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Aston Martin Virage

Advantage Aston Published: 5th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Aston Martin Virage

Fast Facts

  • Best model: V8
  • Worst model: Early cars
  • Budget buy: Standard auto
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes from the outset
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): (mm): L4737 x W1854
  • Spares situation: Pretty good if pricey
  • DIY ease?: Not too bad apart from FI set up
  • Club support: Typical Aston Martin
  • Appreciating asset?: We reckon it’s nailed on
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Yes… if you get a good one!
Revamped V8 is far better car than Virage and not to be confused with the earlier, and much cheaper, model Revamped V8 is far better car than Virage and not to be confused with the earlier, and much cheaper, model
Boot is adequate enough for most touring needs Boot is adequate enough for most touring needs
Cabin is lovely and but lacks stamina Cabin is lovely and but lacks stamina
Trusty V8 still fast but costly to fi x head gaskets fail Trusty V8 still fast but costly to fi x head gaskets fail
Rear shot shows VW rear lights Audi headlamps up front Rear shot shows VW rear lights Audi headlamps up front
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With DBs soaring in value, is the Virage the best value old school Aston Martin left to buy?

Pros & Cons

Value, pace, classical styling, numbers, last of the true Astons?
Unloved Virage, many tatty ones around, expensive rear brake maintenance, dodgy electrics
£20,000-150,000

Think of classic Aston Martins and the DB line instantly springs to mind. But between the DBS and the DB9 a handful of niche and nice models were made – yet mostly forgotten, too. But there’s one that’s a 1990s classic in the making as well as being one of the best value Astons of them all – the Virage. However before you reach for that chequebook or sign that bank loan be warned! There’s a good reason why Virage prices remain so tantalisingly low – and that’s because the car is …rubbish! Well, that’s the view of certain Aston specialists we spoke to while even the most charitable experts reckoned it wasn’t particularly good. So why buy one? Simple – it’s an Aston and a cheap one at that. And as we all know all Astons appreciate in time and we can all kick ourselves for not buying that DB6 or DBS a few years back when they were affordable. Don’t let the chance slip by you now.

History

Considering its DB6-soured underpinnings the old DBS served Aston Martin well into the late 1980s although by then this coupe was very much an automotive dinosaur. It’s harsh to call the Virage a quick fi x to Aston’s woes but essentially it was that: a V8 Vantage in up to date clothes and an updated mechanical spec that bore surprisingly little resemblance to the old V8. For example, the chassis was new and the faithful De Dion rear end was discarded for a simpler ‘A frame’ set up. It still looked like an Aston but the front was squared up with Audi 200 headlamps (and VW Scirocco rear units). Also GM, Ford and Jaguar also provided many other parts, too and this car was launched just after Ford purchased Jaguar and Aston at the tail end of the decade. Weighing in at almost two tons, the Virage was no lightweight but thanks to a revamped V8 using ‘Callaway-designed’ cylinder heads and Weber-Marelli fuel injection, 330bhp and 343lbft of torque kept it in the supercar class although not everybody was over enamoured with Aston’s latest. That simplified rear suspension did the handling no favours but worse still the Virage was poorly built and warranty claims and recalls started to snowball.

As you’d expect, a topless Virage followed in 1992. It was shown initially as a two-seater but production models used a 2+2 format and it ran until 1996 when a new longer wheelbase V8 Volante surfaced, running until the car’s demise in 2000. More than 60 were made. Naturally a Vantage had to fi gure in the line up at some stage and it was launched in 1993 although the Virage only came good when the revised V8 was launched. Externally, essentially the only the roof and doors remained the same as this astonishing Aston was given a wider, meaner stance with ‘grapefruit’ rear tail lights no less. But it was under the skin where the real change was wrought.

That faithful De Dion rear end made a welcome return. Added power came from supercharger for a rousing 550bhp and an incredible 550lbft of torque on tap from the twin ‘blowers’. A six-speed manual transmission was standard and the car’s cantankerous computers were fi xed. Out went the unreliable digital dash readout that year while the auto box was upgraded from three to four-speeds. To call the V8 the vindicated Virage is an understatement and Aston even tried to distance itself from the earlier car as though it never existed!

With the launch of the DB7, the V8 Vantage (formerly known as Virage) remained the fl agship Aston Martin, even when the former gained a full fat V12, although by the late 1990s it was being run down to make way for the vivacious Vanquish. The fi nal 40 Vantages were suitably badged Le Mans to commemorate the marque’s 40th anniversary of its victory at the Le Sathe circuit. Like the old V8 Vantage of the 1970s, the grille was blanked out while an awesome 600bhp meant it performed as brutally as it looked. Changes during the car’s short production run were fairly few, the most notable being when the digital dash readout was ditched and ABS became a standard fi tment with the launch of the Virage Volante. Larger 17inch tyres were fitted to all but the earliest examples, too while the Vantages came standard with massive 285/45ZR 18 tyres. The fi nal fl ing for the fi nal ‘traditional’ pre-Ford Aston Martin was a plainer V8 Coupe using normally aspirated 350bhp V8 power. Made between 1996-2000, 101 were produced. The car was a fairly successful model for Aston, in total 1050 were made, the majority being the normal version although 280 were Vantages and 233 were Volantes. The encore was a rare V8 Vantage Volante of which less than 10 were built. Let’s not forget the Shooting Brake and the Saloon offshoots though! Just a handful of both were built to customer order – the former boasting split rear seats, dog rail and a longer range fuel tank.

Driving

No wonder 007 never ran one! Virages weren’t really that pleasing to drive and the handling only came good when the De Dion rear set up was dusted off for another call of duty. Some Aston specialists reckon the throttle response on early cars wasn’t too sharp although automatic transmission masked the fault. With so much torque on tap, it’s not surprising that many cars came equipped with automatic transmission anyway as it suits the V8 engine well. Manuals are more potent but it makes the car heavier to drive. Also, in common with many supercars, the Virage is not comfortable at low speeds and the turning circle is a bit bus-like. Performance? Well, zero to 60 takes a little over six seconds on normal cars and an astonishing 4.6 seconds for the Vantage while up to 175 mph is on the cards. Old school Astons have never been frugal and you won’t get much from any car although Derek Campbell of Chiltern Aston who helped with the feature claims he sees the low 20s on a cruise in a Vantage.

Prices

For an Aston the Virage remains a giveaway… If you remember that these were six fi gure supercars when new then £30,000 (or less) has to be a bargain, whatever the views are on the car. That’s what you can pick up an earlier sound example for, although around £30-40k seems to be the normal going rate with the Volante convertibles starting from around £35,000 minimum. At the top end, it seems hard to pay much more than 50 grand for a car – the exception being the ultra rare V600; a special 600bhp Le Mans (also as a conversion on standard 550bhp car).

We’ve seen a specialist want almost £150k for one of these! Easy come easy go? Maybe not. While the Virage looks great value for money, don’t think you’ll sell one that easy. Leading specialist Chiltern Aston (see advert in this issue) says while it will happily deal in V8s, it avoids early Virages at all costs unless it’s top notch with a good history and yet the usual neglected rubbish! Another specialist who helped with this feature, Runnymede Motor Company (who used to be known as ‘Mr Virage’), claims it was offered the same car from four different dealers (two Aston, one Jag and the other a BMW main agent)!

Improvements

Being DBS-based, there’s a fair bit you can do to the Virage, tuning a standard car to Vantage spec is a logical step. Incidentally in its day this Aston boasted the biggest ever disc brakes fitted to a car (14inch) beaten only later by the Bentley GT! The usual suspension upgrades using harder dampers and springs is available and remember that the Aston is a heavy car and this may well have taken its toll on the original set up. The ultimate engine tune up was offered by the factor y; a monster 6.3-litre engine derived from the AMR1 racer producing 500bhp, 480lbft of torque fo r a s t o n i s h i n g pace! If that’s not enough then there’s always the top V600 (600bhp) tune… For smaller pockets, QuickSilver Exhausts of Surrey has introduced a sports back box for the standard Virage and a full spor ts system for the Vantage. Check it out at http://www.quicksilverexhausts. Com/ cataloguefl ash.htm

What To Look For

  • Know your Aston V8s! There’s a confusing mish mash of Virages. Your best bet is to swot up on the models (Haynes Publishingproduces an excellent book – ISBN 1-85960-434-X – or try http://www.astonmartins.com.
  • Overall condition is the most important consideration as a full-on restoration of any model will be non-viable – you’ll certainly not see much of your investment back for many years.
  • Talking of condition, a lot of cars are rank due to slip-shod servicing and neglect. Better to pay the money and buy a properly sorted car at the outset. After all, they’re not overly expensive right now.
  • Given their relative youth, Virages should have a documented service history (main dealer or independent) as lack of routine maintenance will store up a catastrophe of trouble waiting to happen. The V8 engine was based on a racing design when it was fi rst introduced and time has not diminished its complexity. All parts are available as you’d expect, but they are hugely costly.
  • A service history is critical for another reason – it may be the only way you can ascertain the car’s real mileage as early digital dash cars could go on the blink and the odometer ‘clock’ itself!
  • Rust shouldn’t be a worry but check usual Aston-style rot spots such as the sills, which are always critical and the fl oorpan.
  • Probably the biggest fear could be a dodgy chassis due to poor accident repairs. Look for fresh metal and patchwork welding. A computer data check from the likes of HPI and the AA/RAC is a wise move to verify if the car has been in a hefty accident.
  • Panelwork is aluminum but the frame on which they sit on is steel so check for electrolytic reaction where steel meets alloy. Because of the differing expansion rates of these metals, paint cracks around the seams and edges need to be watched.
  • Originally the body panels were to be glued into place but this never worked out and so simple pop riveting was used in production – naturally these react to the ally panels. Also have a look at the engine’s ancillaries, as it’s not uncommon to fi nd rusty clips and things – a sign of cost cutting at the works.
  • It seems that rust-protection isn’t helped by leaking drainage channels caused by the protective liners moving and blocking the fl ow of aqua.
  • That V8 is a toughie and can withstand 200,000 miles if it’s been looked after. That said, they are fi ve-fi gure costly to overhaul.
  • There are two givens for longevity. One is a 50-50 mix of coolant with quality anti-freeze to keep the ally engine’s channels free. Letting the engine warm up in its own time is another; there’s something like 13 gallons of lube that needs heating up to temp. Regular oil changes (as little as 3000 miles) is wise move.
  • Hot oil pressure on the V8 should be at least 60psi at 3000rpm on the move while coolant temp should stay around 90 degrees. If you get the chance, check cylinder compressions, which should be around 150psi across the board.
  • Worn timing chains are common, so listen for a rattly front end. It’s advised that the pair are replaced every 75,000 miles to be on the safe side. The cost £62 a pop. Leaky water pumps have dogged the V8 since birth. Check for leaks and any bodges with a pour in stop leak. They cost around £350 plus a couple of hours to fi t.
  • Failing head gaskets are becoming a more common trait so do the usual checks and look for evidence of a pour in additive (there’s some good ones around!) used to ‘fi x’ the ailment.
  • The ZF transmissions are truck-like strong (good thing as they cost £2000 to overhaul) and new gears aren’t available. Like the engine, the ‘box needs time to warm up. Obstructive second gears are common, but it shouldn’t be that bad. Plus these box of cogs rattle at idle for fun.
  • Virages used the old Chrysler three-speed auto and gives few problems. The four-speeder is similarly reliable (and preferable) but carry out the usual checks such as dirty fl uid, a smell of burning and less than smooth shifting on the move. Try the manual gears on a test drive, too.
  • A limited slip differential is standard but they can wear out. It’s easy to check if its okay; reverse the car in both locks and if it feels as though the handbrake has been yanked on then the clutches are on the way out. Axle whine is common and a rebuild costs around £600.
  • Power steering (Adwest) is robust; worn universal joint and track rod ends are the known complaints. Incidentally these £30 ends are nothing more exotic than Morris Minor items… Leaking racks need replacing at £350.
  • The brakes are Jaguar-derived, although top Virages wear truly massive front discs, which are extremely expensive to replace. Check for deterioration such as judder, warping and so on. ABS wasn’t fi tted to very early cars, incidentally.
  • Original Virages featured outboard rear disc brakes, which are unique to the car and very expensive to repair. On later cars, the normal DBS/Lagonda De Dion set up resides. Three-stage inboard rear brakes aren’t the easiest to service and check the De Dion system for damage and wear.
  • There’s a fair bit pick and mix fi tted to the Virage, such as Audi and VW lights, Vauxhall and Ford fi tting and so on, meaning it’s not a hideously expensive car to fi x certain faults.
  • The electrical system on the Virage was no bright spark, especially the quirky twin ECU system, so check all the idiot light extinguish on start up – and, critically, illuminate before you turn the key. Have any been craftily disconnected to mask a fault?
  • What will be expensive to right is the luxurious and lovely leather/Wilton-clad cabin. Hard used cars may look tired and while part and ‘smart’ repairs can work wonders, a really shabby car will costs thousands to bring back into line.

Three Of A Kind

Aston Martin DB7
Aston Martin DB7
In-house rival to the Virage, the ‘entry level’ Aston is a different animal, being based upon the Jag XJ-S, Initially a supercharged straight six before a V12 took over, it’s a more agile, sporting choice with tighter handling and slightly better economy. Size-wise they are about the same and both are cramped 2+2s although the Virage is slightly the roomier. Prices are much on par with the Virage although the DB7 is the better-developed machine.
Jensen Interceptor
Jensen Interceptor
This Jensen has a lot in common with the Aston, not least V8 power and that typical top-drawer British feel. In standard trim the Interceptor isn’t as fast as the Virage but it’s thirstier and the handling is far more antiquated, even though their respective chassis designs are of the same era. But the Jensen is wonderful value, is a certain future classic plus you can even buy revamped brand new ones from specialist V Eight Cropredy.
Mercedes SL
Mercedes SL
More classical than classic, the SL is perhaps the wisest pick of them all. There’s far more around to keep prices realistic and with an engine line spanning a straight six to V12 there’s – literally – a model to suit all pockets. Beautifully old school M-B engineered they are super-robust and can be run as a modern with few worries – apart from fuel returns. Perhaps the image isn’t quite there yet though?

Verdict

Love or loath the Virage but it all comes down to what you want from an Aston. If it’s mainly for the badge, heritage and the ‘key fob’ factor – plus of course fantastic value for money – then this, the last of the old school hand-built Aston Martin, could be a dream come true. Even one of its biggest critics – Derek Campbell of Chiltern Aston – cheerfully admits that the Virage is a great way of getting into Aston ownership if you do it right. And who’s ever known of a classic Aston losing money (if it’s been looked after)?



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