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RANGE ROVER 1 (P38A) buying guides


by Ed Evans, 24th May 2016

The second generation Range Rover is a good buy if it's been well-maintained.

The name P38A derives from the factory building in which this Range Rover started as a new project, though its official title is Second Generation Range Rover. Range Rover 2 was laced with electronic systems. It introduced the CAN-bus network which linked electronic systems throughout the vehicle so they could communicate and co-ordinate the various system activities.

There were teething troubles which were handled by Land Rover and its dealerships, but when vehicles moved out of warranty and were serviced and repaired elsewhere, much of the garage trade was unprepared for the P38’s complex systems and repair procedures. Vehicles were incorrectly repaired, introducing further faults and giving the P38 an unfair reputation for poor reliability. Today, the systems are understood, indeed they are relatively simple compared to current vehicles, and so a properly maintained and repaired P38 is not only a dependable vehicle, but a superb flagship of its day that is a practical and luxurious form of transport now. Buy a good one, look after it, and it will last well.

The P38 rides on beam axles located on a separate chassis with electronic air suspension providing ride quality and ride height options at the flick of a switch. Chassis geometry was improved over the Range Rover 1, and the V8 engines were uprated and their capacity increased to provide a 4.0-litre and a 4.6-litre (longer stroke) option. Diesel power was the BMW (who owned Land Rover then) 2.5-litre six-cylinder turbo unit. Transmission was via a four-speed auto box on the V8s with a five-speed manual available for diesels. Naturally, the Range Rover has superb off-road ability, though few of them ever left the tarmac.

The majority of P38s remaining on the road are tidy looking vehicles that run well. They’ve no doubt been through the problem era and emerged intact, and the right level of care keeps them that way. A good service history is important.

There is nothing to fear from the BMW diesel, but if buying a V8 check the 
cooling system is in good order, including during a test drive that’s long enough to 
bring the temperature gauge to working level and to see it stays there. Ask questions about coolant depletion and, if there is any doubt, look elsewhere. Running gear It’s all good. Air suspension and other problems are usually the result of these vehicles having been run on a shoe string. They were expensive machines to buy, and nothing has changed. To successfully run a P38 is going to cost more than for a Discovery or Defender. It’s simply a matter of ensuring everything works, quietly, and that it handles correctly and has a reasonable service history.

Check the vehicle sits level on its suspension after standing. If not, an air spring or valve may be leaking. Air springs and their separate dampers are easy to replace. Try the ride height switch to check the compressor has the power to raise the vehicle from lowest height to off-road height in a few seconds. In the cab, check the many switches and controls work, and try all aspects of the air conditioning system. Run the air con and play with the temperature controls to confirm the air blend motors which mix chilled and heated air work correctly. Replacement is expensive in labour time.
Body and paintwork was good, even though more steel was introduced on this model. Check the lower area of the rear tailgate and rear arches for corrosion and try to get a peep down the front inner arches and bulkhead, though they aren’t very accessible. If you smell coolant in the footwells, the heater O-seals have failed and, although cheap, replacement is a long job.
The chassis is good, too. As ever though, give it a good check over and if necessary, have it cleaned and wax protected after buying.
This isn’t a vehicle that attracted modifications, but there are many with accessories fitted which need to be assessed according to individual taste. Some vehicles have been converted from air to coil springs, usually 
to avoid the cost of diagnosing and replacing worn components. Note that optional large diameter alloy wheels with low profile 
tyres can spoil the handling and comfort for some drivers.


Parts are still in good supply and are likely to remain so in the long term, and there are plenty of V8 specialists around the UK who understand the engines and their electronic control systems.


Choice is down to engine type and trim options. The petrol V8s offer the best performance and lowest noise and vibration at the expense of higher running costs. V8s have shown problems with coolant loss, more so in the 4.0-litre. Sympathetic driving and correct maintenance can help avoid problems. The BMW diesel is a good and reliable unit which has adequate power and torque, bearing in mind this is more of a relaxed cruise ship than a road burner. Trim and equipment can be estimated by the model designations, but so many options were interchangeable that each vehicle needs to be assessed on its own merits.

• 4.0-litre V8 petrol, 185 bhp, 235 lb-ft torque
• 4.6-litre V8 petrol, 225 bhp, 277 lb-ft torque
• 2.5-litre six-cylinder turbo diesel, 134 bhp, 199 lb-ft torque
• Transmission: R380 five-speed manual or ZF four-speed auto, permanent four-wheel drive

Project: £700 – £1500
Average: £1200 – £2300
Good: £2300 – £3700
Excellent: £3700 – £8000
Range Rover Register, www.rrr.co.uk Range Rover Two Door Club, www.rangerovertwodoorclub.co.uk www.rangerovers.net



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