Buying A Land Rover Discovery 1 - Express Guide

Looking to buy a first generation Land Rover Discovery? Let Land Rover Owner be your guide to 4x4 adventure on a budget with the off-road legend that is Discovery 1. 

The Historic Need-To-Know

As Land Rover's answer to the onslaught of Japanese 4x4s in the 1980s, the Discovery is fast becoming the default choice for budget off-road enthusiasts. Introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1989, the Discovery made use of Range Rover suspension, axles and drivetrain while power choices were between the beloved 3.5-litre V8 or a torquey 200Tdi diesel engine. Initially available only as a three-door model, mainly to avoid conflict with the more affluent Range Rover, the Discovery was aimed at a younger, less-conservative driver with Jasper Conran-penned interior trim. A five-door version arrived for 1990. 

Critically acclaimed at the time of launch, the design improved Land Rover's on-street reputation and ensured the company survived one of the most turbulent periods in its history. Sales boomed, with the five-door 200 Tdi proving to be the king of the showroom. With seven seats and the rugged ability of a steroid-packed mountain goat, the Discovery 1 became something of a fashion statement for young families, resulting in the 1998 second generation establishing itself as a class-leader with a cult following.  

So, Why Do I Want One? 

Cheaper than granddaddy Defender yet just as capable in the rough stuff, it’s arguably better looking than the contemporary Range Rover and far more DIY- friendly. There are plenty of specialists, sourcing parts isn’t tricky, and ownership means you can go off road with the scores of Land Rover clubs across the UK. Above all, it’s good fun and if you find one that’s been well looked after, you’ve got a prime investment and a dependable British workhorse.

What Should I be looking for? 


Depending on how the 200Tdi has been treated, engines can be on their last legs with very little warning. Any telltale signs of impending disaster can be found upon start-up. Look for white smoke or loss of coolant, and check all pipes are intact with appropriate pressure build up. If the pipes are hard then you could be walking into a world of woe.


Check that gear-changes are free from sluggishness and that the correct gearbox oil is being used – for LT77 manuals before 1993, it should be auto transmission fluid. Listen out for whining which could be due to heavy towing. A key indicator that the transmission has been worked hard is crunching between second and third gear. If there is a slight banging or feeling of hesitation coming off the power, you could have severe mainshaft wear.


If the car has been used off-road or lugged frequent heavy loads, the suspension may have taken a bashing. Worn bushes will result in clunking from the underside of the car over uneven ground, or if operating on full lock. Rear radius arm bushes can suffer badly.


If cornering is sloppy or the steering wheel wobbles, the suspension could be seriously worn, or the power steering box is on its way out. Worn components can mean vague communication through the steering wheel, with culprits ranging from front swivels to leaking power-steering mechanisms. A worn-out Discovery will generally handle poorly, but can be improved easily by replacing two or three minor components.



Many a Discovery has been used for weekend fun or heavy work. Check for off-road damage on the underside, brake disc wear and injury to the exhaust system. Brake flexipipe can deteriorate if chafing against the chassis while paintwork and body structure points can be impaired from hefty use off the beaten track, aggravating rusting issues.


In typical Land Rover fashion, leaks are very common. Sunroof rubbers can perish, while the top of the back door can weep. Interior wear can also be heavy depending on what the vehicle has been used for. Because of various rust and water traps, front inner wings can perish spectacularly, rotting from the A-post right through to the headlights. Rear floors and wheelarches also rust, while hinges and seatbelt mounts can rot badly. If used off-road or damaged, rust can run rampant.

With so many rusted examples already having made that journey to the scrapyard in the sky, and the cheaper examples having been cut and bobtailed for the off-road trailer to rip open on obstacles, we are now left to fight over the good ones. Prices won't stay this low forever - if you have found a good one with little to no work needing undertaken, we would advise that you don't delay in purchasing. You'll be kicking yourself later if you do! 

LRO Pick: Classifieds Star

It’s got a full MoT. It’s kitted to the hills. It’s only covered 64,000 miles - it could be your next Land Rover.

2002 was a year where we lost two towering royal figures - HRH The Queen Mother passed away on the 30th of March at the age of 101, while only two months previously Princess Margaret had succumbed to pneumonia. We lost acting royalty, too with the deaths of John Thaw, Spike Milligan and Dudley Moore, alongside rally driving legend Tony Pond. 2002 also found Pierce Brosnan’s final 007 adventure ‘Die Another Day’ released into packed cinemas and ultimately saw the Scottish mining community come to a close after 800 years.

We can already hear you saying – ‘*Expletive Deleted*, was that really 15 years ago?’. It sure was, back when Jeremy Clarkson took control of Top Gear and Girls Aloud stole the Christmas No.1 spot. For Land Rover, it was all about the launch of the L322, the next generation Range Rover. It was also when the Solihull factory assembled our pick from the LRO classifieds.

Except, unlike Girls Aloud or Die Another Day, this Defender has withstood the test of time. Not just because of the timeless styling, but mainly because it’s been adapted into a scenery-chewing, horse-power churning, off-road beast which has currently been primed up for a new home.

With only 64,000 miles on the clock and more equipment on board than a North Korean missile, this TD5-powered monster also has fitted Fedima Sirocco Tyres and a features list longer than a Leonard Cohen song. These features include:

A Southdown Snorkel

Protection & Performance External Roll Cage

Front Winch Champion - Plasma Rope that can be operated from the dashboard

GEW9000 Central Mounted Winch – Plasma Rope, that can also be operated from the cabin.

Terra Ferma Wheel Arches

Galvanised Rock Sliders

Defender 90 Wolf Doors

Front Roof Spot Lights      

High mounted Dynachip ECU

CV Radio Kit with Raptor Dash

Kenwood Head Unit and upgraded speakers

Salisbury Axles with Breather pipes

High Sided Exit Exhaust

The thickest sump guard you’ve legally seen

Diff Guard

Dual Battery System and fitted Isolation Switch

High Lift Jack and Mounting

Internal Mounted Spare Wheel

New Clutch at 57k and flywheel

Don’t panic about these upgrades having been performed by a novice in a rickety garden shed, either. This impressive list of extras has been professionally upgraded and maintained, making this an exceptional example.

The Defender has only had two previous owners and the current V5 holder is open to offers from serious buyers. For this price, you’ve got the perfect off-road warrior that’s had all the hard preparation-work undertaken already.

You can view the advert and contact the seller here.