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Aston Martin Virage

Aston Martin Virage Published: 24th May 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Virage 6.3
  • Worst model: Tatty 5.3-litre coupé
  • Budget buy: Any decent 5.3 coupé
  • OK for unleaded?: A cat means you must use unleaded
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 4740x1850mm
  • Spares situation: Good – but some parts are expensive
  • DIY ease?: Even the experts struggle with some jobs…
  • Club support: Good, up to a point
  • Appreciating asset?: The jury is still out on this…
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Opinions remain hugely divided
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Aston Martin’s long awaited replacement for the DBS-derived V8 was initially half baked and while the model still carries this stigma – not so the later vastly improved Vantage – values and appreciation for this last traditional Aston appear to be rising. Still tempting value, watch when buying as many were neglected until quite recently

Over the years, most Aston Martins have gone through a banger phase, only for the word to get out and prices to go sky high. We saw it with the DB models (albeit a very long time ago) and until recently the DBS was one of the all-time performance car bargains. But as those have now also gone stratospheric – it leaves the Virage as the bargain old school British beefcake Aston. But for how long?

Largely developed just before Ford’s takeover of Aston Martin in 1987, the Virage has long been the poor relation. Often accused of being overweight and underdeveloped, this V8 monster didn’t have the brutal charm of its V8 forebear and contemporary press reports were less than favourable. The Virage would go on to be redeveloped, but the 355 coupé and 234 convertible examples of the regular model built between 1988 and 1995 have remained unloved pretty much since they left the Newport Pagnell factory. Almost 30 years since initial launch, is it time to look at the Virage and Vantage more favourably?

History

1988 It’s the first all-new Aston Martin for 20 years, although the engine and gearbox and the main chassis were carried over. Power – all 330bhp of it – comes from the classic 5340cc Aston Martin V8 with four valves per cylinder and Weber electronic fuel injection care of American engine tuning specialist Reeves Callaway and there’s a new de Dion rear suspension format with outboard rear brakes. The price tag is cool £135K but orders flooded in.

1990 Drophead Virage Volante is unveiled, initially in two-seat form only. But within a year a 2+2 is built. Also released in 1990 is a wide-body option, giving a far more muscular look with front wing vents.

1991 Leading specialist RS Williams introduces an unofficial Virage Vantage conversion, with a special 465bhp 6.3-litre engine. The £60,000 package consists of Cosworth pistons, a six-speed gearbox and an impressive Harvey-Bailey handling kit.

1992 With the global economy in meltdown and Virage sales now very hard to come by, the factory Works Service unleashes a series of tiny-volume specials, including a three-door shooting brake, a five-door estate and even a four-door saloon.

Generally, half a dozen of each are made – and most of them are destined for the Sultan of Brunei’s collection.

In the same year, the new Vantage is unveiled, featuring heavily revised Virage chassis which reverts back to the DBS’s trusted de Dion rear suspension format. The bodywork, has only the roof and doors carried over and significantly there are no Virage references in the name, so officially this model is dead, but the series of cars which will follow over the next few years are all based on the Virage’s bodyshell, even if it doesn’t look much like it…

The new Vantage features two Roots superchargers, with the V8 still in 5340cc form – producing a massive 550bhp and 550lb ft of torque. Production of this British bruiser would run until 1998, by which time 239 examples had been built.

1998 The most extreme Virage evolution yet is released – the Vantage V600. Capable of 200mph thanks to a 600bhp V8, this is the most powerful Aston Martin yet created. Understandably it is also the most costly of its standard production cars, with a list price of £233,682.

1999 The last of the hand-built Astons is revealed at the Geneva motor show; it’s also the ultimate incarnation of the Virage/ Vantage – the Le Mans. Limited to 40 examples, the Le Mans is introduced to commemorate Aston’s 40th anniversary of victory at Le Sarthe. Buyers decided between 550bhp or 600bhp editions; whatever they opt for the price tag will be around £250,000 and they’ll get a car that’s visually different from the regular Vantage, thanks to a modified front spoiler, blanked-off grille and revised cooling ducts.

Driving and press comments

The omens were good; Supercar Classics said, “Enthusiasts anticipating a worthy successor to the V8 (although it mentioned the Vantage was on the cards already!-ed) embracing the old car’s soul but not its antiquity, should be well pleased”, but when Autocar fully tested a Virage in August ’90, it wasn’t so smitten – quite the opposite in fact, being disappointed by such a costly car failing to come equipped with anti-lock brakes, and keen to point out that the John Heffernan-styled body “looked almost dainty and effete, a coupé of the mass market Manta/Calibra school,” and the weekly was not alone in this judgement.

Things didn’t go much better when it came to the performance; an excess of weight and a relative paucity of horses meant that a 157mph top speed and a 0-60mph time of 6.6 seconds weren’t anything to shout about; the much cheaper Ferrari Testarossa (£111,000) was much faster in terms of top speed and grunt, at 171mph and 5.2 seconds respectively. Even worse, the Virage squatted so badly when launching off the line that the offside rear wheelarch was damaged by the tyre…

That new design of rear suspension to house the existing de Dion axle wasn’t having the right effect and the review went even further downhill when it came to the handling, the Virage failing to impress with its steering or suspension. The testers claimed: “The steering is inappropriately light at speed and masks too much road feel. This is precisely what you don’t want with a wide, heavy car like the Virage. As a result, and as with the old V8, it feels cumbersome and slow-witted – and a car only the inordinately brave or foolhardy would consider hustling along a demandingly twisty or bumpy B-road”.

Taking the driving experience out of the equation (easier said than done, admittedly), the Virage acquitted better. The sumptuous interior just oozed British charm, refinement levels were very good and build quality was (predictably) quite brilliant.

But overall there was no doubt that the Virage was a missed opportunity by Aston, Autocar concluding that: “The Virage is fast, handsome and beautifully made. Fine grand tourer as it is though, the Virage deserves to be a better one. It does nothing Jaguar’s ageing XJ-S can’t do at least as well at a fraction of the price… For all its refinement and autobahn-shrinking ability, the Virage is lamentably short of appeal for enthusiastic drivers… we can’t help thinking that the Virage is simply too big and heavy to be a truly enjoyable driver’s car. Look at it and you understand why it costs £125,000. Drive it and you begin to wonder”.

Thankfully, Aston got the message as proved by the Vantage and V8 Coupé, becoming the driver’s machine it should always have been in the first place, helped, no doubt, by Sir Jackie Stewart who was at the time on the board of AM (and parent Ford) and done his shift on development driving while honing the Mondeo as well.
Car pitched the Vantage against a 456GT Ferrari in 1994 and said by then it was a much improved car which was “one of the most chaotically developed cars of our time”, reckoned guest tester and devout Aston fan Rowan Atkinson.

“Vantage is a performance development of the Virage… and hold little attraction after the novelty of the performance wears off”. Of its handling it bemoaned a lack of finesse; “There seems only one way to drive the Vantage quickly – grab it by the neck and kick it in the buttocks”. Maybe that’s how a classic Aston should always be?

Values and marketplace

Before we talk money, you need to split the two models because there’s double the difference in their values. But the one thing that they have in common is their rising rate and it’s been done on the quiet and without any fanfare – unlike other Aston Martins.

A decade ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see Virages easy sub 20 grand meat – we even saw at auction for half this – but as it’s an Aston values go only one way; today you’re looking at around £40-50K for the same car with the best at around £80+.

These are coupé values, the more desired sun-seeking Volante are now six figure purchases if they are of any good.

However, that can be considered cheap when compared to Vantage values. At last year’s annual ‘Works’ sale a top model, one of 40, special edition Le Mans variant sold close to half a million! But even given the price premiums this unique auction attracts, it proves that this model is fast catching up to DBS and perhaps DB6 prices with good regular versions worth at least £120,000 and Volante’s breaking the £200K barrier with special V500 and V600s advertised for over 300 grand – what’s more, Aston experts say values haven’t started to show signs of any levelling off! We know what you’re thinking – yes, we wish we’d bought ten years ago…

Tim Butcher, of Aston experts Trinity Engineering, says while they look similar the Virage and Vantage are like chalk and cheese but the former is finding its feet in Aston circles. He’s impressed with the standard of cars coming into his workshops plus as their values ascend, owners are now prepared to spend serious sums on their upkeep because, like the later Vantage, they are the last traditional Aston Martin and that will always count for something.

On the Vantage, Tim says he prefers the V550 over the more volcanic V600 because it’s smoother and the power band is more accessible on general roads.

Keith Riddington of Classicmobilia predicts that by the end of the year it won’t be uncommon to see 100 grand Virages on the market – his company, established in 2009, has the original AML Press Car (less than 15,000 miles from new!) at £99,950, and he knows of one canny collector who has amassed no less than 15 of them and is sitting tight as well as pretty, he predicts!

The ex works Aston service manager admits the first 100 cars were dire with constant service upgrades but most have been sorted by now and Keith says that all said and done these last of the traditional Astons are terrific cars; he currently is selling the ex World Boxing Champion, Lenox Lewis’ Virage – the LE, of which only nine exist.

According to Derek Campbell, of Hertsbased Chiltern Aston, who sold the above car new to the boxer, Virage and (less so) Vantage prices can be pie-in-the-sky. Yes, you do see them now advertised for hefty sums (a result of values of its predecessor soaring, so dragging up Virage and Vantage prices), but Campbell says he’s seen little evidence of them realising their new perceived values, citing a recent Historics at Brooklands auction where “the best one around” in Derek’s opinion (again, he sold it new) failed to reach its deserved reserve.

Campbell also adds that cars tend to stick around the market for considerable lengths of time. You may have gathered that Chiltern Aston (also known as the DB7 Centre) is not a big fan of them – well it’s not, reckoning that they were one of the worst models Newport Pagnell turned out and many are still in poor state due to their (until recently) lowly worth. It could cost more than their actual real world value to make good again as repair and restoration costs are on par with any earlier DB model. Later Vantages are a totally different car admittedly, but again, some of the prices now being asked simply aren’t realistic in Chiltern’s view and it’s one that’s entirely backed by Martin Brewer of Slough-based Runnymede who adds that the 100K Virage is “Years away”. He currently has a sound, genuine one which in his advert says it’s realistically priced at under £50,000, a sum he regards as the right price for this hardly popular or particularly coveted Aston.

A good example is okay Martin Brewer reckons and yes in a decade’s time may well be worth five figures, but adds that the majority out there probably aren’t in good shape having suffered years of neglect because their owners weren’t prepared to shell out the money needed to keep this Aston – any Aston – in the proper manner.

Virages aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, as you may have gathered, even among the dealers. Our advice is to check out as many as you can and price carefully. Virages will become a true AM classic one day because all Astons will do, eventually. But not yet…

Improvements

Despite the power and luxury on tap, many Virage owners opted to upgrade their cars in period and it’s still possible to spend serious cash on engine, brake and suspension upgrades (Vantages are best left stock). The quad-cam V8 can be taken out to 7-litres and it’s not difficult to tease 600bhp or more from it – but with this many horses available you’ll need to beef up the anchors, as well as the suspension. It’s still possible to invest in a factory 6.3-litre engine conversion package, although the reality may be that you’re better off keeping the car standard and original but spending your cash on keeping it in as good a condition as you possibly can.

What To Look For

General

  • Look for a full service history. Because they can be relatively cheap to buy, but a little more expensive to maintain, some Virages haven’t had the care they need. A full history points to a caring owner and that’s a good place to start.
  • In the best Aston Martin tradition, the Virage is sumptuous inside. But for all that fancy trim it’s one of the most innocuous parts of the interior that needs checking as the rubber seals around the doors, bonnet and bootlid can perish and let water in. The parts alone are over £700.
  • The Virage is stuffed full of electrics and electronics, and tend to cause to most financial pain. Don’t be fobbed off by excuses about a blown fuse as the whole dashboard binnacle can fail and that’s several thousand pounds for the parts alone.

Body and chassis

  • The Virage’s all-aluminium body is draped over a chassis that was zinc-bathed at the factory. The Vantage shares just three standard panels with the Virage – both door skins and the roof. The 6.3 added wider wheelarches, sill extensions and a boot spoiler. Some owners opted for this option alone and kept the 5.3-litre engine. This is known as a ‘cosmetic’ 6.3.
  • Aluminium corrodes – and things can get expensive. It costs £1200 to replace the scuttle panel beneath the windscreen and £7000 at least for repairs to the A and B posts, new inner/outer sills and door steps.
  • Inspect the whole body, the bodywork is an area that will yield far more to the trained eye; a professional inspection before buying – a move which will almost certainly prove to be worthwhile anyway.

Engine

  • This is the ultimate development of Tadek Marek’s superb V8 unit. Check for weeping from the cylinder liner seal holes. There’s one for each cyinder and they run along the side of the block in line with the drain tap. New parts cost £1 or so each but because the cylinder heads and cylinder liners have to come out to replace them this turns into a £4000-£5000 job.
  • While you’re looking at the top end of the engine see if there’s any oil leaking from the cam covers. These are kept oil tight with a sealant rather than a gasket and it takes anything from four to eight hours to remove and re-seal them. Move down the block and look for weeping around the head gasket – if you find any, budget for a £3000 head gasket job.
  • Ensure the anti-freeze mix is sound and watch for hot running and signs of past overheating.

Running gear

  • The ZF five- and six-speed gearboxes are bombproof, and it’s a similar story for the Chrysler Torqueflite three- and four-speed automatic gearbox. Both manual and automatic options suit the Virage well. The ZF manual takes a firm hand to get the best from but will reward with slick and dependable gearchanges – the typically heavy clutch action can be improved upon.
  • Don’t be alarmed by rattling from the manual gearbox when the car is ticking over in neutral. This is a ZF trait and is caused by the idler gears – dip the clutch and it will disappear. When the car is warm, drive it and look out for any slip in the clutch. If you detect any slip you’ll need to put aside £1500+ to get a new clutch fitted.
  • When you’re driving, a knocking noise from the front of the car accompanied by pulling to the left or right under braking means the brake reactor shaft bushes have failed. The parts cost around £50, and it takes two hours to fit them all.
  • Before you go for a drive take a good look at the rear suspension, particularly at the de Dion tube outer mounting points. The square-section cast aluminium can develop cracks here and it makes the car dangerous to drive; proper repairs will cost around £5000.

 

Three Of A Kind

BMW 850 & 840
BMW 850 & 840
After the Aston the 850i is perhaps a bit too clinical, but you can’t doubt the quality of the engineering. With a sublime V12, excellent steering and a quite brilliant chassis, the 850i is one of the most under-rated cars of recent years – it’s also one of the hardest to find, as most of the 8-Series for sale are the 840Ci with the 4.0 or 4.4-litre V8. Beware of tired, cheap examples.
Aston Martin DB7
Aston Martin DB7
If you’re after a cheap Aston, then the DB7 is the one to go for. A Jag in drag it may be but it was a far better rounded and developed supercar than the Virage and looks like a modernised DB4. The straight six is considered by some to be more agile over the admittedly faster V12 but common to both is really good value, although they can outstrip Virage prices.
Porsche 928 GTS
Porsche 928 GTS
The ultimate incarnation of the 928, the 5.4-litre GTS packed a very fruity 350bhp, compared with the regular model’s 320bhp. With its glorious quad-cam V8, the GTS has a stirring soundtrack and thanks to its transaxle transmission, the balance is far better than you might expect – which is why on a fast cross-country run the 928 will show a standard Virage a clean pair of heels.

Verdict

It may be a cliché, but there really is nothing like a proper hand-built old school Aston Martin and this includes the Virage.

While this last of the pre-Gaydon strain is hardly a classic Aston like the earlier DBs, it’s getting there if prices are anything to go by and the later Vantage can easily command DB6-like money. Whether or not you think they are as desirable, is a matter of personal opinion but as one specialist advised, you need to buy with care because it’s an Aston you could burn your fingers on.

So has the vexed Virage turned the corner yet with you?



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