Nine Degrees

There are no coincidences, only history repeating. 

The P38A Range Rover. Image: autokult
The 1994-2001 P38A Range Rover. Image: autokult

Not satisfied with a year-long treatise on Jaguar’s oft-maligned mid-80s saloon, DTW’s kitty chronicler-at-large goes searching for connections further afield.

In 1988 thoughts at Rover Group finally began to coalesce around a replacement for the original Range Rover. The P38A programme was the result, a car nowadays mostly dismissed as a half-hearted reworking of a true original. Sound familiar? Well, history isn’t just confined to repeating itself at Jaguar, because as you’ll see, similarities between P38A and Jaguar’s XJ40 run surprisingly deep. Allow me to count the ways.

One: P38A was intended to replace a long-lived antecedent which over time had attained iconic status. The original Range Rover was introduced in 1970 and for most of its 24-year career had defined the market. P38A then, needed to honour its predecessor’s heritage, retain existing customers, yet increase Range Rover’s reach beyond that of the dated if much-loved original – a remit that matched that of XJ40 almost to the letter.

Two: Overseeing the design at Land Rover for P38A was George Thomson, formerly a senior member of the Jaguar styling team, where he had made a significant contribution to the external appearance of XJ40 during its epic 1970’s odyssey from concept to approval. At Land Rover, Thomson was once again faced with the task of replacing a much-loved original without losing its quintessence in the process.

Three: Like XJ40, Thomson’s in-house styling theme faced a number of rival proposals from external styling consultancies including Bertone, Ital Design, Pininfarina and UK-based favourites, Heffernan-Greenley. And similarly, the final decision ultimately came down in favour of the in-house design. Thomson later telling chroniclers, “The other designs provided a lot of inspiration, but our familiarity with the product and its customers gave us the advantage.”

Four: Both XJ40 and P38A departed from traditional marque-specific styling features in one notable area – both cars moving to large rectangular shaped headlamp units, which would polarise opinion. In each case, the consensus was that the overall style failed to sufficiently advance the aesthetic – ironic given the huge shadow cast by both cars’ antecedents. Interestingly, despite the difference in height and frontal area, both cars achieved similar Cd figures – the Range Rover’s being (appropriately) 0.38 and the Jaguar’s o.37.

A facelifted V12 engined P38A was evaluated by BMW in 1999. Image: Autocar
A facelifted V12 engined P38A was evaluated by BMW in 1999. Image: Autocar

Five: In 1999 Land Rover was in BMW ownership when a prototype P38A was created, powered by the Bavarian’s 5-litre V12 engine. This model was briefly evaluated for production as a more upmarket variant before being abandoned. XJ40 also received a V12 transplant – a good seven years after its début.

Six: Following the launch of the more upmarket P38A, the original Range Rover was retained in production as the ‘Range Rover Classic’ before finally bowing out two years later. XJ40’s Series III predecessor was also sold alongside the newer car – (for a further 6-years), owing to the lack of a V12 option.

Seven: Land rover launched P38A in September 1994 – coinciding with the introduction of XJ40’s successor, the Ford funded and executed X300. So just at the point BMW-owned Land Rover were breaking with their past, Jaguar appeared to be reverting to a rose-tinted version of theirs.

Eight: P38A developed an early reputation for unreliability and poor quality, website Honestjohn describing the model as having an appalling catalogue of build problems. XJ40 too suffered build and component failings during the early years of production, although in both cases it can be said that neither car was conceptually flawed. However, both have retained the stigma of unreliability and poor build – fairly or otherwise.

Nine: Latterly, P38A has been overshadowed by its more resolved and considerably more expensively developed L322 successor. This car, whose development was overseen by BMW’s Wolfgang Ritzle remains for many the definitive latter-day Rangie; one which married traditional styling with modernity to great success. Similarly, XJ40 has been eclipsed by its better-loved, more traditional looking X300/308 successors and is only latterly being appreciated for its virtues.

Four generations of Rangie. Image: carscoops
Four generations of Rangie. Image: carscoops

So there you have it – nine degrees of separation. And you thought I was kidding, didn’t you?

George Thomson quote via ARonline

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

9 thoughts on “Nine Degrees”

  1. Informative piece, thanks. Viewed against the line up if other Rangies, the P38A does look uninspiring and strangely insubstantial. I really liked the car that replaced it in its original form – i.e. until Gerry over-blinged it. The current car is just too big and I hate the faux gills (on the front doors – hello!?), although I like the way the body sides barrel when viewed from the rear 3/4s – the same designer achieved a similar effect with his Rover 75.

  2. It seems that for every good generation there is one following that they get very wrong. Let’s hope for the fifth iteration then.

    Poor build is something I also associate with the P38A. My neighbours who owned one of them were regulars at the garage. Very often they even had to come over and tow the car, especially if it has been left unused for a week and lost all its battery charge. My own experience is from having one as a courtesy car for a few days. It wasn’t the freshest of examples, so my views are a little biased by neglected maintenance. What immediately caught my eye was the rather tacky appearance of the interior, especially the groaning plastic parts. The air suspension was a big disappointment, too, incredibly wobbly, but still very harsh on small offsets.

  3. At one time, showing the usual crass disregard for the worth of their own brands, BL were considering selling then current Mark 1 Range Rover bodyshells to Carbodies to make a successor to the FX4 taxi.

    As such, it’s ironic that P38 seems to echo the styling of Carbodies rival, the Metrocab, or were they hedging their bets?

    1. Are those Jaguar-sourced wing mirrors? Their ’90s ‘soft design’ form complements the otherwise old-fashioned ’80s looks of the thing… not in the slightest.

  4. I don’t know much about Land/Range Rover enthusiasts’ pecking order, so I’d be interested to hear what P38A’s reputation is among the die-hards. XJ40 may have enjoyed a bit of a reassessment, but the second generation Range is one of those cars I have yet to discover anew. Do LR fanboys rate it as an underdog favourite?

  5. I recall when the P38 appeared, being somewhat underwhelmed by its appearance and to this day, there remains something a little unsatisfying about it. Yet, it is for the most part correct – the only design aspect that really dates the car for me are the lamp units, which are rather bland and generic. But then, it was developed on a pretty tight budget, which probably accounts for some of the quality failings as well.

    Yet when you see what else was in the frame it’s difficult to imagine any of them as a Range Rover – Thomson’s proposal being the only one that looked the part. Given the original’s lengthy lifespan and status as brand icon, Land Rover’s room for manoeuvre was limited. By then, a more radical re-imagining at the time might have done more damage.

    L322 was a masterful piece of work and did more to cement RR’s reputation as a true Luxury car, but dismissing P38 out of hand is a little too easy in my view. XJ40, Gamma, P38 – maybe there’s a pattern emerging here? Anyone know the number of a good psychiatrist?

  6. Agreed that, put into context (and for context see the photo of the W210 Mercedes immediately below this piece), P38 is a perfectly competent piece of work. But it just seems to take all the agreeably quirky parts of the first generation and make them look conventional. I do find the idea of a V12 RR oddly agreeable – it’s not for the sake of the the power I like it, just the sheer number of pistions

  7. Note that drag coefficient is independent of frontal area–that’s why you have to multiply it by frontal area (and fluid density and velocity squared and 0.5) to get actual drag force–so the Range Rover’s actual drag would have been commensurately greater than that of the Jag.

    1. Is the cD telling us much then? One gets the intuition here that the cD on its own gives a false idea of the dreadful drag acting on the Defender.
      Since all cars drive in air can’t we strike out that figure from the comparison so that cD and frontal area are the only variables?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: