Here’s a rare bird in Shedland: the Range Rover.
Many years ago, long before this sort of event became en-glitzed and corporatised, Shed went on a properly dirty Land Rover offroad day up north. The chap running it was a leathery Darien Gap type, a dead ringer for Curly out of City Slickers and the sort of bloke who would strike matches on his face, sweeten his coffee with iron filings, and munch morosely through a packet of six-inch nails for his tea.
The vehicles provided on Shed’s day were all Series III Landies, and much fun was had by all who attended. The most surprising part of the day, however, wasn’t so much the incredible ability of the everyday Landie (though that was incredible) but what happened when Shed plucked up the courage to ask Leatheryman to nominate his favourite off-road weapon.
It was meant to be an easy one that he could knock out of the park with the expected “short-wheelbase diesel Series III with snorkel” response. Instead, the answer was “petrol Range Rover automatic”, which seemed a bit effete coming from someone who looked entirely capable of crocheting anacondas.
As far as he was concerned, the Range Rover did everything the Series III did, but without loosening most of the body’s major organs in the process. Nobody was about to argue with him, and subsequent experience of this remarkable machine over its 48-year history (start saving now for your 2020 50th anniversary model, by the way) suggests he was probably right anyway.
The problem for pretty much any car with ‘Rover’ in its name comes not in the showroom but on the roads and lanes of our fair land a few years down the line. Even today, Land Rover struggles to build stuff that fully satisfies over the full ownership period. There’s often something going wrong. That’s a shame, because the underlying designs are, by and large, outstanding. As it is, buying any secondhand Range Rover involves a leap of faith that could easily turn into a stumble of doubt followed by a painful pratfall of disillusionment.
Which, finally, brings us to this week’s Shed. SOTW records of the last five and a bit years indicate that no Range Rovers of any kind have appeared here. The fact that roadworthy ones don’t really drop into the sub-£1500 bracket is some sort of vindication of the value people still place on them, irrespective of their slightly shonky reputation.
The second-generation P38 is a bit of an oddball in that the first-gen RR it was meant to replace continued to be on sale two years after the P38’s 1994 launch, in the shape of the Range Rover Classic. The P38 was more luxurious than the gen-one, had improved electronic air suspension with five height settings, and brought in the rectangular headlights that some might say removed some of the RR’s styling mojo.
This pre-’99 model won’t have the four-wheel traction control or improved engine management systems, but although it’s true that these later ‘Thor’ models are a nice drive, especially in Vogue spec, not having that electronic gubbins on board is not necessarily a bad thing in terms of things to go wrong. And off road there’s not that much to choose between a P38 and an L322.
Our Shed has the 4.0-litre V8, but don’t go thinking that means you’ll be razzing about the place with your tyres on fire. Hooked up to the decently reliable ZF 4-speed auto, this was the last of the old Buick-derived V8s and therefore a relaxed sort of unit. Inside our Shed is another end-of-era sight: Connolly leather seats (Connolly went bust just as the gen-three L322 Range Rover came out).
A 4.6-litre P38 was also available, with (supposedly) around 40hp more power and more torque. Some say there isn’t that great a difference between them in terms of real-world punter performance, others really rate the 4.6s.
The thing to be aware of is that these V8s have quite a reputation for slipped cylinder liners, and the air suspension is known for failure. Some owners fit coils when the air sus goes, but wiser birds than Shed will tell you that that might not be the best idea for this vehicle. Besides, the standard air setup isn’t that complex and can be fixed rather more cheaply than (say) the system in an Audi Allroad. Plus it’s a lovely feature to have.
A knock or tap from the engine when it’s warm isn’t so lovely, as that means it’s time to shrug your shoulders and stump up for a new block with the non-slip ‘top hat’ liners. Cold-engine rattles tell you it’s time for a new camshaft. Heater matrix O-rings go, producing damp stains on the carpet.
Still, on the positive side, P38s are generally very mendable. There are very few non-knackered P38s left, so the value of this one shouldn’t drop. It has a dangerously good-looking MOT history showing that it’s only done 36,000 miles in the last 10 years, and fewer than 15,000 in the last five. The dreaded ‘c’ word appears nowhere, which is some sort of miracle. It struggled to get through last year’s test, needing two failed goes in September and October before getting the nod in November, albeit with advisories on exhaust leak and low brake pads. Worryingly, ‘overheating’ was mentioned in the first September test, but that particular mole appears to have been quickly whacked.
There are no shots of the back end, but it might be solid-ish given that this car looks like it’s had a respray, apparently by someone in the Mediterranean swimming pool business. The nearest ‘real’ RR colour that Shed can find to the retina-jolting hue you see here is Monte Carlo blue, but even to Shed’s cataracty old peepers this really doesn’t look like it. Of course, you may know different.
A P38 is a perfectly viable choice. The trick is to think of it as a plaything rather than a maintenance-free means of transport. With that sort of mindset you shouldn’t go far wrong.