Why you’d want a Land Rover Discovery
But Mitsubishi, Isuzu and others were making big mid-range 4x4 sales: Land Rover needed to plug that gap, and fast.
Project Jay, as it was known in-house, neatly blended the Range Rover’s chassis (shorn of expensive self-levelling suspension), door shells and windscreen with a distinctive new body featuring stepped-up rear seats and roof, with ‘Alpine’ windows on each side and inward-facing occasional seats in the boot to give a seven-seat capacity.
Longer, higher and heavier than the Range Rover, the Discovery had a steel roof welded to its steel inner shell for stiffness, all clad with bolt-on aluminium panels.
No one person is credited with the design, the whole Solihull team having had input, but the result was distinctively different from the Range Rover and very successful.
The interior was by Conran Design and widely liked, especially for the clever stowage – though the universal pale-blue plastic, to which a beige option was added after a year, would later become dated.
It helped that the brilliant Tdi engine, already under development, was ready just in time: economical and powerful, it was a great V8 alternative and immensely durable.
Even with a difficult gearchange, road testers adored the Discovery – Motor’s test of the V8 concluded: ‘The Discovery is a real bargain, an almost perfect synthesis of flair and practicality and British-ness. A worldbeater.’
In 1998, the Discovery 2 heralded substantial under-the-skin improvements to counter the huge strides rivals had made – an all-new, five-cylinder turbodiesel engine, plus semi-active anti-roll on XS/SE models, rear air suspension and hill-descent control via electronic traction control, doing away with lockable diffs and viscous couplings.
Longer and wider, it looked almost identical but wasn’t: both the body and chassis were stiffer, with obvious changes including higher rear lights, square front indicators and new doorhandles.
Personalisation was popular from the start – you could spend 50% on top of a basic Disco on options. These soon included a handling package of anti-roll bars and fatter tyres: it was not unknown for early cars to fall over if driven hard, and the bars were standard from 1994.
Images: James Mann
Land Rover Discovery: what to look for
Please see above for what to look for before you check out any classic Land Rover Discovery for sale.
The all-alloy Rover V8 was the flagship, but more than 80% of sales were diesels.
Carb V8s (as here) were only for a year before injection arrived.
Beware of overheating or coolant loss on V8s that could be head-gasket failure; on Tdis, check the cambelt has been replaced in the past 40,000 miles/five years and beware excessive exhaust smoke.
Check for rusty swivel balls, wear in the steering box, leaks from both (and axle) and deteriorated rubber bushes; many have been replaced with polyurethane.
The G-WAC seat trim was slightly different from production; blue was the only colour for a year, then joined by beige. Conran design had many nice touches.
Disco 1s had inward-facing occasional rear seats, Disco 2s front-facing with fold-down headrests in the roof.
Also, check the rear door hinges for wear and dropping.
The steel inner structure with welded-in steel roof is clad with aluminium panels – which hide the corrosion behind, so hunt for rot in roofs and all inner panels.
Land Rover Discovery: before you buy
The Discovery 1 featured superb off-road performance and good on-road manners, except for excessive body roll at first.
Anti-roll bars tamed this from 1992 on some, 1994 on all, losing ultimate axle articulation off-road (regained with the Disco 2).
By ʼ91, road testers were beginning to criticise the Tdi for lacklustre performance and poor NVH levels, as well as a stiff gearchange and heavy clutch; the gearbox was soon improved, then replaced in 1994.
From 1993-ʼ97 there was a T16-engined 2-litre Mpi version – a decent road car, but lacking torque for off-road use, so few were sold in the UK.
Discos were sold in Japan from 1993-ʼ98 as Honda Crossroads; a few have been imported.
The Tdi is bombproof if well maintained; the Td5 engine in the Disco 2 marked an industry first with an individual, cam-driven fuel pump for each cylinder, giving higher pressures and far less scope for high-pressure leaks, but itʼs a touch prone to head-gasket failure.
Disco 2s were far more complex (and costly to fix), with Active Cornering Enhancement on most using speed-sensitive hydraulics to engage very stiff anti-roll bars at speed – plus self-levelling airbag rear springs, able to lift the rear for serious off-roading and drop it for hitching trailers.
Electronic traction control (on the rear axle of ABS-equipped S1s) was now on all four wheels, linked with electronic brake distribution and hill-descent control.
There was a Sport mode on the latest ZF auto ʼbox, and Anti-Shunt Control on the electronic throttle.
Land Rover Discovery price guide
- Disco 2: £300/2500/8000*
- Disco 1 Tdi-V8: £750-1000/3500-4000/15,000-18,000*
- Early ‘G-WAC’: £10,000/25,000/35,000*
Special editions and 3dr worth more; prices correct at date of original publication
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Land Rover Discovery history
1989 Sep Discovery 3dr: 200 Tdi or 3.5 V8
1990 Sep 5dr added; V8i gets injection; vented front discs, higher-ratio steering
1992 Sep V8 auto option; optional a-r bars
1993 Apr Discovery Commercial (van) Jun 2-litre, 134bhp T16 Mpi added (to ’97) Sep 180bhp 3.9 V8; auto option for Tdi
1994 Mar Facelift: new dash; more refined 300 Tdi; new ’box; ABS/a-r bars standard Apr V8 launched in USA
1998 Sep Disco 2: 3dr dropped, larger body, stiffer chassis, no centre diff-lock; 136bhp Td5; 182bhp V8i 4.0
2002 Mar Facelift: integrated front lights, colour-coded bumpers, noise reduction, centre diff-lock; 220bhp 4.6 V8 for USA
2004 Nov S2 replaced by all-new S3
The owner’s view
Mark Harrow grew up in Solihull, where his father ran Land Rovers and Range Rovers.
“I started an apprenticeship with Land Rover,” he recalls, “but then followed my parents to Devon and ran my own electrical and plumbing business while restoring Land Rovers on the side.
“I’ve been full-time for four years now, and I’ve restored four of the five G-WACs [the pre-production launch cars] that are on the road. One is mine and there are several more here awaiting restoration, one of which is my son’s.
“I’ve restored this car for Jon Chester, who was very senior at Jaguar Land Rover and a director of Bowler Motorsport – it had been restored before but to a poor standard, and most of it had to be redone.
“There were 124 differences on the G-WACs and getting the details right is a real challenge. I admire the V8s but I’m a Tdi man myself – mine is a Tdi, they go on for ever!”
Owned the market before the Disco, with turbodiesel or 3-litre V6, IFS and power steering. V20 from ’91 was bigger and more powerful, with better transmission; ’99 V60 was a monocoque.
Sold 1991-2006 • No. built 1.9m • Price now £1500-6000*
Monocoque XJ started the SUV trend and spawned the Grand Cherokee in 1992; both were on sale in the UK from 1993. XJ had a 2.5-litre turbodiesel or 4-litre ‘six’, and was serious competition.
Sold 1984-2001 • No. built 2.88m • Price now £3000-18,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Land Rover Discovery: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Rust is the biggest enemy of a Land Rover Discovery 1, complexity (and rust) for a Discovery 2 – as well as off-road abuse on all models.
Finding a good one and looking after it is by far the best route, ideally picking an example that was well-specced from new, because the range of options and upgrades was huge.
Rugged and practical, the Discovery has aged well and the values of good early cars are now rising strongly.
- Well-supported by specialists
- Both new and used parts are widely available – except for rare very early parts
- Repair panels are made for the worst rust areas
- Severe off-road use and rampant corrosion have taken their toll on most Discovery 1s and many 2s by now: buy with caution
Land Rover Discovery specifications
- Sold/number built 1989-2004/c685,000
- Construction steel chassis, aluminium and steel panels bolted to steel inner frame
- Engine iron-block, alloy-head, ohv 2495cc turbodiesel ‘four’ with direct injection (‘five’ on D2); dohc 1994cc ‘four’ with multi-point injection; or all-alloy, ohv 3528/3947cc V8 with twin SU carburettors or fuel injection; 111bhp @ 4000rpm-182bhp @ 4750rpm; 137lb ft @ 2500rpm-250lb ft @ 2600rpm
- Transmission five-speed manual or ZF four-speed auto, 4WD
- Suspension live axle, radius arms, Panhard rod, coil springs, telescopic dampers f/r; rear upper A-frame (Watt linkage and air springs on D2); anti-roll bar optional at first
- Steering power-assisted worm and roller
- Brakes discs (vented on V8 from 1990, all from 1994), with servo; ABS from 1994
- Length 14ft 10in-15ft 5in (4520-4705mm)
- Width 5ft 10½in-6ft 2in (1793-1885mm)
- Height 6ft 3½in-6ft 6in (1918-1980mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 4in (2540mm)
- Weight 4145-4921lb (1882-2237kg)
- 0-60mph 22-10.5 secs
- Top speed 85-106mph
- Mpg 14-30
- Price new £19,765-30,690 (Mpi-V8 ES, ’97)