RE: The Land Rover Discovery at 30

RE: The Land Rover Discovery at 30

Tuesday 9th July

The Land Rover Discovery at 30

We take a look through the Disco's back catalogue in search of its greatest hits



Amongst the many significant motoring anniversaries being celebrated in 2019, there's one that's been somewhat overlooked. But while it may be understandable that it falls into the shadow of Bentley's centenary or Mini's diamond jubilee, the 30th birthday of Land Rover's Discovery is an occasion worth marking nonetheless.

Much as the Series I and Range Rover had before it, the Discovery carved out a new niche in the 4x4 landscape when it entered production in 1989. With its combination of go-anywhere ability and stylish Conran-designed interior, the Discovery's emphasis on lifestyle can, for better or worse, be claimed to have shaped the mould for SUVs as we understand them today. So, despite last week's Goodwood Festival of Speed roaring on nearby, when Land Rover gave PH the chance to get to grips with its entire lineage, right the way from the prototype to the latest incarnation, it was an opportunity we were more than happy to take.


We start at the very beginning; well almost, JLR's 1988 Discovery prototype being the oldest surviving example, but not quite the absolute first car. It's not here to be driven, but to be taken in as a reference point for everything that was yet to come; at first glance, though, it doesn't appear to be anything that remarkable at all. Although it wears its many thousands of punishing miles on its paint, bodywork and interior, to look at it now you'd be forgiven for thinking it was just a slightly unloved production car. While testing, however, it would have worn a shell over its distinctive roof, hiding the trademark raised section and side windows from prying eyes. Matte black paint around the headlamps and bonnet masked their lines, too, while Range Rover-style wheels and a B-reg plate threw onlookers off the scent of the first new Land Rover variant to be launched in nearly 20 years. There was certainly no prolonged campaign of leaked 'spy shots' in those days...

The lessons learned from those many development miles led to this: Discovery number one, the first ever car off the production line. Based on Range Rover underpinnings with a cheaper, more practical body, at launch the Discovery was available with a choice of 2.5-litre, four-cylinder diesel or a 170hp, 3.5-litre V8 - this car being fitted with the latter. It came in three-door format only (it took till the next year for a five-door option to enter the market) and buyers would have to make peace with the mandatory 'Sonar Blue' interior, beige not becoming an alternative until 1992.


This particular, immaculate car resides in the Gaydon Museum collection, with the majority of its 1,200 miles having been incurred by journalists on the initial media drives around Millbrook Proving Ground. Only road registered in 2012, it's a rare privilege to start the engine, let alone slip it into first and ease away on the surfeit of low-down torque. Having seen first much of West Sussex from the back seat of a car very similar to this growing up, though, it's a more than familiar environment, and as it rumbles into life the Disco brings childhood memories flooding back.

This is the first indication of what makes the Discovery such a special car to so many people. In combining the most desirable traits of the workhorse hero Defender and status-symbol Range Rover, it was able to appeal to a far broader swathe of the population. When new, its unique design, characterful performance and rugged dependability helped owners form a connection with it which proved just as strong as those which fans of the brand's previous models had enjoyed. The Disco was cool, and it was about to become cooler still.


Between 1990 and 1997 the Discovery became the vehicle of choice for the Camel Trophy. This made it a longer-serving steed than any other model used for the epic adventure, and photos of yellow-painted Discos fording swollen rivers and conquering muddy trails made the 4x4 synonymous with the gruelling expedition. There are no Camel Trophy cars present here unfortunately, but their place on this voyage of Discovery is represented by the (apparently appropriate in the nineties) 'Schizo Disco'.

Created for the 1994 British International Motor Show, the 'Schizo Disco' was intended to demonstrate just how closely related the modified Camel cars were to standard showroom examples. With two machines needing to be painstakingly sliced in half to build it, right down to the tyre cover, sunroof and winch, a second vehicle was also able to be constructed in its mirror image. Its fate, however, is unknown, meaning that far from having multiple personalities, this example is the only one of its kind.


With the Camel Trophy having come a cropper in the late 90s, and the pushback against tobacco sponsorship in motorsport having gained sufficient momentum by the early 2000s, Land Rover launched the replacement G4 Challenge in 2003. The first running of the event traversed the United States, South Africa and Australia over the course of 28 days. Having replaced the original car in 1998, Discovery 2s modified with a winch, snorkel, fuel cans, access ladders, shovels and other essentials were used for the journey with a total of 16 teams taking part.

Although incredibly similar in external appearance, upon climbing into the driver's seat the difference between this Disco and its predecessor is immediately apparent. There are a total of 720 changes in all, some more major than others but all adding up to equal a more mature, though slightly less characterful machine. The opportunity to try out the newly introduced electronic off-road systems Traction Control, Electronic Brake Distribution and Hill Descent Control doesn't present itself, but to drive the Discovery 2 is certainly more refined; the steering weightier and more direct, the accelerator more responsive and the cabin a good deal more insulated from the vibration of the 4.6-litre V8.


If that car was more evolution than revolution, then the Discovery 3 stormed the Winter Palace when it launched in 2004. Its first big test came in the G4 Challenge of 2006, which pitted the new Disco's Integrated Body Frame construction and 2.7-litre diesel V6 against 4,000km of Bolivia, Brazil, Thailand and Laos. With 200hp and 324lb ft sent to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, the Discovery 3 unsurprisingly feels to be the most modern and refined iteration yet. Although its noughties sat-nav and myriad dashboard buttons age it in a far less graceful way than its older relatives, its interior design also manages to retain familiar styling cues, tying the model as successfully to its heritage as its boxy exterior.

Which can't entirely be said for the current generation. We've spent plenty of time behind the wheel of the latest Discovery and found it to be supremely capable both on- and off-road, but in its slick, polished interior and corporate external styling, which manages to be both overly generic from the front and uniquely ungainly from the rear, it hasn't quite captured the imagination like those illustrious predecessors. It's smooth and comfortable underway, but many rivals are now as well, and, where the original Disco represented a distinct proposition in the Land Rover range, the Discovery 5 doesn't seem marked enough from the Range Rover Sport, Discovery Sport and Evoque which have since joined it on forecourts.


Perhaps, then, by marrying the rugged off-road ability of its forebears with unique design, lifestyle appeal and brand cachet, the future of the Discovery spirit in fact lies in the upcoming Defender. It may not be the straight replacement for the 90 many of us hoped, but in the current market of copycat SUVs it certainly wouldn't be such a bad thing. We bet it'd look damn good in Camel yellow, too...

Should a Discovery be the only car for you, though, there are certainly plenty to choose from in the PH classifieds





Author
Discussion

CharlieAlphaMike

Original Poster:

347 posts

48 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
I had one in that same metallic red with light blue interior. It was a 1989MY and came with the 2.5 diesel engine. It was purchased as a second car and was 3 or 4 years old when I bought it. I remember it as being very reliable (I had the front driveshaft replaced at great expense) and that it would tow without breaking sweat (I had an old classic car that I occasionally towed on a twin axle Brian James trailer). Other than that, it was very slow and ponderous but served me well.

janesmith1950

3,284 posts

38 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
Loved the look of the 3 and 4, as it struck the right balance between tough and smart. Current one just looks gash, as if it's for people who would have a RRS, but fancy being ridiculed a bit more.

Walter Sobchak

4,545 posts

167 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
I really like the early ones, I’d have a 200 TDI if I could find a non rotten one, they’re pretty simple and tough old things, Disco 3/4- great cars but speaking from experience with an RR Sport, so unreliable and expensive to fix when bits do go wrong, give me an early Disco 1 any day.

Shakermaker

9,106 posts

43 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
I've had three Discos in the past, a 200TDi and 2 300TDis and I've loved them all, and still hanker for another one, one day. Of course they've all been rotten inside and out (less so the third one I had) but there's just something about them I love. More comfortable than the Defender, and I can actually fit in one, and on slightly bigger tyres they didn't get stuck often!

300bhp/ton

36,898 posts

133 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
The Discovery 1 is a very good and clever design. Essentially a Range Rover classic (same doors, windscreen and many other bits).

And pretty much the same running gear as a Defender. So the same off road ability apart from a slightly bigger body and smaller tyres.

The original interior was the best IMO, although the seats were sometimes criticised.

The Disco 2 while visually similar is a completely different vehicle. But still true to the original design with very similar breadth of abilities but enhanced in many areas.












Edited by 300bhp/ton on Tuesday 9th July 10:57

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Bill

39,248 posts

198 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
I had a D2 and now a D4, both great cars if needing more maintenance than is ideal. Shame about the D5...

(And what is the orange and white D5?? Looks horrific!)

Fastchas

1,600 posts

64 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
I think the 200/300 is quite handsome now, esp when compared to the current monstrosity. vomit

Big GT

628 posts

35 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
The Disco 4. Not just one of the greatest land rovers but maybe one of the greatest cars.

Just my opinion after owning a couple. But its a do it all car that looks the part transporting royalty to towing 3 ton generators up mud tracks in the Pennines.


Jon_S_Rally

417 posts

31 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
My dad had an L-plate one for a while in the mid-noughties that I used to drive on occasion. It was a manual 200TDI. It felt really agricultural by that time. More recently, a friend had a couple as cheap off road toys. A 200TDI, a 300TDI and an early TD5. They all seemed a bit fragile and cost plenty to put right, but there was something mildly endearing about them. The fact they were a bit horrible to drive made them quite fun. Apart from the TD5. That was an auto and was pretty awful.

HorneyMX5

4,502 posts

93 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
I have a real hankering for a Disco 4. Such a great all rounder without the OTT aspect of a FFRR.

Disco 5 seems to miss the mark with me but I see plenty about so they must sell ok.

I saw a 19 plate Disco 5 with central rear plate recess the other day. Have they revised the boot lid?

bakerstreet

4,132 posts

108 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
HorneyMX5 said:
I have a real hankering for a Disco 4. Such a great all rounder without the OTT aspect of a FFRR.

Disco 5 seems to miss the mark with me but I see plenty about so they must sell ok.

I saw a 19 plate Disco 5 with central rear plate recess the other day. Have they revised the boot lid?
Its an aftermarket kit supplied by a company called Startech (I think)

I've been a fan of the Discovery since the day it launched in 1989. I bought a D3 over three years ago (my dream car) and only sold in Jan of this year. It was an amazing machine, but I just couldn't stomach the running costs. They are quite complex cars and many things can and do go wrong..Add that to the fact that the oldest D3s are now teenagers (15 years old)

I was sad to see it go, but mine needed belts doing at the end of the year and that was going to be £800 along with what ever else went wrong. Fuel costs were also pretty steep as I did alot of short journeys and each tank was £90+ to fill up!

I suspect I will probably buy a D4 in the next four years despite looking at Crew Cab vans and RS4s.


RicksAlfas

9,768 posts

187 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
A guy I know through work loved his D4, because (as mentioned above) it could do everything very well, and one of the big points for him was a flat floor when all the seats were folded. The D5 doesn't have that seemingly basic feature, and that combined with it looking like it's had a stroke meant he placed his order elsewhere.

In contrast a pal of mine had a D1 - 3 door, manual, steel wheels and 3.9i V8. Whilst it was in the price list and orderable at the local dealers, it ended up being a special order and took a while to come through. Brutal use of the clutch would see all four tyres spinning on wet tarmac. It was a hoot, but not very economical.

seawise

1,476 posts

149 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
loved our '06 D3 and two D4's ('10 and '14) -- couldn't stomach the D5, would have bought another late D4 if they still made them, wonderful 'fit for purpose' cars. appreciate they (D3/4) are complex cars and cost a small fortune to run when they get old, which is a real pity as I guess they'll all eventually disappear.

ZOLLAR

19,707 posts

116 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
Well then Gentlemen, lets post pictures of the Discovery's that have taken us on our adventures!




Walter Sobchak

4,545 posts

167 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
300bhp/ton said:
The Discovery 1 is a very good and clever design. Essentially a Range Rover classic (same doors, windscreen and many other bits).

And pretty much the same running gear as a Defender. So the same off road ability apart from a slightly bigger body and smaller tyres.

The original interior was the best IMO, although the seats were sometimes criticised.

The Disco 2 while visually similar is a completely different vehicle. But still true to the original design with very similar breadth of abilities but enhanced in many areas.












Edited by 300bhp/ton on Tuesday 9th July 10:57
I have to admit I love the original Disco interior in that blue with the Metro indicator stalks and the odd RRC heater controls, I owned a few cheap RRCs years ago for a bit of off roading, which is kept them now with how much they’ve appreciated in value!.
I’d love to find a decent 200 tdi Disco but also have a hankering for an 80 series Landcruiser as my next 4x4.

PRND

1,465 posts

41 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
Fastchas said:
I think the 200/300 is quite handsome now, esp when compared to the current monstrosity. vomit
That's funny as I find both the first two very ugly and the 3/4 was quite good looking. The 5 is not bad until you get to the rear end so it's only the number plate position lets it down (well, and it looks so similar to other LR models).

ZymoTech

30 posts

14 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
The orange and white D5 is a demonstrator search & rescue vehicle that Landrover built for the Red Cross:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVf9uUJV7QY

The roof-mounted box contains a drone that can be launched to enable the rescuers to have a look-see of any situation lying ahead.

deadtom

1,247 posts

108 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
I grew up in and around discos; 2 x 200 tdi manuals, a 300 tdi auto, a Td5 manual, a Td5 auto and a disco 3 tdv6 manual. All were used as workhorse vehicles, the latter 2 commercially by a company I worked for and the former by my parents to tow horses and do light agriculture type work on our small holding.

My dad is now looking for a tidy Mk1 to use as a tow vehicle after defecting to something Japanese for a few years.

The ones my parents owned were fairly reliable I think, no major horror stories. The two I used for work had a hard life though and needed maintenance consistent with that.

There is definitely something about old landrovers, I'd definitely have another if I am in need of a proper 4x4

the discovery 5 is an abortion though.

deadtom

1,247 posts

108 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
ZOLLAR said:
Well then Gentlemen, lets post pictures of the Discovery's that have taken us on our adventures!

lovely cool

Limpet

3,392 posts

104 months

Tuesday 9th July
quotequote all
My dad had two of them - a D1 300TDi and then a D2 Td5.

The D1 was brilliant. Dog slow and unrefined, but unbreakably reliable, and ran to huge mileage (200k or so) before the tin worm eventually got it, and even his friendly welder wanted more than it was worth to squeeze it through another MOT.

It had been such a good car, that he went out and bought a Td5. Nicer to drive on road, a lot quicker, and more refined (actually made a lovely noise). And then over the space of 18 months, much of the stuff that enabled this step up in refinement and performance went hideously and expensively wrong. The ACE and the air suspension failed, and the Td5 engine had random cutting out / non-starting issues that defeated two specialist garages (it became a question of throwing expensive parts at it), the automatic transmission warning light used to come on for fun, the car used to unlock itself randomly, the alternator went, the starter went. It was just a constant stream of nonsense to deal with. Trying to fix faults on it was like a game of Whack-a-Mole. Fix one, up pops another. Fix that, another appears. Then the original one reappears, and so on. Reminded me of our old 2004 Renault Scenic.

The reliability of a Land Rover product, much like French cars of a certain era, appears to be inversely proportional to its complexity.