Five Classic Tri­als

The half­way house be­tween the rugged util­ity Land Rovers and lux­ury Range Rover gives you the best of both worlds – cheaply

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - News -

Land Rover Dis­cov­ery

The first-gen­er­a­tion Dis­cov­ery was de­signed to work its socks off dur­ing the week, take the fam­ily on muddy ad­ven­tures at the week­end, and come back beg­ging for more. It’s a work­horse, a com­fort­able bus and a hairy-chested play­thing all rolled into one char­ac­ter­ful pack­age, and one that has at last earned some classic re­spect.

Sporti­ness was not on the agenda when Soli­hull’s en­gi­neers de­vel­oped the orig­i­nal Dis­cov­ery. Ar­riv­ing in 1989, it oc­cu­pied the yawn­ing gulf be­tween the farm­yard Ninety/ One Ten and el­e­gant Range Rover, clev­erly re­tain­ing the rugged­ness of both, while of­fer­ing a prac­ti­cal and fam­ily-friendly in­te­rior with seat­ing for up to seven peo­ple. Land Rover’s mis­sion with its new ‘ life­style’ 4x4 was to woo buy­ers away from the new in­flux of Ja­panese com­peti­tors, and that’s ex­actly what it did.

It was a bold and lu­cra­tive new di­rec­tion for the com­pany, but the Dis­cov­ery’s old-school Land Rover prin­ci­ples are ob­vi­ous the mo­ment you get be­hind the wheel. You have a lofty view over the bon­net, with big glass ar­eas and un­ob­tru­sive pil­lars of­fer­ing a su­perb driv­ing po­si­tion, very much like that of the orig­i­nal Range Rover. The seats are shaped to cos­set your pos­te­rior for many hours of driv­ing over the rough stuff and the gear­lever is per­fectly po­si­tioned to use while rest­ing your el­bow on the cen­tre cubby box. The plas­tic around the dash can be a bit frag­ile, but the lay­out is easy to nav­i­gate. It even has a pop-out cup holder.

The Rover V8-en­gined mod­els are lovely but fright­en­ingly thirsty, but the 200Tdi and post1994 300Tdi diesel en­gines of­fer im­pres­sive longevity and fuel econ­omy that mod­ern big SUVs strug­gle to beat in real-world driv­ing.

Open-road per­for­mance is just about ad­e­quate, but it re­ally proves its met­tle when you give it some tough work to do. This is a proper Land Rover af­ter all, with 3.5 tonnes of tow­ing ca­pac­ity. Stick a boat on the back or point it up a moun­tain and you’ll in­stantly fall in love with its gutsi­ness and all-ter­rain abil­i­ties. It’s just as ca­pa­ble as a De­fender in most off-road sce­nar­ios, which is per­haps un­sur­pris­ing when you con­sider that they share their en­gines, trans­mis­sion and much of their run­ning gear. Like a De­fender, the Dis­cov­ery of­fers per­ma­nent four-wheel drive, as­sisted by a man­u­ally se­lectable lock­ing cen­tre dif­fer­en­tial, plus a low-range trans­fer box that de­liv­ers ex­tra low gears for load haul­ing, moun­tain climb­ing, deep­wa­ter wad­ing or rock crawl­ing. It’s the ideal com­bi­na­tion, so it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that the Dis­cov­ery 1 has been the ve­hi­cle of choice for count­less in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal ex­pe­di­tions and cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tions of the globe.

It’s also been the go-to bud­get op­tion for Green Oval en­thu­si­asts look­ing for a cheap toy to mod­ify and thrash around an off-road course for years, but that’s start­ing to change. Sur­vivors have halved in num­ber in the past five years, their un­der­bod­ies usu­ally clog­ging with mud and cor­rod­ing long be­fore their driv­e­trains give up the ghost. The good news is that spares are still mostly plen­ti­ful, and new pan­els can be found for most of the body’s com­mon fail­ure ar­eas.

The bad news is that orig­i­nal ve­hi­cles in good con­di­tion are be­com­ing harder to find, and not many run­ners sell for be­low £1000 these days.

WordS Theo Ford-sagers PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Richard Gunn

Dis­cov­ery is com­pe­tent, if unin­spir­ing, on the road, but mas­ter­ful off it.

it’s com­fort­able in here, hard-wear­ing, and packed with neat stor­age ideas. af­ter all, land rovers were tra­di­tion­ally built with use­ful­ness in mind.

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