PARIS – The U.K.’s top performance auto maker unveils the fastest Aston Martin yet at the Paris auto show today.

Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. rolls out the 520-hp Vanquish S as a mid-cycle upgrade to its flagship Vanquish 2+2 coupe.

The Vanquish S includes a slight styling makeover, boasts a hefty $255,000 price tag and replaces the 3-year-old, 460-hp $234,000 Vanquish in the auto maker’s growing lineup. (See related story: Aston Plans Vanquish Revamp for ’05)

Aston Martin nearly will halve Vanquish production volume in 2005 from recent levels, a company spokeswoman tells Ward’s. In 2003, the company produced 655 copies at its 50-year-old Newport Pagnell Assembly plant in Buckinghamshire, U.K.

Aston Martin Vanquish S

That number will drop to 350 in 2005 as the auto maker looks to push demand well above supply for the sake of maintaining exclusivity, the spokeswoman says.

Although information on the vehicle has been kept quiet by Aston Martin officials, customers already are expressing interest in the bumped-up Vanquish, Molly Padovini, general manager-Aston Martin of Troy, MI, tells Ward’s.

One owner of an ’04 Vanquish has found a buyer for his current Aston and now is slated to get Padovini’s first Vanquish S, she says, noting that at 350 units of planned volume, the auto maker’s 105 dealers likely will be clamoring for as many copies as they can get.

Meanwhile, Aston Martin will shoot for 5,000 total deliveries worldwide next year as it debuts the $100,000 AMV-8 Vantage as a competitor to Porsche’s 911– adding plenty of needed fodder for dealer stocks.

The AMV-8 will ride on the DB9 coupe’s platform (which debuted in 2004) but is powered by a totally new V-8 engine.

Once the AMV-8 rollout is complete, parent Ford Motor Co.’s utmost brand will have three vehicle nameplates on dealer lots: the AMV-8, DB9 and Vanquish S.

The Vanquish S bridges the 500-hp gap, pushing Aston Martin’s existing 6L V-12 engine to 520 hp, thanks to a new cylinder head casting with machined inlet ports and an improved combustion chamber design that increases airflow, the auto maker says.

The engine has been remapped to work with new fuel injectors and spark plugs to take advantage of the improved airflow, which significantly improves horsepower (12% over the Vanquish) and torque. Torque increases 6%, from 400 lb.-ft. (542 Nm) to 425 lb.-ft. (577 Nm).

In addition to vaulting the Vanquish nameplate over the 500-hp mark, engine upgrades drop the S edition’s 0-62 mph (100 km/h) acceleration from 5 seconds to 4.8 seconds; reduce 0-100 mph (160 km/h) times from 10.5 seconds to 9.8 seconds; and boost top speed to 203 mph (325 km/h) from 190 mph (306 km/h).

Additionally, the Vanquish S gets bigger front and rear brakes, redesigned calipers and high-performance pads.

The chassis adopts shorter springs that slightly reduce ride height, along with revised dampers. And the steering arms have been shortened to provide a 20% quicker response.

While performance bravado characterizes the Vanquish S, the vehicle also bows with new design enhancements. The exterior sports a redesigned trunk lid with a high-mounted stop lamp that reduces lift, while the front end’s grille opening is widened for improved cooling.

jstoll@primediabusiness.com