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Best of British : Land Rover’s Autobiography programme – Part 1

Launched back in 1993, Land Rover’s Autobiography personalisation programme has offered Range Rover buyers an even greater opportunity to push the boundaries of exclusivity through bespoke colour and trim choices.

In the first of two articles charting the programme’s history, David Morgan looks at the Autobiography programme’s role in three generations of the Range Rover.

Perfecting the brilliant or gilding the lily?

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Few observers can doubt that a significant part of Land Rover’s commercial success over the last twenty years has not only come from the number of models offered, but also from the marque’s policy of moving its vehicles upmarket in terms of specification and price. Look at any Land Rover model from the workhorse Defender to the Range Rover and it is the higher specification trim levels that are selling in the biggest numbers.

This onwards and upwards approach is revealed through higher levels of luxury and is then be reflected through charging a premium price for the privilege. In many market territories this has reinforced the aspirational appeal of owning a Land Rover product over those offered by many of its rivals. Part of this success for the Range Rover can be attributed to the Autobiography personalisation programme offering bespoke tailoring opportunities for customers with more exacting requirements.

While some premium manufacturers have simply offered a small range of special order paint options and alternative colours of leather for the seats, Land Rover has taken its own customising service to a level whereby it is now on par with those offered by Bentley and Rolls-Royce.

So how did it all start?

Autobiography – the Ultimate Personalisation

Since the 1980s, Land Rover has progressively moved the Range Rover further upmarket in response to customer demand for higher spec variants. This resulted in equipment specifications and levels of luxury becoming on par with that of some premium brand luxury saloons, but without compromising on its original ‘car for all reasons’ appeal. Even by 1993, when the showroom sticker price for the flagship Vogue SE was £35,000 and the long-wheelbase Vogue LSE variant was in excess of £40,000, demand for the Range Rover showed no signs of waning.

Land Rover was finding that customers wanted more. In line with the trend experienced by other premium car brands, including Jaguar through its then be-spoke Insignia option, Land Rover’s market research had identified there was an increasing amount of interest from Range Rover buyers to be able to specify one-off paint colours and bespoke leather seat facings. This was often to match those of a prized classic car or a high-value supercar they also owned.

Land Rover’s marketing people concluded that, if buyers were prepared to pay for this level of individuality, then why not offer it? At the same time, it would also give the Range Rover’s appeal a further air of exclusivity before the arrival of the second-generation model the following year. A shortlist of names for the personalisation programme was suggested by various Land Rover managers, although it was the one put forward by Chris Langton, a Senior Manager in charge of Land Rover’s Special Vehicles operation, to call it ‘Autobiography’ that was selected.

The Autobiography script itself was largely determined by the same Land Rover people writing the name freehand, with the chosen one then being tidied up by graphic designers in preparation of it becoming a special vinyl decal for the lower tailgate. As the intention was to enable each Range Rover Autobiography to be considered as a one-off, Land Rover Special Vehicles decided not to offer a specific colour palette designed to guide buyers’ preferences.

Instead, it offered customers the ability to indulge in limitless varieties of paintwork colours and leather hides or cloth, right down to specific shades. However, there was still a cautionary reference in the salesman’s guide not to encourage outlandish colours which might potentially affect the vehicle’s resale value.

1993 Land Rover brochure - Range Rover Autobiographys

Officially announced at the 1993 London Motor Show, the Autobiography personalisation programme hardly made a subtle entrance. Nestled on the edge of the Land Rover stand was a Range Rover Autobiography dressed with the optional TWR body styling enhancement pack and its bodywork finished in a vibrant colour called Candy Apple Lamborghini Blue.

Together with TWR Sports alloy wheels from the Accessories brochure and unique black leather seats, these features showcased a more showy personality for the Range Rover. A second example was built to be photographed for the special A5-sized hardback sales brochure to be made available through the dealer network. This was a 4.2 Vogue LSE finished in Tizanrot Red metallic with body-coloured Cyclone alloy wheels and the chrome bumper over-riders available from the Accessories range.

The supporting sales brochure (Pub No. LRSV 008/93) itself was a high quality item produced by the Drury Lane Company of Meriden, with a swirl-effect design on the hardback cover. Inside, there was an image-led format featuring five glossy image plates set against satin-finish paper inset pages. Throughout the brochure was the new ‘Autobiography’ logo juxtaposed with the strapline: ‘The Ultimate Personalisation’.

Each Range Rover Autobiography started off by being completed on the main assembly line before being handed over to the Land Rover Special Vehicles operation (LRSV) located on the far side of the North Works. Here, the vehicle was prepared for its repaint in its bespoke paint finish including, if specified by the customer, the alloy wheels and optional TWR body styling enhancement package. LRSV would also re-trim the seats in whatever colour of Connolly leather or cloth the customer desired, utilising the existing seat pattern.

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The Autobiography decal for the lower tailgate was finished in either black or silver to harmonise with the colour of the standard ‘Range Rover’ decals and sat in place of the ‘Vogue SE’ or ‘Vogue LSE’ identifiers. Once completed, each Range Rover Autobiography was then issued with a Land Rover Special Vehicles contract plate fitted to the bonnet slam panel which provided the individual job number for that vehicle.

Dealers had received official guides for the Autobiography programme by January 1994 and were soon experiencing an encouraging amount of interest in the bespoke opportunities available. Taken with the additional feedback that dealers were also receiving a steady flow of requests for a standard wheelbase Range Rover Vogue SE derivative fitted with the 4.2-litre engine, as already offered in the Gulf States, Land Rover decided to take the next step and introduce the first low-volume series production model to feature the Autobiography moniker.

Known as the 4.2 Vogue SE Autobiography and limited to just 26 examples, according to the dealers’ Sales and Marketing Bulletin, it showcased the full extent of the personalisation opportunities available through the Autobiography programme. This included the 4278cc V8 engine normally reserved for the long-wheelbase Vogue LSE and Light Stone leather seats, which was a colourway offered in a few export markets such as North America.

The bodywork was finished in the Rover Cars colour of British Racing Green metallic, while the decals for the bonnet, tailgate and engine size designator for the front wings were finished in light gold. This special badging and the TWR body styling enhancement package were fitted by LRSV. The 4.2 Vogue SE Autobiography was built in mid July 1994 on a ‘sold order’ basis and despatched to dealers in early August for customer delivery with an on-the-road price of £42,000. Its promotion was handled at a dealer level only with no sales brochure or supplementary product release communication being issued by the Press Office to the media.

Late September 1994 saw the arrival of the second-generation (P38A) Range Rover offering higher levels of luxury as standard. Demand for the first-generation model – now known as the Range Rover Classic – initially remained unaffected in a number of markets where buyers still preferred its styling over that of the P38A.

However, a phased rationalisation of the older model’s line-up had still been implemented from December 1994. As a consequence, only a few additional examples of the first-generation Range Rover Autobiography would have likely followed. Official production figures have not been determined although it is probable that less than 100 examples based on one-off orders and the limited edition variant would have been built in total.

Onwards and upwards with the P38A

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The 1995 London Motor Show saw the official confirmation that the end of production of the Range Rover Classic was now in sight. However, as one door was closing another one was opening in the form of the Autobiography programme now being extended to the P38A generation model. This had been announced in July 1995 although it was not until the arrival of the London Motor Show that potential owners could view a physical car on Stand D2 in Earls Court 1.

This was a 4.6 HSE Autobiography finished in a bespoke maroon colour. Early sales literature confirmed that the Autobiography programme would be exclusive to the 4.0 SE automatic and flagship 4.6 HSE models. As with the Range Rover Classic, there was no formal exterior paint palette to guide customers. However, for the interior, the leather seats were offered in a choice of Standard/Modern or Traditional facings styles with the additional flexibility to select contrasting colours for the seat centre facings and piping over that used on the seat body.

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P38A customers were also offered the choice of two burr walnut fascia upgrades packages – Superior or Deluxe. The Superior option comprised of burr walnut adornments to the instrument binnacle, dashboard fascia, air conditioning fascia, gearshift surround, ashtray lid and gearshift knob, while the centre console and fascia side cheeks were finished in leather with a burr walnut top rail.

The Deluxe alternative added to this with burr walnut to the top of the cubby box lid, electric windows switch panel, rear ashtray and air vents surround and handbrake lever grip. Completing the Deluxe package were a handbrake lever gaitor and cubby box body trimmed in leather. The veneers were made by a specialist company based near London where thin strips of real burr walnut were used and adhered to the moulding using a combination of heat and vacuum pressure.

The wood was then rubbed down with fine abrasives to produce a smooth finish before six coats of clear lacquer were applied. This process enabled other items, such as the gear knob and handbrake lever grip, to be offered with a burr walnut finish, although for international markets these two items were finished in leather to match the main interior colourway.

The availability of a wooden steering wheel rim would follow within a few years as an additional option and used tulipwood from poplar trees which had a long grain and helped pass the impact tests. The build process for each P38A Range Rover Autobiography was complex and time-consuming as it involved utilising the specialist services of a number of external contractors. Following completion of its assembly as a mainline -built model finished in Beluga Black paint (Java Black from late 1997), each Range Rover Autobiography was then transferred to the LRSV operation.

Here it was carefully stripped of its removable body panels such as the doors, front wings, bonnet and tailgate sections in readiness for its hand-finished re-paint in the non-standard colour specified by the customer. Minor interior trim such as the main door casings were also removed to ensure the new paint finish included the back of the doors so that the customer would not be able to see the original base colour.

However, the engine bay was left untouched in its original black colour as it was not feasible to remove the engine and its ancillaries in order to re-paint it. The re-paint was entrusted to XK Engineering of Coventry who would cut back the microns of original black paintwork before three coats of the new specified base colour were sprayed by hand. Each coat was made up of several fine layers, creating the equivalent of a dozen coats or more. The whole process took over 100 man-hours to complete.

According to former Land Rover Special Vehicles Marketing Manager Mike Gould, the standards achieved were higher than those set by Rolls Royce. The all-leather seats were re-trimmed in the required colour and grade of Connolly leather by Anderson and Ryan, who were also based in Coventry. This process required special patterns to be created as leather is not as flexible compared to vinyl, which is often used for finishing the seatbacks found in mainline specification examples.

The price list dated November 1995 shows that paint options started at £3000 for a bespoke solid finish, rising to £4000 for a three-coat pearlescent finish. Special leather and piping for the seats was £2200 (or £2450 for the addition of perforations in the seat centres), lambswool over-rugs were £350 while the Superior wood choice was £1800 and the Deluxe upgrade £2750. When taken together the prospect of spending over £55,000 on a factory-prepared Range Rover was now a reality.

That’s entertainment for you

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The arrival of the 1996 British International Motor Show at the NEC saw the Autobiography programme displaying a further onwards and upwards approach. In an aptly titled press release declaring that ‘Land Rover Special Vehicles extends the Autobiography service in response to customer demand’, the wide range of personalising opportunities now included technology.

Showcasing the latest cosmetic and technical details was a 4.6 HSE Autobiography finished in Ascot Green metallic, with the special colour now extending to new colour-coordinated bumpers, sill mouldings and door mirrors. This was one of twelve colours to be offered in a new exterior colour palette aimed at those owners who did want to go to the level of selecting a one-off colour.

The Autobiography colour palette comprised of metallic beige, silver and grey, two shades of red, four green and three blue. Complementing this were swatches of leathers in twelve different colours to help guide customers whose level of individuality did not extend to choosing exacting shades for the seats. There were also lambswool over-rug carpets offered in nine different colours and a choice of four different film tints for the side glazing.

The Motor Show car’s interior featured Lightstone as the main colourway which was complemented by stitched Lichen coloured seats with contrasting Wild Sage piping and Arden Green lambswool overrugs. Rear seat passengers were treated to folding burr walnut picnic tables and the ultimate in in-car entertainment – the availability of a television and video system with VHS player. This comprised of a TV screen in the back of each front seat head restraint and infra-red remote headphones to listen through. Together with a medium tint for the bodyside glazing, the price of this display vehicle was an eye-watering £61,190.43.

What was not included in the price was the new Philips CARiN satellite navigation system which would become available from Spring 1997. To assist in the launch of this new feature and the other enhancements in the Autobiography programme, Land Rover enlisted the services of TV personality and long-standing Range Rover customer, Noel Edmonds, who made a special appearance on Press Day.

Mike Gould was the Marketing Manager for Land Rover Special Vehicles at that time and had effectively re-launched the Autobiography programme with new features. At the same time he had also looked to gain some control of it through the introduction of a palette of suggested colour schemes which conveyed a distinctly British taste. There was also a proper dealer guide to aid Land Rover dealers when handling customers’ enquiries and a wooden presentation case containing colour swatches for the exterior colours and leather seat hides.

A new A4-sized four-page sales brochure was also launched under Mike’s direction, with considerable input from Sam Adams. This contained rich references to craftsmanship and the luxury of burr walnut and leather. The Autobiography Sales Guide shows that, as part of the ordering process for either a bespoke colour or one from the Autobiography palette, the dealer was required to request the base vehicle exterior in a general colour name rather than the special colour’s actual name. This ensured the vehicle documentation mirrored the colour of the specially painted vehicle.

So, if a customer had specified Iris metallic from the Autobiography paint palette, it would be recorded on the relevant vehicle documentation as being finished in Autobiography Pink, including when registered as a new vehicle. Only on the actual Autobiography order form would the special paint colour’s name and code be specified. The introduction of an Autobiography colour palette meant that vehicles specified in one of the twelve colours would be re-painted in-house by LRSV whereas the painting of vehicles specified in a bespoke colour would continue to be undertaken externally by XK Engineering.

Final trimming and re-assembly would continue to be completed by LRSV. Once completed, each example was then fitted with a Land Rover Special Vehicles contract plate on the radiator top panel below the bonnet and an Autobiography decal on the lower tailgate, specified in either a black, silver or gold finish. According to the dealer’s Autobiography Product Directory, the lead time for a Range Rover Autobiography would be increased from a few weeks to two months, depending on the specification of vehicle ordered.

Examples specified with leather enhancements or interior wood upgrades added around two weeks to the overall lead time while an exterior re-paint added four weeks. By the time the 1997 London Motor Show arrived, Land Rover was attempting to push buyers’ imaginations on what could be achieved even further. For starters the Autobiography exterior colour palette would be increased to 25 colours for the 1998 calendar year. This comprised of five ‘sports’ colours and twenty ‘traditional’ colours whose appeal ranged from being restrained and elegant to contemporary.

In the case of the ‘sports’ colour Volcano, which was the chosen colour for the Motor Show display car, it also exuded a high impact presence. Many of these new, more vibrant colours were overseen by Rob Myers, who had taken up the post of Marketing Manager for LRSV several months earlier. For the interior there was further luxury in the form of a Luxury Trim Pack where the glovebox lid, lower fascia on the driver’s side and door grab handles could be re-trimmed in leather finished in one of the four standard mainline colourways of Ash Grey, Lightstone, Light Granite or Saddle.

In addition, the door release handles were plated in a bright chrome finish. For those looking for greater individuality the choice of special colours of leather available through the Autobiography programme had been increased to twenty five, with the sales literature stating there were over 30,000 combinations for the seat design alone. The Autobiography Product Directory confirmed that many of these options could now be specified on the majority of trim levels in the Range Rover’s line-up, although the TV and Video system was not available on models specified with manual transmission. One-off colours and those from the Autobiography palette were only available on the 4.6 HSE.

Prices for the interior trim options included £411.25 for lambswool carpet over-rugs, £763.75 for tinted security glass, £934.12 for the luxury trim pack, £1116.25 for rear seat picnic tables, £3225.37 for special leather seats with perforations and £3231,25 for the Deluxe wood veneer interior. The TV and Video system was listed as having a recommended retail price of £9341.25.

Meanwhile, a special metallic/micatallic paint finish for the exterior, including the body styling enhancement package was £4811.62. Tick most of the boxes on the order form and it was now possible to be sitting behind the wheel of a specially-commissioned Range Rover Autobiography costing in excess of £70,000.

Special brew – limited editions and design concepts

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Land Rover had long recognised that elements of the Autobiography programme could be used to add substance to low-volume limited-edition variants aimed at offering a higher level of exclusivity over a regular mainline variant, but which did not have the same lead time as an individually ordered Autobiography. This, in turn, also helped to promote some of the personalising opportunities available. The first of these for the P38A model was the 4.6 HSE ‘Plus’ announced in July 1997.

Finished in British Racing Green metallic – a colour already offered in the Autobiography colour palette – this limited edition of 100 vehicles featured colour-keyed bumpers, sills and door mirrors, with a cream pinstripe to link in with the main interior colourway. Inside, the Lightstone leather seats featured contrasting dark green piping to link in with the exterior colour. These enhancements provided an obvious colour and trim link with the 1994 4.2 Vogue SE Autobiography.

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A further 30 examples known as the ‘CARiN’ Autobiography were built and they showcased more of the variations of special colour and trim available through the Autobiography programme. This included a colour-keyed front bib spoiler, Philips CARiN navigation system and a gold ‘Autobiography’ decal on the lower tailgate. LRSV also fitted the Deluxe burr walnut set and re-trimmed the seats in full pale Parchment leather with Lincoln Green contrasting piping; a colour which extended to the carpet overrugs. The 4.6 CARiN Autobiography had a showroom price of £63,000.

The flexibility of colour and trim opportunities would be emphasised through further limited edition variants offered over the next four years. For the interior, this would range from special leather hides, contrasting seat-edge piping and additional surfaces trimmed in leather, to different colours of lacquer for the wood trim. On the outside, it predominantly focused on colour-coding items of trim such as bumpers and sill extensions to utilising one or two colours from the Autobiography colour palette.

Not surprisingly, Land Rover decided to give greater stature to the Autobiography badge itself by replacing the vinyl decal with a proper moulded badge featuring chrome lettering on a dark outline. This was offered from June 1997 and would be seen on two special Autobiography-based concepts unveiled at the 1998 British International Motor Show. The first of these was the ‘Sports Concept’ featuring machine-turned aluminium for the window switch panel, gear lever surround, climate control panel and instrument surround.

Charcoal ‘Sparkle finish’ veneer to the dashboard and steering wheel rim added a welcome variation to the familiar brown-finish burr walnut, while seats trimmed in Ash Grey leather and suede with Light Granite piping created a contemporary ambience. The interior was completed with a Philips CARiN navigation system, rear TV/video screens and sports drilled pedals.

The exterior featured Deep Windsor Blue micatallic paintwork taken from the Autobiography colour palette, which also extended to the spokes of the 18-inch Pro Sport alloy wheel design. The ‘Mobile Office’ concept, finished in one-off Ming Blue with a new 18-inch Hurricane alloy wheel design, was about emphasising the ‘array of high technology features for the busy company executive on the move.’

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Together with sharing the technology found in the Sports Concept, the Mobile Office also boosted a fully-integrated PC with a remote infra red keyboard and a seat back mounted, powered tilt screen, twin mobile phones and a fax machine installation. However, the significance of these two concepts would quickly be overlooked by the media in preference to delivering news stories that focused on the poor productivity of the Rover Cars division and the ongoing quality and warranty issues of Land Rover vehicles.

Meanwhile, plans for a comprehensive update of the P38A complete with a BMW V12 engine option had also been dropped by Rover Group’s parent BMW in preference to a mild cosmetic update scheduled for the end of 1999. Land Rover therefore decided to maintain the press’s interest in the P38A by offering them the chance to appraise some of the opportunities available through the Autobiography programme. Approximately twelve Range Rover 4.6 Autobiographys were completed in April 1999 to support a media event being run the following month by Bill Baker, the Director of Land Rover’s communications programmes, who was on secondment to the UK from Land Rover North America.

The event started in the Cotswolds and ended up at Eastnor Castle. The vehicles were all registered on consecutive registration numbers, starting from T520 JOP and were finished in either blue, red or green exterior colours. Each example came fitted with Philips CARiN satellite navigation, Deluxe specification burr walnut trim and Cheshire grade leather finished in Lightstone with a contrasting secondary colour linked to the exterior colour. Two of the more memorable examples were T528 JOP and T529 JOP.

The former example finished in Wimbledon Green with a Lightstone and green interior colour combination, had regularly appeared in various print publications and on several motoring programmes. T529 JOP had been specified in vibrant Azul Blue micatallic, with the colour also being used as a secondary colour for the interior on leather-trimmed surfaces such as the seat centre facings, glove box lids and door grab pulls.

Beyond its role as a Land Rover demonstration vehicle, this example was loaned to Yorkshire Television for use in the television soap Emmerdale where it would be driven by the character Lady Tara Thornfield, played by Anna Brecon, from September 2000 until December 2001. The Autobiography programme would also be given a further boost by a number of high profile celebrities seen driving a Range Rover Autobiography. These included Premiership footballers David Beckham and Michael Owen, Boyzone member Ronan Keating and TV personality Noel Edmonds (above).

By the time the 2000 Model Year Range Rover line-up was announced at the 1999 London Motor Show there had been further enhancements to the Autobiography programme. This included a Premium Wood Kit which was based on the Deluxe Interior Wood Kit but included replacement fascia rails and individual door cappings. Nine alternative combinations of wood grain and colour were offered in the Premium Wood Kit comprising of Poplar, Bird’s-Eye Maple, Burr Maple, Lace Wood and Burr Walnut in either Classic Green or Rowanberry Red colours.

This could be extended to the handbrake grip or gearshift on request. The Luxury Trim Pack (now re-named as the Leather Enhancement Pack) was supplemented by the Leather Door Contrast Pack where the door grab handles and lower door inserts were trimmed in leather. Meanwhile, a Chromium Enhancement Pack offered a mirror-like chromium finish to the surround trim for the gearshift release lever, interior door locks and mid-range speakers. Other appointments on the options list included a heated rear seat and a rear console designed to house a fax machine, entertainment system, refrigerator or mini-bar.

The level of interior technology was also enhanced to include the availability of a front-screen TV with or without a video system, which was only available with the mainline-fitted navigation system and when also specified with the rear dual-screen TV/video system. Completing these enhancements was the opportunity to extend the colour-coding of exterior trim to the radiator grille and headlamp base trim.

In addition, the 18-inch Triple Sport alloy wheel design could be specified with its spokes either colour-coded to the vehicle’s main colour or finished in a contrasting colour. As an alternative, the 18-inch Hurricane design could be finished with a shadow-chrome finish and either a colour-coded or contrasting colour applied to the outer side of each twin-blade spoke. This was referred to as the Pro-Line design in some Land Rover publicity material. The finishing touch (for some) was the ability to specify the Autobiography badge plated in 18-carat gold, although most owners opted for the high-quality chrome finish.  Alternatively, the badge could be deleted for a more understated look.

The June 2000 issue of the Autobiography Sales Guide suggests that many of the Autobiography options were now available across all trim levels and engine options in the Range Rover’s line-up. Some of these enhancements would filter through to two exclusive limited edition models with a very high level of special trim features that had undoubtedly come out of the Autobiography programme. Announced in October 1999, the first of these was the Holland and Holland limited just 400 examples built for the home market and North America.

The coachwork featured a unique Tintern Green micatallic paint finish and Pro-Line alloy wheels. The seats were re-trimmed in dark tan leather with Lightstone piping to provide an obvious reference to the country sports theme while the wood veneers had an ‘oiled stock’ appearance intended to resemble the stock of a Holland & Holland shotgun. The Linley was an even more exclusive offering with a higher level of made-to-order features conceived in collaboration with the Queen’s nephew, Viscount David Linley.

Inspired by his Metropolitan range of furniture with its distinctive black finish, the Range Rover Linley featured hand-sprayed solid black paintwork, stainless steel lettering and a shadow chrome finish to the Hurricane alloy wheels. Inside, there was the highest grade black leather which now extended to the headlining and parcel shelf. Piano Black veneers with ‘starburst’ graphics was another unique feature while a leather and Piano Black wood finish steering wheel rim with steel rivet inserts was said to reflect traditional British car design.

Once each example had left the mainline assembly process, it was then handed over to LRSV which would then spend a further 100 hours hand-finishing the vehicle to ensure it offered the very best levels of craftsmanship to the customer. With a showroom price of £100,000 the intention was to complete a further ten examples after the initial prototype example. In the end, just six examples were completed – the prototype, four production examples for the home market and one left-hand drive example sold to a young buyer in North America.

Fleeting chance with the Freelander and Discovery

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The arrival of the 2000 British International Motor Show saw Land Rover announcing Autobiography concepts based on the Freelander five-door and Discovery. Two examples of the Freelander Autobiography had been built for promotional purposes. The first one was finished in silver with colour-keyed bumpers and lower tailgate trim and was used for the official press photos.

The second example looked more eye-catching with its distinctive Azul Blue micatallic paintwork and colour-coded bumpers and door mirrors. This latter vehicle was displayed at the NEC and it conveyed as much about special order paint colours and interior trim finishes as it did the latest in-car technology. Based on the 2.5-litre V6 ES variant, the Motor Show vehicle sported an external brightwork pack finished in Sparkle Silver and the new 18-inch Vortex alloy wheel design available from the Accessories range.

The interior featured Ash Grey leather and Alcantara seat facings with Azul Blue and red twin-needle stitching; a colour scheme that also extended to the steering wheel rim and transmission grip. An Anthracite-finish poplar wood enhancement kit with chrome bezels for the heater controls provided a contemporary nod towards luxury, while the technology theme included a satellite navigation system mounted on top of the dashboard and TV screens and a DVD player for rear seat passengers.

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For reasons unknown, neither of the two Discovery Autobiographys models built, both 4.0-litre V8s, were displayed at the NEC. The first example was finished in Damson micatallic and featured Pro-Line alloy wheels and a painted bumper kit which extended to the wheel arch extensions, radiator grille and sill covers. This example was used for the official press photos.

The second example was finished in British Racing Green metallic with the interior featuring Lincoln Green leather seats piped in Bahama Beige and a premium wood kit finished in green burr walnut. It, too, had Pro-Line alloy wheels and painted exterior trim. The technology on offer extended to a CARiN navigation system with Traffic Master and the availability of a Sony Playstation and DVD player for rear seat passengers. Rather than featuring a Discovery Autobiography on their Motor Show stand, Land Rover instead chose to display a Crimson micatallic Range Rover Autobiography with gold finish decals.

The ability to colour-match interior trim to the main colourway was already comprehensive enough, although this Motor Show vehicle now extended the theme to the steering wheel centre boss and dashboard instrumentation surround moulding. Together with a fridge located between the two rear seats, the retail cost of this extravagant looking vehicle was £117,000. Land Rover’s intention to extend the Autobiography personalisation programme to the Freelander and Discovery even went as far as a sales brochure being produced.

However, for reasons unknown, it appears that the aforementioned four promotional vehicles, together with a three-door Freelander finished in yellow, were the only examples built. One possible explanation for this was put forward by motoring author Eric Dymock in his 2013 book, the Land Rover File: 65th Anniversary Edition. He suggests that Land Rover’s management felt that the Autobiography programme’s perceived exclusivity with Range Rover buyers would potentially be undermined if it was extended to other Land Rover models, so it decided not to progress any further with the idea.

For the Range Rover, the only addition to its already comprehensive repertoire was the option of a DVD player for rear seat passengers. Some of the existing Autobiography colours, trim and technology options would instead influence feature content for forthcoming special edition models due to be launched during 2001. The official Land Rover retail price list dated March 2001 listed 29 separate choices relating to colour, trim and equipment.

It confirmed that the minimum order value for specifying elements from the Autobiography programme was £440. The more affordable items available included a duotone leather steering wheel (£380), leather door contrast pack (£423), chromium enhancement pack (£270), lambswool over-rugs (£355) and heated rear seats £360). At the other end of the price spectrum was the cost of special exterior paint at £5035, colour-keyed body styling enhancement pack (£1223) and painted Triple Sport alloy wheels (£2335). For the occupants there was a Premium interior wood kit (£3515), Premium rear picnic tables (£1215), special leather seat trim (£2241), front and dual rear screen TV and video pack (£6925) or front and rear wide screen TVs with DVD (£5200).

L322 makes it a hat-trick success

Range Rover Anniversary

The last P38A-generation Range Rover rolled off the assembly line on 13 December 2001, to be replaced by the all-new, third-generation L322 model. While L322 represented an enormous leap forward in terms of technology, luxury and quality, the P38A had delivered a level of personalising opportunities that would not be surpassed. Production numbers for the P38A-generation Range Rover Autobiography are currently unknown although within Land Rover circles it is widely considered that most examples would have been based on the 4.6 HSE or Vogue.

The L322 Range Rover with its BMW-supplied M57 3-litre TD6 turbo-diesel and M62 4.4-litre V8 petrol engines officially went on sale on 15 March 2002. The plan was to continue offering Range Rover owners the chance to select more exclusive colour and trim options through the Autobiography programme, although the majority of these would now be applied during the mainline assembly process. The availability of the Autobiography programme was not formally announced until three months later at the Canary Wharf International Moto Expo event.

Two vehicles were on display to reveal some of the personalising opportunities available. The first example was finished in Spectral Red chromaflair paint with a Jet Black leather trimmed interior, Grand Black lacquer wood veneer and a mobile theatre system. The second example was finished in British Racing Green coachwork and had duotone Aspen and Ivory leather seats with a Vavona burl walnut wood package and mobile theatre system. Both vehicles showed some of the colour and trim permutations on offer.

This included 25 special exterior colours (nine of them were new) and a colour-keyed body kit that extended to the front number plate plinth and vents in the bonnet and front wings. These colours included new Chromaflair colours such as Spectral Blue and the aforementioned Spectral Red. Through the Autobiography programme L322 customers could select from a choice of four additional wood veneer choices in the form of Grand Black, Vavona Burl Amber, Oak Anthracite or Burr Maple Prussian Blue. There were also ten new interior trim colourways, including five duotone combinations unique to the Autobiography programme for the seats and steering wheel rim.

img494 - 2004 British Motor Show - 600DPI

Perforated leather seat panels were also available, with the presence of leather extending to the door grabs, fascia top cover and upper grab handles. In line with its predecessor, the L322 also emphasised enhanced security through a Supaglass anti-intrusion protection option and higher technology courtesy of the latest in-car entertainment systems. This included a Harman Kardon Logic 7 sound system and a TV/DVD system featuring 8.5-inch screens for rear seat passengers and a six-disc autochanger, where one passenger could be watching television while the other watched a DVD.

The launch price list shows that a solid, metallic or micatallic Autobiography colour cost £5350, while the two chromaflair paint options or a repaint in a unique colour was £10,000. The enhanced leather interior was £2650, with the Wood Package adding a further £2300 to the showroom price. Tick all the options boxes on the Autobiography order form, including selecting the gold-plated Autobiography tailgate badge, and it added a further £22,000 to the showroom price of a regular Vogue.

The feature content of technology was part of the objective behind the Range Rover Autobiography Edition announced on 3 November 2003. Based on the flagship V8 Vogue, the Autobiography Edition offered a Logic 7 Sound system with 14 speakers and sub-woofer, Piano Black wood trim and an all-black Jet leather interior. On the outside were 20-inch alloy wheels from the Accessories brochure and a choice of two regular mainline exterior colours in the form of Java Black or Zambesi Silver.

Limited to 125 examples, the Autobiography Edition had a showroom price of £65,995. For a further £4000 there was the DVD pack for rear seat passengers, with an in-dash screen providing three-screen viewing when the vehicle was parked up. The Sales and Marketing Bulletin confirms that the DVD option would be fitted to just 25 vehicles. The build sequence was done in two batches; the first one was completed in September of that year followed by the second one in October.

Unlike other Range Rover Autobiographies, this limited edition would not have a commission plate on the slam panel even though it was still considered to be a ‘full’ Autobiography, albeit without the long lead time usually associated with the Autobiography programme. This was emphasised by it wearing the latest rendition of the ‘Autobiography’ badge on the tailgate which comprised of an ingot-style badge with the ‘Autobiography’ script written entirely in lower-case lettering. Following its success, a second Autobiography Edition was announced in January 2005.

According to the Sales and Marketing Bulletin, by now 80 per cent of Range Rover sales volume comprised of the flagship Vogue derivative, although few buyers were trading up to an Autobiography specification. Land Rover’s Marketing Department concluded that this was down to factors such as long lead times, a lack of awareness of the personalisation opportunities available and even concerns about residual value risk. The latest Autobiography Edition clearly needed to address these issues.

Offered with a choice of 4.4-litre V8 petrol or 3-litre TD6 diesel power, the Autobiography Edition was limited to 200 examples – 50 with the V8 petrol engine and 150 with the TD6. Aside from re-affirming the popularity of the oil-burner in overall sales of the Range Rover, this would also be the first low volume series Range Rover Autobiography that enabled customers to specify a diesel engine. The existing mainline colours of Java micatallic and Cairns Blue metallic were offered, with the colour split being 65 per cent in favour of Java Black.

The chosen exterior colour would also determine the available colour theme for the interior. Examples specified with a Java Black paint finish came with an all-black Jet leather and Burr Walnut trim interior, while those finished in Cairns Blue came with a Navy and Parchment leather duotone combination and Cherry wood trim. As with the 2003 Autobiography Edition, the Logic 7 sound system became the main technology feature. The Autobiography Edition also showcased two new features in the form of extended wood trim finish on the door pull surrounds and the availability of 19-inch alloy wheels on TD6-powered variants, which had just received engineering sign-off.

Both of these features would eventually filter down to regular mainline variants. Prices for the Autobiography Edition ranged from £59,995 for the TD6 diesel to £64,995 for the V8 petrol. Production commenced in December 2004 and ended the following month. In many ways the apparent lack of awareness of the personalisation opportunities available was rather surprising as, despite similar personalisation programmes being offered by rivals such as Mercedes-Benz with their Designo individualisation options, the Autobiography programme was more comprehensive.

The 2005 Range Rover Autobiography Leather Options brochure shows that, along with there being seven standard colours and ten Autobiography duotone combinations for the seats, there was also an exclusive range of leather hides. This comprised of fourteen special colours, five of which had not been carried over from the P38A. In addition, an extended leather pack delivered leather-trimmed door grabs, cubby box, handbrake gaitor and gear-shift gaitor. It was also possible to have the ‘Autobiography’ signature embroidered into the facings of the head restraints.

Completing the interior personalising opportunities were sheep skin overrugs offered in a choice of nine different colours. The popularity of the two Autobiography Editions and the 35th Anniversary Edition in late 2005 with its own unique colour and specially-commissioned trim further enhanced the stature of the Autobiography programme, but without the associated long lead times.

This would lead to a decision being made whereby the Autobiography name would perform a more regular role. In July 2008 Land Rover announced at the British International Motor Show that the Autobiography name would now head the Range Rover line-up for the 2009 Model Year above the current flagship Vogue SE derivative. With a showroom price of £72,995 for the 3.6-litre TDV8 diesel Autobiography and £76,495 for the 4.2-litre V8 Supercharged Autobiography, the most notable enhancement was the use of semi-aniline leather for the seats.

The use of leather also extended to the dashboard fascia, door casings, door bins, centre console and edging binding for the floor mats. Additional exterior colour options together with a new 20-inch diamond-turned twin-seven-spoke alloy wheel design provided further distinction. Sat on the lower tailgate was the established ingot-style ‘Autobiography’ badge featuring bright-finish silver lettering against a brushed silver background. This enhanced level of opulence on a mainline-built variant would represent an intention to deliver more luxurious and expensive Range Rover offerings as part of the mainline build schedule, together with extending the Autobiography model designation to other Range Rover model ranges.

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2 Comments on "Best of British : Land Rover’s Autobiography programme – Part 1"

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  1. Chris C says:

    One of the advantages LRSV had was that we could do things quickly and used our own IT system and suppliers who were typically small, local and expert in what they did. This included window tinting which was a popular 38a Autobiography option and done by a brilliant specialist in London. The problem was that we became a bit too successful/grew very fast and others within Rover Group/BMW tried to muscle in and inevitably slowed the whole job up. However, it was recognised that effectively dismantling/rebuilding vehicles was not as efficient, and could have quality consequences, as supplying parts for initial line fit.

    It was true that we got involved with many celebs, eg I remember a specially trimmed child seat being made for David Beckham. Rowan Atkinson visited one day and was rather reserved except when he said “hello Bob” in a very Blackadder voice when introduced to a guy in the assembly area.

    Inevitably we got a few timewasters – I remember one “youf” ringing up to see if we could colour match his new Bentley – he sounded very disappointed when I said “Yes” since I guess he had just found that his pride and joy wasn’t as exclusive as he thought it was…

    Much of what we developed was to later become mainstream features so the task was always to innovate and come up with new ideas, eg In Car Entertainment .

  2. Chris C says:

    On the subject of the tailgate badge, the original ones were very prone to peeling. At one stage it felt like whenever somebody took over Marketing responsibility the first thing they did would be to change the badge even if we had only just tooled up the current one. The gold-plated one was a worry since we thought it might attract thieves and vagabonds but it unwittingly had some rather sharp points and edges which might have dissuaded them!

    One thing we had to be very careful of was people trying to buy badges and pass ordinary Range Rovers as Autobiographies they had cobbled up themselves with dodgy paint jobs and poor non-genuine aftermarket interior woodkits. It’s true about the artwork – I spent ages trying to find out what font it was done in only to be told that, in the very early days, they had tried a number of styles only for somebody senior to handwrite it and say “copy that” and, in all fairness, it was the best version!

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