I decided to salvage an old junk computer over the weekend. I burned a copy of Xubuntu, and proceeded to install. When the installer tried to initialize X, it couldn't, so I had to do the install in safe graphics mode. The video card, a low-end S3Virge 3d/2x, uses the Xorg s3virge driver. After getting everything working in crappy Vesa mode, I stumbled onto a bug report indicating that there was a bug in s3virge resolution detection that was fixed in Git. I recompiled the appropriate driver from Git, and everything works now. SO, for future reference, here are the steps to re-build the s3virge driver from Git in Xubuntu.
# install packages required for build
apt-get install xorg-dev xserver-xorg-dev libtool autoconf automake
# install git
apt-get install git-core
# check out the repo
git clone git://anongit.freedesktop.org/git/xorg/driver/xf86-video-s3virge
# cd into the repo
# build and install
./autogen.sh --prefix=/usr && make && sudo make install
Not Vim related I know, but I figure this might help someone.