Our Cars : Getting to know the Range Rover

Keith’s been using the Range Rover P38 for a few weeks now – for both commuting and as a general hack – and, so far, nothing’s gone wrong. But there are jobs to do…

Range Rover (1)

The funniest aspect of owning a Range Rover P38 is listening to and absorbing all the opinions that people have about these fine cars. After an initial post on Facebook, announcing to the world what the new AROnlinemobile was, the deluge of comments was very interesting to read. Most weren’t complimentary about the P38, such is its reputation for epic unreliability.

James Clark simply said, ‘Brave,’ while our man in the USA, Richard Truett, was less happy: ‘Gag! The worst of the Range Rovers. What an awful misstep, that one.’ My friend in the trade, Robert Jackson, added, ‘At least it’s diesel… Get it chipped to 160-ish, swap some coils into it and enjoy… I really liked mine once sorted.’

This was an interesting suggestion because, thanks to the Overfinch modifications fitted to this car, it allegedly pushes out that sort of power. It wasn’t all negative, though. Valentin Delchambre said, ‘You did well. Diesel P38s need love too,’ while David Rutherford echoed many people’s admiration for the bravery of my latest purchase. ‘That car represents the triumph of hope over experience,’ he said.


You can’t ignore our resident Land Rover owner’s view, though. Brett Nicholson said: ‘A friend who is a Land Rover nut had one. It went wrong so regularly he hated it. Then it was stolen and written off, so he was happy. I saw one two days ago on the freeway. It was sitting at least three inches lower on one side. I overtook it in a stock 1974 Beetle up a steep hill so I assume he was limping it home with failed air suspension.’

The truth is that, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been quietly getting to know the P38 and, after an initial sense of dread over the car’s utterly underwhelming throttle response, it’s been slowly winning me over, piece by piece. Okay, so my reservations about its performance might be rooted in the fact it shares my drive with a Citroen C6, but everyone who’s driven it have also commented on its sluggishness. Funny thing is, I’m used to it now…

As a driver, you can’t knock it at all. The air suspension works as it should (it was overhauled last year), which means it rides well, and handles surprisingly incisively for a car of its size. Compared with the Classic I drove recently, it’s a revelation in terms of dynamics – if only it had the soundtrack to match. All the toys work, too – from the cruise control to the air conditioning, via the seat heaters – making this a viable luxury car. On the commute, it’s returning a little more than 25mpg which, given everything, I’m not unhappy with.

Range Rover P38 (3)

It even has a rearward facing seat in the boot (above), should the need to take more passengers, or a dog overtake me. Actually, I jest, but in my profession, there is a real need for air-sprung cars with rear-facing seats – think photographic tracking shots, and this car suddenly becomes very useful indeed.

In terms of things to fix or general criticisms, the list is surprisingly short – especially as it has recently been fully serviced and received new tyres.

  • The car has a pronounced ‘whoosh’ at all speed. I’m told the viscous is okay, but I’d like to check it and, if necessary, replace it with an electrical cooling fan.
  • The steering wheel is misaligned. I’d hate that to be anything that leads to unevenly worn tyres.
  • Replace smashed passenger mirror.
  • Investigate small chip in the windscreen.
  • Get the radio display working again.
  • Re-gas the air conditioning. It works, but feels weak.
  • Attend to a few small scuffs and scratches.
  • Replace the broken front bumper.
  • Give it a deep wash and spruce up, especially inside.
  • Put the original instrument cluster back in.

Given it’s a P38, and I didn’t pay a huge amount for it, I reckon it’s a winner. It’s also a keeper – unless, of course, its ‘reliability’ turns into ‘unreliability’, which could then mean it miraculously transforms into a later L322 Range Rover. Perish the thought…

Range Rover (2)

Keith Adams


  1. I like them. They do have a possibly undeserved reputation for unreliability but one thats been looked after should be fine. There is a lot more understanding of these cars now by specialists and forums than main dealers when they were new and “complicated”.
    A late model Autobiography in dark metallic blue with cream leather would be my choice.
    Hope it goes well for you, interested to hear of the updates!

  2. Really nice Keith, i’ve always admired the P38, the thing is that they are complicated vehicles and people skimp on the servicing and maintainence, due to lack of knowledge or funds; properly looked after they should be reliable.

    Good luck with it and enjoy 🙂

  3. I had the same engine in an Omega. One day there was an almighty bang as I pulled out of my parking space at work, and all the red lights came on. Looking under the front, I saw spots of oil and jagged bits of metal. The alloy casting which supported the drive belts on the front of the engine had snapped. Like everything on an Omega, it cost £200 to fix.
    I really hope this doesn’t happen to you!

    Re. soundtrack: I know it’s not a V8, but the Omega had a deep throb on idle that reminded me of US cop cars waiting to pounce on unwary speeders.

    PS economy in the Omega: 40 mpg on a (very) good day. Yours does 25: good job they went to an ally structure on later Rumpas (development engineers’ slang for Range Rovers, based on the false badges they wore in early days)

    And finally, looks: I seem to remember the P38 was criticized for bland styling when it came out, but today it looks neat, understated, and classy; just as the “tart’s handbag” facelifted P6’s looked very fussy in the early 70’s, but look smart and compact now.

  4. I have a P38. 2000 model, 4.6 V8 Vogue.
    I have found that keeping on top of the maintenance is a must. But if you do, they are extra-ordinarily capable.
    My only gripe is the steering is like driving a boat. But the performance of the V8 (and the cost of LPG) make it as affordable as the Diesel, but with decent motorway munching abilities.

  5. I agree they look better with the passing of time. It’s a shame they never developed the six cylinder version of the TD5 engine, this would have been a 3 litre with about 170BHP on tap at a guess, and it would have been a better car for it.

  6. Regarding the poor throttle response, have you checked the cable? I had a car a few years ago that was transformed when the slack was taken up.

    And good luck. I recently disposed of my ’03 Disco V8 due to a litany of issues that made me grow tired of it. But I miss it now..!

  7. I love Range Rovers but back in 1999, driving a ‘nearly new’ one for work purposes at the age of just 19, a P38 very nearly cost me my life and then my freedom.

    Formally as I assumed a Range Rover, even a diesel, would easily get me out of a turning ahead of an approaching lorry on the A420 near Cumnor. Turned out it was ludicrously underpowered causing the lorry to take VERY evasive actions.

    And then latterly as I was pulled my the Police who didn’t feel a 19 year old had any right to be in a Range Rover.

    Still love Range Rovers but the P38…..not so much.

  8. Correct me if I am wrong… but wasn’t the P38a purged from JLR’s history on their website.

    Personally, I’m a sucker for underdogs and have a perverse attraction to the P38a

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