A wonderful transition between radically different eras as well as a complete departure from what Aston Martin had been doing since way back in 1977 the Virage was Aston’s top dog. Actually, it was Aston’s only dog from 1989 to 1992…The DB7 would only debut in 1994 (and it would take until 1999 before it had a V12 fitted), so the Virage was 100% of Aston Martin until the Vantage came along in 1993.
The Vantage with its wonderful variations (550 and 600 Le Mans, especially) is truly something to behold, but today we’re solely focusing on the Virage and not its later iteration. The Vantage pretty much eclipsed the Virage from the collective memory and it’s not difficult to see why. It was a more hardcore version in every single way and it ended up becoming the most powerful production car in the world at one point. Today that title is increasingly subjective and effectively up for grabs every couple of weeks or so, but back in the 90’s it still meant something.
But focusing on the Virage, the car was a hand-built amalgamate of the old Aston formula (luxury GT with a big V8 up front) and the new reality for the company, with a lot of elements coming from shameless parts bins raids because the development for the new model was very much done on a budget. The headlights for the Virage? They’re from the Audi 200. The taillights? Those were off the VW Scirocco. The door handles are Jaguar and on the interior, the stalks were GM and all the other bits (buttons and switches) were from Ford, Aston’s parent company at the time.
Ford was actually pretty beneficial to Aston – despite what some purists might tell you amongst screams of independence which would put Pedro I of Brazil to shame – because there were a lot of good old American dollars poured into the small British manufacturer during Ford’s rule, funds which allowed Aston Martin to not only survive but also gear up for stuff like the Vanquish and eventually, the fortune-turning DB9. So in the grand scheme of things, having – for instance – a Taurus airbag on your hand-built luxury coupe wasn’t as bad as all that. Before Ford took over, the company was owned by oil exec. Victor Gauntlett and it was under his ownership that the Virage project was born and developed. Gauntlett was still with Aston in 1991 as Chairman but was replaced then by the VP of Ford Europe, Walter Hayes.
The chassis of the Virage was steel (derived from the old Lagonda) and the body was aluminum as a way to try and keep the car light, a plan which most definitely did not work as the Virage weighs in at 1790 kg (3946 lb). The Virage’s also aluminum 5.3L V8 wasn’t revolutionary since the block was what Aston had been using since the dawn of time, but the 32 valve heads were new and they had been design by none other than Corvette steroid dealers, Callaway. The engine ended up putting out 330 bhp, making the Virage good for a 0 to 60 time of around 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 254 km/h (158 mph). The car was available with a 5 speed ZF manual of Chrysler’s 3 speed TorqueFlite automatic; needless to say that if you’re in the market for one of these, the manual is the way to go.
The Virage isn’t however an easy car to find if you do end up with a fancy for one. When we say this thing was hand-built we mean that in the truest sense possible; Aston was not banging these out every few minutes. Only 358 were made between 1989 and 1995, that’s only about 60 assembled per year. The slow production pace was unsuitable for the new age (and new ownership) Aston found itself in, ensuring that the Virage would be the last of its kind, the final Aston to be hand-built at Newport Pagnell.
The design is unquestionably the big selling point with the Virage. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea but it is undeniably striking. This was the first ever Aston Martin model to be designed with CAD. Ken Greenley and John Heffernan were responsible for bringing the Virage’s concept to life; interestingly enough they weren’t resident designers at Aston Martin. The company had decided to shop around a bit amongst independent design teams until they eventually settled on the Greenley/Heffernan ticket. It’s a very good thing they did because the character they infused in the Virage is off the charts. It relies mostly on straight lines but it doesn’t feel bulky or exaggerated in any way. It’s an elegant, harmonious ensemble which echoes the wedge craze of the 70’s. The Virage has a low front and a tall rear, making it look incredibly fast even when standing still. The angular predilection of the Virage’s design was refined through the Lagonda series of the 70’s and 80’s, but there are cues one it which, if you look hard enough, can even be traced back to the Bulldog. The designers of the Virage didn’t forget some of Aston’s greatest hits either, with the front grill in traditional V8/V8 Vantage fashion and the rear glass/boot area taking considerably influence from the DB4’s design language.
In 1992 the Virage got a stylish convertible variant, the Volante as well as an engine upgrade to 6.3L, making 456 bhp. There were changes to the outside as well, with Aston making the Virage more bulky and muscular with very pronounced new wheel arches and spoilers. Striking, yes but the changes feel like what they were: an ad-on. The original charming simplicity of the Virage lines just work better; you can see where Aston was going with the 6.3 looks – which would eventually be refined and dialed up on the Vantage – but on the Virage, it just ends up seeming a bit like it was stung by a bee. Still, the 6.3 is a rare, desirable variant with reportedly only 15 cars being built at the factory and the rest being subsequently converted Virages.
However, the 6.3 isn’t the rarest or the most appealing version of the Virage; that honor is reserved for 3 of the most unique and well accomplished variants not only of the Virage, but of any car ever made: the Virage Shooting Break, Virage Saloon and Virage 5 Door Shooting Break (Estate). Kicking off the glorious parade of madness in 1992, Aston came up with the Shooting Break. A proud conversion tradition for fine British coupes and GTs, the Virage Shooting Break featured the traditional no rear doors design but unlike other similar conversions of several Aston, Jaguar and Bentley models that just go way overboard, with the Virage the purity of the lines was thoroughly conserved and the final result is every bit as striking and harmonious as the production Virage. Later on, the Vantage would have its own shooting break variant – The Sportsman – and it is nearly as well accomplished as the Virage Shooting Break was, but not quite. This was an in-house conversion by Aston Martin Works Service and it shows in the level of care and respect the team put into this new incarnation of car. 6 are believed to have been assembled.
The following year, Aston went at it again and in a callback to its past achievements in the luxury saloon department, the company came up with the Lagonda Virage Saloon, easily on of the best looking sedan designs of the decade. Sadly only 8 or 9 examples were made. But Aston didn’t leave at this and came up with the astonishingly beautiful 5 Door Shooting Break/Estate badged as “Les Vacances” or simply “Vacances” (sources vary). A stunning estate/wagon which sits right up there with the Ferrari Venice as one of the most beautiful ever made, it’s unclear if one or two examples of the striking Virage estate were assembled.
Coming back to the production model and talking prices, in Europe when a Virage pops up for sale, values vary widely depending on mileage, condition and of course, if they’re manual or automatic. Usually they’ll start in the low 40’s but can go all the way up to well over 100.000 Euros for a nice, manual example. In the U.S…it’s the definition of a seller’s market for this particular model, but don’t expect anything decent below mid 80’s or low 90’s.
The Virage was aptly named. It signifies a change for Aston Martin, a turning of the page for an old book which repeated itself throughout many chapters. For all its significance, it’s pretty astonishing that the Virage remains mostly forgotten, perpetually in the shadow of Aston’s better days of the following decade. Still, for the people who appreciate it and understand it the Virage stands as a true icon and a vision of beauty. The looks are unmistakably 90’s but they’re not dated; this of course comes from the fact that the design was never exaggerated to being with, just a graceful evolution of natural Aston traits. Unlike some fairly claustrophobic cars of the same class in the period, the cabin on the Virage with its large windows and thin pillars feels open and allows the driver and passengers to enjoy the beauty of the outside world, a mark of a true GT. The extensive use of the finest Connolly leather also guarantee the kind of classic luxury you’d expect from this sort of ride.
The Virage was, simultaneously, a car of its time and a piece of the past. This doomed it to be forever stuck between what it managed to be and what it could be. Ford didn’t get the lengthy manufacturing process, it made no sense for a company that size and when it fast tracked the DB7, nobody wanted to buy what would soon be just a really expensive old(er) car and for the horsepower fanatics, the V8 Vantage came along soon enough to become one more nail in the Virage’s coffin.
One last insult to the Virage came long after its demise. In 2011, Aston revived the name to set up a middle segment between the DB9 and the DBS. The final product was just a DB9 with some different body kit bits on it making it borderline indistinguishable from it or the DBS. Unsurprisingly, the whole thing flopped in just over a year and a half, a sad end to a great name.
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