Raise a glass to : 25 years of Land Rover’s Autobiography personalisation programme

Much has already been written about the history of the Autobiography nameplate here on AROnline and how it has helped take the price and exclusivity of Range Rovers ever further upmarket. However, October 2018 actually marked the 25th anniversary of when we first saw the name adorning a Range Rover.

Cast your mind back to the 1990s, and it seemed most premium car makers were offering their customers bespoke colour and trim commissions under a fancy name. For starters there was Jaguar with its Insignia personalising programme, followed by Audi and a choice of special Lifestyle paint colours. Latecomer Mercedes-Benz decided to go the whole hog with its Designo range of exotic looking paint colours and leather seat hides. So it was natural Land Rover might try something similar to help maintain sales interest in the Range Rover until the second-generation model was ready to be wheeled out.

While some manufacturers’ special colour and trim services were discontinued as time progressed, Land Rover’s Autobiography personalisation programme seemed to gather pace and offer even more initiatives – all of which helped push the price of a new Range Rover to eye-watering levels.

Autobiography: making its debut

Land Rover’s Autobiography personalisation programme was revealed on Tuesday, 19 October 1993 – Press Day at the London Motor Show. Range Rover enthusiasts must have had something of a start when they ventured from the Warwick Road entrance of Earls Court onto the Land Rover stand in Hall 1, for the future wasn’t just about drab green or Westminster Grey.

Displayed alongside the regular three-model line-up in their conservative hues was a Range Rover Autobiography sporting a vibrant shade of blue which also extended to its optional body styling enhancement package. Despite looking rather extravagant when compared with Land Rover’s other offerings, it won over my enthusiasm in an instant. I soon learnt the colour had the equally outrageous name of Candy Apple Lamborghini Blue.

Inside the motor show car was black leather for the seats. On the tailgate there was a black ‘Autobiography’ vinyl script which had actually been created by a group of Land Rover managers writing the name freehand before the chosen one was handed over to their graphic designers for further refining.

Production complexity issues involving a one-off paint colour or fitting bespoke leather seats were avoided by building the car as a mainline vehicle before handing it over to Land Rover Special Vehicles. From here the vehicles were partially dismantled in preparation to be repainted in the chosen colour by a specialist sub-contractor based in Coventry. For those vehicles specified with bespoke colour leather seats, their seats were removed and sent away to another sub-contractor, namely Anderson and Ryan based in Coventry, to be re-trimmed. Once completed Land Rover Special Vehicles (LRSV) then refitted them. LRSV would also fit the alternative ‘Autobiography’ monogrammed wood trim offered as a separate option.

Onwards and upwards

The arrival of the second-generation (P38A) Range Rover in September 1994 would signal the next chapter in the Autobiography programme where further personalising opportunities would be offered. At the same time there was the need to incorporate some discipline into the programme in order to reduce some of the associated build complexities. That meant a palette of 22 exterior paint colours and 25 leather colours for the interior to try and guide buyers – of course, if you still wanted something truly bespoke, then Land Rover Special Vehicles would happily oblige.

Do you fancy two contrasting colours of leather for the seat facings? In fact, why not have a third colour for the seat edge piping? Why not go further and extend the main contrasting colour choice to additional leather surfaces such as the door pulls, steering wheel rim, centre floor console, glove box lids and even the transmission and handbrake grips?

Did I hear you say that you want Superior or Deluxe levels of wood trim for the interior, including folding picnic tables for rear seat passengers and even a choice of different types of wood? But, of course!  And did you select to have the radiator grille and alloy wheel spokes colour match the painted body styling enhancement pack? Not a problem…

Technology also now figured in the Autobiography programme.  For rear seat passengers there was a TV screen mounted in the rear of each front seat head restraint linked to either a VHS cassette player or DVD player. Meanwhile, the driver could have a Philips CARiN satellite navigation system which also had terrestrial television capability when the vehicle was stationary. And so the personalising opportunities went on. Only a Rolls Royce or a Bentley could offer more colour and trim permutations.

In many ways the P38A Range Rover represented the zenith of special colour and trim personalising opportunities available when compared to those offered on its predecessor and even more recent generations of Range Rover. Tick all the options boxes on the Autobiography Order Form and it was possible to select a P38A Range Rover costing in excess of £100,000 – in other words, double the new price of the regular spec 4.6 HSE/Vogue on which it was based. And some owners certainly did that, while many of the Autobiography programme’s initiatives would also be used for some special edition models.

The third-generation (L322) Range Rover which went on sale from March 2002 was a real game changer for the brand in many ways and also put it firmly ahead of the competition when it came to luxury. Yet the personalising possibilities available under the Autobiography programme were deliberately more restricted so that they could be incorporated into the mainline build process.

A change of direction for the Autobiography name

By 2008, Land Rover indicated that it wanted to offer an even higher spec model for the L322 line-up to sit above the familiar Vogue SE derivative, so they chose to utilise the Autobiography name. This would be a completely mainline built derivative offered with a greater choice of interior colourways for the seats, while also extending the Autobiography’s name and associated special colour palette to export markets such as North America.

At this point I remember thinking that perhaps some of the exclusivity of the Autobiography name might become diluted from turning it into a mainline identity. However, it seemed those thoughts were unjustified as Land Rover continued to offer an exclusive range of Autobiography colours which could cost up to £10,000 to specify.

Extending the appeal of the Autobiography name eventually saw it being rolled out onto other Range Rover model ranges such as the Sport and Evoque from 2009 and 2014 respectively. In these guises the Autobiography derivative was more about exterior styling enhancement features and heightened levels of interior opulence.

By 2014 much of the Autobiography’s original remit to deliver bespoke commissions would come under Jaguar Land Rover’s new Special Vehicles Operation based in Ryton-on-Dunsmore. This left the Autobiography name to concentrate on delivering even higher priced and specified variants, particularly for the fourth generation (L405) Range Rover.

Looking back on its 25-year journey, the Autobiography personalising programme as a bespoke commissioning option certainly had staying power and won Land Rover a few new customers along the way. However, whether it actually makes a specially-commissioned Range Rover any more desirable than a regular mainline-built variant is highly questionable. After all, is it more a case of vanity than raising the standards of an already agreeable vehicle?

Whatever your views might be, the Autobiography name is clearly here to stay and now playing a central role in giving Land Rover’s flagship model a further upwards push to take on the might of superluxury SUVs from the likes of Bentley and Rolls-Royce that are gradually being announced.

So, here’s a glass raised to 25 years of the Autobiography personalisation programme.

16 Comments

  1. The person to ask would be the man who in 1947 drew the shape that became the first Land Rover in the sand on a north Wales beach. As for making something so expensive – something that is nothing more than a means of getting from A to B – as to take the price and exclusivity of Range Rovers ever further upmarket, when the world is drowning in pollution, over population and the mass movement of unwanted people – at least it helps keep the riff-raff out of Waitrose car parks. Happy New Year!

  2. I remember seeing an Autobiography in 1998 when I was just 3 years old…….It was a revelation for me as it was the first car I ever sat in that had picnic tables and Tom/Jerry playing on the rear screens ;)…The P38A was my first memory of Autobiography and will always be my favorite out of all 4-generations

  3. I see JLR is getting rid of 5,000 of its 40,000 workers. What does that say about what has become a “luxury” car maker? Most ridiculous is JLR’s dependence on selling its cars in Communist China.

    • Indeed, closely followed by quitting the utility/workhorse/agricultural market, whose owners have long since driven into the welcoming arms of Mitsubishi and Toyota – by the million.

      Today’s LR range is a collection of bling-wagons, almost indistinguishable from each other and driven by urbanites pretending to be rich but whose only hope of ‘owning’ an LR is to put it on finance and run it on cheap diesel. Jack up interest rates and congestion charges and demonise diesel and… crunch!

      Most worryingly, JLR management’s answer to this is to… yep… cut costs. No imagination, no vision, no new models or strategy, no nothing. Shoving a battery in one model is NOT visionary – even less so when there’s nowhere to charge the wretched things.

      Yes, I know it’s easy to criticise from afar. But while the motor industry as a whole is having a tough time (after years of boom times, lest we forget), much of JLR’s problems are self-inflicted. Blaming Brexit is just lazy.

      • The most obvious example of JLR’s attitude towards the ‘workhorse’ market has been its failure to design and have in production the successor to the Defender when it last rolled off the line. There were five years or more of knowing that date, yet we have seen no replacement. In fact, from what I read, there will be no replacement – just another tarted up 4×4 with the pretence of being a working off-roader. Who will buy it? Will the armed forces have to buy Gwagens, Unimogs, or some other foreign vehicles? Australia has done just that with the Defender-based Perentie coming to the end of its useful life.

        • Too right, the traditional Land Rover still had a big following among farmers and the armed forces. I doubt the armed forces are going to buy a Discovery, which isn’t really suited to armed forces work, and farmers aren’t going to pay over the odds for a bling Range Rover. I can see companies like Mercedes and Suzuki gained plenty of business.

        • When I was working in design at Solihull in the 90s, there was a successor to the Defender on the cards. Unfortunately, the MOD gave them a design brief and LR deviated from it, producing what they decided the MOD really wanted. Needless to say the MOD rejected it because it didn’t adhere to their brief and after wasting so much money on the project, BMW weren’t keen on having another go.

  4. Yes… what’s wanted is a successor to the Defender, I can’t see the army, or farmers driving round in Range Rover Evoques cosmetically tarted up by Victoria Beckham!

    Sad about the JLR job losses though – and at Ford. I still fear for Vauxhall under PSA ownership too

    • JLR seem to be stuck up a gum tree of their own making. They ditched their traditional and successful Land Rover for bling cars that will probably never go off road, most of their vehicles are diesel, when the rest of the industry is moving to electric and small petrol turbo engines, and the Jaguar I Pace looks as much like a Jaguar as a Kia Soul. I do think JLR are facing their biggest crisis for years, although a downturn in China isn’t helping them.

      • Perhaps JLR should be investigated for “passing off” some of its current vehicles as Land Rovers and Jaguars? I am reminded of how some TV series go through transformation after transformation – think of Dr Who – yet, because they are still audience grabbers, they retain the same names. Broadcasters have great trouble in creating new successful fiction series, so they do to the death those decades old with reincarnation after reincarnation. JLR seems to be doing the same.

  5. So right, Hilton. The Australian army took the Defender and with JRA, ditched much of it and produced the home designed and built Perentie – in 4×4 and 6×6 versions. Now it is time expired, the Oz army is having to replace one make of vehicle with several, from Germany and Japan. Attempts to interest other countries – including the UK – in the highly successful Perentie failed. Now Oz foreign exchange will go on foreign vehicles, each with its own different servicing and repair needs. Whatever happened to the Commonwealth?

    • I’d love a Perentie – the lizard not the car – but I doubt an 8ft varanid would fit in my flat – and they’re extremely hard to get hold of because Australians. You’d think they’d like some in the pet trade as an additional gene pool in case anything happens.
      Amazingly enough for a 8ft long lizard this thing can climb vertical walls!

      PS: if you happen to run into any varanids – never put your hand out flat to them like you would a cat or dog, always as a fist so they can taste you – because flat hand can = dinner and you so don’t want to go there.

  6. I for one certainly don’t want JLR to fail and the Evoque and XF are as good as anything the opposition make, but the I Pace should really be a Range Rover and they seem to have fallen into the old British Leyland trap of having too many overlapping models, as well as coming late to the electric party. It might sound tough, but they do need to focus their business on a smaller range and go all out with hybrid and electric cars.

  7. From ‘Number One 4 x 4 x Far’ to Victoria Beckham – How to trash a brand. Good title for one of those MBA case study type books.

  8. But now the new Defender has been released – I can’t wait to see the state of that interior after the farmer has got the cows in!

  9. There was a tidy old Defender in the Farmers Weekly, 108,000 miles and they were asking £28k, and they’ll get it too. And there’s no demand for a proper Defender replacement.

    I’d quite like JLR to stay around but no company does if they completely ignore the whole point of their existence.

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