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Aston Martin Virage

Affordable Aston Published: 24th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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!
Looks tatty but this is how they are. Question if too clean Looks tatty but this is how they are. Question if too clean
Comfy cabin used an unhappy mix of Ford Scorpio parts Comfy cabin used an unhappy mix of Ford Scorpio parts
Convertible cars are pretty desirable but dearer of course Convertible cars are pretty desirable but dearer of course
Virage may be so-so but it’s a cheap way to have this Virage may be so-so but it’s a cheap way to have this
Early Virage least liked, but V8 is okay. Vet all well Early Virage least liked, but V8 is okay. Vet all well
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With DBs soaring in price, the Virage is the best value old school Aston Martin left to buy. But is it any good?

Pros & Cons

Value for money, V8 pace, classical styling, last of the true Astons?
Unloved Virage, many tatty ones around, expensive rear brake maintenance, dodgy electrics
+ £16,000-150,000

We know the feeling. You’d love an Aston Martin at least once in your motoring life, but reckon that you’d need a six number lottery win to make that dream a reality. Yet, there’s one that’s a classic AM in the making as well as being one of the most bestvalue Astons of them all – the 1990s 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 tantalizingly low. And that’s because this Aston is often seen as awful rather than awesome! That‘s not us saying this, but certain Aston Martin specialists we spoke to. Even the most charitable of experts reckon it that wasn’t a particularly good effort from the famous factory. So why buy one? Simple – it’s an Aston and a cheap one at that. And as we all know, all Astons appreciate over time. We can all kick ourselves for not buying that DB6 or even a DBS a few years back when they were so affordable, can’t we? Look, there’s no such thing as a bad Aston Martin is there? Of course not – so don’t let the chance slip by because who knows, we might all be waxing lyrical over the Virage one day!

History

Considering its DB6-sourced underpinnings, the old DBS series served Aston Martin really well into the late 1980s, although by then it was a bit of an automotive dinosaur. It’s harsh to call the Virage a quick fi x to Aston’s woes, but essentially it was just that: a V8 Vantage in up-to-date clothing and an updated mechanical spec that bore surprisingly little resemblance to the respected V8. For example, the already dated Lagondaderived chassis (an all-new one was the ideal, but lack of cash prevented it) was downgraded, with the faithful De Dion rear end discarded for a simpler, cheaper ‘A frame’ set up. Launched just after Ford purchased Jaguar and Aston, at the tail end of the decade, Virage still looked like an Aston Martin for sure (withshades of the DB4, some felt) but the style was perhaps a bit too squared, with its Audi 200 headlampsand VW Scirocco rear light units. Also GM, Ford and Jaguar provided too many other parts too and it lacked a quality air as a result. 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. In true Aston Martin tradition, weighing in at almost two tons, the Virage was no lightweight but, thanks to a revamped V8 using American ‘Callaway-designed’ 32-valve cylinder heads and Weber-Marelli fuel injection for 330bhp and 343lbft of torque, it comfortably remained in the supercar class although not everybody was over enamoured with Aston’s latest. That simplifi ed rear suspension saved a few pence but did the handling no favours. Worse still, the original Virage was poorly built and warranty claims and recalls started to snowball. The Virage only came good when the revised V8 was launched. Externally, only the roof and doors remained the same as this Aston was given wider, meaner stance with ‘grapefruit’ rear tail lights and other styling advances. 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 supercharging with 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 as well, while the auto box was upgraded from three to four-speeds. To call the V8 thevindicated Virage is an understatement and Aston Martin even tried to distance itself so far from the earlier car it was as though it never ever existed! Even with the launch of the DB7, the V8 Vantage (formerly known as Virage) remained the fl agship Aston Martin 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 famous victory at the Le Sathe circuit. Like the old V8 Vantage of the 1970s, the grille was suitably blanked out and with an awesome 600bhp now on tap, it meant that the car performed as brutally as it looked. Changes during the Virage’s, and the latter V8’s, relatively short production run (for an Aston, anyway) were fairly few. The most notable being when the digital dash readout was ditched and ABS became a standard fi tment along with the launch of the Virage Volante. Larger 17inch tyres were fi tted to all but the earliest examples, as well, while 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, featuring normally aspirated 350bhp V8 power. Made between 1996 and 2000, 101 were produced. Despite its early reputation, overall 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 made to customer order – the former boasting split rear seats, dog rail and a longer range fuel tank.

Driving

No wonder 007 never ran one! Early Virages weren’t really that good to drive because the car was already behind the times when it was launched. “Ten years too late” is how one writer summed up the car, because it sat on a modifi ed Lagonda platform, itself DBS-sourced. Also, the move away from its predecessors’ rear suspension was a big mistake and this Aston’s handling only came good when the discarded De Dion rear set up was dusted off for another call of duty. Some Aston Martin specialists reckon that the throttle response on early Virages wasn’t too responsive either, although the good automatic transmission largely masked the fault. With so much torque on tap, it’s not surprising that many cars came equipped with self shifting anyway as it suits the V8 engine particularly well. Manuals are more potent, of course, but it also makes the car much heavier to drive. Also, in common with many supercars, the Virage is not overly comfortable pottering at low speeds and the turning circle is positively bus-like. The Australian brakes are excellent however. Performance? It‘s not an issue as, zero to 60 takes a little over six seconds on normal cars or an astonishing 4.6 seconds for the Vantage, while up to 175mph is on the cards. Old school Astons have never been frugal beasts although some owners claim 20mpg on a quiet cruise. This the best way to treat this Aston. Indeed one magazine summed up the Virage quite aptly as a “classy [Vauxhall] Calibra” Ouch!

Prices

For an Aston, the Virage remains a give-away. If you appreciate 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 going rate with the Volante convertibles starting from around £35,000 minimum. If you fancy a gamble, we’ve seen them on sale for just over fi ve fi gures at auction, while at the top end, it seems hard to pay much more than 50 grand – the exception being the ultra rare V600; a special 600bhp Le Mans (also as a conversion on standard 550bhp car). We’ve seen Aston specialists want almost £150k! Easy come easy go? Maybe not. While the Virage looks stupendous value don’t think you’ll make money on one quickly. Aston independents still avoid early Virages due to their reputation and the typical condition they are now in.

Improvements

Being mainly DBS V8-based, there’s a fair bit you can do to the Virage. Tuning a standard car to Vantage spec is a logical step if not a cheapone. Incidentally, in its day this Aston boasted the biggest ever disc brakes fi tted to a car (14inch), beaten only later by the ‘new’ Bentley GT! So as long as they are okay, leave alone. The usual suspension upgrades, comprising harder dampers and springs, are available but remember that the Aston is a heavy car and this may well have taken its toll on the original set up, so just a new set of standard replacements may do the trick. And as we say so many times with certain specialist classics, having a car fully serviced and set up to spec – especially the geometry – can bring the most dramatic and cost effective improvement. The ultimate engine tune-up was offered by the factory; a monster 6.3-litre engine derived from the AMR1 racer producing 500bhp, and 480lbft of torque for astonishing pace. If that’s not enough then there’s always the top V600 (600bhp) tune. For smaller pockets, QuickSilver Exhausts of Surrey recently introduced a sports back box for the standard Virage and a full sports system for the Vantage. Click: 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 Publishing produces 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 to come.
  • Talking of condition, a lot of cars are pretty 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 and tetchiness. All parts are freely 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 floorpan.
  • 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.
  • Be wary if the engine bay looks too spick and span. From the factory, the inner wings were sprayed in a ghastly black underseal – is the engine bay now colour-coded?
  • Panelwork is alloy 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 alloy 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 underbody’s protective liners moving and blocking the fl ow of water.
  • That V8 is a toughie and can withstand 200,000 miles but if it’s been looked after by those in the know. That said, it’s a fi ve-fi gure costly unit to overhaul when it goes sick.
  • There are two givens for longevity. One is a 50-50 mix of coolant with quality anti-freeze to keep the alloy 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 a 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 should be replaced every 75,000 miles to be on the safe side. The cost £62 a pop with fi ve hours of labour to be added. Their correct tension is paramount as well.
  • 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 this box of cogs rattles at idle, for fun.
  • Virages used an old Chrysler three-speed auto which gives few problems. The four-speeder is as reliable (and preferable) but carry out the usual checks such as looking for dirty fl uid, a smell of burning and less than smooth shifting on the move. Try the manual gears on a test, too.
  • A limited slip diff is standard but it can wear out quickly (due to heat). It’s easy to check if it’s 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 earliest 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. Threestage inboard rear brakes aren’t the easiest to service and check the De Dion system for damage and wear.
  • There’s a fair bit of pick-and-mix with the Virage, such as Audi and VW lights, Vauxhall and Ford fi ttings and so on, meaning it’s not a hideously expensive car to fi x with certain faults.
  • The electrical system was no bright spark, especially the quirky twin ECU system, so check all the idiot lights 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 put 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.  Switchgear is a mix of Ford and GM.

 

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 uprated ones from specialist V Eight Cropredy
Ferrari Mondial
Ferrari Mondial
Like the Virage, the Mondial represents an affordable entry into a prestige brand but, like the Aston, this is a Ferrari that’s not universally liked. Mondial offers a Pranching Horse with practicality for (small) families. There’s a choice of coupe and convertible and all have price on their side, although their lack of worth and respect can lead to skinfl int owners neglecting their tenureship. Early models not exactly Ferrari quick either.

Verdict

Love or loath the Virage, it all comes down to what you want from an Aston. If it’s mainly for the badge, heritage and the ‘key fob’ – plus of course value for money – then this, the last of the old school hand-built Aston Martins, could be a dream come true. And, who’s ever known of an Aston losing money?



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