Discovery Series I have become off road favorites for enthusiasts
An Appreciation of Discovery [courtesy Rovers North News, March, 2001]
By Jeffrey Aronson On a Friday in January, 2001, I left my island town in my ‘66 Series II-A 88" for a two hour drive south and west to Portland, ME. I parked myself in a Hampton Inn for the night and settled to work the following day, preparing to give atalk in Harvard, MA. The weather outside was frightful, 33 degree F rain falling atop a ton of snow outside. It did not promise to be a pleasant 3 ½hour drive to central Massachusetts. When it came time to check out, I carried my stuff in the heavy, cold rain, out to my Land Rover. I turned the key, pulled out the choke, and hit the starter button. The starter motor turned but the engine would not fire. Diagnosing the problem, I found that I did not have a spark at the points. Changing distributor caps and rotors did not cure the problem. A call to Rovers North led me to suspect the coil; when I swapped it out for an old one in my parts case, the car started immediately. Still, the replacement coil had a checkered past and I did not want to be stranded on a Sunday, so I ordered a new one from Rovers North. Meanwhile, I called the local Land Rover dealer, Land Rover Scarborough, and asked them who they used for rental cars for long term repairs. The general manager asked my itinerary and schedule, and when he unearthed that I was traveling only a few hundred miles for one day, he offered me a demo, a Discovery Series II. By the time I made it to the dealership, I was late if I was to make it to Massachusetts by my appointed hour. If I was to arrive as the featured speaker on time, I had to hustle. In the sleet and heavy rain mix, the Discovery proved to be just the right vehicle. The creature comforts were, to my “other” Series II butt, extraordinary, but what really struck me was the handling in abysmal weather. The car scooted down the Maine Turnpike and later interstates with aplomb and without incident. The 4-wheel drive did its stuff and kept the car on a sure track. As I headed further south and west, the sleet turned to snow but the Discovery continued as if it had turned to mist instead. I arrived in time, refreshed and in awe of the Discovery. That night, I stayed at the farmhouse of Jeffrey and Lisa Wiita, Land Rover enthusiasts who had added a ‘94 Discovery Series I five-speed to the Series II-A and Series III. Jeff had been toying with the idea of purchasing a new Discovery, so the next morning, we decided to take the loaner into their apple orchard behind the house. The snow pack was at least 24" deep and wherever it became soft, the Discovery broke through the crusty top and sank to its frame. All the electronic aids imaginable won’t help move a car resting on its frame, so Jeff had to go get his giant farm tractor with the front shovel to help recover the Land Rover [if anyone at Land Rover Scarborough is reading this story, I deny what I just wrote -ed]. Nevertheless, we were all impressed with the Rover’s capabilities. I enjoyed the ride home, in much better weather, and left the Discovery, wistfully, at the dealership. The next day my coil arrived from Rovers North and I drove back to the island with less pleasure. The Discovery had been designed in 1986 to fill the ever widening gap between the luxurious Range Rover and the utilitarian Land Rover 90 & 110 (later Defenders). Development moved quickly, aided by the fact that the Discovery made use of the coil suspension, engines and full-time four wheel drive transmission of the Range Rover Classic. Land Rover released the Discovery in the U.K. in October 1989 The early Discovery came as a two-door with the 3.5-litre V8 petrol engine, the LT77 5-speed gearbox and LT230 transfer case with centre differaential lock. Later a 1994cc multi-point injection (Mpi) petrol engine was offered in European markets. Normal seating was for five, with two optional folding, inwards-facing seats under the distinctive stepped roof at the rear. In 1994, the engine displacement was increased to 3.9 liters in the V-8, and 2.5 liter 4 cylinder Tdi engine. You could get it in a 2 door or 4 door model, with a 5-speed manual (R380) or 4-speed automatic. An upgraded interior package included a driver's air-bag and optional passenger air-bag. Later hat same year, the four-door model was introduced into the U.S. market, and some 6,000 were sold that first year. By 1996, the Discovery continued its march upscale, following the lead of the Range Rover. While it shared much of the platform of the Range Rover, it always remained one engine step behind. Even in the base “ES” version, the Discovery was quite a competitive package against its Explorer-Grand Cherokee-Pathfinder competition because of its clever interior packaging and pricing. However, the American market - soon to become Land Rover’s largest export market - demanded additional room. Most American SUV’s were at least longer and wider, if not lower, than the Discovery. In 1998, the Discovery Series II was launched, to no small controversy concerning its usurpation of the “Series” name. Code-named “Tempest,” it strongly resembles the Series I, but did add length and width. A self-leveling rear air suspension helped make up for the loss in approach angle caused by the unusual rear overhang. The longer rear body allowed the optional third row of seats to face forwards instead of traditional sideways jump seats. This time, the U.S. model Discovery received the 4.0 liter V-8. Traction control took over from a diff lock, and Hill Descent Control used the ABS system to assist on steep descents. The optional Active Cornering Enhancement (ACE) system used accelerometers to sense cornering forces and controls hydraulic rams on the anti-roll bars to resist roll. In a comparison test in 2000, Car and Driver’s Aaron Kiley placed the Discovery at the bottom of a 7-car pack. The Discovery fared poorly on this test because, as the writers admitted, they tested SUV’s as road vehicles, not off roaders. The then-12 year old styling of the Discovery clearly marked this car as an “SUV” and the writers noted that “ there remain plenty of folks who don’t mind searching for window switches and seat controls, folks who suspect they’ll unexpectedly become Camel Trophy enlistees on the way home from the office, folks who find cachet and personality in British eccentricity.” Indeed, for their recon of the off-road portion of the comparison test, they chose the Land Rover Discovery as the recee vehicle. It even performed yeoman tow duty when other vehicles became stuck in muddy ruts. Car and Driver in a 2002 road test of an HSE7“ one thing’s for sure. The Disco is no poseur, and in a world of tall station wagons masquerading as trucks, that’s worth something.” Author Aaron Kiley noted wryly that “ with the exception of the Land Rover Discovery, the seven [cars] in this group were not so much SUV’s as WOTT’s - “wagons on tall tires” - with each borrowing more from sedate sedans than from tough trucks.” David E. Davis of Automobile Magazine wrote “I'm fond of English stuff, and I love the British Isles. I like their cars, their men's clothing, their shotguns, their approach to motorsports, their historic traditions, and their bookstores, and I even like a number of their restaurants...British roads gave us British sports cars, and British sports cars have been the jumping-off place for most of the good stuff that we now take for granted in fast, nimble cars from a half dozen automobile-producing nations. British sports cars were my jumping-off place for a life I could never have envisioned.” To this day, the Discovery remains full of that delightful eccentricity that converts the right owners into enthusiasts. Since 1994, nearly 160,000 Land Rover have been imported into the U.S. The Discovery forced U.S. Land Rover dealers to deal more in volume than they had when only the Range Rover (ca. 2,000 per year imported) and the Defender (ca. 1,500 per year imported) comprised the Land Rover line-up. Land Rover responded brilliantly. Its advertising touted suburbia, filled with ice-cream toting, hose wielding children, as the most dangerous place for cars. “Nature takes car of its young,” proclaimed a memorable television ad featuring animals carrying their young in their mouths or pouches. A Discovery toting kids soon appeared on the screen. A simple wooden plaque compared the lug nuts standard on the Explorer, Cherokee and Discovery - guess which were the largest? Another gave you a slice of a frame rail, the U-shaped rail of the Cherokee and half of a box rail of a Discovery - guess which looked stronger? If overbuilt for off road potential, it still provided the interior accessories beloved by Americans. For enthusiasts, the Discovery Series I has become the Range Rover Classic of the new millennium. As many were purchased on the leasing craze of the ‘90's, many are available with low mileage. They share the proven drivetrain of the Range Rover and have proven themselves quite durable. With proper tires, they can be set to off roading immediately; with additional equipment to protect their more valuable coachwork, they have proven quite capable offroad. The sharper approach and descent angles of the Series I Discovery make them a better buy. Prices couldn’t be more cooperative on either model, however. On my remote island town, auto trends are slow to arrive. Until this year, only two off-island summer couples owned a Discovery [one owner, a doctor from Connecticut, wishes it had more power; the other, a South Carolina couple, plain love their car]. We never saw a Freelander until a renter from Massachusetts arrived for a week last summer. This spring, however, an island fisherman and his wife looked to replace her mini-ute. She found a ‘97 Discovery SE-7 with around 100,000 miles for around $5,000 from at an out of state dealership. She reports that she adores the car and will suffer our island’s high gas prices and the Discovery’s low mileage with aplomb. When she brought it home, she defended her purchase as “it’s a Land Rover. I know it will last.” Blind love is a sure sign of an enthusiast and the Discovery is just the car to provide every enthusiast with a Land Rover experience at a reasonable price. Like the older Range Rover Classics, you can bring one home, use it daily without excuses, and enjoy its competence off-road. Get one before the nameplate disappears.
The Discovery Series II is a comfortable car, on the road or off
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."