Land Rover Se­ries One vs Dis­cov­ery

70-year duel

Autocar - - THIS WEEK -

We meet in the court­yard of the Land Rover Ex­pe­ri­ence cen­tre, just around the cor­ner from the main gate lead­ing to East­nor Cas­tle. Ev­ery owner gets a chance to go there and learn off-road­ing on the tracks, slopes and mud holes on which we’re about to drive. But first there’s the size thing to get out of the way. When Roger’s Land Rover was new, the Rover com­pany’s eye was on cre­at­ing a pure off-roader, marginally more civilised than a wartime Jeep but just as ca­pa­ble, to be used by farm­ers, pipe­line lay­ers and all the other trades­peo­ple who re­ally did go to places no-one had taken a car be­fore.

The Wilks broth­ers who ran Rover saw big in­ter­na­tional sales for their unique ve­hi­cle. They even built the first pro­to­type with a cen­tral driv­ing po­si­tion on the the­ory that it could be sold un­al­tered across the world, thereby es­tab­lish­ing a tra­di­tion that has built to the point that Land Rovers sell in 129 ex­port mar­kets.

We’re im­pa­tient to drive, but first there’s just time for an­other cru­cial event: the di­men­sional com­par­i­son. The S1 is tiny, shorter at 3.35m than the new Suzuki Jimny but sim­i­lar in weight at 1200kg. The Dis­cov­ery is 4.97m – thus a re­mark­able 50% longer – and it’s also a cool 0.5m wider with the mir­rors ex­tended. And de­pend­ing on model you can dou­ble the kerb weight and quadru­ple the S1’s mea­gre 55bhp. Noth­ing bet­ter shows how all cars, not just Land Rover off-road­ers, have changed in 70 years.

We drive out of the court­yard, through gates, up slopes and onto the East­nor tracks Roger, who has been com­ing here since 1966, knows so well. It’s a beau­ti­ful place, full of wooded glades, sunny fields, dis­creetly scary muddy slopes and chal­leng­ing bog-holes that he helped to de­velop as boss of LRE later in his ca­reer. Land Rover doesn’t just let things hap­pen in this place; it builds and re­pairs and de­vel­ops its test­ing ter­ri­tory and is ex­tremely care­ful to avoid cre­at­ing un­nec­es­sary ruts across fields – or in­deed any­thing that might cause ero­sion. In fact, the place is a mon­u­ment to the way welldriven 4x4 ve­hi­cles and beau­ti­ful land­scape can co-ex­ist beau­ti­fully.

In Sheep Field, tucked away from pub­lic roads at the side of a lovely, slop­ing field, there’s a per­ma­nent ob­sta­cle built both to test and to demon­strate the im­por­tance of some­thing or­di­nary cars don’t have: cross-axle ar­tic­u­la­tion. Imag­ine a gi­gan­tic con­crete rut, far too vast to cross in an or­di­nary car and pretty dif­fi­cult to walk over. Here, the two ve­hi­cles demon­strate the sur­pris­ing sim­i­lar­ity of their caba­bil­i­ties.

If you get Roger Crathorne go­ing on what re­ally mat­ters, he’ll give you a short ser­mon on the im­por­tance of trac­tion and es­pe­cially crossaxle ar­tic­u­la­tion. “It’s the se­cret of ev­ery­thing,” he says.

“It wouldn’t make much sense if we built ve­hi­cles that wave their cor­ners in the air. What­ever the tech, the art of this is to make sure rub­ber can reach the ground.” In ex­tremis, such as now, Crathorne in­sists you need a front wheel to be ca­pa­ble of go­ing a long way up, at the same time as the rear wheel on the same side is go­ing a long way down. It looks aw­ful as we do it, but the ve­hi­cle is built for it.

The 70-year-old Se­ries One is all old-school en­gine vibes and jit­tery ride. It’s fun and very ma­noeu­vrable, with high-geared steer­ing and zero over­hangs. The en­gine has ter­rific low-end pull and in­stant carb-fed throt­tle re­sponse de­spite the ob­vi­ous pres­ence of a hefty fly­wheel. Lovely me­chan­i­cal feel to the long-lever gear change, too, although you’d never call it so­phis­ti­cated. The S1’s tiny size pulls it neatly through this scary­look­ing ob­sta­cle, pro­vided it has the right driver at the wheel. There’s a brief point where a rear wheel lifts and spins power away (we’re a few decades ahead of the slip­pery diff era) but pretty soon I learn that it’s about choos­ing the per­fect speed for the job. “You let the mo­men­tum take you over the ob­sta­cle,” says Crathone. “But you mustn’t let it bounce,” he adds, speak­ing as if do­ing so were a con­sid­er­able crime. It turns out to be easy, but it’s also a mat­ter of skill.

In the Disco, less skill is re­quired. This ve­hi­cle bris­tles with trac­tion con­trols and ul­tra-long-travel sus­pen­sion that can be es­pe­cially lifted for tough ob­sta­cles. Its sus­pen­sion is in­ter­con­nected so, lit­er­ally, the left wheel knows what the right is do­ing. Same for front and rear. And the sus­pen­sion has a crossaxle link valve at each end that forces one wheel down as the other rises. In place of skill at judg­ing mo­men­tum, tech­nol­ogy takes the strain.

It’s child’s play, re­ally, and ridicu­lously com­fort­able, ex­cept that vis­i­bil­ity from this com­par­a­tively vast ve­hi­cle is re­stricted by com­par­i­son with the old car, and the sense of in­volve­ment can’t com­pare. But the big thing un­der re­view here is ca­pa­bil­ity off road, and in com­par­i­son with just about ev­ery­thing else on the road, these very dif­fer­ent Land Rovers both have it in spades. The mar­que set out on a unique jour­ney, and in this way at least, it is hold­ing course per­fectly.

PHOTOGR APHY LUC LACEY

Dis­cov­ery was tested off-road, at East­nor Cas­tle, in the Malverns. Ear­lier Land Rover work was at Pack­ing­ton, but S1 still thrives here any­way

Spec and size of Land Rover’s off-road­ers have changed hugely in 70 years, but class­best axle ar­tic­u­la­tion re­mains a vi­tal in­gre­di­ent

It looks like it’s bro­ken but they all do that, Sir

Crathorne’s S1 has all the right prove­nance

No-frills Se­ries One keeps it sim­ple

PTO is a must-have down on the farm

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