Aston Martin Virage Buying Guide

Few marques are more alluring than Aston Martin – but while most of its back catalogue is hugely collectible, the Virage is often overlooked. Here’s why

How much to pay

• Project £n/a • Good £49,500-140,000 • Concours £90,000-250,000

Overview

Practicality ★★★
Running costs ★★★★
Spares ★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
Investment ★★★★
Desirability ★★★

For years the Virage was the black sheep of the Aston Martin family. As DBS values rose and DB4/5/6 prices went stratospheric, this model remained resolutely affordable and unloved – despite the running gear being donated from the V8 coupé. As a result, the Virage was decently (rather than indecently) fast, luxurious and stylish, but – thanks to a lack of development – the build quality wasn’t what you might expect of a low-volume, hand-made luxury car.

At long last the Virage has started to come in from the cold, with values of really good cars now rising. The problem is that there aren’t enough cherished examples to go round, because low values for years have ensured that many of these generously proportioned coupés and convertibles have been neglected.

Production numbers for both bodystyles weren’t all that large; between 1988 and 1995 a mere 355 coupés were produced, along with 234 convertibles. An array of transmissions, engine choices and bodies means the Virage bloodline isn’t as easy to follow as you might think, so here’s how to make sense of it all.

Your AutoClassics Aston Martin Virage inspection checklist

Engine

The Virage featured Aston’s familiar Tadek Marek-designed all-alloy V8, with twin overhead camshafts for each bank thanks to an overhaul by Reeves Callaway Engineering, which also developed four-valve heads and Weber fuel injection. As such there was up to 600bhp on tap along with 550lb ft of torque, although regular Virages got 330bhp and 350lb ft.

Your first check needs to be for leaks from the cylinder-liner seal holes, which are in line with the drain tap along the side of the block. There’s one for each cylinder, and if there’s any sign of weeping it’s because the liner seals have failed. While replacements are very cheap, fitting them means dismantling the engine, which massively pushes up the cost.

Also check for signs of oil leaking from the cam covers. Leaks should be kept at bay through the use of sealant rather than a gasket, and getting things to seal effectively is a time-consuming job.

The V8’s all-alloy construction means antifreeze levels must be maintained to stave off internal corrosion. If this has been allowed to creep in, the engine may have already overheated, so check for signs of blown head gaskets and be prepared to stomach a hefty repair bill.

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Gearbox

Some Virages came with a ZF manual gearbox with either five or six ratios, while there was also a choice of either three- or four-speed Chrysler Torqueflite autos. Thanks to the V8’s ample torque, any of the transmissions work well – although you have to be firm with the ZF units.

All of the transmissions are strong, but the manual versions can suffer from rattling in neutral when the engine is ticking over. The noise disappears when the clutch is engaged, and it’s caused by the idler gears, but there’s nothing to worry about as it’s normal. Potentially more of an issue is a slipping clutch, as these are costly to replace.

Suspension and brakes

If the brake reactor shafts have failed, you’ll hear knocking sounds from the front. When you brake, the car will also pull to one side. While this might seem like a big deal, it’s actually a cheap problem to fix.

Cracks in the cast aluminium rear suspension are much more costly to put right, so do analyse the de Dion tube-mounting points. Problems here mean the car is in a dangerous condition, so it needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Bodywork

The Virage features a zinc-plated tubular-steel chassis and frame, over which aluminium panels are draped. As you’d expect, replacement panels are expensive and the soft metal can be damaged relatively easily.

As if panel scarcity wasn’t enough, only three panels were carried over for the Vantage: the two door skins and the roof. Cars with the 6.3-litre conversion featured different panels again, thanks to the big wheelarches and extended sills – just bear in mind that some of these wide-arch cars retained the 5.3-litre engine.

Not only does the aluminium corrode but the paint can struggle to stick to it, so look for signs of bubbling. In particular focus on the scuttle panel beneath the windscreen, along with the A and B-posts, the sills and the door steps. These are the most problematic areas, and also some of the most expensive to fix.

A neglected car should be obvious, but investing in a professional analysis by a respected Aston Martin specialist will invariably save you a lot more money than the inspection costs you.

Interior

As you’d expect, the Virage’s cabin is sumptuous – or at least it should be. However, the door, bonnet and bootlid seals perish and let water in. The parts are very costly and take up to three days to fit, which is why many Virages have decidedly scabby interiors.

What tends to be the most painful aspect of Virage ownership is the electrical and electronic components, of which there are many. The entire dashboard binnacle can stop working, and replacing this is hugely expensive, so check that all of the instruments and warning lights work as they should.

History

  • 1988: Virage makes its debut at the Birmingham Motor Show, in coupé form.
  • 1990: Virage Volante is unveiled, initially in two-seat form only. Also released is a wide-body option, giving a far more muscular look, complete with vents in the front wings.
  • 1991: RS Williams introduces an unofficial Virage Vantage conversion, with a 465bhp 6.3-litre engine. The £60,000 package consists of Cosworth pistons, a six-speed gearbox and a Harvey-Bailey handling kit. Aston Martin also releases a four-seat version of the Virage Volante.
  • 1992: With the global economy in meltdown and Virage sales now hard to come by, Works Service unleashes a series of tiny-volume specials, including a three-door shooting brake, five-door estate and four-door saloon. Generally, half a dozen of each are made – most for the Sultan of Brunei. A new 550bhp Vantage is also unveiled, with twin Roots superchargers. It features heavily revised Virage bodywork (only the roof and doors are carried over), but the Virage name is killed off, so officially the model is dead. The cars that follow over the next few years are all based on the Virage’s bodyshell.
  • 1998: Vantage V600 is unleashed, capable of 200mph thanks to a 600bhp V8. It’s the most powerful Aston Martin yet and, at £233,682, the most costly production model.
  • 1999: Last of the hand-built Astons is revealed: the Le Mans. Limited to 40 examples, this commemorates Aston’s 40th anniversary of victory at La Sarthe. Buyers can choose between 550bhp or 600bhp editions, each with a modified front spoiler, blanked-off grille and revised cooling ducts.

AutoClassics says…

Finding a cherished Virage isn’t easy, although the later derivatives are better developed, far more sought after and hence much more costly, so they’re more likely to have had significant money spent on them.

The Virage wasn’t very well made, it wasn’t all that reliable and there isn’t a lot of specialist help available for them now, so pinning down any faults that might be present is key because putting things right can be time consuming and costly. Even cherished cars can suffer from faults – and you might just have to live with some of these.

As you’d expect, open-topped cars are worth more than fixed-heads; they’re rarer, more sought after and further developed, and they’re usually better cared for. What really adds value to a Virage is a 6.3-litre engine conversion; these carry a significant premium over the regular car thanks to their more muscular looks, better brakes and improved suspension. The added power and torque also help, of course.

As well as the RS Williams conversions, Aston Martin later offered its own 6.3-litre car – but while the engine was beefed up, the brakes and suspension had to be left standard because of homologation rules. As a result, the conversions tend to be valued more highly than the factory cars.

Whatever you buy, be prepared to spend money on it to keep it in fine fettle, and don’t assume it’ll be as solid an investment as the Virage’s predecessors have proven to be. But hey – why follow the crowd when you can go your own way?

Specifications

Aston Martin Virage
  Power 330bhp
  Top speed 157mph
  0-60mph 6.8sec
  Economy 14mpg

Aston Martin Virage 6.3
  Power 465bhp
  Top speed 174mph
  0-60mph 5.3sec
  Economy 13mpg

Aston Martin Vantage
  Power 550bhp
  Top speed 186mph
  0-60mph 4.6sec
  Economy 12mpg

Aston Martin Vantage V600
  Power 600bhp
  Top speed 186mph
  0-60mph 3.9sec
  Economy 11mpg

Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics

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