Photo: All photos credit Charlie Foley, Ryan Masse and Simone La Barbera

We’re all familiar with the 900-horsepower Reliant Robins that can come out of driving games’ “tuning” options, but can you transform an unlikely vehicle into a track monster in real life? That’s what three friends want to find out with the Range Rover they bought “after a drunken night of Gran Turismo,” according to Charlie Foley’s build thread on PistonHeads. It’s delightful.

“Why not attack a track car from the opposite angle to the usual approach?” Foley’s build team wrote in a statement to Jalopnik via email. “Start with something with big brakes, big roll bars and loads of power and just unbolt some stuff to sort the weight out...sounds easy right?!”

They had never heard of anyone doing this with a Range Rover, so the plan was set. Charlie convinced his two friends Ryan Masse and Simone La Barbera to go in together on purchasing a 2005 L322-generation Range Rover Vogue on Dec. 17 of last year in their quest to answer a feasibility question of “why not?”

It’s a perfect starting point for them, as all three work as chassis and suspension engineers for Jaguar Land Rover now, and this L322 already comes with a meaty supercharged 4.2-liter V8 engine rated to about 400 horsepower. They also had the perfect in-house benchmark: the Range Rover Sport SVR, with performance they’d like to match at a tenth of the cost.

“At the time it was the cheapest L322 supercharged in the country,” Foley wrote of his newest purchase. They paid only £3,630 (about $4,679 U.S. per xe.com on Feb. 15, 2019) for a Range Rover that had ample service history, no known issues and just 170,000 miles on the odometer. Bless you, depreciation!

The posh truck came fully loaded with all kinds of accessories which Foley knew he could remove to save weight. It even came with TVs in the headrests, which don’t exactly add horsepower. The truck’s weight—because of course they had it weighed—came out to over 5,700 pounds.

The crew even obtained a stock weight list for the vehicle (sans a couple extra options, but close enough) through their day job at JLR to help plan where exactly to but the Range Racer on a diet, as Foley posted on PistonHeads:

The current weight breakdown is as follows:
Body – 906.8 kg [1,999.2 pounds]
Cabin – 348.7 kg [768.8 pounds]
Powertrain – 671.5 kg [1,480.4 pounds]
Chassis – 568 kg [1,252.2 pounds]
Electrical – 110.8 kg [244.3 pounds]

We then have gone though the complete list, crossing out everything we don’t think we need.
Remove all interior
Remove sunroof
Remove side steps and tow bar
Perspex windows
Remove window motors etc.
Add bucket seats and harness & smaller steering wheel.

The realistic goal: get it down to around 2,000 kilograms (about 4,409 pounds), which sounds like a lot, but would give them a better horsepower-to-weight ratio than a new Porsche 718 Cayman S.

The first mod was cosmetic, though: rearranging the badge to read “Range Racer.”

Simone takes the Range Racer out for the very first laps on Bedford Autodrome.

After an oil change, they took it to a track day at Bedford Autodrome to learn what exactly they’d bought to work with. Foley explained on PistonHeads:

[W]e got some good track time in the morning, and learnt lots about the Range...mainly, she rolls, my god she rolls! Understeers a lot at the limit. Power is great, makes you think the car isn’t as heavy as it is...until you need to brake that is. Ryan even managed an overtake!

We did start to get some issues with engine derate or limp mode when pushing hard. Google seems to think this is a supercharger overheat issue caused by cars being built with the [supercharger] cooling pump with the wiring the wrong way round. Shortly after the limp mode we got an engine warning light which signaled the end of our day.

Brake fade—when everything’s just too hot to work properly—was another issue. “It didn’t help that the circuit we chose was known for high speeds and braking, as the brakes would fade by the second lap and engine would derate completely by the third,” the team told Jalopnik via email.

To pile onto the brake fade, limp mode and warning light issues, they got black flagged on the way back into the pits. A track official let them know that they were just barely over the track’s height limits. Apparently no one thought to point out this rule until they saw the Range Rover tilting heavily through the corners on track.

“We think they were just a little worried by how much we were rolling,” Foley posted. “It didn’t look that safe, to be fair!”

Clearly, they had to drop the height down to Earth for better handling on track, so that was actually the least of their worries.

They started by buying meatier BMW X5 wheels and tires for £400 (about $516 U.S.) that fit the Range Rover’s stud pattern and wheel wells. With the new 315/35R20 tires in the rear and 275/40R20 tires up front, that gave them nearly 2.4 inches more width in each rear tire than stock Range Rover wheels.

Better yet, the new wheels lowered the truck by 0.67 inches, and the shorter sidewalls would contribute to less roll on top of that. There were more choices in tires available for these wheels too, including track day favorite Toyo Proxes R888s.

Freshly lowered on BMW wheels.

Next, the crew tackled your favorite neighborhood speed bump-scraper’s mod of choice: lowering.

Foley’s team purchased adjustable height sensor links for the air suspension that trick the Range Rover’s four-way adjustable suspension into acting as if the truck sits higher than it really does. Even then, the team adjusted these links to be 0.197 inches shorter than they came.

This mod let the truck ride 2.95 inches lower in its lowest “access” mode, and 1.38 inches lower than stock in its standard mode. Selecting “off-road” mode only lifted the truck by 0.197 inches now instead of the 2.36 inches it used to hike up in the air. The Range Rover also automatically lowers or raises its suspension at certain speed thresholds, but this feature can be disabled by pulling a relay for it.

The team would set the ride height they wanted and then pull the relay to make sure it stayed at that height. This let them drive to the track in off-road mode, and then set it down to access mode for track use.

“Roll has almost completely disappeared (due to the stiffness and lower [center of gravity]) but it’s clearly now massively under-damped, [and] very bouncy over bumps,” Foley explained on PistonHeads of the new suspension setup. “And the understeer is much more obvious now! Likely just because its a lot more confidence inspiring into corners.”

Despite the progress, he still said it was a setup they wouldn’t exactly recommend to the wider public. The lowest mode rode on the truck’s spring assists (or bump stops, as we’d call them), and there really wasn’t much suspension travel outside the “off-road” mode to handle everyday driving.

After figuring out a usable suspension height for now, though, the lads put their truck on a severe diet. First to go was everything unnecessary for track use behind the front seats. The full spare wheel kit with jack, tailgate trim, rear seats, door cards, the parcel shelf, and not to mention all of the infotainment system components like the subwoofer, speakers, ECUs and disc changers. All the foam that’s in the truck to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (commonly referred to as NVH) also went out the door.

Foley estimated that this initial weight drop was over 330 pounds worth of stuff, and the truck felt more agile already, especially through turns. The perk of keeping the truck’s air suspension was that it immediately auto-leveled itself upon start-up despite the truck’s newly lightened rear end.

The fact that this truck was designed during the BMW-era of Land Rover corporate ownership alongside the BMW X5 worked in their favor, too. The floor bolts for the seats were the same distance apart as those on the more commonly raced E36- and E46-generation BMW 3-series, which made getting a set of racing seat mounts a breeze.

The steering wheel spline was the same as an E46 as well, which let them use a smaller, lighter-weight OMP racing wheel fairly easily using a hub meant for the BMW. But for now, most of the electronics behind the dashboard are still there, so the steering wheel is one of the funniest quirks about their build.

“[T]he weirdest thing is jumping into our race car and have the wheel auto adjust to its last setting,” the team told Jalopnik.

A time-lapse of under-hood work and cleaning.

Now that the truck was at the right height and some lightness was added, it was time to investigate the cooling issues that had sent the truck into limp mode. A common defect on this generation of the Range Rover is that the supercharger’s charge cooler pump is wired backwards from the factory, and as Ryan found out, the Range Racer was no exception. This problem sends coolant through the charge cooler in the wrong direction, which doesn’t cool the supercharger adequately, as it’s not getting coolant running past it that’s actually cool.

While they were rewiring the charge cooler pump the right way, the team also cleaned out the intake and reset the throttle body to improve throttle response, and took off the heavy engine cover.

Next up, the weight savings continued throughout the rest of the cabin. They took out the headliner, TV-equipped stock front seats, center console and dashboard. With the front of the interior stripped, the team installed a set of inexpensive racing bucket seats from eBay. These will get moved to the rear row if they find another set they like better in the future, but for now, they’ll do.

At the rear of the truck, they cut the heavy exhaust off and cut out the tow bar, mud guards and other surrounding steel work. This truck would be towed if anything now, not do any towing.

It also sounds pretty cool with the exhaust chopped.

The team linked the suspension relay that they were manually pulling to set the ride height to a switch on the dashboard that allowed them to switch up ride heights without having to leave the cabin.

Most recently, the team purchased massive six-piston Brembos from a later Range Rover to stop the big truck on track better and help alleviate the brake fade issues.

The truck came with an automatic transmission, which has a sequential-style +/- shift option on the gear lever, but one that is backwards compared to the sequential gear levers found in most race and performance cars. Currently, you have to push it forward to upshift, which is wrong. This wouldn’t do, so the team purchased behind-the-wheel paddle shifters made for a Jaguar and the corresponding paddle extenders to wire into the switches in the truck’s gear selector.

It looks much faster just from all the weight savings.

As of right now, the Range Racer getting lighter and lighter by the day, with the short-term goal of hitting the track again in March to see how far its come.

Foley, Masse and La Barbera still want to improve the truck’s supercharger cooling system though, as that’s the main thing that forces the truck into limp mode while on track. An upgraded water pump, larger radiator and additional modifications to the supercharger cooling system are in the plans for this. After all, the goal is to beat the Range Rover SVR—not mimic the infamously heat-soak-prone Corvette Z06 that came out around the same time.

Beyond that, they’d love to save some more weight by removing the glass sunroof, installing plastic windows and cutting out unneeded body panels. Before the end of the summer, they’d like to install a roll cage that can accommodate two rows of seating (which can be done), two more bucket seats in the rear, full racing harnesses for all seats, and the Brembo brakes and paddle shifters that they just bought. They also want to relocate the battery to make room for a custom engine intake. While most British track days don’t let you have second-row passengers on track, the big one they’d love to tackle—the Nürburgring—is fine with it.

Of course, there’s still the look of the truck to be determined, possibly by fans of the build or a sponsor since they’re not sure where to start on this.

“We are looking at different liveries for the car as it looks like a standard RR as it stands, but it’s hard to pick as Land Rover doesn’t have much racing history on pavement,” the team wrote to Jalopnik. “There are plenty of Jag liveries but it still feels wrong.”

The Range Racer at a recent car show.

Later, they may want to do a manual transmission swap, convert the currently four-wheel drive truck to rear-wheel drive, modify the engine for upwards of 500 horsepower, and replace the air suspension with coilovers. But these are a while off still, and may involve roping in some additional coworkers from the powertrain and electrical engineering departments.

So far, they’ve only spent £4,965 (about $6,399) on the truck, which is well under the $130,000 list price of the new Range Rover SVR they’re looking to match in performance.

The three friends’ ultimate dream goal is to beat the Range Rover SVR’s ludicrously quick 8:14 Nürburgring time. I’m a big fan of taking trucks on the ’Ring for laughs, so I hope they pull it off. It’s always fun to see a home-built track toy one-up a manufacturer’s latest, greatest creation.

You can keep up with this ultimate test of video game-style tuning on its PistonHeads build thread here, on Facebook here, on Instagram here, on YouTube here, or on its very own website here.

Calm before the major teardown.
Freshly lowered.
There’s a bit more negative camber now, which should help on track.

 

Cleaned up for a recent car show.

[H/T Rob Heebner!]


We’re featuring the coolest project cars from across the internet on Build of the Week! What insane build have you been wrenching on lately? Seen any good build threads we should know about? Drop me a line at stef dot schrader at jalopnik dot com with “Build of the Week” somewhere in the subject line if you’d like to be featured here.

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Stef Schrader

Contributor, Jalopnik. 1984 "Porschelump" 944 race car, 1971 Volkswagen 411 race car, 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS.