What's the Story?
You can’t please everyone, but BMW’s Wolfgang Reitzle was no great fan of the second generation Range Rover that
had been developed under British Aersospace ownership. Not long after BMW bought the Rover Group in 1994, the German company’s R&D chief spent some time with a pre-production example, and found a lot to criticise. Former
Land Rover people remember that he sat inside the vehicle wearing a blindfold and tested everything around him for its position and feel. He came away with a list of 70 criticisms. That was just the inside.
For Reitzle, it must have been a huge disappointment. He was a great fan of the original Range Rover, and owned one that he used on ski-ing holidays in Europe. He claimed it was the only vehicle that could do the job in style; and before the purchase of the Rover Group came up, he was pushing for BMW to develop a competitor model. That emerged
many years later as the BMW X5. No surprise, then, that a top priority for Reitzle after the Rover Group takeover was to look at improving the Range Rover. BMW, remember, was well known for its high technology, its engines and its superb build quality.
Land Rover was just emerging from the darkness of the years when it had got away with extremely variable build quality, depended on old engine designs, and saw high technology as something to be bolted on to an essentially low-tech vehicle. There was work to be done. This is where some experimentation took place with the engines on offer.
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Reitzle decided that the 1999-model Range Rovers should have the latest BMW engines. In place of the 4.0-litre and 4.6-litre Land Rover V8s would come the latest BMW 3.5-litre and 4.4-litre engines. The 2.5-litre diesel would give way to BMW’s newly developed 3.0-litre diesel. Better yet: Reitzle was determined to push the Range Rover further upmarket, and so he decided there should be one with BMW’s latest 5.4-litre V12. The changes that Reitzle wanted were going to need an enormous capital investment…
If the V12 models needed a new front end, this would have to be used on all the 1999-model Range Rovers: the low production volumes expected for the V12 would have made a uniquely engineered design far too expensive. So the design studio was asked to come up with a new nose to disguise the extra length.
This was never going to be an easy job. The longer overhang ahead of the front wheels not only reduced the Range Rover’s approach angle but also unbalanced its proportions. George Thomson, chief designer of the second generation Range Rover, was fully occupied with incremental model-year styling changes. So the 1999 model-year restyle was allocated to Mike Sampson, who had also been a key member of the original exterior design team.
The brief was to change the front and rear ends and to upgrade the interior. Mike tried ways of repositioning the rear lights to make the vehicle look wider. At the front, he added greater definition while disguising those extra 160mm. An outside company was commissioned to build a full-size styling model for Land Rover, and BMW made its own model as well. But the 1999 models as originally planned went no further. The whole programme was cancelled in early 1996.
Did it work?
As we now know, no V12 appeared. BMW sold Land Rover to Ford in 2000, and Ford wasn’t interested in buying-in more engines. Instead, it planned to use the supercharged Jaguar V8. There is a story that an Aston Martin V12 might have been used, but if the idea was ever considered it must have been dropped very quickly. The Aston Martin engine would have needed major re-engineering if it were to work in a Range Rover, and it was a handbuilt type that would have had to be made suitable for volume production as well. There was no way Ford’s cost managers would have tolerated that!
And the Verdict from LRO?
This is a darn shame, as the BMW V12 and Range Rover P38 would have made a perfect coupling. Perhaps there is someone out there who might one day put a V12 in a P38. Know of someone who already has? Get in touch!
This feature appeared in the April 2016 issue of LRO. Current and Back issues are available to download on digital devices here. Please note, we only hold stocks of the the last three back issues.