1990 Aston Martin Virage vs. 1993 Bentley Continental R and 1993 Ferrari 456GT
Why settle for a predictable secondhand German sports saloon when you could put a magnificent Bentley, Aston Martin or Ferrari on your drive instead - and not lose any money? Words Sam Dawson. Photography Charlie Magee.
Written by Sam Dawson Thursday, 22 February 2018 00:17
1990 Aston Martin Virage vs. 1993 Bentley Continental R and 1993 Ferrari 456GT comparison premium youngtimer Coupe road test2018 Charlie Magee & Drive-my
Live the high life. With our 25,000 grand tourer best buys . Aston Virage, Bentley Continental R, Ferrari 456 GT – the easiest to own will surprise you. The most exclusive cars of the Britpop era can now be yours from £25k – don’t look back in anger.
‘Taking on any one of the trio here is a far safer bet than buying one of their knackered predecessors’ High Rollers Now the Aston Martin Virage, Bentley Continental R and Ferrari 456GT can be yours for the price of a basic Sixties roadster. Sit at the big boys’ table with a strong hand – Ferrari 456GT, Bentley Continental R and Aston Martin Virage.
The Big Test Aston vs. Bentley vs. Ferrari
Fancy owning endless big-displacement power, assertive roadholding, the finest driving environment and a genuinely evocative badge for as little as £25k? Look in most modern car magazines nowadays and they’ll probably direct you to something secondhand and German. A BMW M5, perhaps, or some kind of AMG Mercedes. Or, horror of horrors, an SUV. Problem is, in addition to hefty running costs, these cars are relatively common and have plenty more depreciating to do.
Better, surely, to consider a Bentley Continental R, Aston Martin Virage or Ferrari 456GT? As time has passed, they’ve quietly replaced their long-in-the-tooth Seventies predecessors as the cheapest way into their respective marques. And yet because all three existed in a quieter era before a certain popular TV car show ensured that their successors became household names, the world seems to have completely forgotten them – for now.
This is good news, because it’s made them superb value for money, especially when you bear in mind what you’re getting. The Aston is the last of a line that begins with cars now worth millions. The Bentley was the most expensive and exclusive car of its time. And the Ferrari combined supercar performance and GT usability with an elegance its creator has never recaptured. Now’s the time to buy any one of them before the market realises.
1990 Aston Martin Virage
The Aston Martin Virage seems like an anomaly nowadays. In modern Aston lore the DB7 represents the moment of rebirth. Everything that came before it is expensive and rare, whereas all the cars that followed were built in volume and look the same in a self-consciously gorgeous way.
Put a modern petrolhead in front of a Virage and he won’t recognise it as an Aston Martin because its headlights are rectangular and there are no chrome-barred vents in the front wings. Royal College of Art lecturers John Hefernan and Ken Greenley designed it as a clean-sheet exercise to drag Aston out of its Sixties styling rut. Ian Callum took the exact opposite approach when styling the DB7 a mere five years later.
The 1990 Virage before me still looks impressively crisp and clean today. Dramatic too, with that high, wide tail and a reworking of the old Aston grille that gives it a furrowed-brow appearance, haughtily disapproving of everything in its path. It also shares nothing with any previous Aston with the exception of a tiny hint of DB4 in its glasshouse and the shape of its doors.
Inside it’s even more of a departure. Immediately it feels saloon-like, more accommodating than its predecessor, with far more headroom front and rear – the severe angles of the old V8’s windscreens cramped the rear seats into plus-two status and left the driver worried about headbutting the sunvisor. It’s a world of beautiful, strong-smelling materials in here, a peculiarly British form of luxury summed up by a need for furniture polish and hide food. The chunky wraparound structures boast the kind of solid leather you’d find on a riding saddle, rather than soft Italian, plasticky German or textureless American. It’s so pungent it also makes me overlook the number of parts-bin raids for things like indicator stalks and seat-tipping mechanisms. The instrument cluster is enormous and clearly bespoke but plain and austere, and wouldn’t look out of place in an Intercity 125.
Sadly a key gripe of the old V8 with which it shares most of its chassis remains – the drivers’ seat is set too high. Fine in a Range Rover, a Bentley or even a Mercedes, but this is an Aston. Its luxury needs to be accompanied by low-centre-of-gravity sportiness and interactive handling. Not the best start.
Fire up the V8. It may have its roots in the DBS V8 of the late Sixties but Nineties electronic fuel injection means it catches immediately and settles quickly to an even idle. It hasn’t been smothered into dullness by the early-Nineties fun police though – there’s a substantial, almost American boom and shudder to its tickover that links it to a pre-supercar era when GTs were the fastest, brawniest cars in the world.
At B-road speeds on twisting lanes it feels beautifully compliant, putting paid to period road testers’ concerns about rear-end waywardness. In an attempt to update Harold Beach’s DBS chassis, with its Sixties-rooted de Dion rear axle setup, Aston’s engineers located it with a vast A-frame and a central Watt linkage, similar to an Alfa Romeo Alfetta or an early Lotus Cortina, but ultimately it was deemed a small-car solution that didn’t upscale well. Still, at ordinary speeds it doesn’t seem to show. The grip from those enormous Avon Turbospeed tyres, 255/55 R17s front and rear, imbues conidence not always present in older V8s – which display front-end wander when I press on – and the Virage’s damping does a superb job of metering body control while filtering out choppiness. As a result it rides as serenely as a Jaguar XJ6, adding precise, meaty steering and devastatingly powerful brakes for extra reassurance.
However, whereas once it was deliberately smoothed-out induction activity that blunted Aston V8 acceleration, in the Virage it’s excessive weight. I can hear it in the way the mighty engine actually strains, a buzzing and rattling note that vibrates the dashboard at around 2000-2500rpm as it enters its midrange. Lighter, less comfortable cars would be rocketing of into the distance at this point – writing for Fast Lane in 1993, Mark Hughes noted that it was actually beaten to 60mph by the contemporary Nissan Primera eGT. Ironically, the way in which the weight of luxury squashes the power also slightly undermines the Aston’s refinement.
But maybe that’s not ultimately the point of the Virage? Such wulfing characteristics combined with overtly special-feeling handbuilt Britishness are also intrinsic to the appeal of cars like Jensen Interceptors and Bristol 411s. Perhaps I’m looking at the Virage the wrong way – rather than finding its surprising lack of composure detracting, we should celebrate the fact that a car so old-fashioned was conceived so relatively recently. Hoof the Virage up to motorway speeds and past 3000rpm its long-legged three-speed automatic gearbox finally shifts up, settling the engine at a satisfying brooding-thundercloud rumble.
However, it’s at these ground-gobbling velocities, where you’d expect the Virage to feel most comfortable, that the infamous suspension reveals its limitations. Beyond 70mph it’s clear the old high-speed wander hasn’t been banished altogether, with the waywardness transmitted heavy-handedly through the thin-rimmed wheel. Camber changes upset the A-frame, sending a disconcerting swaying sensation through my seat base.
That said, the grip from the massive Avons means that the threatened breakaway never happens. There’s just nervousness, and no real scope for mid-corner adjustability – I have to first learn the Virage’s foibles, then commit to each corner. But then again, I wouldn’t subject older Astons to that kind of treatment so why would the Virage be any different?
And herein lies the Virage’s appeal. In a world where Sixties DBs and Seventies V8s fetch six-figure sums, it’s good to know that the Virage still embodies their qualities – and their chassis – yet now occupies the price bracket that unloved DBSs languished in for so long. The fact that Aston improved it so dramatically with the V8 Coupé evolution, then replaced it with the dynamically superior DB7 Vantage, will help to keep prices down because those who can afford these supposedly better cars will continue to favour them. While dealers may be asking a bit more for them nowadays, a canny private buyer will still just about be able to sniff out a well-used Virage for £25k, and they’re unlikely to depreciate further.
They’re more reliable than Astons of old too – the electronic Weber-Marelli fuel injection is far more dependable than the unreliable mechanical setup on early V8s – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be vigilant. Says marque specialist and former Aston Martin manager Keith Riddington, ‘Check for corrosion around the front and rear windscreens. The scuttle panel corrodes, as do the bases of the A- and B-posts.’ It’s the traditional Aston Martin weakness at work – steel structure meeting aluminium body panels promoting electrolytic corrosion. While the simpler lines and fewer complex curves of the Virage compared to the old V8 mean rust traps are fewer and fabricating new panels isn’t quite as labour-intensive, it still means bodywork needs cutting away and remaking – depending on the extent of corrosion it can cost between £18,000 and £36,000 to put right, with more localised repairs in the order of £5000 apiece.
‘When you take it for a test drive, make sure the mileage in the paperwork correlates with the on-board VIC [Vehicle Information Centre],’ Riddington advises. ‘It’s all part of a complicated electronic dashboard pack that’s prone to glitches and often replaced, so you can’t be sure of the mileage if that’s happened. You’re looking at £850 to replace the VIC or £2500 for the whole dashboard if other digital elements are malfunctioning too.
‘Observe the engine running to make sure there are no oil leaks – if there are, it points to compromised cylinder liner seals, a hole in the block and an impending £25,000 bill. And if you get surges in power during the test drive it suggests perished vacuum pipes – £350 each.’ The A-frame rear suspension puts a lot of pressure on the Watt linkage too – it’s worth getting an expert to check for wear in the mountings because they’re a £1000-£1500 job to replace. ‘It all sounds scary at first, but they’re fairly straightforward to look after if they’ve been cared for,’ says Riddington. ‘There’s little difference in running costs between the old V8 and the Virage.’ But of course, the Virage is a third of the price of a Seventies V8 – an inviting scenario that’s unlikely to last.
‘In a world where DBs and V8s fetch six figures, it’s good to know the Virage embodies their qualities’
Owning an Aston Martin Virage
‘I bought my first Virage 17 years ago, and I’ve now got four!’ says Martin Day. ‘I was mainly attracted to them by their exclusivity – the early Nineties recession meant build numbers were extremely low. They’re rarer than DB4s, and yet they’re extremely good value, the most affordable Aston of their kind, when everything about them was still being hand-crafted and judged by eye.
‘I haven’t had many concerns. Early cars had troublesome digital mileage readouts which played up a lot, sealing rubbers tend to self-destruct, return to liquid form and run down the bodywork, and engine oil seals need keeping an eye on. But they’re little niggles, not major problems. ‘They’re maintenance-sensitive though and need servicing. Bad ones have fallen into a trap of being laid-up by people who think they’ll just need a battery a couple of years later.’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1990 Aston Martin Virage
Engine 5341cc V8, dohc per bank, Weber-Marelli electronic fuel injection
Power and torque 325bhp @ 6000rpm; 340lb ft @ 3700rpm / DIN
If the 1982 Mulsanne Turbo was the first sign that Bentley was separating from its then six-decade inveiglement with Rolls-Royce, then the 1991 Continental R felt like the decisive end result. When I behold the massive form of this 1993 example it feels more like some distant descendant of the Le Mans challengers of the Twenties, even if I detect the slightest hint of Camargue in its roofline and the way its indicator strips wrap around beneath the quad-headlights. Its perfect proportions and sleek lines – again the work of Heffernan and Greenley – disguise its sheer size, making early tactile encounters with it surprising. It’s as tall as some modern SUVs, the doors are so heavy they feel like they’re lined with concrete, and I clamber up rather than step down into it.
Behind the wheel, it’s clear Bentley was proudly reasserting itself. The armchair seats hug without squeezing, and the driving position is remarkable – I’m in traditional grand tourer pose, back slightly reclined and legs straight out, and yet I’m sitting high with a commanding view down a long bonnet, the humped lines of which follow the curve of the radiator cowl from the nose to the base of the windscreen. From the outside the Continental looks like a fairly angular car, especially from the rear – perhaps the only aspect of the design that doesn’t really low properly – but that curvaceous bonnet and the angle at which I see it is only revealed once I’m in the driver’s seat, putting me in a Woolf Barnato mindset. One thing’s for certain – this car couldn’t be turned into a Rolls-Royce by merely replacing its grille. It’s just too driver-focused.
The interior design itself is leagues ahead of the Aston’s. Everything about it feels bespoke. Nothing I touch is plastic – there may well be other manufacturers’ components hiding beneath it all, but so far as my fingertips are concerned it’s all leather, polished wood, chrome and deep-pile carpets. But there are two key things that confirm I’m not in a badge-engineered Rolls – the gears are selected via an ergonomically-shaped lever on the centre console rather than a column stalk, and behind the steering wheel is a tachometer. Look in the owners’ manual and you’ll find real power and torque figures quoted too, rather than some faux-etiquette about ‘adequacy’. Adequate, to the Continental R, would be an insult.
Turning the engine on provides the only tangible link to Rolls-Royces of the era, in that after the briefest of heavily-muted sparkings it settles to a near-silent idle and remains hushed even when accelerating fairly hard. Then again, if you were spending £175,000 in the middle of the 1991 recession, you probably wouldn’t want to announce your arrival everywhere you went.
What’s most impressive about the Continental is the way it corners. Back when Bentleys were merely smooth-nosed Rolls- Royces they’d shudder and wallow when presented with a bend, but the Continental retains superb composure, adaptive suspension working hard to ensure it remains as level as possible all the way round. The steering may be light enough to guide with my fingertips, but it’s not devoid of feel and offers just enough communication and resistance to allow me to make – and feel the effects of – mid-corner adjustments.
Ultimately it’s not as wieldy on B-roads as the Aston – its mass finally catches up with it in tight, low-speed corners, the nose diving under hard braking to warn you that it’s reaching its limits and the brake pedal feels spongy and vague under duress too – but then again it doesn’t threaten to understeer into the bushes either – the ‘R’ in the car’s name stands for ‘Roadholding’ after all. However, tyre smoking is not what this car’s for – the real thrill comes when you point it at a straight piece of tarmac stretching of to the horizon and bury the accelerator pedal in the deep-pile carpet. The way the nose rises puts me in mind of a luxury jet on takeoff, and the 6.75-litre V8’s torque hits the base of my spine almost like a supercar’s does, albeit with a damped sense of decorum. The engine nudges through its soundproofing to give a pleasant whumphing growl as the car surges past 90mph, and yet thanks to the sheer composure of the chassis there’s absolutely no sense that it’ll leave me in a situation where I run the risk of losing control of it.
And yet this is a car with a better turning circle and more room in it than the Aston Martin Virage. It would take the Continental GT for Bentley to truly reclaim its role as a sports car manufacturer, but in the battle of the Nineties all-rounder GTs, the Bentley trounces the Aston on every count other than braking. And, of course, being an Aston. But being a Bentley is, surely, just as special. And after six decades of limousines from Crewe, this is at last a driver’s car, proved by its specification. It has rack-and-pinion steering, all-round independent suspension, ventilated front brake discs, active ride control – all things the Aston lacks.
They’re dependable if looked after, but like the Aston they can ravage your wallet if neglected, as Paul Wood of specialist P&A Wood explains, ‘Cylinder head gaskets are unpredictable – sometimes they’ll fail at 30,000 miles, yet there are also 100,000-mile-plus engines still going strong on their original gaskets. Zytek engine management, introduced in 1994 to take the power up to 385bhp, makes it difficult to access the engine for maintenance in order to check the gaskets, so be vigilant – replacing them costs £4000, although the cylinder heads aren’t prone to warping. The engine management system’s relays are prone to failure, so it makes sense to keep a spare relay in the car.’
Suspension suffers most on Continentals, a result of excessive weight and hard-working automatic ride control. ‘If it’s riding too hard at the rear and sitting too low at the front when standing it’ll be a problem with the gas springs in the height control,’ says Wood. ‘That can cost £1500 to ix.’ Corrosion isn’t a major problem on Continental Rs, but check sills, lower wings, door tops and window frames if you want to avoid bills running to anywhere between £1000 and £6000.
Still, so long as it’s been serviced, used sparingly and kept away from bad weather – as most have been – Continental Rs shouldn’t throw up the bad-servicing difficulties that an old wedding-hire T2 or Mulsanne often will.
Owning a Bentley Continental R
‘I drive it every two weeks to keep it running well, but only really use it for special occasions,’ says Jayesh Patel of his Continental. ‘It’s my wife’s favourite car, and my niece Aryana likes it too on account of its “fluffy carpets”!
‘Nothing’s gone wrong in three years of ownership, although I’ve spent quite a lot on routine maintenance, just replacing various worn-out parts – rubbers, suspension bushes and so on. Tyres are £400 each! Parts are more expensive than for the average car, but it compensates for this by being reliable, and so long as you find a good specialist to entrust it to rather than a main dealer and you look after it, this balance should mean costs are contained.’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1993 Bentley Continental R
While the Virage and Continental were intended as fresh starts for their respective manufacturers, the Ferrari 456GT harked back to the past. Although nominally a replacement for the ancient, saloon-like Tipo F101-series 412 – which had been in production with various engine and detail changes since 1972 – the 456’s fastback lines and new chassis that placed its 5.5-litre V12 so far back as to make it front-mid-engined put 1992 observers in mind of the 365 GTB/4 Daytona. As the economic grimness in the aftermath of the Eighties boom was killing of all symbols of automotive excess at the time, from hot hatches to supercars, the boldness of Ferrari’s new concept gave cause for great hope.
Unlike the brutish Daytona though, I find a world of calm inside this 1993 456. It’s a less busy-feeling driving environment than the Aston and Bentley, what with their haphazard instrument placings and slabs of swirling, reflective wood veneer. There’s crisp two-tone leather and a simple, clear, logical row of angled, chrome-ringed dials running across the centre console, with just a speedometer and tachometer behind a beautifully simple and small three-spoke steering wheel.
It’s light and airy as well as tasteful in here too, thanks to a low window line and flat bonnet. It’s a pity about the silver plastic centre console, but it’s worth remembering that in 1992 such splashes of colour and variations of material were what made cars like the 456 feel special – at the same time, at the other end of the Fiat empire, the same Pininfarina stylists who shaped the 456 drew praise for putting a radical body-coloured chunk of plastic across the dashboard of the new Fiat Coupé.
Adults will it in its rear seats, visibility is excellent, and I feel an instant sense of command and control rather than awe. Appropriate really – when it was bought in December 1993, this particular 456’s first owner had just followed his Formula One World Championship win with unprecedented victory in the Indy-Car World Series… Yes, it belonged to ‘Our Nige’.
Turn the ignition key and rather than the expected Ferrari shriek there’s a brief cough followed by a muted hum. It’s more what you’d expect from a Jaguar XJ12 than something exotic and race-bred, but let’s not forget that this was the replacement for the 412 as well as a new direction for Ferrari, and thus needed to satisfy a market that invariably bought V12s for their innately smooth and balanced nature rather than their abilities to deliver explosive power.
The 456GT potters of the line like a user-friendly hot-hatch rather than a highly-strung supercar. Below 2500rpm I can hardly hear the engine at all, and the steering’s servo assistance tames any jarring potholes into unthreatening nudges. Initially I wonder whether the car Ferrari sought most to emulate with the 456 was in fact the Porsche 928.
But above that 2500rpm threshold, with the gear lever out of its truculent first-second plane and into slick third-fourth with the car on B-road attack, the magic of the chassis reveals itself. There’s near-perfect 49/51 front-rear weight distribution – the slight rear bias is thanks to the transaxle gearbox – so the car seems to pivot around its driver, making it feel like it’s shrunk down to Mazda MX-5 size. So I forget about the engine’s mass and power and start treating the 456 like a small sports car, hurling it hard into bends and adjusting its attitude on the throttle. You’d never take liberties like that with a Testarossa. It’s so slick, lively and user-friendly that this supercar doesn’t intimidate its driver at all.
And yet it is a true supercar. Get it onto a straight, accelerate hard, stretch every gear, and with the enraged V12 awakening, its torque will surge you all the way to 150mph and beyond with ease. Don’t let its suaveness deceive you – this is every bit a Ferrari, one capable of 188mph and 0-60mph in 5.2 seconds. These are the exact-same performance figures as the fabled 288GTO, and yet unlike that car there’s no lag-shunt between regular and high performance as turbochargers spool up. In the 456 the transition between the realms of sports car and supercar is seamless.
That doesn’t mean it’s not exciting though – as the tachometer needle lunges into the right-hand side of the dial the V12 becomes as stridently orchestral as its distant relative in the racing 575GTC. However, unlike a mid-rear-engined Ferrari of the era there’s no helm-twitching, nose-lift, or sense that if you sneeze mid-corner it’ll slap me across the face – that front-mid-engined chassis ensures you can always exploit its power regardless of the kind of road it’s on. No wonder, then, that Ferrari went on to base the dramatic 550 Maranello two-seater on the 456, setting a template for a new kind of supercar altogether.
Supercars of the post-Millennial era tend to be lauded in the modern motoring press for being easy to drive, usually a side-effect of an electronic safety-net programme that does all the fine-tuning for you, leaving the driver to just ham-fistedly point the wheel and mash the pedals. The 456, miraculously, manages to achieve a similar level of user-friendliness without patronising its driver, simply by being so thoroughly well-engineered. Switch all the driver aids of in a modern Ferrari and it becomes as nervous as a Formula One car.
Thankfully, this approach also brings simplicity to a Ferrari recipe that’s got progressively more complicated and expensive to deal with in the 456’s replacements, while solving the issues that plagued its ancestors. Mike Wheeler of Rardley Motors, who’s dealt with a quarter of the UK market’s 456s, explains, ‘Unlike 400s, the 456 avoided the problems caused by being taken to mechanics who were more used to working on Capris, who didn’t set up things like valve timing or carburettors properly and ended up passing problems on to future owners,’ he says. ‘Instead, 456s have bottomed-out at a slightly higher price, which has kept them in more diligent, mature ownership, among people who service them properly and take time to read the owner’s manual. They’re also very well-made. Buying one is mostly down to common sense. Check the lower body for corrosion, especially around the passenger-side sill because these can get kerbed. Bumpers and bonnets are composite and can crack if tapped.
‘Mechanically they’re pretty good. Rear dampers are self-levelling, sharing a fluid reservoir with the power steering system, and tend to need a £1200 rebuild every now and then. Coolant hoses perish so check them all before firing the engine up. Don’t worry about electric seat rollers failing, just do it manually – they usually failed even within warranty anyway.
‘Make sure it’s been taken to a specialist though. Even main dealers struggle to get the windows to seal properly, and end up doing drastic things like filing slots into the runners, when it’s just a case of replacing the nylon wheels with metal ones and aligning the windows properly.
‘I’ve only known one 456 engine that needed a rebuild, and that had overheated when the radiator fans failed while it was running unattended after a long lay-up. Later, more expensive 456M versions from 1998 suffer valve guide wear – Ferrari changed the valve guide material to the same stuff used on the F355 – but it’s not common, and you’ll know about it because the car will do an impression of a steam train before requiring a £3000 top-end rebuild. But the engine was a brand-new design for 1992, devised specifically with reliability in mind for demanding, professional customers. Manual gearboxes never need rebuilding either.’
Owning a Ferrari 456GT
‘I’ve had my current manual 456GT for a year and a half; before that I had an automatic I bought for £17k and kept for six years,’ says Ferrari collector Heath Gray. ‘Definitely go for the manual – it’s bulletproof. The automatic isn’t and a replacement will cost you £15k.
‘There’s plenty of room in the back and it’ll cruise comfortably at 70mph, and yet it’s also a genuine supercar. It’s relatively easy to live with – watch out for oil leaks, and there’s a point at the base of the rear windscreen where the aluminium body meets a steel subframe and has a tendency to corrode. Keep an eye on the rear dampers too – if the car starts wallowing they’ll need attention. Good service history is crucial – nothing’s cheap on a Ferrari. But it’s a car you can jump in and take for a long drive without worrying. Electrics were a step up in quality over any Ferrari before it too.’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1993 Ferrari 456GT
Engine 5474cc V12, dohc per bank, Bosch Motronic M2.7 electronic fuel injection
Power and torque 442bhp @ 6250rpm; 405lb ft @ 4500rpm / DIN
Transmission Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Brakes Ventilated discs front and rear, ATE anti-lock system
Suspension Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
Cast your mind back to the early Noughties, when the classic car market was nowhere near as strong as it is now, and consider those tempting examples of bargain Seventies exotica like the Aston Martin V8 Series 2, Rolls-Royce Camargue and Ferrari 365 GTC/4.
We used to tell ourselves that there was something fundamentally undesirable about these cars that would always keep them in the realms of affordability, be it ugly styling, mechanical complexity or restoration costs outstripping overall value. And then look what happened – Seventies style came back into fashion, these cars’ depleted numbers and expensive predecessors gradually increased market demand and now they fetch premium money.
The march of progress has made all cars easier to live with – things like improved rust protection, computer-controlled engine management keeping complex units on-tune, and ever-better chassis engineering. They mean that taking on any one of our trio is a less daunting prospect than buying one of their knackered predecessors 15 years ago. Buy a good one, and the key to luxury GT motoring is merely a case of being careful and looking after it. And by the time you’ve had your fun and decided to sell, unlike the proverbial ‘performance bargain’ secondhand BMW M5 E39, you’ll get your money back, and will probably make some too.
So which one? It’s a case of what you want from your luxury grand tourer. The Virage may be lawed, but only in the way that all its predecessors are too, and in this way it’s endearing. The fact that, in a world of £650k DB5s, you can still get a handbuilt Newport Pagnell Aston for less than £30k if you shop around for a slightly leggy one – not necessarily a bad thing – looks like a miracle. If you’re an Aston enthusiast who’s always promised yourself a classic DB or a William Towns V8 only to see their values soar out of reach of your savings, investigate a Virage instead. It’ll make you smile.
However, for me it would be a very difficult decision between the Bentley Continental R and the Ferrari 456GT. Both are examples of respective breeds operating at absolute zeniths. The way the Bentley manages to divert successfully from its distant Rolls-Royce roots without ruining them, creating a genuine driver’s car in the process, is an incredible feat. The fact that it also bests the Aston on a lot of key measurable criteria as well surely qualifies it as one of the world’s all-time greatest luxury cars.
But the Ferrari just-about wins for me. It’s the way it manages to combine a luxurious ambience with proper supercar performance and small sports car handling that makes it all things to all buyers. The fact it’s now vying with the perpetually unloved 400i as the cheapest way into V12 Ferrari ownership beggars belief.
Thanks to: classicmobilia.com, Mike Norman, rardleymotors.com, pa-wood.co.uk
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