It was like a new car, this was,’ says Dan Clark as he nods in the direction of the metallic dark green Discovery. ‘We paid £6000 for it from franchised dealer Ripon Land Rover – it had belonged to the wife of
the service centre manager. Although it had 60,000 miles on it, it was perfect. It was my mum’s car for five or six years.’
So, your typical school-run Disco – and this one really was, because Dan’s mum is a teacher. And because Dan’s dad – Dave Clark – knows a thing or three about vehicles, it was well looked after.
But, then… Dan got his licence, the Disco went greenlaning, the roof rack, roof tent and other stuff went on, and the Disco got bashed about a bit.
‘When I knew you were going to come and photograph it,’ says Dan, ‘I tidied it up.’ He indicates an uneven bit of panelwork on the rear quarter. ‘I had to knock that out a bit. We ripped loads of exhausts off it until we put the exhaust up through the body side. And when we were out last weekend, I bent a sill and popped a couple of lights.’
When you actually see what Dan does with his mum’s old car, you can’t help but be impressed by the fact that he hasn’t managed to trash it. We went to Weardale Outdoor to see what it’s capable of. It had been raining, and then raining a bit more. Dan’s been here a few times and knows the site well.
‘I think we can get through about here,’ he mutters, nosing down to a riverside area that has been well cut-about by previous off-roaders. It’s not a place for the faint-hearted – torn-off bits of vehicle bear witness to previous attempts that went wrong.
The Disco thrashes forward, almost bellying-out in places. ‘Just a bit fast, that,’ Dan says. ‘But you need to keep up the momentum, or it’ll just sink.’
In the back, everything’s crashing and banging as Dan’s camping kit tries to break free. In the front, everything loose is chucked into the passenger footwell. Holding the Discovery’s familiar, dimpled, dash-mounted ‘Jesus bar’ isn’t enough – I need to hold the door bar as well.
The Disco staggers and plunges like a boat in a storm. Then, with a few thumps and screaming-metal noises from rocks battering the underside protection, we’re out. Like jumping off a fairground ride, it takes a few seconds to get your balance. But Dan’s already been around the Disco at a crouching run, surveying. ‘No damage – pretty good!’ That’s an understatement.
I should point out that Dan’s just 18 years old: some people never manage to drive this well after a lifetime. Dan explains: ‘It all started because me and my dad are into shooting. We rebuilt a little Series III to go shooting in, up on the moors. I was four.’
Four… and helping to rebuild a Land Rover? ‘That’s right,’ says Dan. ‘I was helping; turning the spanners. We bought the Series III as an MoT failure, rebuilt the back end of the chassis and rebuilt the engine. I was helping all the time, outside with a little boiler suit on.
‘Obviously, I didn’t rebuild the engine myself – the first motor I did on my own was a Ford 1700 crossflow for a Westfield kit car I was doing: lightened flywheel, full-race camshaft, twin Webers and all that. I’d have been about 10 at the time.
‘Anyway, when the Series III was finished and we were out on shoots on private land, I’d be sitting on my dad’s knee. Then, when I could reach the pedals, he’d let me drive it myself. That’s how I learned to drive.’
Working with his dad, Dan has learned all the skills early. Designing and making the roof rack was a straightforward job, and fitting the roof rent was simple.
‘We put the roof tent on about three years ago and went to the Outer Hebrides as a kind of shakedown. When we came home, we made a few modifications, then my mum, dad and I went to the Alps for three weeks.’
Brilliant though that sounds, there aren’t any further trips planned for the Disco, because Dan and Dave are building another at the moment – a 100-inch. ‘It’s going to be an expedition vehicle, all kitted-out. The plan for the Disco is to take the bodywork off, then put on a Defender body and a trayback.’
But, for now, the Disco is still kitted out as Dan’s personal home-from-home; and since the body is going to be junked, anyway, a few dings and scrapes don’t matter. Result (for the moment, at least): a fully equipped camper that can be driven hard off-road.
We pull up in a lovely spot by a stream with a little waterfall, where Dan demonstrates the roof tent. It’s up in seconds.
Then he folds out the little cooker that’s mounted inside the rear door. Next, a folding table and folding chair, and the back of the Disco is starting to look quite homely. After a bit of rummaging in the rear storage system (‘it’s just made of stuff from B&Q’), Dan produces a pan, bacon and bread rolls.
While the frying looks after itself, we look over Dan’s navigation kit – Garmin GPS and Panasonic ToughBook running Memory-Map software. There’s a 500-watt inverter hidden in the cubby box, too.
By now, the bacon rolls are ready and, while we’re wolfing them down, we take a look at what was making all the noise in the back earlier. There’s an amazing assortment of stuff – an old-fashioned pressure lamp shows that Dan isn’t fixated on high-tech stuff, and a chunky ground anchor makes it clear that he doesn’t intend to get stuck.
We pack up and head for the fells. ‘It’ll do anything, really,’ Dan says. The Disco certainly gives that impression, pulling like a train up the rough hillside tracks. ‘That’s the work we did on the engine,’ Dan explains. ‘My dad took the head off
and ported it so it’s more efficient. And the manifolds were matched up with the head.’
They’ve tweaked the boost to about 12psi and upped the fuelling slightly. ‘We found that 12psi was best for a good balance of economy and power. But if we need more power – for towing a heavy load, say – the boost can be adjusted in about 10 minutes.’
There’s enough power here, anyway – the Disco has already seen off a couple of diffs and the gearbox has been rebuilt. ‘We got a kit from LEGS, and rebuilt the gearbox and transfer box ourselves. They didn’t blow up – we just did it for peace of mind.’
With upgraded suspension feeling nice and tight on the Deflex bushes, from inside the Disco you get the feeling of a much younger vehicle. In fact, a lot of it is much younger: that slightly tatty, old bodywork is a bit misleading.
‘It’s the image of a Disco, too,’ says Dan. ‘Most people don’t really know what they can do. I’m out off-roading most weekends in this – it’s with Ninetys and it can keep up with them.’
Not for much longer, mind. The Disco that morphed into a camper will soon be turned into a hardcore hybrid off-roader. Maybe then, its boisterous owner will trash it. Or maybe not. If Dan keeps driving like this, it’ll last for years.
This feature appeared in the January 2009 issue of LRO. Current and Back issues are available to download on digital devices here. Please note, we only hold stocks of the the last three back issues.