Project P38: Introduction

In the beginning…was the word, and the word was V8. There’s something utterly magical and highly addictive about the concept, sight and of course the sound of a V8 Range Rover. And ever since I owned and modified a classic, tuned 4.2-litre V8 Range Rover (which sadly went the way of the knackers yard after a high speed bonnet failure; long story), I’ve had my eyes on getting a second generation, model P38A V8 – ideally a top-spec, late plate Vogue, in black. And, as luck would have it, I’ve just found one and bought it: Welcome to Road Magazine’s new Project P38 V8 – a 2000 model year, 4.6-litre V8 Vogue Auto, with later-spec BMW 7-series based Bosch engine management system.

Doom mongers I spoke to before buying my P38 attempted to put the fear of God into me, with tales of cracked blocks (from faulty Rover castings), constantly failing air suspension, eccentric electrics and more besides. But none of this put me off – until I started looking at ones to potentially buy. My goodness, there’s some dreadful tat out there, be warned if you’re looking – from over-priced dealer rubbish with billions of miles, to over-worked-under-serviced ‘working vehicles’ with over-heating engines, knackered undersides and interiors that redefine the expression ‘worn.’

I hunted high and low, on Autotrader, PistonHeads, E Bay, at auction houses and in the local classifieds wherever I travelled. And not once did I come close to buying one I saw. I walked away dejected from each high-hoped potential purchase.

Then, just when I thought the project would never get off the ground, my brilliant local auction yard – East Anglian Motor Auctions at Wymondham – listed this: Lot No. 196, W-Reg (2000) Land Rover Range Rover Vogue Auto 4556cc V8 five-door estate Automatic, black, with LPG and six previous owners. Perfect.

IMG_0515So, on a sub-zero day in December, I got myself down to the auction yard and took a look. First impressions were excellent. The body, interior, engine bay and undersides looked very tidy. There’s a few minor dinks and sprayed & treated rust spots, the 18-inch factory wheels have a couple of rust bubbles, the headlamp wipers are missing and the tyres balding fast, but nothing to put me off. And a rummage in the glove box reveals a neat service history folder – loaded with past MOT’s, bills aplenty, the conversion certificate and fitting documents of the AG SGI sequential LPG conversion by Alternative Fuel Systems (£2734 in 2005). It all looked good.

A quick shuffle at the paperwork in the auction house office revealed the V5, six previous owners and an 11-month MOT, with no advisories. Excellent: Time to get a budget in mind and plan my bidding strategy.

I contact Chris at Range Rover LPG specialists, RPI (who’d worked on the car in its Norfolk past) who gives me further confidence, and reckoned it would go for £2000-2500 all day long – depending on interest level, which, according to the auction office was “off the charts.” Damn! Looks like I have competition.

Expert auction folk say you need to do three things to do well in auction bidding wars: 1. Pick a budget and stick to it (factoring in the auctioneers fee). 2. Do your homework and get to know your vehicle: If you bid and win, you buy, with little comeback rights. And 3. Act like a trader (but leave the sheepskin jacket at home eh?). So, with that in mind, I set a budget of £2100, have another scrutinising look over the Vogue, put the sheepskin jacket in the bin (lol) and start closely observing the experts buying the lots before mine.

I’ve been to a few car auctions (which are enormous fun, exciting and fascinating by the way), and felt confident in the process – bid, secure, pay your £200 deposit in cash immediately, then go to the office to pay and pick up the keys and paperwork. Simples. But, having never actually bid and bought at auction, despite my best efforts to play it cool, nerves began to build as lot No. 196 approached.

I quell my virginal nerves with a hot sausage roll and a fag outside, as I watch the Range Rover start up on its run into the auction house – the first and only time you get to see it run before you bid. It’s vital at this stage to let the head rule the heart.

Luckily for me, the frost-covered Range Rover fires up without the help of the jump starting crew, turns over on all eight cylinders smoothly, revs cleanly, engages drive and does not boil over. Heck, even the air suspension works – despite a canny trader loudly pronouncing to the masses surrounding the car that “it’s knackered, I wouldn’t touch this money pit with a barge pole!”

Hilariously, he’s the first to bid as the Range Rover proudly purrs perfectly in front of the huge crowds, and the auctioneer bigs it up as “perfect for the Winter weather, fully loaded in leather and the best 4×4 ever made.” I decide to let the traders and a large handful of private bidders get on with it, as the bidding rapidly climbs through the £1000-1700 mark, slowly moving myself into a prime position, in direct eyesight of the auctioneer where the traders are and away from the stands (where only amateurs go btw).

The trader who declared the vehicle “knackered” is out bidding everyone. He wants it – but not as much as I do. I come in at £1800, he goes £1900, I top at £1950, he goes £2000. Just us left. I let the auctioneer almost drop the hammer and nod for £2050, nearing my limit. Trader states £2150. I sweat. My heart thumps. The hammer almost drops and I nod again, almost involuntarily. £2200. One, twice, hammer. The Range Rover is mine, almost on budget and I feel high as a kid on glue. Project P38 V8 is a-go.

After paying and collecting keys and paperwork (they sort the V5 to DVLA for me), I go and sit inside my new purchase and say hello. Then I sort the necessary final bit of paperwork – car insurance.

Insurance always used to be a nightmare I dreaded doing, until I found Adrian Flux Insurance (www.adrianflux.co.uk), who specialise in classic, vintage, modified, 4×4 and other niche insurance. Their operatives are fast, polite, efficient, knowledgeable and helpful and, over the years, I’ve found them brilliant to do business with… enjoyable even.

Within a matter of minutes, they’ve arranged me a fabulous deal for under £400 to insure my new acquisition, with an open list of modifications that will follow, with a top company – Equity Red Star. And moments later, my email inbox pings with the documents I need to be legal, and pop to the Post Office to buy the final item, road tax (less pleasing to purchase). Deal done. And I can’t recommend Adrian Flux highly enough. The policy also came with an annual breakdown cover, worth £62, which I hope isn’t necessary, but maybe the doom mongers are right and it’s extra piece of mind I guess.

It’s dark and lashing down by the time I drive the Range Rover home and I’m happy to report all the lights work, as do the wipers. And it drives very well – no nasty clunks, knocks or rattles, engaging drive (in D, if not 1-2-3 ‘manual’ mode), pulling well on petrol and LPG (once re-fuelled, as it was on vapours, spluttering into the forecourt in true auction style). I’m happy. Very happy. And my wife is chuffed to bits with it too, so that’s an added bonus.

Negatives? The dash only half works (odometer is out) as do only half of the cockpit electrics (widows, sunroof, radio and gearbox drive mode all offline), but I’ll soon fix all that. Fuses, I’m sure… he says hopefully!

Its first off road trip is not testing – onto a farming pal’s wet, muddy field – and she copes fine, but the call for some proper tyres, not balding road Pirellis is obvious. Generally though, I’m amazed how well it drives, looks, feels and even smells for a 12-year-old P38 – still got it.

So, what’s the plan? Well, no doubt it will change over the course of the project, but the rough schedule is: 1. Service, fault fix and fettle. 2. Fit some proper rubber boots to get it ready for green lane adventures ahead. 3. Tune the V8 to develop a bit more than the stock 225 bhp and 277 lb.ft, with added throttle response. 4. Upgrade the fault-happy, shaky-ride, temperamental air suspension aided by Bilstein damping and SuperPro bushes throughout, with the right wheel alignment. 5. Enhance the exterior, ready for off road action, and toughen it up aesthetically. 6. Maybe add a few interior items, valet the entire car and buy/test some useful parts and spares. Then enjoy some road and off road trips, here in the UK, and maybe Europe too… if that’s not too ambitious, and I can afford the gas!

We hope you enjoy reading about Project P38 as much as I’ll enjoy doing it.

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Thanks

Gerry Bucke and team at Adrian Flux Insurance: www.adrianflux.co.uk

Tel: 0800 369 8590

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