Rover Thoughts: “Here’s Why” Doug Demuro is Right and Wrong About Land Rover

If you think I’m going to trash Doug Demuro here, I’m not, not even a little. Doug Demuro is brilliant and I wish I had half the free time, patience, charisma, and prodigious ability to sniff out empty parking lots around literally the world where people won’t bother me while I film a car’s quirks and features. I’m not allowed to work with cameras anywhere it seems, without people getting in my business. Seriously, subscribe to his YouTube channel. It’s an all-time great that relies solely on Doug Demuro’s spirit and what is likely deliberate low production value coupled with excellent insight and granular observations on a given car’s design and manufacturing. His videos are great, easy to follow and digest, funny, and 99% of the time, are pragmatically correct on all points. Doug Demuro, when Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond are vaporized in an act of heroic but ill-thought-out male stupidity (“how hard can it be?”), I hope Jeff Bezos and Amazon sign you up to take the Grand Tour forward…assuming you want it.

And yes, this post is also a Doug Demuro drinking game. (takes a shot)



Doug’s big break on YouTube and the internet came when he released a series of videos chronicling his ownership experience with a pre-owned 2006 Land Rover Range Rover L322 which he bought from CarMax along with a six-year 100,000 mile warranty, and oh what a series of videos it has been.

Side note: Doug is the CarMax equivalent of a card counter. He’s a genius at buying & selling vehicles, which may come from his former career working for a car company (Porsche America I think?)

Anyway, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything for anyone when I tell you that Doug’s Range Rover wound up being a warranty nightmare for  CarMax. In addition to YouTube, Doug also had/has a column on Autotrader called oversteer where he also chronicled his “adventure” and shared other thoughts on Land Rover and Range Rover models respectively. And this is where we get to devil in the details around Doug’s two points:

  1. Range Rovers are notoriously unreliable
  2. Land Rover deliberately doesn’t care about making reliable vehicles because their owner-base will keep getting new models due to the cachet that comes with owning one.

Before I analyze and deconstruct Doug’s two propositions, I want to give you my short responses:

  1. …mmmYeah Doug has a point there
  2. Nope. No no no. Nopers. Notown USA. There is a fairer, more subtle, and nuanced speculative argument to be made than just “they don’t care.”

Range Rover classic Doug demuroI’m going to come at this topic from a couple of angles. First, I’m going to try to historically speculate/explain the history behind the correct  part of Doug Demuro’s postulation – that Range Rovers are notoriously unreliable. So let’s start with Range Rovers in general, and not Doug’s specific model, which was the first year of the Gen2 L322 Range Rover, a victimized chimera of a vehicle (more on that later). Alright, with that out of the way, the reason for unreliability is simple: Rubber. If you can’t seal it, you’re going to get water in places you don’t want to, and British Leyland (later Rover group) developed (or sourced) terrible rubber for use in its electrical wiring and weather stripping throughout its vehicles. James May picked up on this when reviewing the KWE restomodded Jaguar XJS. This lack of decent rubber led to terrible rust and frequent electrical issues like shorts as water is known to be a culprit of.

To be fair, this wasn’t necessarily British Leyland’s fault as the UK government kept in place many protectionist trade policies after World War II  that basically meant that certain manufacturing industries had literally nothing in the way of competition from anyone off the island. So you had no choice but to use Nigel’s rubber because Stan’s rubber cost five times as much.

 

The previous sentence is of course, a gross oversimplification of the situation designed to make the basic point that British rubber from the 60’s through the 90’s was rubbish…which is a fact. I’m not going to dive any more deeply into this because this is a blog post and not a Master’s thesis on real comparative advantage vs quality of goods and services vs efficiency, although it’s worth pointing out that the UK’s real comparative advantage in the rubber industry only ever hit positive numbers in the early 1980’s when literally everything being manufactured on the planet was junk before it hit store shelves. In the auto industry, the term is of course, the “Malaise Era.”



But this isn’t the reason that Doug Demuro’s Range Rover was so unreliable. Oh no. His L322 didn’t begin development until close to twenty five years after the P38 (on a technicality) which was largely an evolution of the original Range Rover and carried over much of its parts and hardware from the 1970’s. The L322 shared nothing with the P38.

L322 doug demuro range rover

This is where things get emotional and dramatic for Land Rover and its employees. Because no sooner did the P38 hit showrooms, then Rover Group was bought by BMW. And you know what BMW did? BMW pretty much abandoned any further development of the vehicle that had been slowly but surely and methodically tweaked and refined over twenty-five years, and set Land Rover to work…designing and building a BMW with Land Rover badges. In fact the only real change the P38 saw in its six years on the road was a new engine management system bolted to an otherwise unchanged engine (itself a Buick V8 from the 1960’s). Other than that, over the years, you got new colors, more wood trim, and different wheels, but all that time was really spent building the next Range Rover (cough!!bmwcough!!). So the reliability problems of a single-generation vehicle basically went completely unaddressed for those six years because BMW simply didn’t care about making this British designed vehicle work in the way in which it was intended.

And then the Americans rescued the British again.

BMW, in either a shrewd move, or shortsighted move (that wound up benefitting everyone in hindsight), tired of ownership of the Rover Group. Maybe it’s because they needed to make their quarter. Maybe it’s because they were overextended due to the nightmare that the Rolls-Royce acquisition became. It’s also possible (and this often happens) that BMW decided that the Land Rover ethos (of tough and capable and dependable-ish-until-BMW-came-around off-road utility vehicles) did not fit in with the BMW brand that offers practical high-performance vehicles in a variety of shapes and sizes that offer a pleasing and exhilarating-when-you-want-it on-road experience. So they made a cunning move…



A year away from the L322’s launch date, BMW sold Land Rover to Ford. This meant it was impossible for Ford to shift course on the vehicle’s development AND it meant Ford would have to keep buying pretty much all the mechanicals and electronics from BMW that it was manufacturing and sending to England to be used in the soon-to-be-released modern L322 Range Rover. It also meant that any reliability issues borne of German manufacturing (and yes, the German cars have their problems too) would be Ford’s problem. So let’s recap:

You have a British factory and British employees building what is basically a completely German vehicle and you’re under American management. Talk about zero accountability and a really zig-zaggy org chart of mostly dotted line reporting, if any reporting at all. It sounded like nobody wanted to build or sell or give a rat’s butt about the L322. And despite claims by LR executives to the contrary, what rolled off the assembly line was more of the same poor reliability that Land Rovers had become associated with, and it would get worse.(links to a top gear recap as I can’t find the actual video online).

Don’t worry, we’ll get back to Doug Demuro in a bit. Just roll with me here…

But then something odd happened. Ford turned out to be the cool parent. See, they gave Land Rover its Britishness back. Ford would go on to add Jaguar and Aston Martin to their Premier Automotive Group (along with Volvo…odd choice?) and in turn helped to reignite the best-of-british-spark that had been missing for some time. All development returned to the UK, and a very important fellow was hired on named Andy Wheel. Andy Wheel would go on to design the Discovery 3/LR3 which Richard Hammond called the best 4×4 ever made. As nearly as I can tell from a lack of available information on the web, the LR3, it didn’t share many, if any parts from the L322 Range Rover (BMW e39 540i) parts bin. It was a home grown product through and through. It would later go on to provide the mechanicals and electrics (in their entirety) for the L320 Range Rover Sport…like Bertram.

L320 doug demuro range rover sport

And then Ford got a brain wave: Let’s stop paying BMW for the big bits we put in the L322

And so in an effort to improve things and give the L322 a British heart, Ford opted to  put the engine developed by Jaguar for the LR3 /XJ8/V8 Vantage also into the L322. This was a bit of a double-edged basketball. Their intentions were good, but it was a bad executive decision because it’s not like the old days of shoebox vehicles where you could drop any engine into pretty much anything and plug in the battery and things would just kinda work. No, the L322 still had more miles of BMW wiring harnesses than an elephant’s intestine is long, and more BMW control modules than zits on a teen’s face and replacing a vehicle’s engine is one thing, but replacing all the wiring and control modules is something else entirely. Something Ford didn’t do…we think…until later.



What this meant was that Ford had to figure out how to make their jaguar V8 and all its ECUs and emissions controls and power management  systems talk to all the BMW brains and nerves in the vehicle. This was no small task given that the the downloadable PDF manual for the BMW software was probably in German. If you remember computers back in 2003, you remember that things were still pretty buggy and in their infancy relative to today and software didn’t make allowances for freezes and crashes to the extent it does now. Software would also function incorrectly with bugs without freezing or crashing, and that brings us back around to Doug Demuro’s experience.

Doug’s 2006 Land Rover Range Rover L322 is an unfortunate chimera of disinterested British manufacturing, absentee German design, and janitorial American management (although to be fair, Ford eventually did an incredibly good job of cleaning things up). I can only imagine how confused Doug Demuro’s vehicle was on the inside, questioning its existence, unsure where it was or what it was. It’s no wonder nothing worked, nor was his experience at all unique. Nothing inside the ’06 L322 was really made to fit together well.

So while that was going on, car designer Andy Wheel (and also Richard Woolley of Range Rover Sport fame) were busy making the vehicle that would exemplify the lessons learned from every previous Land Rover and Range Rover (not counting the L322 because screw that) and the result was, in my humble opinion, fantastic in terms of building a supremely balanced vehicle that was capable, understated, non-pretentious, and timeless. In fact its only weakness appears to be fuel consumption, which could have been addressed with a smaller engine, had the market not demanded “MORE POWERRRRR!!…”

A review of ownership reviews across the internets of the L319 Discovery 3/LR3 and L320 Range Rover Sport reveals them to also have been exceptionally reliable, contradicting popular opinions about Land Rover in general. One can deduce that real time and effort was put into changing that “feature” of previous vehicles. Given that it shared no parts with the L322, there was not necessarily any reason to believe it would share in the reliability problems either. Also, the 4.4L Jaguar V8 was rated as being one of the best engines ever made and is considered to still be better than the later 5.0L V8 in the refreshed models that came out in 2010.

Ford did an incredible job of cleaning up the BMW mess at Land Rover, and it was unfortunate that they had to dissolve their premium automotive group during the economic downturn of the mid-2000’s,with Jaguar/Land Rover being sold to Tata Motors of India, but they paved the way for further astonishing vehicles to come out of Solihull the current crop is likely still the lingering legacy of Ford’s time as the steward of the brand. I feel confident in saying that the L319/L320 were the true successors to the P38 and Discovery 2 and heirs to the Land Rover brand, and the L322 never happened.

Never ever.

Like Howard the Duck or Crystal Pepsi.

It never happened.

So no, Doug Demuro, it’s not that Land Rover doesn’t (or didn’t) care about their owners having reliable vehicles while yes it’s a fact that their vehicles were unreliable for a time. The fact of the matter is, true Land Rover vehicles with actual Land Rover energy put into designing them improved dramatically with the departure of BMW as a parent company and that the L322 should be put in a category of its own, much like people without a country. If you take the L322 out of the equation, you’ll find that 21st century LR vehicles do not find themselves at the bottom of reliability surveys, they tend to be average to good. Sure things go wrong with some, but that happens with every car, even Toyotas. I had a Subaru Impreza WRX that I got new that was in the shop more than Doug’s Range Rover ever has been. I had a Ford Focus Electric that needed a new engine and transmission in fewer than 20,000 miles (the latter being the “focus” of a class action lawsuit, although not the EV model technically).  But really, take a look around the internet. You’ll find mostly praise for L319s and L320s. They’re perfectly normal reliable vehicles that can do just about anything but 40mpg. And they’re going  to go up in value, eventually…like rusty old VW Westphalias. Who saw that coming?



Or I could be literally wrong about everything I just wrote. But I won’t admit to that until design executives from Ford, Land Rover, and BMW reach out to me and tell me the true story of that fabled forty year love triangle.

Okay, back to spending hours on Doug Demuro’s Youtube Channel

Travel Thoughts: The Sidney Business District is Totally the Matrix

When I say the downtown Sydney Business District is totally The Matrix, I’m not joking, at all. It’s the frickin’ Matrix.

While this wasn’t the primary reason for my visiting Australia, I admit I became a little tied up with experiencing it for the wealth of movie filming locations from that film. While I believe in Film Works and keeping production local to Los Angeles, I realized that Sydney was in fact, the perfect place for this movie to be made twenty years ago. The reason was simple: Sydney’s metropolis was, at the time, not instantly recognizable to most of the world and as such was the perfect surreal backdrop for a  world that may (or may not be) real.

The thing that made the Sydney Business District even more matrixy than The Matrix though, was the fact that it was practically impossible to get lost. All one really had to do was park at the Sydney Opera House (a later post), and walk back into the city, and somehow you can always find your way back. I cannot say this of Manhattan which, despite being laid out as a grid, I can’t find my way around to save my soul. It’s bad there. Sydney not so much! The other notable thing is that Sydney isn’t in a grid pattern, so you would think it would be harder. My theory is that “the machines” programmed the layout of Sydney into my brain with that thingie that’s plugged into the back of everyone’s necks.i

In addition to the spot where Neo called the machines at the end of the film, I also came across a couple of other locations while I was there, including the Martin Place Fountain (where the “Woman in the Red Dress” program was run:

Another non-location was the staircase inside the Westin Hotel in Martin Place. While IMDB lists this as the filming location for the staircase, as do many fan sites, however it’s most likely not…unless there’s another staircase in the bowels of the hotel somewhere. See for yourself, below is video of the staircase, followed by video from the original film. While they might share trim bits, they are most definitely not the same staircase:

There is one other possibility that’s not completely crazy: That the original staircase was torn out and a new one built in its place that used the same trim pieces. I say it’s not crazy, because I’ve seen large facilities tear out and replace structural elements like this all the time, due to things like failed safety inspections or interior redesigns, or new building code requirements and it’s clear that Martin Place had seen a bit of a renaissance since the Matrix was filmed there with the facades on many of the buildings receiving major facelifts prior to and even during my time there. I can’t even be sure that the Westin was a tenant in that building at the time the Matrix was filming. Many of the seedy locations used for the industrial and alleyway sequences in Sydney went on to gentrify in the years following the production. Most areas are unrecognizable and cannot be tied to the production.

This of course, was but a small part of my visit to Australia, and I’ll cover the other aspects of it in subsequent posts.

These photos were taken back in 2015 with what I thought was an underdog and unsung hero of a camera, the original Canon EOS M. Derided for slow autofocus, a lack of available lenses, and poor battery life, I thought it did a decent job, I debated whether or not to put any of these photos in the hi-res gallery, and in the end, opted to wait until I had put up additional subject specific posts on Australia and will then do a consolidated “greatest hits” album.

Past Thoughts: The MovieLand Wax Museum in Buena Park, California

In celebration of Flashback Monday (which isn’t a thing) I wanted to look back on the final days of the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, California.

Movieland Wax MuseumNo I didn’t take this picture, it was from a postcard…and the lake later became a Starbucks

From 1961 to 2005 it was the goto place to feel like you were visiting the movies. This of course, was before many of the studios had their tours (apart from Universal’s…which was insanely awesome back in those days) and one nifty little thing to note was that, given its reasonably close proximity to the film studios of Los Angeles, stars had, in the past, visited and bestowed upon their namesake diorama’s genuine artifacts from what scene was depicted. So there was real Hollywood provenance there!

Unfortunately, in 2005, the MovieLand Wax Museum closed its doors forever, but, as is often the case with local fixtures going away, it drew ridonkulous crowds who had been procrastinating and putting off for years, a visit, which of course cost the museum and forced it to shut down. If you don’t support your local businesses, they can’t succeed. I’m not being sarcastic.

Buena Park was something of an oasis for amazing museums back in the day. The only one that pre-dates me (and which I regret being born too late for) was the Movie World museum which was dedicated to cars. It had a collection that will never be replicated as many of the cars wound up in private hands, or on display and eventually back out in the elements where they rotted away. Truly a sad tale.

The only two surviving amusement offerings in or near Buena Park are places you may have heard of: Knott’s Berry Farm, and Disneyland. And speaking of Disneyland, the line to get in during its closing weeks was longer than the line for an E-Ticket ride! But I did it, I succeeded in getting in, and took over a hundred photos for posterity. I can’t for the life of me, remember every film or star featured and some have the description plaques cropped out, but Wikipedia covers all of them, so you can certainly cross-reference.

Of course this was back in 2005 before digital cameras were the bomb-diggity they are today, and some of the JPGs have since corrupted in the intervening thirteen years, so please forgive me if one or two pictures looks a little off, but I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane.

Rover Thoughts: First Planned (and Unplanned) Repairs

Well prior to the Range Rover Sport’s check-engine light coming on due to me battling with not being permitted to use cruise control, I had already confirmed that there were things wrong with it (prior to buying it) that I was prepared to fix relative to the price I was paying. I had had it tech inspected, and some things were unnecessary annoyances, and others were critical to operation. I wrote “others,” but technically, there was only one repair necessary that was critical to operation: the rear door latches.

range rover sport l320 repairsIt looked pretty good after the detail, but it rained two days later…then it got dirty. That never happens in LA

For some strange reason, the locking mechanisms had failed on both rear doors! Odd right? I guess the previous owner had a spouse or children who manhandled those doors in a certain way that, while they still opened and shut perfectly normally, they wouldn’t lock.

So of course anyone could walk up to the locked vehicle, open a rear door, and walk off with my power inverter or dehumidifier (as the only things of value inside).

The shop I found in Orange County California to be my point of service was/is Euro West Rovers. They really seemed to know their stuff and as the only independent Land Rover tech in the area, the major Land Rover dealers sent a ton of non-warranty work their way. There was no shortage of Land Rovers lined up for work, scheduled maintenance, and also repairs. I draw a distinction between the three that I’ll go into in a later post. Continue reading “Rover Thoughts: First Planned (and Unplanned) Repairs”

Movie Thoughts: Upgrade Is a $1 million Movie that Deserves $1 Billion in Ticket Sales

Yes, Upgrade is the kind of movie that should scare MoviePass (see because they pay full price for your tickets). You all saw Upgrade and remember who Leigh Wannell is right?

He’s the guy who wrote Saw. You remember Saw? No? It’s that Hitchcock-style thriller that didn’t actually show any gruesomeness and cost $1 million to make and went on to gross $100 million BECAUSE IT WAS EXCELLENT.

Welp Wannell’s done it again with Upgrade. Upgrade is just exquisite storytelling and you can tell this movie was made for [relative]pennies but comes out looking like a big budget film. I love Wannell’s work. It’s easy to follow, there are no plot holes, only justifiable ambiguities that persevere the suspension of disbelief, and Wannell’s endings are, unlike Shamylan’s sham twists, AWE-SOME. Don’t worry, no spoilers.

I also love that Upgrade, like Saw, didn’t rely at all on big name talent. Logan Marshall-Green, a very talented actor in his own right, but not a house-hold name (yet…), is the biggest star in the film, and it doesn’t matter because the story carries everyone (as does Wannell’s direction).

Seeing Upgrade makes me wonder what Wannell could do with a Disney tentpole budget, the possibilities abound, but I believe its fair to say that he deserves a spot next to James Cameron, if not for behavioral style, then at least chutzpah and energy in seeing his vision realized.

The ending though. Gosh what a great ending. No, no spoilers here.

Thing Thoughts: The Leopold FC660C Mechanical Keyboard on a Mac

When I committed myself to maintaining a regular blog I realized I’d need to find a keyboard that was meant for a ton of typing – enter the Leopold FC660C. It’s the next best (and very different) thing to the keyboard on my MacBook Pro which has its upsides and downsides.

Leopold FC660C

Before we continue, I want to take a moment to tip my hat to The Wirecutter. They have been my goto for reviews on just about anything useful. And sometimes, they may pick an item, and then when reading through the comments, I can find something that’s a better fit for my needs anyway. It’s a great site and also indicative of how I wound up with the Leopold – It was because of their pick for the Best Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard “for most people.” The Wirecutter’s [correct] choice for this item was the Logitech K380. It connected without a hitch and had switches to pair with three separate devices. It was also compact, which was very important to me as I work in a closeted sized space that only permits me a desk that’s three feet wide (also a WireCutter pick, the Fully Jarvis). The battery life on the K380 was fabulous, and its fit and finish was better than its $40 price tag suggested. There was just one problem: Continue reading “Thing Thoughts: The Leopold FC660C Mechanical Keyboard on a Mac”

Travel Thoughts: The Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria

The Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria saw its influence expand greatly back in 2009, interactivity and human appendages-as-input devices were all the rage, and people were actually working hard at realizing the future and making profoundly cool and interesting and unique experiences that revolved around gestural interaction with digital devices or within digital environments. This was largely an outgrowth of the first iPhone which had just been released (en-masse) about a year earlier.

CRW 8358 copy

It’s as if everyone wanted didn’t want to work hard until Apple did it first and then once Apple did it…everyone hopped on the multi-touch train and claimed it was easy. Even I did. And it wasn’t easy.


Remember where you were when this happened?

That’s right, I built a giant multitouch wall into a sun porch and it worked for all of one evening before my code crashed, but hey, I can say I did it, and I can also say it got me nowhere in my career. But at least I learned that I was capable of great things even if only I recognized that fact.

But I digress…

The Ars Electronica Center is a “Museum of the Future” based in Linz, Austria that had recently undergone a major renovation with a completely new building. It had always focused on the interactive art world but around 2007 it became an absolute Mecca for this sort of thing as iOS paved the way for a ton of development in the non-qualified interactive experiential space. Before I continue, what I mean by “non-qualified” is the notion of activated spaces or objects. These are/were things that required nothing more than your presence to activate, so there was no need to own a device to initiate an experience (like an iPhone for example).

And I loved that sort of thing, so I went there. Continue reading “Travel Thoughts: The Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria”

Rover Thoughts: Smog Check Update –> FAILED!

Well I certainly didn’t expect this lovely 2006 Range Rover Sport with 126,000 miles to fail its first smog check since I got it. It turns out it failed on a technicality: finicky cruise control that triggered a check-engine light. While the vehicle passed its emissions and leakage tests, unfortunately, I had experienced a check-engine light when, for some odd reason, the vehicle’s cruise control feature decided to go belly-up.

Range Rover sport smog check fail

The plot does thicken though…

I had noticed the cruise control acting up with an occasional message saying “Cruise Control Not Permitted” that popped up in the status display in the gauge cluster, but I never gave it much thought.

Range Rover sport l320 cruise control fault

My parents’ LR4 from time to time threw that message and also a “Normal Suspension Height Only” warning, and both were typically resolved by shutting it down and starting it back up. A later search of the weirdly-passionate Land Rover owner forums on the internets turned up several folks who had had my problem and attributed it to a dirty connection between the steering wheel controls and the steering column electronics.

Range Rover sport smog check fail cruise control

But what was unique to my situation was that it had actually triggered a check engine light, and that caused the smog fail. No, Bertram wasn’t making the air any worse (than any other equivalent vehicle) nor was Bertram poisoning the water table. Nope, Bertram was just being a cruise control diva. And the best part was…this happened on the way to the smog check station!

What I later discovered, is that what triggered the check-engine light, were my persistent attempts to use the cruise control despite it being “not permitted.” It would seem the car really wanted to put its foot down and get me to stop pushing its buttons…literally

And so, to that end, it was off to Euro West Rovers to diagnose the problem, and also get the one necessary repair done to the vehicle to make it usable day to day: The rear passenger door latches.

TO BE CONTINUED…

[Editor’s Note: You may have noticed that this is a new category – “Rover Thoughts.” As I will be chronicling my time as a weathered-Land Rover owner, I figured it deserved its own category, I’ll be adjusting previous posts accordingly]

Movie Thoughts: Solo – A Star Wars Story was GREAT!!

Ok I’m baffled at the bad press surrounding Solo: A Star Wars story. It was great. I absolutely loved it and I have to say that I’m really liking this whole Star Wars Anthology approach to things.

Now, as promised after seeing Deadpool 2, this was next on my list. Read on. Continue reading “Movie Thoughts: Solo – A Star Wars Story was GREAT!!”