Aston Martin Virage, Volante and V8 Coupe
Discover what to look out for when buying an Aston Martin Virage, Volante or V8 Coupe from the Eighties and Nineties.
WORDS ROB HAWKINS
PHOTOGRAPHY MAX EAREY
VIRAGE & V8 COUPE BUYING GUIDE
Everything you need to know to buy this still controversial Aston Martin from the Nineties
Launched at the Birmingham Motor Show in October 1988, the Aston Martin Virage was a new sleek-looking four-seater GT, despite that under the hand-formed aluminium skin, there was a shortened version (by 306mm in its wheelbase) of the four-door Lagonda’s chassis platform that dated back to 1974. And the headlights were from the Audi 100 (some sources state the Audi 200), whereas the rear lights were shared with Volkswagen’s Scirocco. Under the bonnet, there was a 330bhp version of the familiar 5.3-litre quad-cam V8 engine, with a pair of 32-valve cylinder heads designed by Reeves Callaway in the US and equipped with a Weber/Marelli fuel injection and engine management system. The suspension was also new, comprising double wishbones at the front and a De Dion rear axle located by triangulated radius rods and a Watts linkage. Braking consisted of 302mmdiameter ventilated discs at the front and outboard-mounted 279mm-diameter solid discs at the rear.
With a price tag of £135,000, the new Aston Martin was joined by the convertible two-seater Virage Volante in 1990, which was subsequently changed to accommodate four people. Two years later, the 5,340cc V8 had been stretched by a little over one litre to 6,347cc, increasing the power output to 475bhp, and it was offered as a factory conversion (through Aston Martin Works) to existing owners for around £50-60k (including brake, suspension and bodywork upgrades). The Vantage was also launched, which borrowed the Virage’s roof and door skins, and was marketed as a more powerful Aston under the guise of the twin-supercharged V550 and V600 (the numbers denoting their engines’ power outputs).
The history of the Virage does become a little confusing because sales started to dwindle in the mid-Nineties and the model ceased production towards the end of 1995 but was revived and replaced in 1996 by the V8 Coupe, which was pretty much a Virage but with certain panels from the Vantage body, and with a price tag of £139,500.
In 1997, the Virage Volante was changed to simply being called the V8 Volante and became a long-wheelbase model only. By 2000, production came to an end of all V8 models. According to astonmartins.com, only 101 V8 Coupes were manufactured and AML figures state 580 Virage and Volantes (excluding LWB V8 Volantes) were produced.
PRACTICALITY AND PERFORMANCE
Weighing in at almost two tonnes and with a length of 4,745mm (15ft 7in) and a width of 1,918mm (6ft 3.5in), the Virage and V8 Coupe are big and heavy supercars. They are also traditional grand tourers, with 255-320 litres of boot space and a fuel tank capable of swallowing a little over 100 litres of petrol.
For such a large vehicle, the performance figures are impressive. Even the slowest 5.3-litre 330bhp Virage with an automatic gearbox should hit 60mph in 6.5 seconds (5.8 seconds for the manual ‘box), whereas one with a 6.3-litre V8 upgrade is down to 5.1 seconds and an increased top speed from 155mph to 174mph.
These supercars of the Eighties and Nineties lived up to their reputation and price tag, offering a level of luxury and equipment that we now expect as standard. Connolly leather upholstery, heated front seats and a driver’s seat with a memory function for it and the electric door mirrors, along with air-conditioning, electric windows and a remote alarm were all fitted as standard.
The Tadek Marek-designed all-aluminium V8 engine that was first fitted to the DBS in 1970 continued to power the Virage and V8 Coupe throughout their production lives, albeit with more modern ancillaries. At first, it retained its 5,340cc displacement, and was fuelled and controlled by Weber and Marelli injection and engine management systems. Its capacity was increased to 6.3 litres around 1992, although both engine sizes continued to be available. All engines consist of an aluminium block and heads with cylinder liners and a timing chain. Aston Workshop warns that the fuel pump can seize, often because of a lack of use (a new fuel pump kit costs around £500), but they have also come across DIY repairs that create more problems for the fuelling.
Aston Service Dorset says that the engine idles fast from cold and should be left to warm up. “If Drive is engaged too early this can result in damage to the diff mounts and cradle,” says Antony Forshaw at ASD. “If the engine idles fast when hot this is generally down to leaks in the engine vacuum system or a pressure sensor fault.”
When inspecting the engine bay, look around the aluminium engine block for signs of coolant or oil. There are weep holes on the side of the engine block, which help to indicate whether there are any issues with the cylinder liner seals. If oil is seeping out of a weep hole, the lower liner seal has usually failed, whereas if coolant has leaked out, the top seal may have failed. Unfortunately, fixing a failed liner seal requires the engine to be removed and stripped. Aston Workshop estimates this job usually costs between £15,000 and £20,000, whereas a full engine rebuild can cost £25,000- £30,000.
For a supercar that when new, cost nearly three times the average price of a house, today’s used car values can be seemingly very cheap, with prices starting at around £40,000 for an entry-level 5.3, although the convertible Volante does cost more. Anything with a 6.3-litre V8 can command upwards of £100k, but if it’s a genuine factory upgrade and not simply an engine swap, then supporting paperwork needs to be present to prove this and to provide evidence the brakes and suspension were also uprated.
There are a number of Virage specials to look out for, such as six Shooting Break conversions produced in 1992, roughly half-a-dozen four-door Lagonda Virage Saloons with 300-460mm longer wheelbases and also 10 Virage LE models.
In comparison to other four-seater supercars from the same era, such as the Ferrari 456 GT, the Virage and V8 Coupe are similarly priced.
There’s a limited range of spares for these models, with hood seals for the Volante, for example, being no longer available according to Aston Service Dorset.
Components that are shared across other Aston Martins are easier to source, such as the engine, transmission and brakes, but not all parts are available. Aston Service Dorset says that distributor caps, rotor arms and pick-up modules are hard to find and expensive if they are available. Aston Workshop warns that some brake calipers are now obsolete.
A ZF five-speed manual gearbox or a Chrysler three-speed TorqueFlite automatic were initially fitted to the Virage. A ZF six-speed manual from the Vantage was an option on the last cars and the TorqueFlite gained an extra forward gear in 1993. When the V8 Coupe was launched in 1996, it was only equipped with the four-speed version of the TorqueFlite that had Sport and Touring modes.
Check that the selection of gears on automatics is smooth when changing up and down. On a manual gearbox (autos are more common), listen for the clutch slipping, check the biting point (it’s a hydraulically operated clutch) and ensure none of the gears jump out of selection. Gear selection on the ZF may be a little awkward at first when the oil inside is cold, but this should become easier as it quickly warms up – if it doesn’t then further investigation is needed.
A Salisbury 4HU differential with Powrlok limited slip was fitted to all models with a choice of final drive ratios ranging from 3.058:1 to 4.09:1.
“We have seen some of the higher power Vantages push these units to their limits,” says Ben Thomson at Simply Performance. “I was told some of the high output supercharged cars had shot peened gear sets to improve the strength. Aside from the normal whines or leaks, the main problem with these are that they can destroy gear sets and twist shafts on higher power cars. We have rebuilt a number of these units and can supply heavy-duty half shafts as well as replacement shot peened gear sets. We offer replacements or can change ratios for customers depending on their requirements. We also have complete differentials that can be sold for a replacement or even a spare. For a standard rebuild the customer is looking at around £1,000 but this can significantly increase depending on the work we are doing. Anything needed on these axles is no problem for us.”
With power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering (rumours are that some models were equipped with a rack from a Ford Sierra Cosworth), make sure the steering is smooth to operate when stationary and on the move. Check the column tilt adjustment works and locks. Under the bonnet, look for the power steering fluid reservoir and trace the pipework and hoses to the steering rack and power steering pump, looking for fluid leaks and misting. Parts availability varies for steering components, with a track-rod end costing as little as £30, but most hydraulic hoses and pipes are not available, and those that are can cost over £100 each. Steering rack specialist Kiley Clinton charges around £388 to overhaul a power-assisted steering rack.
With aluminium bodywork but GRP bumpers, side sills and a front air dam, many exterior parts are difficult to replace, so check the condition of those on the car. Look for bubbling of paintwork on the aluminium panels, which may suggest it has started to oxidise. This can usually be fixed by rubbing down the affected area to remove the oxidation, which probably won’t have created a hole (unlike steel bodywork), before respraying it. However, Aston Service Dorset says that corrosion around the front and rear screen surrounds is common and will probably require the glass to be removed to fully rectify the problem. Aston Workshop warns that replacement glass and seals are hard to find in some cases, so this can open a can of worms. And delamination of the glass and perishing of the seals can add further problems to corroded surrounds.
Underneath the aluminium and GRP exterior, there’s a steel chassis, which can trap moisture (especially where insulation or soundproofing is fitted). Along with any exposed steel underneath the vehicle, these areas can corrode, so if possible, check the sills, outriggers, floors and bulkheads.
ASD has found that the C-post moulding assembly can perish. It takes them a couple of hours per side to replace and costs around £550 (per side).
As for the GRP bumpers, side sills and air dam, check for cracks in the plastic exterior, which may have been caused from an impact. Look at the finish of the paint for fading, discolouring and peeling lacquer. If the GRP components are damaged beyond repair, then replacement parts are hard to find.
These models have a few parts bin components on the exterior, so if the rear lights are damaged on a Virage, for example, then as mentioned, they were sourced from the VW Scirocco. We found new light units at a classic VW specialist for around £130 each, or used units from £20-£50 each. A few examples of similar parts include the door mirrors on the V8 Coupe, which were originally sourced from the Citroën CX (Mk2), but then from Jaguar. And it’s rumoured that the exterior door handles were at some point shared with the Ford Mondeo.
Closely inspect the condition of the interior because most or all of it will probably be difficult and/or expensive to replace. So look for scuff and tear marks in the leather upholstery, deep scratches in the burr walnut and make sure all electrical equipment works, especially the electrically adjustable driver’s seat, the Vehicle Information Centre (VIC) unit and the heated front and rear screens.
Check the air-conditioning blows cold air through the vents and if it doesn’t, don’t accept that this can be easily fixed with a re-gas, because if the air-conditioning compressor has failed, a new one costs over £800. And check the heater/blower works on all of its settings. If it doesn’t, then a new resistor at £230 may be required.
During a test drive, check that the speedometer and all other gauges work. A non-working speedo could be caused by a failed transducer (it converts a digital signal to analogue), which costs nearly £500 to replace, but there are other issues that can cause the speedo to not work, which are shared across other gauges.
There are some common issues with the Driver’s Information Module (DIM), which is the instrument panel consisting of analogue gauges. “It can fail due to electrical problems but also quite common now is the rising up of the overlay panel from the main face of the DIM due to failure of some of the glued surfaces within and this raised overlay can then touch the underside of any of the needles and prevent the gauge from working,” explains specialist David Marks. “It is a long and costly job to change the overlay as it involves a full stripdown and subsequent reassembly of the DIM to do so and the parts required are a new overlay and illumination panel as failure of the glued joints on either or both of these will cause problems.”
David charges £600 for an overlay, £360 for an illumination panel and £1,026 for the work, which involves everything from dismantling the DIM to reassembly.
The Vehicle Information Centre (VIC) is a separate digital display in the centre console, which can also become problematic. It includes the odometer, a tripmeter, an on-board computer for roughly calculating travel time and warnings for essentials from low screenwash to low fuel and engine oil. The touch panel can degrade, but David Marks sells new ones for £1,140. However, the most worrying aspect is the odometer. It can display a false reading, adding mileage to a car that may not have moved. David can repair this, but will require evidence of mileage (previous MOT data) to ensure a customer isn’t attempting to ‘turn back the clock’. The work involved is time-consuming and it varies, but prices start at around £3,300 and can easily be more.
However, to date, he has repaired 49 VICs, so it’s clearly a common problem. When inspecting a vehicle for sale, operate the touch panel to check that it works and inspect its condition. Check the instruments work, including the speedometer and that the DIM’s display is clear.
If you are looking at a Volante, check the operation of the hood. It’s hydraulically and electrically operated and, according to Aston Workshop, its control units can fail. Spares are very hard to find, so if there are any issues, find out what needs to be fixed and how much it will cost.
The front suspension consists of unequal length upper and lower wishbones with coilovers and an anti-roll bar. Visually inspect the coil springs for fractures and corrosion and the dampers for misting (leaks). Bilstein developed the coilovers for the Virage, but they no longer sell them, although most suspension specialists should be able to strip and overhaul them. During a test drive, listen for knocks and clonks from around the front suspension, which could be caused by worn anti-roll bar links, worn suspension bushes or problems with the coilovers. Identifying the cause of these irritating rattles may have you running around in circles and it may be better to replace several components, but costs can easily escalate. A link for the ARB without any bushes costs almost £130 and a complete set of front suspension bushes costs around £500.
At the rear of the Virage and V8 Coupe, the suspension includes a De Dion tube located fore and aft by paired parallel radius arms and transversely by a Watts linkage, along with coilovers. Visually inspect these components for damage and fractures. During a test drive, listen for knocks and similar noise from the rear. Replacement parts are hard to find in some cases, but aftermarket bush manufacturers and suspension specialists may be able to help.
Visually inspect the brake discs through the spokes of the wheels to look for corrosion and wear. Replacements are not cheap, with a pair of rear discs and pads costing over £1,500 and not much less for fronts.
Bosch ABS (anti-lock braking system) was introduced in 1992, so if it’s fitted, run the engine and make sure the ABS warning light on the dashboard is displayed when the ignition is switched on but doesn’t remain illuminated when the engine is running. Any problems may be caused by a failed wheel speed sensor, but replacements are hard to find. Several other parts also seem hard to find, such as replacement calipers, so stripping and overhauling may be the only solution.
WHEELS AND TYRES
A range of 17in and 18in alloy wheels were fitted with five- and six-spoke designs including some manufactured by OZ for the 6.3-litre models. Tyre choices were limited to the likes of Goodyear and Pirelli (e.g. P-Zero) and no spare wheel was fitted in the boot, only an aerosol can. Check the condition of the wheels, looking for buckling of the rim and corrosion. Look for a four-digit date stamp on each tyre sidewall to find out when the tyre was manufactured. 0215 for example, means the tyre was manufactured in the second week of 2015. Tyres should be replaced when they are around six or seven years old.
The Virage and V8 Coupe of the Eighties and Nineties isn’t as popular or as expensive to buy as many of the Aston Martins that were produced before and after this era. Consequently, demand for spares has dwindled and so they have become difficult to preserve. If, however, you appreciate the nostalgia of their wedgy lines and like the challenge of keeping such a classic alive, then these supercars that once rubbed shoulders with the likes of Ferrari are rewarding to own and drive.
- Aston Service Dorset 01202 574727 astonservicedorset.com
- Aston Workshop 01207 268932 aston.co.uk
- David Marks 0115 982 2808 davidmarksgarages.co.uk
- Kiley Clinton 0121 772 8000 kileyclinton.com
- Racing Lines 07595 954882 racinglines.uk
- Simply Performance 01306 711134 simplyperformance.com
ASTON MARTIN SPECIALISTS
SALES, SERVICING AND REPAIRS
- Adrian Johnson Ltd 10 Pool Business Park, Pool Road Pool in Wharfedale, Leeds, LS21 1FD Tel: 0113 2843666 Web: adrian-johnson.co.uk
- Arun Codmore Hill Garage, Stane Street Pulborough, West Sussex RH20 1BQ Tel: 01798 874477 Web: arunltd.com
- Aston Service Dorset 73 Ringwood Road, Longham Wimborne Minster, Dorset BH22 9AA Tel: 01202 574727 Web: astonservicedorset.com
- Aston Workshop Red Row, Stanley, Beamish DH9 0RW Tel: 01207 233525 Web: aston.co.uk
- Bamford Rose Armscote Fields Farm, Halford, Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire CV36 4HT Tel: 0808 123 1007 Web: bamfordrose.com
- Chicane off Ford Lane, Bramshill, Hook, RG27 0RH Tel: 0118 932 6973 Web: chicane.am
- Chiltern Aston Centre Ley Hill Road, Bovingdon, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire HP3 0NW Tel: 01442 833177 Web: chilternaston.co.uk
- Desmond J Smail Tel: 01234 713083 Web: djsmail.co.uk
- Fisher Performance Cars No 1 The Old Works, Chateau Impney Estate, Droitwich Spa Worcestershire, WR9 0FF Tel: 01299 251444 Web: fisherperformance.co.uk
- Four Ashes Garage Birmingham Road, Pathlow Stratford-Upon-Avon, CV37 0EP Tel: 01789 266851 Web: fourashesgarage.co.uk
- GTC Engineering Red Ditches Farm, Silverstone Road Stowe, Buckinghamshire, MK18 5LH Tel: 01280 851100 Web: gtc-engineering.com
- HWM Aston Martin Flying Technician Tel: 01932 240611 Web: flyingtechnician.co.uk
- KWE Cars Unit 3, Pipers Court, Berkshire Drive, Thatcham, RG19 4ER Tel: 01635 30030 Web: kwecars.com
- Martin’s Aston Services 69 Cumbernauld Road, Mollinsburn Glasgow, G67 4HN Tel: 0141 266 0020 Web: martinsastonservices.co.uk
- McGurk Performance Cars 6 Brook Business Park, Brookhampton Lane, Kineton, Warwick CV35 0JA Tel: 01926 691000 Web: mcgurk.com
- Nicholas Mee & Co Ltd Essendonbury Farm, Hatfi eld Park Estate Hatfi eld, Hertfordshire, AL9 6AF Tel: 020 8741 8822 Web: nicholasmee.co.uk
- Phoenix AM Ltd Unit 3, Weybrook Farm, Aldermaston Road, Sherborne St John, Basingstoke Hampshire, RG24 9JY Tel: 07539 585066 Web: phoenix-am.co.uk
- Richard Stewart Williams Ltd Protech House, Copse Road Cobham, Surrey, KT11 2TW Tel: 01932 868377 Web: rswilliams.co.uk
- Richards of England Unit 1, Cedar Parc, Doddington Lincoln, LN6 4RR Tel: 01522 685476 Web: richardsofengland.com
- RP Performance Tel: 0203 576 0075 Web: rpperformance.co.uk
- Runnymede Motor Company Tel: 01753 644599 Web: runnymedemotorcompany.com
- Stratton Motor Company (Norfolk) Ltd Ipswich Road, Long Stratton, Norwich, Norfolk, NR15 2XJ Tel: 01508 530491 Web: strattonmotorcompany.com
- The Aston Advantage The Pig Shed off Ford Lane Bramshill, Hampshire, RG27 0RH Tel: 07595 954 882 Web: astonadvantage.uk
- Longstone Classic Tyres Hudsons Yard, Doncaster Road Bawtry, Doncaster, DN10 6NX Tel: 01302 711123 Web: longstonetyres.co.uk
- Vintage Tyres Classic Performance Engineering The Main Stores, Bicester Heritage Buckingham Road, Bicester, OX26 5HA Tel: 01869 243528 Web: vintagetyres.com
NEW & USED PARTS
- Aston Martin Bits, 13 Bath Road Cricklade, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN6 6AT Web: astonmartinbits.com