The Range Rover P38A was, at one point, Britain’s most popular motorway patrol car. Popularity in a numerical sense, rather than being the nation’s favourite police car. Nobody wanted to see a ‘blues and twos’ Range Rover P38A in their rear-view mirror.
Land Rover consulted police representatives during the design and development of the P38A. Police forces were treated to a preview of the new model as early as 1990, when the original Range Rover was still in active service. This was before the first prototypes had been built.
It was an important market for Land Rover, but it faced new competition from rival 4x4s. It’s easy to forget that the 4×4/SUV market was still relatively small in the first half of the 1990s, not least because the majority of vehicles were pretty terrible to drive. The Range Rover was one of a select number of 4x4s that were composed and comfortable on a motorway.
It even faced competition from within Land Rover, with the Discovery hitting the market in 1989. Input from the police would ensure the Range Rover stayed ahead of the game.
Land Rover prepared six police demonstrators for the launch in autumn 1994. All were 4.0-litre V8 petrol models, with a manual gearbox and base specification. Alloy wheels were fitted, simply because steelies weren’t available.
Following a successful tour of the nation’s police forces, the first Range Rover P38A was delivered to Greater Manchester Police in February 1996. Other 1996 deliveries were made to Essex Police (one vehicle), City of London Police, Lancashire Constabulary, Cheshire Constabulary, Warwickshire Constabulary and Durham Constabulary.
It’s easy to see the appeal. The Range Rover P38A was quick in V8 form, spacious enough for carrying equipment, torquey enough to tow stranded vehicles and pretty good at conquering motorway embankments in an emergency. In the days before the world and his wife drove SUVs, the Range Rover was also pretty handy at peering over motorway traffic.
Oh, and a liveried Range Rover is an imposing vehicle. Only the most committed of crims would mess with a P38A at full chat, guv’nor. Or Astramax drivers.
In James Taylor’s excellent book on the P38A, he remarks that coppers “very much appreciated the ability to talk to one another at speeds above 75mph – which was next to impossible in the first-generation model because of wind noise”. Another example of how far the SUV has come in a relatively short space of time.
Police P38A models differed little to entry-level civilian versions. Cloth seats and a manual gearbox are rare on regular Range Rovers, but white paint and holes where police equipment was fitted are the only giveaways to the car’s former life. A button to flash the headlights continuously could be a clue. Also look out for racking in the boot and signs that a radio was located in the centre cubby box.
A typical police Range Rover P38A remained in service for between three and five years, by which time it could have travelled around 200,000 miles.
The ex-Cheshire Constabulary Range Rover for sale via a Car & Classic auction has covered just shy of 102,000 miles, which is low for a former cop car. It saw active service for three years, before enjoying semi-retirement as a training vehicle. This might explain the low mileage.
Clues to its history include the holes in the roof, the headlight flasher switch and the Land Rover Special Vehicles stickers. These could be a later addition, as they don’t appear on any period photos of police Range Rover P38As.
It’s hard to put a price on a P38A, because the car appears to be in limbo. The classic car market is finally waking up to its potential, but it hasn’t quite managed to shake off its reputation for unreliability. Good examples fetch strong money, so it’s no surprise to find that bidding for this former police car has reached £4600. The guide price is £5500 to £8500.
The prospect of owning a poverty-spec Range Rover P38A for the price of a new Dacia Sandero is very appealing. For now, the PetrolBlog P38A is making us grin like a Cheshire Cat. For all the right reasons.
Click here to place a bid on the Range Rover P38A. You know you want to.