Virage Coupe Updates
In September 1991 the Ford Motor Company completed the total purchase of AML Ltd and Walter Hayes took over the helm from Victor Gauntlett at Newport Pagnell. Hayes had recently retired as a Vice-Chairman at Ford USA and was able to breathe new life and enthusiasm into AML. He saw to it that the company enjoyed the complete backing of its parent Ford, and that its massive technological resource was fully exploited during the development of the engine management systems.
The two engine ECUs which had been located to the lower front of the engine bay had proved susceptible to water damage. From chassis 50150 these were relocated to under the driver and passenger seats, providing a less harsh environment to operate.
Early fruits of the Ford ownership saw the introduction of a new safety feature, the driver’s airbag, which was introduced in 1992, allowing the car to continue to be sold in markets requiring ‘Passive Restraint’ equipment.
In 1993, the Virage coupe, alongside the Volante was further improved when the four speed version of the Torqueflite automatic gearbox was introduced. As a sop to the sporting driver of cars with automatic gearboxes, the shift pattern could be varied, by the flick of a switch, between ‘Sport’ and ‘Comfort’. The ‘Sport’ setting delayed the point at which the up-shifts were made which allowed for very brisk travel. There was an improvement in the ride with the fitment of 17 inch wheels. The side vents which featured on the very first styling models of the Virage were re-introduced into the design. In addition, the dash and centre console were redesigned in what is sometimes described as the Volante dashboard. The troublesome VIC was removed and the space taken by three analogue dials whereas the instrument binnacle had separate instrument dials within a walnut facia. The updated model was first shown in March 1993 at the Geneva Show. Very few Virage coupes were built with the later dash - the first is believed to be 50387.
Virage Coupe Variants
6.3 litre and Cosmetic 6.3 conversions by Works Service
Within a couple of years of the introduction of the Virage, sales had slowed markedly as, in some respects, the car was considered no real advance over the previous AM V8: this was especially true for the available power. By making the 4-valve V8 engine acceptable for worldwide markets, the expected power hike over the old engine had not been achieved. As the planned Virage-based Vantage needed considerable development and would not enter series production until at the earliest 1993, as a stopgap measure, AM Works (known as the Customer Services division at the time) offered a comprehensive aftermarket rebuild of the Virage including increasing the engine capacity by a whole litre to 6.3 litres. Richard Williams Ltd. (RSW) had already enlarged the previous 2-valve V8 engine to 6.3 litres and subsequently went on to develop a 4-valve per cylinder 'version two' for Protek that saw active service in the latter half of the 1989 season in the AMR1 Group C race car. Following the demise of Protek and the AMR project in early 1990, AM Customer Service Division purchased the rights to the 6.3 litre engine leaving RSW to develop the even more extreme 7.0 litre version.
Upon its introduction in January 1992, the 4-valve 6.3 conversion Virage was able to offer an amazing 40% increase in peak power to 456bhp and an increase in Torque to 460lbft by increasing both bore and stroke. The cylinder heads were also reworked and gas-flowed, the injection system revised, as well as the fitting of new Cosworth pistons, higher-lift camshafts, a high-specification crankshaft and big-bore exhaust. The regular 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic could be retained but it was more usual to have this replaced by a new 6-speed ZF manual box as also used on the Lotus Carlton or Corvette ZR1 together with a new differential In addition to the much enhanced engine, the Virage 6.3 came with improved braking, improved handling and revised coachwork including much wider arches to cover the new 285 section tyres.
The package included, for the first time on an Aston Martin, the provision of an anti-lock braking system (ABS) which subsequently became standard fit from the upcoming Virage Volante and Vantage models. Not just fitted for aesthetic reasons, the 18 inch OZ split rim wheels were necessary to allow fitting of the largest ventilated and drilled brake discs then fitted to a production car and as also used on the AMR1.
Suspension modifications included raised spring and shock absorber ratings, all the front suspension was rose-jointed and a larger rollbar replaced the standard item. At the rear, the de Dion beam was relocated. Particular attention was given to overcoming an inherent tendency for the rear suspension to squat during heavy acceleration, a trait particularly noted during early road tests of the standard car.
The basis of the first 6.3 Virage coupe was a body-in-white acquired from the engineering department that was under consideration but rejected for the Vantage. That said, the final form was unique to the 6.3; the flaring to the wheel arches could be described as fuller than that seen later on the production Vantage. The converted car retained the regular front and rear styling of the donor car save for a new deeper air dam with integral fog lights plus the addition of a bolt-on rear spoiler used for aesthetic reasons rather than being truly functional. The interior of the 6.3 was not specifically modified unless the owner required the Volante style dash for instance and there were various in-car entertainment upgrades available.
By the autumn of 1993, the 6.3 engines’ output was raised to a massive 500bhp and 480lbft of torque. This extra was achieved through bigger valves, a different inlet cam profile, better induction, a further increase in exhaust bore, more gas flow work on the cylinder heads and a suitably re-worked engine management system. On the chassis side, the springs and dampers were softened, the front anti-roll bar was increased in diameter by an eighth of an inch and a rear anti-roll bar fitted for the first time on a Virage.
There was also a significant number of varied special bodied Virage derivatives that delivered to a Far East collector with the engines all converted to 6.3 specification and these are described in the V8 Vantage Special Series section which especially covers the Works Service coachbuilt cars.
The aftermarket 6.3 conversion was also offered on the Virage Volante and this car is described in the Virage Volante section.
Performance figures for the 6.3 are difficult to tie down as it was possible to choose from three different back axle ratios. Despite that, the factory claims of under 5.5 seconds for the 0 to 60mph dash and top speed of 174mph appear totally plausible.
The price of the conversion varied according to customers’ individual requirements, but the average cost of the total package in the mid-1990s was in the region of £50-60,000.
The Registrars are aware of fifteen coupes built or converted to full 6.3 specification and a further three to cosmetic 6.3 specification where the engine remained untouched. It is certainly possible that more could exist awaiting to be discovered.
As far as the Registrars are aware, the 6.3 conversion has only been performed on the 89/ specification Virage engine, not on either the V/590 supercharged or later /95 or /97 specification engines. It was also not homologated for sale in North America.
RSW 7.0 litre conversion
Following on from the development of the 6.3 and 7 litre versions of the 2-valve V8 engine, RS Williams turned their attention to creating a 7 litre version of the 4-valve Virage engine. One particularly unique car, 50119, following the engine conversion was then sent to AM specialists, Lincoln Scott, who modified the exterior styling. The rear is similar to that of the supercharged Vantage, whereas the front is similar to the Works Service developed 6.3 Lightweight Virage. The Registrar is not aware of any claims for the power output of the 4-valve 7.0 litre Virage but it must be in excess of 500bhp, It is known however that the fuel consumption can drop to only 8mpg around town.
Other known RSW 7.0 litre Virage coupes are 50028 which retains its standard coachwork and 50413, a LE Coupe. Anxious for yet more power, 50413 was dispatched to Lynx Motors for the addition of a turbocharger. Of course, the suspension, 4-speed automatic transmission and brakes were also uprated to cope with the extra performance. With the boost turned up to maximum 14psi, this unique Virage produces 720bhp. What is more, the peak torque figure is 1090lbft@3500rpm - compare this to the Vantage V600's figure of 600lbft@4000rpm.
Virage shooting brake conversion
Chassis 50061 has undergone a conversion, believed to have been carried out in Germany, to a 3-door shooting brake. 50061 has a different design of tailgate and taillight arrangement from the known production / Works Service conversions, with the appearance of having perhaps come from an Audi Estate.