In the pantheon of rare Land Rovers, there can be none more exclusive than the Range Rover Linley. With a 100,000 price tag back in 1998 — the equivalent of nearly 175,000 today and only a handful made, the Linley is one of the rarest classics around. Mike Gould was intimately involved with the project and reveals the inside story
The Second Generation Range Rover, better known by a Tenthusiasts and the P38A, was developed under British Aerospace’s ownership of the Rover Group, but by the time of the launch in October 1994, the company was owned by BMW. The new German owners had initially allowed he Range Rover team to work on a face-lifted version that would feature a wider range of BMW power units including a V12. It was also planned that independent suspension would replace its beam axles.
But BMW was already developing its own SUV to rival the Mercedes M-Class. The E53 to be launched as the X5 was based on an earlier four-wheel drive variant of a 5-Series Touring and although it had a monocoque body, independent suspension and lacked a two speed transfer box, it was of a very similar size to the New Range Rover and the target market in America was uncomfortably similar.
Not seeing the sense in internal competition, BMW cancelled the Range Rover face lift and despatched the project team under the direction of Wolfgang Reitzle to work in Munich with X5 and 7-Series engineers to come up with a completely new model under the project name L30.
This left the current Range Rover in limbo. With minimal product improvements in prospect, Land Rover fell back on a series of limited editions to maintain interest in the product, the most limited of all being the Linley.
The idea for the Linley was inspired by a special edition Mini being developed with designer, Paul Smith. At the same time David Linley’s furniture company was developing its Metropolitan range. If Mini and Paul Smith could work, then bringing Linley and Range Rover together was irresistible. An urban orientated Range Rover would also be the perfect counterpoint to the country life themed limited edition being developed with Holland & Holland.
David Linley was approached and expressed his keenness on the project. With his Pimlico-based furniture business thriving, he was seen as the successor to the famous cabinet makers of the 18th century. It was clear that this could be no ordinary vehicle.
David Linley was given a free hand in the design of the vehicle which would be built to order up to a maximum of 10. As a measure of its exclusivity, the price would be 100,000 —way above the 65,000 tag of the Holland & Holland. Linley would receive a fee for the design work and for the use of the name on the vehicles.
The Range Rover Linley followed the black style of the Metropolitan furniture range. No less than 12 coats of solid Ebony Black paint were applied with surface preparation and flatting done by hand between each coat. The final polish coat was also applied manually while to accentuate the finish, the windows were shined with jewellers’ rouge. The Linley rode on 18-inch ‘Hurricane’ wheels finished in Shadow Chrome to complement the paintwork while the vehicle badges were also unique with stainless steel Linley plaque on the tailgate.
‘IF MINI AND PAUL SMITH COULD WORK, THEN BRINGING LINLEY AND RANGE ROVER TOGETHER WAS IRRESISTIBLE’
Piano black is now a popular interior finish for Land Rover vehicles, but it was the Linley that led the way. Piano grade Ebony Black veneers were applied to the facia panels, door cappings and cubby box lid as well as on the gear selector knob and the handbrake grip. David Linley created a special ‘Starburst’ graphic for the car which was etched in stainless steel and set into the cubby box lid as well as featuring on the rear seat picnic tables. The facia garnish rail featured the vehicle identity LINLEY again etched in stainless steel. The steering wheel had a wood and leather rim with the wood echoing the Piano Black theme and featuring stainless steel ‘rivets’ to imitate those used in the classic British sports cars.
The Linley seats were fully trimmed in the highest quality leather to a unique pattern. Black leather featured on the headlining, door trims, grab handles and brake lever gaiter.
Carpeting was of the highest automotive grade and was also used for the kick panels on the door. Deep black lambs’ wool rugs were fitted to enhance the luxury feel of the interior.
Equipment levels were as high as possible with Philips ‘CARiN’ navigation and a twin screen TV and video system.
The Linley’s reveal was to be at the 1999 London Motor Show but the vehicle was so stunning that BMW feared it would take the focus away from their own X5 which was to have its UK debut at the same event. Instead, the launch of the Linley would take place at Rover Group’s flagship showroom on Park Lane.
With a member of the Royal family present, the event was bound to be popular with the press but few were prepared for the media onslaught which accompanied the reveal of the car with the hoard of press and photographers bulging out of the doors of the Park Lane showroom. It was smiles all round for the Land Rover and Linley team.
It is said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but the smiles faded the following day when The Daily Mail featured a large double-page spread on the launch with the headline ‘Shameless’. They had couched the whole project as a ‘Royals on the Make’ story.
The whole story was unfair —the Linley company had concluded a perfectly normal commercial arrangement with Land Rover.
David Linley was keen and completely engaged with the project as he proved in an interview when it was launched at the New York Auto Show the following year. David Linley saw himself as a craftsman and businessman and never played on his Royal connections.
But by the time of the Linley’s American debut, the story had taken a strange twist. The launch vehicle had been sold to a Land Rover dealer. Left outside overnight, by the morning it had disappeared, never to be seen again. This was not the end of the story though.
Phil Bashall of the Dunsfold Land Rover Collection had, together with friend, Gary Pusey determined to track down the surviving Linleys. They discovered that just six were built including the stolen prototype. of the five whose location was known, one was in United States but believed to be in poor condition and fitted with an American engine. Three more were sold in Britain. Gary Pusey had found the final survivor on an online auction site. It was the last Linley built and had originally been sold to a London dealer.
One of its owners had had engine upgraded by JE Engineering with capacity increased to 5.0-litres combined with a high-lift camshaft. This did not detract from the originality of the car as this engine was planned to be fitted in the original Linley, but Land Rover engineering approval could not be completed in time for the launch.
Showing the remarkable quality of the original workmanship, the vehicle was in remarkable condition when photographed in 2014. Autobiography Range Rovers were finished to a similar, if not higher, standard than contemporary Rolls Royce cars and this showed in the quality of the interior with the veneering and leather work standing up well to the test of time. Years after its launch, the Linley proved to be still capable of turning heads on Londons streets. The most exclusive of all Range Rovers remains a tribute to its original conception by David Linley and its construction by Land Rover, Special Vehicles and the craftsmen employed by their suppliers.
Watch this video for The Story of the Range Rover Linley