Aston Martin Works – the heritage home of the British luxury car maker – is marking 30 years since the debut of one of the marque’s most memorable and desired ‘niche’ models - the Virage and Virage Volante 6.3-litre conversion.
Created as a comprehensive upgrade package for the ‘standard’ Virage, the 6.3-litre conversion was made available by the brand’s Customer Service Division – now known as Aston Martin Works – in the early months of 1992.
Embracing the ‘more is more’ ethos of the time, the 6.3-litre conversion made the Virage among the most potent sports cars of its day with suspension, braking and comprehensive styling changes alongside a huge increase in power and performance.
The Virage 6.3-litre has its roots firmly in the marque’s motorsport activities of the time.
The late 1980s saw Aston Martin return to sports car racing after a 25-year hiatus, with its AMR1 Group C machines contesting the World Sports Prototype Championship in 1989.
The racing programme saw the capacity of Aston Martin’s all-alloy V8 increase from its standard 5.3-litre to 6.0-litre and later, 6.3-litre.
When the Virage debuted with the V8 in 4-valve form, it was also offered with the option of 6.3-litre power.
At its launch, the standard Virage Coupé’s 5,340cc V8 was good for around 330bhp at 5,300rpm, and 350lb ft of torque at 4,000rpm.
However, with the 6.3-litre conversion, the Virage's reworked engine gave 500bhp at a heady 6,000rpm, while torque grew to 480lb ft at 5,800rpm – with 400lb ft of that on offer at only 2,500rpm, meaning a largely flat torque curve to boot.
The 1,969kg machine – 4,737mm from nose to tail and a few millimetres shy of 2m wide – could sprint from rest to 62mph in 5.1 seconds. 0 to 100mph took a mere 11.5 seconds, while the top speed was an entirely adequate 174mph.
The engine featured specially manufactured Cosworth racing pistons, a new crankshaft, modified cylinder heads, and new inlet camshafts.
These were combined with modified Weber/Alpha sequential fuel injection, a comprehensively remapped engine management system and special exhaust catalysts.
The 6.3-litre conversion’s increase in power and performance necessitated a corresponding upgrade in the Virage’s suspension and braking capabilities.
The wishbone/coil spring front suspension and the de Dion rear tube with radius arms and Watt linkage, featured newly-designed rose joints all round, with uprated springs, bespoke dampers, a larger front anti-roll bar, and the fitment of an anti-roll bar at the rear.
Detail geometry changes and improved steering rack mountings further improved driver feedback.
The 6.3-litre conversion was fitted with ventilated and cross-drilled disc brakes all round, derived from the AMR1 Group C sports car and featuring an electronically controlled 4-channel anti-lock system.
At 14 inches in diameter, the front discs were at the time the largest fitted to any production car in the world and, with their 4-cylinder racing calipers, provided the immense stopping power demanded by physics.
To accommodate the significantly increased wheel and tyre sizes, the standard Virage’s wheel arches were substantially flared using hand-crafted aluminium panels.
These were complemented by extended side sills, a deeper front air dam, an extended rear valance and a prominent boot spoiler.
Interior options included then high-tech features such as a mini-disc player and even a mini television receiver with video monitor for rear seat passengers.
At the time of the 6.3-litre conversion’s introduction in 1992, the standard Virage was retailing at around £140,000 excluding options. The cost of the conversion added £60,000 to that figure.
While the precise number of Virage and Virage Volante 6.3-litre conversions carried out remains unconfirmed, it is thought that as many as 60 conversions were created over the course of a couple of years.
Aston Martin sold a total of 46 cars in 1992 – all Virage – and of those, a good number would certainly have then visited what is today Aston Martin Works for the 6.3-litre conversion work to be carried out over the course of 12 weeks or so per car.
Aston Martin historian, Steve Waddingham, said: “The Virage and Volante 6.3-litre conversion came at a testing time for Aston Martin. The business had experienced a boom in the late 1980s, but with the economic downturn of the early 90s, sales were harder to come by.
“This ingenious offering created by the brand’s Customer Service Division – now Aston Martin Works – not only created a huge amount of positive media interest in the marque, but also provided many of our well-heeled customers with the opportunity to acquire an iconic road car with real motorsport heritage.”
Paul Spires, president of Aston Martin Works, was himself involved in the Virage 6.3-litre conversion project and remembers driving the development and demonstration vehicle, affectionately known today as ‘Minky’.
He said: “The Virage 6.3-litre conversion was, and remains, a superb example of the capabilities of the department that is now Aston Martin Works.
“The car was comprehensively re-engineered, and restyled, right here in Newport Pagnell. It remains a true testament to the ingenuity and vision of the Aston Martin business, and I am thrilled – but also a little shocked from a personal point of view – that we are re able to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2022.”