Land Rover Monthly
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Meet the most expensive second-generation Range Rover ever built – and be prepared for some real 1990s nostalgia
Meet the most expensive P38 Range Rover ever... Noel Edmonds’ £450k Mobile Office Concept
ASK what the 1990s meant to most people and you’d get some very different answers. To some it meant the end of more than a decade of Tory rule, to others it meant Britpop and the much-hyped rivalry of Oasis and Blur. If you were a 12-year-old girl it probably meant Girl Power and for Posh Spice it meant singing for a living, long before she allegedly ‘designed’ the interior of a new Range Rover model.
Talking of Range Rover, the 1990s was the decade when production of the legendary Range Rover Classic finally drew to a close. It was replaced by the vehicle that JLR these days tries to airbrush from its history – the second-generation P38 model. It’s the black sheep of the Land Rover family that nobody likes to talk about too much.
Some say the P38 is the most unloved Land Rover ever built, which is probably true. It was launched in 1994, the same year that BMW bought the company. They didn’t like the P38, but it was too late to stop it. Some will tell you that the men from Munich sadistically killed it off by starving it of investment, while they pushed ahead with its replacement, the third-generation L322. But that’s not strictly true, as the vehicle on these pages demonstrates.
It is the Range Rover Mobile Office Concept, a one-off futuristic model created to show how the Range Rover could become the rich businessman’s workplace of the future, allowing him to keep in touch with his business empire anywhere, thanks to the then cutting-edge mobile phone and internet technology.
Built as part of the company’s Autobiography bespoke programme, it cost a whopping £450,000 to put together. Land Rover’s Special Vehicles Operations (SVO) built it, using a 1996 HSE model as the base vehicle. Once complete, in 1997, it was then handed over to the PR department as a
demonstration model for shows and other events.
Just over a year later, it was withdrawn from service. It was nearly scrapped, but another ever-present icon of the 1990s stepped in to save it. That man was Noel Edmonds – then front man for BBC’S family entertainment. He and his sidekick, an annoying pink entity aka Mr Blobby, were the mainstay of Saturday night TV.
Edmonds’ career in entertainment began in the 1960s, as a DJ on Radio Luxembourg. In 1969 he moved to the BBC, and in the 1970s he moved to television, hosting Top of the Pops from 1970 to 1978, then the hugely-popular Saturday morning children’s show, Multi- Coloured Swap Shop, which ran until 1982. He was also one of the original presenters of Top Gear.
The Late, Late Breakfast Show was Edmonds’ first Saturday evening light entertainment show on the BBC, running from 1982 to November 1986, when it was cancelled after a bungee jumping stunt on the show went horribly wrong and guest Michael Lush plunged 120 feet to his death. But less than two years later Edmonds returned to the Saturday evening slot with Noel’s Saturday Roadshow, which morphed into Noel’s House Party in 1991 and ran until 1999. By then, with the advent of satellite and cable TV, viewing habits had changed and the Saturday evenings when whole families gathered around the TV were long gone.
However, Edmonds had another interest – his Unique Group, which he had set up in the late 1980s. He saw himself as an outlet for the rash of new technology that was then making an appearance and he married it with his love of cars by supplying some of the hi-tech equipment that went into P880 KAC. When he heard that Land Rover was thinking of scrapping the Mobile Office Concept car, he was reportedly horrified and insisted on buying it.
He owned it for two years before selling it. The next owner kept it for 15 years before selling it. It was then owned for a year before it ended up on ebay, where current owner Nav Singh Rai spotted it.
Nav, 24, grew up close to the factory gates of Land Rover,
at Shirley. It must have rubbed off on him, because from an early age he developed a love for Land Rovers in general and Range Rovers in particular. In a distinct Brum accent he tells how his love affair with Range Rovers began . . .
“My uncle had a P38 Range Rover Autobiography when I was about three years old. It had picnic tables, TV screens - all the works. It was British Racing Green and I remember it clearly. After that I always wanted one of my own.
“I’ve always been mad about cars and my ambition was to become an automotive designer. In my opinion the Range Rover Classic was a terrific car, but the P38 took it to the next level. I didn’t like the [third-generation] L322. It was too big. I prefer that original Range Rover Sport to the L322. Luckily, Land Rover got it right again with the [fourthgeneration] L405.
“An L405 was of course out of my price range, but I did run a Range Rover Evoque for a while. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great car, but it wasn’t like a proper Range Rover. My dad has had every model of Range Rover from P38 up to L405. I reckoned a P38 wasn’t a mile away. It wouldn’t be so economical of course, but it was what I could afford. I started looking for a Linley special edition, which I thought was the most luxurious P38 ever made… and then I saw this one on ebay a couple of years ago.
“Until then I had thought the Linley was the best of the best, but that was because I didn’t know this one existed. What an amazing car! Once I saw it, I had to have it.”
Nav successfully bid for it on ebay and it cost him £7500 – a huge sum of money for a secondhand P38, but a real bargain for the most expensive P38 ever built – and one that had a celeb owner. At the time he owned this Range Rover, British celebrities didn’t come any bigger than Noel Edmonds.
Land Rover’s SVO turned P880 KAC into a Mobile OfficeConcept because of the increased demand the Autobiography programme had received since its inception back in 1993. “It was used to showcase different options for future Autobiography customers and SVO approached Noel Edmond’s Unique Group to help supply some of the technology,” says Nav. “As a result, P880 was also used for promotion and demonstration purposes by Sony and Cellnet.
“The installation included video conferencing, with special internal cameras, displaying on three TV monitors inside the car and streaming to anywhere in the world via the internet. Other gadgets include a bespoke fold-down laptop table and printer, a VHS video player and front and rear car phones. To capture internet and satellite signals, there are four discreet aerials on the roof, with the huge modem and
“It cost £7500 – a huge sum for a secondhand P38, but a bargain for the most expensive P38 ever built”
server houses in a safe in the boot.
“The anti-theft system fitted at the time was state of the art, with hidden proximity sensors and cameras around the rear quarter windows to record whether somebody was either too close or was about to steal the vehicle. The sensors sound a loud, audible warning advising intruders to step away from the vehicle, also taking a photo of the perpetrator if the door was opened, which would be sent to the in-carserver and to the owner’s personal email/phone SMS. All this in 1997!”
Nav, who is studying design management at university, admits he hasn’t used his P38 for the role it was designed – not least because virtually all of the 1990s technology is, of course, now obsolete.
But while no one uses a fax machine or VHS recorder anymore, this unique and historic Land Rover model, boasts what was cutting-edge technology from an era when the internet was in its infancy. Nav has switched it on, but he hasn’t tested it out. “I wouldn’t know where to start – the manual is eight inches thick!” he laughs.
“It’s not my everyday car. It’s powered by a 4.6 Rover V8 petrol engine, which is very thirsty and it would probably bankrupt me, although it does manage 23 mpg on a long motorway run at a steady 70 mph. My everyday car is a BMW 3 Series, but this is my weekend car and I love it. It’s brilliant to park up at the gym or outside Tesco and see people just staring at it.”
It is a head-turner, all right. The distinctive finish is Ming Blue, which is a bespoke colour. Autobiography customers could choose whatever shade they wanted.
That the Mobile Office Concept survived is down to Noel Edmonds stepping in to buy it. Intriguingly, at around the same time, it is believed that a P38 Sport version was also produced, of which there is now no trace, so presumably it was scrapped. But before you weep tears of frustration at the loss of a 150 mph supercharged P38, you should be aware that it was a “Sport” in name only. There were no performance tweaks, and it wasn’t a sporty car at all – merely a showcase for the various visual styling packs offered by the Autobiography programme. Turned aluminium door inserts and trim, perforated brake pedals, and the like. Still a shame it wasn’t saved, though.
Luckily its sister, the Mobile Office, is still around. It was the most expensive Land Rover ever built in 1997 and it still looks pretty good today – not least because it has only covered 85,000 miles and Nav is a fastidious owner who likes nothing better than cleaning and polishing it. He reckons he has spent over £5000 getting it to its current state of near-perfection.
“It frustrates me when I hear people say the P38 is the most unreliable Land Rover, because that simply isn’t true,” says Nav. “I haven’t had a single thing go wrong in 6000 miles, apart from a tail light bulb that needed replacing. It is ultra-reliable.”
Indeed, the second-generation Range Rover is currently enjoying a bit of a renaissance. Its reputation for failing was mainly due to this most sophisticated of cars being bodged by both owners and non-specialist garages. Properly repaired and serviced, the P38 can be an excellent car.
“I really want to keep my P38, but I may have to sell it,” says Nav. “I’ve told my dad to get rid of his L405 and keep this one instead!”
If he does eventually sell, this vehicle is likely to go to a collector. As an early concept from Land Rover SVO’S Autobiography programme, it was a precursor of the ever-more-luxurious Range Rover models to come. Without vehicles like this, you wouldn’t have got the super-luxurious top-spec L405s of today. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is for you to decide, but for me the late 1990s comms and computing stuff is the main attraction. For this obsolete equipment to still be intact and in situ is nothing short of amazing.
We may not thank Noel Edmonds for giving us Mr Blobby but he definitely deserves our gratitude for saving this remarkable vehicle from the scrapheap.