It is, undeniably, a Range Rover. It’s tall, glassy and very present. It has the familiar floating roof, the castellations at the corners of its bonnet and the simple, rectangular grille.
There’s permanent four-wheel drive, a rumbling V8 and a low-range geartrain, as well as a model called Vogue and a split tailgate for bubbly Ascot picnics. Yet the 1994 P38A Range Rover didn’t quite have what it takes to wear that famous 10-letter constellation across its bonnet.
OUT WITH THE NEW, IN WITH THE OLD!
Sometimes, no matter how diligent its maker’s intentions, a new model turns out to be less alluring than the old. The product planners may set off with a hit list of well-known troubles to tackle and nail everyone, but if there isn't a bit of magic in the new model, a bit of inspiration, then it's probably lost. That's especially true if the replacer has a mighty task to follow the replacee.
Yet P38A – its codename is a mix of ‘Pegasus’, the project’s original name, and the Solihull plant’s building 38A – was hardly a step backwards. With air suspension to alter its ride height by as much as five inches, more powerful engines and a stronger chassis, this Range Rover could clamber, climb, wade and mash a path through mud even more effectively than the last, and in so much comfort that occupants were unusually unaware of how tough the going had got.
Instead, they could enjoy the extra space and admire a dashboard that actually looked like it belonged in an expensive car. Even if its styling was disappointingly samey, this car still had the credentials of a Range Rover.
And so it was for the P38A Range Rover, which tentatively drove into the wheel tracks of the aristocratic, market-defining, age-defying original, and after only seven years drove back out of them and into history. Part of the reason for its short life was BMW’s Wolfgang Reitzle, long a Range Rover admirer and a man who suddenly found himself in charge of its destiny.
And the destiny of P38A was that a disappointed Reitzle decided to have its life truncated by fresh and far better financed effort to build a worthy follow-up to the original.
PERFORMANCE AND ISSUES
It wasn’t long before the P38A was foraging in the lower reaches of virtually every quality, reliability and freedom-from-faults survey you cared to name. Failing air suspension floored its reputation – often literally – as did porous 4.6-litre engine blocks, oil leaks and enormous electrical troubles. Couple this to a 2.5-litre BMW turbodiesel that had the pulling power of a sunken tugboat, a 4.6 V8 suitable only for oil-well owners and a 4.0 that felt like the compromise that it was and you had a car with the capability to serve up a fair slug of disappointment, even if it was aristocratically packaged.
This and Reitzle’s disapproval was the catalyst for the end of the P38A, and explains why today you can pick up a runner for a song in most countries.
Reitzle parted company from the project to replace it when he left BMW in 1999, but by a quirk of corporate history was reunited with it when he joined Ford, which then bought Land Rover in 2000; the project bore fruit in the shame of the L322 of 2002, the car that firmly put the Range Rover name back on the road.