A P38: Better Than A Late Classic

Want to get into a Range Rover? Keith Adams reckons that the Range Rover p38 is the only one to punt at right now

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t’s good to see that the late Classic Range Rover is being hailed as a clever money car in this issue, and that its aesthetics are now being hailed by more experts. I’ve always been a fan of late Rangies – not so long ago I drove a 1971 and 1991 back to back and couldn’t see a reason why you’d pay 10 times as much for the earlier car.

But equally, these late cars have been on the rise for some time now. The idea of finding a hidden gem for a few hundred quid is pretty remote. Shame, but there you go. Classics are classics. Not so with the P38. Here’s a car that only a handful of people have really cottoned on to, so good ones can still be found cheap, which makes them very appealing. And you know what? I think a P38 is a much more satisfying choice than a late Classic.

‘Ah, but it’s a P38!’ I hear you cry. ‘The ugly Metrocab-aping second-generation Rangie with a fondness for the hard shoulder, and a known ability to empty even well-stocked bank accounts.’ Well, I’d suggest you need to get with the times. For a start, the P38 has aged really well – find an unmodified one in a neutral colour, on the right wheels, and in good order, and it still looks fresh. Alongside the P38, an L322 looks like an over-styled, fussy thing that’s trying a little too hard.

Inside, the P38 has held up pretty well, too. The instruments are a model of clarity, the swooping centre console still looks terrific, and most are trimmed in an appealingly light shade of leather and contrasting wood. It has Rover 800 switches, but so what – they work pretty well.

Compared to a late Classic, the P38 drives well, too. Get one with working air suspension, and the tighter steering, improved ride and excellent handling will seem like a revelation. It’s like wrestling a greased Sumo in comparison with a smaller, modern car, but for a Rangie, the P38 feels pretty good. Imperious, commanding, unrushed – just how it should be.

So if you’re persuaded by my arguments, what advice can I give? Definitely plump for a petrol V8. Yes, the 2.5-litre diesel straight-six is easier to find, comes from BMW, and therefore should be reliable. But it’s not torquey enough for the job in hand – and although more economical than the V8, it’s not enough of a saving to justify the compromises. Just make sure the V8's liners are in good order and it’s not using oil or coolant as a consequence.

Stick a nice stainless-steel exhaust system on to a Rover V8 and you’ll enjoy a deep-chested, cultivated soundtrack that’s so in keeping with a well-appointed Rangie. Under-body corrosion is something to take into consideration, but nowhere near as much as with the Discovery or Classic. So just look for accident damage, around the rear arches, and never, ever buy one that’s been wading. 

Things to look for? Ah, there are many pitfalls, but the best way of tackling the job of P38 purchasing is to make sure the air suspension works (putting them on coils really spoils them, in my opinion), that all the electrical toys are in fine fettle, it has all the remote keys and they work, and that it doesn’t have immobiliser problems. Oh, and don’t underestimate the cost and awkwardness of putting a shoddy interior back into prime condition.

Stick by these pointers, and don’t be tempted by cheap sub-£1000 projects, and you’ll enjoy a go-anywhere, classless, satisfying modern classic that’ll just get better with age. And I know it’s a cliché, but I’m off to look at the classified ads now…