raphael Orlove said in his article, “Aston didn’t really go far enough,” and reviewers found the car to handle poorly and display highly unpredictable power delivery.
So it wasn’t exactly an engineering masterpiece, but the Vantage was the last hand-built Aston Martin, and it was truly a special machine, as Orlove says in his story:
But just look at the thing. It’s not a beautiful car. It’s not nimble. It’s not particularly good at putting down numbers.
What it is is impossibly charming. Somehow a bunch of old guys in rainy England managed to build the most powerful car in the world, and they didn’t do it in a cutting edge midengine supercar. They just blew a huge V8 and stuffed it into a smoking parlor on wheels. Who can’t see the wonderful terribleness in that?
The auction company estimates Elton John’s former car will go for about $262,000 to $331,000 plus “buyer’s premium of 15% including VAT @ 20%,” and while that’s not cheap, I can think of many much-less-exciting cars to blow that kind of cash on.
If the Aston Martin Vantage was flawed, then Elton John’s seemingly-immaculate car up for auction might just be an example of perfect imperfection.