Now For Something Completely Different: Range Rover P38

My dalliance with the idea of owning a Range Rover started back in 2009.  It would end up taking three tries on two continents over 13 years before the relationship was finally consummated.  It started back when I was in the process of moving to the UK.  The “Use Case” at the time was for a “family utility” car capable of transporting 5 adults, multiple suitcases, and whatever large loads needed to be lugged around for a family with multiple teenagers.  As the UK was the destination, I naturally started researching Range Rovers as they are the traditional British answer to the use case outlined above.  While I quite liked the idea of owning a Range Rover, all the research I did indicated that the ownership experience could be both financially ruinous and similar to one I had with a TVR Griffith (see: TVR) a few year prior.  Instead, we bought a Porsche Cayenne Turbo which proved to be indestructible.

Roll forward another half dozen years and we were looking for a SUV that we could park up at our place in Montana.  Montana winters make a 4WD vehicle a mandatory choice if you want to be driving through the mountains from September thru May.  First stop on our SUV shopping trip was to the Dallas Land Rover dealer.  As we entered the showroom, right in the middle of the floor was a Yellow Range Rover P38 Vitese Edition.  It was in great shape but the dealer wanted an absurd amount of money for a  18 year old SUV with dodgy reliability record.  Despite that I did think it would be a very cool thing to have up in Montana and did a bit of work of the practicalities of owning one up there.  Turns out the nearest Land Rover dealership was eight hours away and there were no mechanics in the area with any experience working on P38s.  Thus, ended that idea, and we ended up buying a Mercedes Benz ML550 SUV instead as there is a Mercedes specialist in the area. 

 

One move and another half decade later, the Range Rover bug reemerged.  By this time, we had moved back to New England and settled down on the coast.  Range Rovers of all ages are literally a dime a dozen in the area.  A friend happens to be a Range Rover fanatic and owns at least a half dozen at any given point in time.  He showed up at one event with one of the coolest modified ones I’ve seen named the Beacher.  The Beacher is a late Series 1 Range Rover that was saved from the scrap heap and turned into a Barchetta.  The roof, rear windows, rear side glass, and upper part of the tailgate were all removed, a full roll cage bolted in, and a removable canvas roof fitted over the roll cage.  As a summer beach car, it’s hard to beat and seeing it stoked my interest in possibly acquiring a Range Rover again. 

With interest stoked, next step was to define the Use Case (see: Use Case Rule) as I knew this was going to be the first question Mrs. SSO would ask as soon as I floated the idea.  To be honest, coming up with one was not easy.  Best I could do was it’s the perfect car for taking our two Labrador Retrievers to the beach and boat. Fortunately, she bought into the idea (or more likely just generously decided to indulge me) and I had the green light to seriously start hunting for one.  Only criteria is it had to be similar to the bright yellow one we saw in Dallas all those years back.  A bit of research narrowed the options down to two special edition Range Rover produced during the Series 2 P38’s 7 year production run.  The 1997 Vitese Edition of which 250 were produced and the final year 2002 Borrego Edition of which only 100 were built.  From what I can tell the “special editions” are all cosmetic upgrades and there is no real difference in the base mechanicals.

Most 20 plus year old Range Rovers tend to change hands privately.  All the cars we have purchased since we moved back to the US from Europe have come through official dealerships, so this was a bit of new territory.  My Range Rover enthusiast friend suggest hunting on Facebook Market Place, Craig’s List (he assured me I would most likely not be killed but couldn’t guarantee it), and the various on-line auction sites.  In short order, an intriguing candidate was identified, and I put in an offer.  This particular “Borrego Edition” P38 was in excellent condition, two long term owners, and by 20 year old Range Rover standards, fairly low mileage at 80k (it is a bit ironic that a 20 year old Range Rover is considered fairly low mileage at under 100k, while a 20 year old Ferrari with that type of mileage would be considered unsaleable.  It’s even a bit more daft when you consider that the build quality on a 2002 Ferrari is quite a bit better than on early 21st Century Range Rovers.).  Unfortunately, at the same time I made an offer, so did someone else and theirs was the more generous of the two.  As quickly as that Range Rover appeared it was gone.  Several months went by and a few others came up and either they had far too many “needs” for my taste or were priced outside of the budget I had agreed with Mrs. SSO based on my rather dodgy Use Case. At this point I had basically given up hope and parked the whole Range Rover idea until next spring.

 

Completely unexpectedly, the original Borrego Edition Range Rover that caught my eye came back on the market.  The gentleman who had purchased it back in April had decided to have an end of the season garage clean out and part with a number of his cars.  The overall condition of the Range Rover was unchanged, and he had only put about 100 miles on it.  We quickly agreed a deal, which turned out to be for a couple of thousand less than my original offer back in April.  Arranging shipping from Texas to the northeast took a couple of weeks but the bright yellow financial timebomb finally arrived on our driveway right before Thanksgiving. 

First impressions have been very positive so far, despite Mrs. SSO asking if we could get it painted another color the 1st time she saw it.  The Range Rover is in terrific condition for its age.  Other than a few minor paint chips, the body looks great with no signs of rust.  The interior is in excellent condition and there is not a single warning light illuminated on the dashboard.  I have had to replace the battery and the rear tailgate struts are a bit weak but otherwise everything works properly.  The driving position takes a bit of getting used to as you are quite high off the ground, especially compared to the other cars I normally drive.  The suspension is soft and the brakes aren’t exactly large ceramic but they do work…..if you give them a bit of time.  It is quite comfortable though and visibility is outstanding.  Most importantly though, our two English Labrador Retrievers do seem to like sitting in the back. 

 

I will be very interested to see how long the big yellow Range Rover lasts in the garage.  So far, our ownership experience has gotten off to a good start.  My guess is the tenure will be a direct reflection on how reliable it turns out to or not to be.  There is something uniquely charming about it, and the dogs do seem to like it.  More to come…..

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December 2022

 

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5 Thoughts on Now For Something Completely Different: Range Rover P38
    John
    11 Dec 2022
     11:34am

    Range Rovers were never that common around where I grew up, and I only knew of one farmer who owned one. All the rest had Series II / III or later a Defender. Now they drive a variety of pickups with the rear deck enclosed by a hard-top. That one “farmer” that had the Range Rover was from money and really he had someone else doing all the farm work for him. His wife liked to ride horses, yes they were the horsy people who organised hunts. Nice guy, died of a heart attack sitting out in his back garden one day. Sadly, the Annick Horse Trials never ran again. Just sad that one of the few events held in this part of Scotland disappeared.

    My dad for his business had those Series II / III and Defenders. I was young so can just remember the Series II with the canvas roof. The Series III I got to drive to help him with his business around private land. Only the Defender was I able to take out on the open roads. At the time the UK had gone mad for 4×4 and he needed one as the Series III’s chassis had rusted to the point where he couldn’t find any metal to weld! The only Defender he could find for a reasonable price was the V8 County, and he took out the rear seats (a 90). People were still avoiding the thirsty ones.

    We didn’t do many miles in the Defender as it was only over a private site did we need it. But when allowed I took it out for longer runs, which the engine definitely appreciated. Short runs carbonised up the engine too much. What a lot of people don’t realise is just how quick a V8 Land Rover is off the line. It was superb for burning people at traffic lights! Just that when you got to 30mph aerodynamic forces were against you…

    I got 90 out of it, which I thought was enough. Brother got 100…

    During our ownership it was reliable. Just needed to breath a bit every now and then because of the short runs my dad did to help him get around the site. What finished it was the chassis rusting. One year flying through the MOT, next year being told it was finished. It was a shock to me and I wanted it double checked, but my dad being my dad sold it so quickly without looking to see what options he had. Now the prices of them are ridiculous, and enough that you’d pay someone to do a chassis swap on them. Something I feel we should have looked in to.

    Range Rovers of that time I believe are chassis-on-frame in the same way. I can only thing water and moisture got in to ours and rotted it out, as it was kept outside. I see there’s product for sealing the underside of Land Rovers, and some inject wax into the chassis’s insides too. I’d recommend looking in to something like that.

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    Christian Lorenzen
    11 Dec 2022
     8:59pm

    Congratulations on your purchase and best of luck with the P38. I moved to the UK in ‘88 and that was when my love for Range Rovers started. I have had Range Rovers ever since. During a 5 year stint in Hamburg I bought a P58 and was considered an eccentric in the land of reliable Mercedes and VAG products. I have one curiosity about the P58 which I want to share with you. Every time I stood in queue waiting for the ferry to Denmark to dock, I couldn’t start my P58. The immobiliser had a tendency to have its own life so after almost having missed the ferry on a number of occasions, I let it idle in order to be caught out when the queue started moving. That was only until a friendly ferry employee told me, that is long as the captain was operating the gates to the car deck, I wouldn’t be able to start the car as the transmitter on the ferry would “overrule” the immobilster of the P38. The only other car that has the same issue is the Chrysler Voyager apparently. So when your car doesn’t start, don’t panic, simply wait a bit and retry. Good luck with your purchase.

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    Richard Dove
    12 Dec 2022
     4:44pm

    Fantastic. Do you remember the yellow P38 in the film Layer Cake? I acquired a 95 4.0L 7 years ago that need some TLC on the air suspension and liked it so much I imported a 4.6L from Japan that is In stunning condition a couple of years ago. Haven’t got around to shifting the 4.0L yet…… I have to say The P38 is my vehicle of choice over the R8 and RS6 C5 tweaked to 720PS and 1050NM…… let us know
    how the ownership experience goes!

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    Karl
    12 Dec 2022
     6:23pm

    Always loved a Range Rover even if my head advises against! Owned a few, the best being a 1989 Classic 3.5 bought new for £25,856.00! Lost nearly £10k in 2 years of ownership. Apart from a new engine after 2 weeks of ownership it never went wrong. Driving swiftly and braking hard on bendy downhill roads was exciting, especially as you’d get total brake fade after a dozen bends….

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    Neil
    13 Dec 2022
     3:44pm

    As a long time serial P38 V8 owner (4.0 and 4.6, GEMS and THOR versions), I love the fact they come from the lazy wafting era rather than the high performance SUV era – remember that and cruise imperiously!
    The key advice I would offer would be to keep on top of regular engine oil changes (although the interval is officially 15k, I tend to go with annual/6k especially as they have got older), check the coolant level regularly for changes as it is a great indicator something is going wrong and if the suspension airbags are old and worn looking, change them as they will split and potentially burnout the compressor as it tries to keep them inflated. Transmission and diff oil changes are worth doing if there is no record of them being completed recently – too many people believe JLR and the myth that they do not need doing.

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