faded glory: 1994 Range Rover P38

p38Ah, the Range Rover P38, the car that never was what it should have been. And it should have been the most amazing, majestic, multi-talented 4WD luxury vehicle in the history of the world. It sort-of was, but Land Rover managed to spoil it all with countless niggly faults that took the sheen off what in many ways was an absolutely breathtaking car to drive. In Solihull, defeat was well and truly snatched from the jaws of victory!

To drive, it feels very much like a Range Rover Classic on steroids, with all the quirks ironed out. One example is the seam weld about the windscreen on the Classic, which doesn’t do much for its wind noise about 70MPH, or indeed its fuel economy which falls off a cliff (25MPG at a steady 70MPH, 15 at a steady 75)! The P38 loses this, and becomes a quieter and more refined, and indeed economical cruiser. Being based on the long wheelbase Classic chassis, it has loads more legroom and is ideal for five large people and their luggage; it’s a great pick-you-up-at-the-airport car.

The P38 has a lovely dashboard, breathtakingly comfortable seats (Rover Cars sticking two fingers up to Jaguar and Rolls Royce, methinks), and drives beautifully; the separate ladder chassis invests it with a solidity that I’ve never felt in any monocoque car; you don’t drive over potholes, you smash the hell of them and don’t notice while you’re doing it. For a massive, heavy car (despite the use of an aluminium body, it is still stupidly heavy), it’s surprisingly nimble and this is further aided by a magnificently commanding ‘Royal Box’ like driving position. In so many ways, the P38 is transplendent.

But, and there’s a big but, it hailed from the days when Land Rover was introducing serious networked electronics to its cars. And as any Land Rover owner knows, electrics aren’t their strong point, let alone electronics. For cars that spend so much time wading through deep water, they’re surprisingly susceptible to bad earths, dry solder joints and component failure; they’re also venerable to sunroof and door window leaks, but I digress! The point is, nineteen nineties P38 Range Rovers were full of glitches, mobile test beds for the brilliant L322 that followed, and sadly they will forever be viewed as such.

My P38 was taken off the road because the relay controlling the fuel filler cap release failed; the relay was cheap but getting it coded into the body control module wasn’t, and the thing couldn’t be filled up with petrol unless I used the manual emergency release, which wouldn’t close the filler cap. The result was having to gaffer-tape the flap closed, hardly befitting of a car of this price and status in life! This was just one small example; my P38 was a breeding ground of niggles which makes a Lotus look like a Toyota Corolla in the reliability stakes. So many came along, the worst being the dreaded air suspension…

This was great in theory, giving widely variable ride height; the car even dropped by 2cm at over 55MPH to give more secure handling at speed, while I drove up some crazily steep banks with just a press of a button, as the Range Rover raised itself up seemingly on stilts. Sadly though in practice it wasn’t so clever, as sometimes one corner of the car would droop and only pull itself up at the last minute. It also gave a poorer ride than on dampers and coil springs; so it wasn’t as perfect as the company had people believe.

I could write for hours on P38 woes; suffice to say it was a gorgeous car that simply wasn’t finished when it was launched. Land Rover left the customers to do the (un)reliability testing, and this wasn’t wise considering the Jaguar XJ6 price and market aspirations. A great p38 is a lovely thing to drive, but not easy to find or cheap to run. My manual 4.0 V8 (very rare in that spec) did between 12MPG and 22MPG, but the 4.6 V8 auto was sometimes half that, which is what I used to tell myself as I stood at the petrol pump for all those lonely hours! Off road it was amazing, and I loved the way you could fill it with incredibly heavy things (people and/or their things) and the car would barely notice it. I do miss this car, but I was probably right to sell it!

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4 comments

  1. Ah am so impressed with the intelligence air suspension has; as a weight is added the suspension rises to maintain the height YET with coil; as you load it sinks- – rear down and nose up!.

    • Indeed – in the P38 the system worked very well, but didn’t last so well. Long term reliability was poor, with replacement needed around 10 years on. Many are now on conventional dampers and coil springs.

  2. Hy rangy friends. I own 4 rangegs. A x plod 1972. A 1990 on gas a 1994 soft dash a p38 x jap import on gaz. Classics are great. Full ove characater. I love my 1994 soft dash it was on air sus but due to it doing the fandngo at the traffic lights i put plus 3 inchs on it &for me its great to get in &out ove as im 6’5″tall &am17&a half stone &an ex grenadier gaurds officer. We used rangys on the rangys at bissily. Twin axcell one by saxon so i all way oneted one or so. I got my p38. Its a loverly thing its now on lpg. 35+per gal ive just reenginerred the air sus. Not bad now. But the hevac is a totaly crap system put ther to make landrover monie with alll ther expertise. Its just to cock up on purpose. Simly use rolls controll rods for heater sevos &wire the fans direct thought servos off modell choppers. I recently got rather ritch due to my dads passing on so im looking for a six wheeler x jankel bro ect. To go with my laterst toy my mullener bentaly. But im a range rover guy all the way but now ther not land rover any more bloody ownd by the hun bmw so my p38 will be my last &as im 62 itll cm out. Jeeps look nice but i wouldent buy a new rangy cos im a nice jewish boy &a hun car not for me as they raosted millions ove my kin ww2. Im thinking ove buying a kenworth truck. As per chris yewbank hes a loverly blue one with large emminox exaust wow beatifull. Took my class 1 in1982 on a antar a bigun so by to all. Rangys u ither love em or hate em. Most cant handel them by world. As spock says live long &prosper. I still love a ts safarie proper land rover as in defender fabulus

  3. Well… reliability definitly improved a lot in 2000-2002 so that’s good to know if you want to have one. Also manual 4.0 V8 is rare spec indeed but let’s not be carried away – it is rare for a reason, and definitely not the sought after kind of rare. If you buy a luxury SUV manual gearbox doesn’t really make sense especially a 4×4 with transfer box – I still select between 12 gears and a sport mode as of: Low gears 1-4 in true manual or terrain response programs 1-4, also high 1-4 or sports mode, obviously fully automatic is available in all but terrain response which is only from the L322 up. NO need to kick the clutch for hours in traffic jam. Oh and the economy? Get a multi point injection LPG as the L322 doesn’t tolerate that but the P38 is OK with it, parts are in a massive supply from eBay. Nanocom is a must for diagnostics and willingness to keep a luxury 4×4 legend alive. Keep them on the road!

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