The Land Rover Discovery

A (rambling) potted history.

‘Project Jay’ design sketch.

The Disco has never really been on my radar. Regular readers will know that the Range Rover Classic was my first love (that never really leaves you) and of course I love the Defender, but who doesn’t love the Defender?

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So I happened to be reading this British magazine.

(not a regular read but I put my mate The Captain Champ onto it, as it had a Focus RS vs Evo TME article, and he drives a TME)

It’s a patchy article at best, however it did make me realise what an important vehicle the Discovery has been. Not just for Land Rover, but as a barometer for the evolution of the 4x4 for the ‘every family’. Bought new as family transport by merely well off people (as opposed to being properly rich, to get into a new Rangie), and then bought used by normal people who want a truck that can do all the normal everyday stuff, but is off road capable as most require in stock form and easily modified too.

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I am also old enough to remember the impact the very first Disco had when launched, living in the UK at the time.

Picture credit: ARONLINE
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Another prototype, nearly the final design, and a look that would be paid homage to later, by a Land Rover fan.

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With the Range Rover rapidly moving upmarket and the Defender being too utilitarian for most, not to mention the encroaching of Japanses 4x4's into Land Rovers markets, a vehicle was needed, to fill the gap between the Defender and the Range Rover.

Photo credit: Jaguar Land Rover
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Familar underpinnings (basically Range Rover, which the Defender really copied too when it evolved out of the leaf sprung Series Rovers to becomes the 90/110 model), housed under a brand new body (although a design not without its influences).

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An interior designed by famous British designer Terence Conran’s agency, given the brief:

to ignore current car interior design and position the vehicle as a ‘lifestyle accessory’. Their interior incorporated a number of original features, although some ideas shown on the original interior mock-ups (constructed inside a Range Rover bodyshell at Conran’s workshops) were left on the shelf, such as a custom sunglasses holder built into the centre of the steering wheel. The design was unveiled to critical acclaim, and won a British Design Award in 1989. Source - Wikipedia.

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The first time I rode in a Discovery, years later. I still remembered the fuss that had been made about the interior in the press at the time of launch and looking round intently to see what all the fuss was about. It’s no great shakes now, we are used to 4x4's receiving as much design input as any other car, if not more.

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However for comparison this was the Range Rover interior of the 1989 model year.

Photo credit: Range Rover Classic
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This was the interior of the Izuzu Trooper from the same year, one of the vehicles the Discovery was targeting.

Photo credit: Autowpapers
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So, the inside of the Discovery was from the future. Or at least putting this much effort into a 4x4 interior was the way of things to come. In fact it’s now a Land Rover hallmark.

Photo credit:Which Car
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Initially launched with a carburettor version of the Range Rovers V8 (the Rangie was given a cubic capacity bump to 3.9 litres to distance itself from it’s new little brother) plus the 2.5 turbo diesel. Land Rover soon realised that the Disco was not going to steal sales from the Range Rover no matter what the oily bits were, and embarked on a comprehensive evolution of both models through the 90's, that became (technical) revolution once the 2000's hit.

Of course the Discovery went through the same testing procedure as the other Land Rover products...

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A bit like the Range Rover before it, the design purity of the Series 1 Disco’s is now becoming clear. Find an early 2 door Disco 1 in good condition, now is the time to buy.

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This 2 door Discovery caught my eye a few years back in my neighbourhood. I took a quick snap out of the car window. I probably should have stopped and made an offer...

In 1998 the Series 2 arrived. I’ve always liked this evolutionary design, it’s a really handsome truck in my opinion.

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Not to mention, properly nice inside too.

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This was basically my first choice to replace my Range Rover Classic. As it pretty much is a Range Rover Classic, just newer, which is what I wanted.

A well connected friend asked some people in the Land Rover maintaining trade, for their unbiased opinion, and what came back several times was ‘tell him by any means find the money to stretch to a Disco 3' not encouraging. Unfortunately that advice seems to have been borne out elsewhere. With Land Rover dropping the Discovery name when they launched the Discovery 3 LR3 in the US, due to it’s bad reputation.

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Relying on traction control solely, and not fitting a lever to lock the centre differential, despite the fact that the diff lock was still on the vehicle (until 2001 when they removed the lock completely), did some pretty serious damage to the Discovery’s off road prowess for this model as well (they re-fitted the lock and level with the update in 2003...).

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January 2000 Dealer Off-Road Courses Softened Up for New Models

In a disturbing development, Land Rover dealers have had to make their off-road demo courses easier so the new Discovery Series II models can make it over them. Is this an ominous portent for the rumored new Range Rover?

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The redesigned Land Rover Discovery Series II, while possessing many fine off-road features (eg more wheel travel), has worse rear overhang, reduced departure angle and reduced ramp break over angle compared to previous Discovery and Range Rover models. Consequently, dealers have had to modify the concrete ramps in their demo courses to make them easier to negotiate. The modifications are cleverly done, by embedding rocks in the transition zone at the bottom of the ramp, so the course looks more rugged. However the real effect is to ease the transition between flat ground and the steep slope, reducing demand on vehicle approach and departure angles. As anyone who frequently goes off pavement knows, the rear end is the most common point of contact as you drag the tail through ditches and washouts. Source - RangeRovers.net

I’ve been on a group trip with one of these no centre diff lock Disco’s, and the thing was imobile with one rear wheel in a ditch, had to be recovered, bloody embarrasing. That vehicle also was the only one out of about 7 Land Rovers on that trip to leak dirty river water all over the nice pale interior, after doing a river crossing.

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Also everytime you see a BMW X5 sat down on it’s haunches with air suspension failure, allow yourself a little smirk for BMW pinching Land Rover ideas (I can, after driving the Rangie 250km on the bumpstops...).

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I’m sure there are good Disco 2's out there, the trick is finding one.


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So, as I said, in the 2000's Land Rover finally stopped the steady evolution of what was basically the same chassis that started life in the original Range Rover, and flush with fiscal and technical investment from both BMW and Ford. Launched first the revolutionary 2003 L322 Range Rover, and using many similar ideas, backed it up with the 2004 Discovery 3.

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Photo credit: CarAdvice.com.au
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Developing air suspension on the Range Rover since 1992, it had now found a way to equip it’s vehicles with independent suspension without compromising their off road performance. Allowing the independent suspension to ‘mimic’ a live axle. Coupled with variable ride height, and by now, a very good traction control system, the new breed on Land Rover was a cut above it’s predecessors off road and in a totally different class on road. Now no more compromised in terms of refinement and comfort than a luxury sedan.

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Again I did trips with D3's on them. While all us live axle guys bumped and bounced our way up the hills, this thing just floated up, wheels acticulating like mad while the body barely seemed to move. Right then, I knew I had seen the future.

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Of course something they didn’t get was lighter or less complicated, but that is just the way of things.

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I’ve said it before but the Land Rover styling from this period was a high point of car design for my tastes. Three distinct model lines, all with their own pleasing original look, but just enough to tie them together and crucially, none would be confused with anything else from any other manufacturer. All good things must come to an end I guess...

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With the LR3 people started taking the Disco off-road again, long-time Land Rover supporting off road journalists finally had a vehicle to get excited about, and many put their own money into getting one and using it out in the bush. They seem to be holding up pretty well as a used purchase too.

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One of the great things about owning any model Land Rover is that when it goes wrong (and it will) there is a massive, active and empathic community out there to help you, both local and worldwide. You won’t be the first to have that problem, and some bright spark will have come up with a solution. I completely rebuilt and re-engineered the air suspension on my Rangie, having had no previous experience with such a system. I stand by the opinion a Land Rover is a great first truck BECAUSE it goes wrong, not inspite of it.

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The Discovery 4 arrived in 2009, again this was a evolution of the D3, much as the D2 was to the D1. Give the styling a bit of a refresh, lots of detail changes to keep it showroom desirable. I thought now the Discovery mould was set, the chunky family friendly wagon for people who actually like to get out there...


Then the Disovery 5 drops and it’s revolution again, at least from the outside.

Spot the odd one out?
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Of course we all got the heads up with the Discovery Sport, but I for one (and probably not alone) didn’t think they would make the actual Discovery look so... Generic.

Dat ass...
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No1 on Bloody’s hit list Land Rover ‘chief creative officer’ Gerry McGovern waffles on about aero drag, and efficiencies and how the Discovery’s boxy shape was ‘holding it back’. Do people who buy these new really care about fuel economy? I think the distinctiveness of the design, by the fact everyone in their world knows what a Land Rover is and what it stands for (I think this is also why Land Rover still make a big deal about off road ability for their top models) would have been much more relevant to the target market.

It is around 350-500kg lighter, can be had with aspect ratio 50 tyres, it will just about drive itself off-road (this is what people actually want apparently). Anyway what do I know anyway? I like old and boxy analogue things so I am biased, and won’t ever be likely to be buying a Discovery new. However, there is just something about this one that doesn’t ‘feel right’ in the same way the other designs did.

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Photo credit: ARB

If you have any interest in British vehicles, I discovered this site while writing this. It is well worth a visit.

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