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?
IS THE ENGINE HEALTHY?
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.
GEARBOX IN TOW
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.
KEEPING YOU IN SUSPENSE
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.
TAKING YOU ROUND THE BEND
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.
WATCH FOR BATTLE SCARS
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.
THE INSIDE MATTERS
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!