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Land Rover Discovery S1/S2

Land Rover Discovery S1/S2 Published: 7th Jul 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Land Rover Discovery S1/S2

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 300 TDi
  • Worst model: MPi (if you can find one)
  • Budget buy: V8 (if you don’t do lots of miles)
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): LxWxH: 4521x1793x1919mm
  • Spares situation: Unbeatable
  • DIY ease?: D1 yes, D2 needs more special tools
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Not yet – but one day…
  • Good buy or good-bye?: The next collectible Land Rover?
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Land Rover’s cut price Range Rover that has all the ability of the Defender but with Range Rover civility. They are great value and superb all year daily drivers but you must buy a good one and don’t expect them to soar in value for a few years yet

Range Rover aside, until the arrival of the Discovery in 1989, Land Rover products were agricultural machines best suited to farmers and off-road enthusiasts. With the Discovery, Land Rover planned to offer something more usable than its 90 and 110 but without the lofty pricing of the luxurious Range Rover. The new model would offer space, comfort, excellent towing abilities yet still be capable of tackling difficult off-road driving. In short, it would be the car that could cope with anything.

When the Discovery arrived in 1989 it was longer than a Range Rover, featured much the same suspension and a chassis that was carried over largely unchanged too, complete with 100-inch wheelbase. But being far more affordable the Discovery sold in much bigger numbers. But many Discos have led hard lives and a lot have been scrapped which is why if you’re a fan, now is a good time to track down a great example and cherish it before they’ve all disappeared. A good one may make you wonder what all the fuss is about the classic old stager…


1989 The Discovery is introduced in threedoor form only, with either 113bhp 3.5-litre petrol V8 or 111bhp 2495cc 200 TDi four-cylinder turbodiesel engines. Air-con is optional (but not on the diesel until September 1990) while all Disco buyers can pay extra for a third row of seats and twin sunroofs. Standard equipment includes a spare wheel mounted on the rear door and rear wash/wipe.

1990 A five-door Discovery joins the range, with the same engine choices as the threedoor model. All five-door cars come with seven seats as standard, alloy wheels, electric windows and central locking.

From September the V8 gains fuel injection to give 164bhp, although this drops to only 153bhp if the optional catalytic converter is specified.

1992 From October a catalytic converter becomes standard and an automatic gearbox joins the options list for the V8.

1993 In June a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is introduced, offering 134bhp. It’s a modern DOHC injected powerplant but it’s not really up to the job of hauling the hefty Land Rover; by 1997 it’s no longer offered. From September the V8 petrol engine is increased in capacity to 3947cc, boosting power to 182bhp. A four-speed automatic transmission is introduced as an option for the Tdi from September.

1994 A facelift brings a new grille, larger headlamps, an additional light cluster in the rear bumpers and a redesigned dashboard with twin airbags. At the same time there’s a new alarm and immobiliser system, side impact bars are now fitted and from this point on a height-adjustable steering wheel is fitted. Meanwhile, the turbodiesel edition now features Land Rover’s 300 TDi unit.

1997 The V8 engine is overhauled so it now displaces 3950cc and generates 180bhp, which inceases to 182bhp a year later.

1998 The Discovery 2 is introduced. It’s a facelifted Discovery 1 that comes in fivedoor form only. The 3.9-litre V8 petrol engine is still offered but the diesel is now Land Rover’s 2495cc five-cylinder TD5 unit in place of the previous TDi unit.

Along the way there has also been an array of special editions including the Argyll (June 1997), Aviemore (October 1997), Safari (June 1998) and the MM (January 2000). Later on would come the Adventurer (October 2002), G4 Challenge (June 2003) plus the Metropolis (October 2002 then again a year later).

Driving and press comments

Car magazine’s testers didn’t just review the Discovery when it was launched in 1989 – they drove it across the Sahara Desert (or at least part of it). It was immediately obvious on this trip that the all-new 200 TDi diesel engine was a winner thanks to its low-down torque and excellent economy, even if refinement was below-par. Unimpressed by the derivative looks the build quality impressed all the same: “The Discovery is the first well-assembled vehicle the Solihull maker has ever produced”.

When Autocar tested the Discovery upon its launch in 1989 the front cover ran “Land Rover’s bargain 4WD leaves its rivals stranded”. Pitted against the Mitsubishi Shogun and Isuzu Trooper the magazine’s road test team made no bones about the Disco’s class-leading abilities: “Faster, more economical, better-riding and with the extra traction and balance of permanent fourwheel drive, the Discovery has the measure of its rivals. The cleverly designed and wellexecuted interior is way ahead of its opposition and it has a clear advantage should anyone actually venture off-road. With the right build quality, this new champion of Britain’s motor industry is good enough to send the Japanese back to the drawing board”.

Unfortunately for Land Rover the Discovery didn’t have the right build quality though. The magazine would run a Discovery TDi on its long-term test fleet and it would suffer from a catalogue of reliability and build quality issues. These included the tailgate latch falling off, the rear door dropping on its hinges, the ignition switch failing and the electric mirror adjustment giving up the ghost. The fuel injector pipes working loose and occasionally detaching didn’t go down too well either. Suddenly, the Shogun didn’t seem like such a bad idea!

Values and the marketplace

Richard Eacock runs MM 4x4, one of the UK’s biggest independent Land Rover specialists. He comments: “The Discovery 1 and Discovery 2 tend to appeal to two different types of buyer. The earlier cars are generally bought by people who want to go off-roading so they’ll buy a Discovery 1 then modify it, potentially very heavily. The Discovery 2 is more likely to be bought by those who want to use their car every day, and while some of these later cars are also modified by their owners, any changes are likely to be less radical”.

If you want a really early car you’ll be doing well to find one as virtually everything that comes onto the market is the facelifted model from 1994, while there are also plenty of Discovery 2s (built 1998-2004). Of the cars that come up, more than 90 per cent are fitted with a diesel engine while all the V8s are almost exclusively the 3.9-litre unit rather than the 3.5. You’re highly unlikely to find a Disco powered by the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.

Says Eacock: “Prices start at around £1000 for a car that’s clinging to an MoT and go right the way up to as much as £10,000 for a mint, low-mileage example with the right spec. This would include leather trim, seven seats, electric adjustment for the front seats and a full service history. Realistically, you need to budget around £5000 for a Discovery 1 or 2 with a decent spec and around 70,000 miles on the clock. There’s little difference in values between Discovery 1 or 2 – it’s the condition that dictates the price. However, the press cars are very sought after (known as G-WACs as they were all registered G xxx WAC) and some special editions are also desirable. However, some limited edition Discoverys were little more than regular models with different badges and a paint job”.


The sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to Discovery modifications as you can upgrade just about every aspect of it. Says MM 4x4’s Richard Eacock: “Some people modify their Discoverys for on-road use, some do it for green laning while others undertake expeditions. As values of the 90 and 110 have risen, many people are taking to the Discovery 1 instead as it’s far cheaper but is just as capable off road with the right modifications”.

Cars used in an on-road environment can benefit from the fitment of HID headlights for better vision at night. Light bars are available for off-road use; MM is currently developing an LED option which will be available soon.

It’s for off-roading that the widest range of accessories is available though. According to Eacock, lift kits are one of the most popular mods; these lift the car by up to five inches and cost anywhere between £200 and £2,000. Also popular are heavy duty shock absorbers and springs, typically priced at £200-£350.

Underbody protection is also a common fitment; items such as steering, sump, diff and fuel tank guards are all essential for anybody taking their Discovery off-road. Prices for each of these are typically £80-£120.

Although the Discovery 1 and 2 are on the same chassis, the later model has significantly bigger wheelarches to accommodate bigger wheels. Some owners of the earlier model will cut the wheelarches so they can fit bigger wheels and tyres; the wheels don’t tend to be much bigger but higher-profile tyres are common to provide better grip in off-road conditions.

What To Look For



  • Above the heater housing (behind the radio) is the car’s immobiliser, which can play up leading to the car refusing to start. The cure costs just £13 though; it’s a plug-in for the ECU which bypasses the system. It leaves the car with no security but an aftermarket alarm can then be fitted if necessary, once the original system has been bypassed.

  • Some Discos came with a lot of electrics, several of which can be problematic. The ones most likely to be unreliable include heated seats, failed seat adjustment motors and the sunroof. In the case of the latter it can seize up leading to the motor being burned out.

  • Not all come with seven seats; some editions came with the option of space for just five.

  • Many came with a lot of electronics such as traction control, Hill Descent Control, electronic brake distribution and Active Cornering Enhancement. There’s a warning light on the dash for each of these so make sure the relevant light illuminates when the ignition is switched on, then goes out once the engine is running.


Body and chassis


  • The Disco’s age, the fact that owners often neglect them plus the fact that so many lead very hard lives means you have to look very closely for signs of corrosion. Just like the Defender and Range Rover the Discovery is fitted with several aluminium panels, which means electrolytic corrosion is highly likely, especially on the edges of the doors, wings and lights.

  • Many of these cars are (or have been) badly affected by rot, so check everything very closely. Scrutinise the front inner wings, from just behind the headlights right through to the A-posts. Also analyse the boot floor and the crossmembers that run underneath the car.

  • The rear inner wings can also rust very badly, so get underneath the car and look for evidence of bodged repairs or recently applied underseal. Even if the inner wings are in generally good condition the rear floors and footwells could well be full of holes.

  • The sills and wheelarches are likely to have seen better days so feel for filler in the latter and where the former are concerned tap them with a small hammer or screwdriver and listen for a hollow ringing sound which suggests all is well. If there’s a dull clang they’re probably full of filler.

  • The underside of each door needs to be checked for rust and also make sure that the hinges have been lubricated; if this isn’t done occasionally everything starts to seize up, wearing out the hinge pins.

  • A lot of Discoverys were fitted with sunroofs, in some cases simply pop-up items while others were full-on electrically operated tilt/slide items. All of them are prone to leaking so check the headlining for evidence of water ingress and make sure the carpets aren’t soggy.

  • As an old-school off-roader the Discovery sits on a separate chassis which doesn’t tend to give too many problems thanks to it being galvanised throughout. It’s still worth checking it for corrosion probably caused by having been grounded at some point.


Running gear


  • Until 1993 the manual gearbox was Land Rover’s LT77 unit; later cars got the R380. The earlier gearbox needs to be filled with automatic transmission fluid rather than EP90; if the latter is used, expect a stiff gearchange.

  • Cars used for towing will probably be suffering from a tired transmission so listen for whining and feel for clutch slip. High-mileage cars are likely to be suffering from worn synchromesh, with third usually the first to go.

  • As you come on and off the throttle there may be some driveline shunt in evidence. If there is it’s probably because the mainshaft has worn, although the differential can also suffer from backlash after a high mileage and the propshaft universal joints can wear too.

  • Disco’s weight takes its toll on the suspension so expect tired dampers along with worn bushes; the latter is given away by clonking as the car is driven over uneven surfaces. The steering might also feel vague and if there’s rear-wheel steering on the over-run it’s because the rear radius arm bushes need to be replaced.

  • The Discovery 2 came with self-levelling air suspension at the rear. The airbags for this can fail and while replacements are available, many owners simply convert to a tougher steel spring set-up.

  • The brake discs can corrode from the outside edge towards the centre; it’s more of a problem at the rear. The brake pipes are also prone to corrode; putting the car through an MoT should pick up on this.

  • The steering should be reasonably precise; if it isn’t it’s probably because a whole raft of components in the system have worn. Often the worst culprit is the swivel on either side, which can be fixed on a DIY basis. If the steering feels stiff it’s probably because the column needs some lubrication. Are the right tyres fitted as many now run on unsuited cheap rubber?




  • Although the idea of a V8 in a mass-market SUV might seem crazy now, lots of Discoverys were sold with the classic Rover V8 under the bonnet, in 3.5 or 3.9-litre form.

    Many cars have been converted to LPG; such conversions are still worthwhile if you’re planning to use the car regularly but prices shouldn’t be significantly higher.


  • If buying a Discovery that’s already been converted to LPG, make sure the job has been done properly by someone who knows what they’re doing. Ask to see a receipt and ideally a certificate of installation as you might need these to get insurance.

  • The 3.9 V8 can suffer from cracks in the cylinder bores leading to a loss of coolant along with the oil and coolant mixing; this is more likely on cars that have been converted to run on LPG. All versions of the V8 can suffer from a worn camshaft and followers; regular oil changes are the way around this. Also check for failed head gaskets, often because of a lack of coolant changes.

  • Of the later diesel engines, the 200 TDi is the most reliable; it just needs regular servicing. The 300 TDi is easier to service, but there’s a gasket at the front of the engine (known as the p-gasket) which fails. This leads to coolant leaks, overheating, then head gasket failure.

  • The turbodiesel engines are fitted with a cambelt which Land Rover recommends is replaced every 60,000 miles on the 200 TDi and 72,000 miles on the 300 TDi. It’s better to renew every 48,000 miles on regularly used cars but in most cases they should be replaced every five years anyway, regardless of mileage.

  • TD5 engine is usually tough but can suffer from problems with the fuel system. Common issues include weak fuel pumps, fuel pressure regulators, fuel injector O-rings and seals along with loom problems. Sticking with OEM parts is best and while injectors can be expensive, nothing should break the bank. The TD5 engine is the one most likely to be tuned as it’s easily chipped. Sometimes things are turned up too much, leading to breakages and head gasket failure as a result.

Three Of A Kind

Nissan patrol
Nissan patrol
The third-generation Patrol was launched in 1980 but didn’t arrive in the UK until 1982; it would survive all the way through until 1990. Initially powered by 2.8-litre petrol or diesel engines, from 1992 there was a 4.2-litre six-cylinder petrol option with a 4.2-litre six-pot diesel arriving a year later. Functional and capable, few of these Patrols are left and those that are have led hard lives – but they are very tough.
Mitsubishi shogun
Mitsubishi shogun
The original Shogun debuted in 1981 and lasted until 1991; its successor was built until 1999. Offered in short or long-wheelbase forms (with three or five doors), the Shogun came with four-cylinder diesel or four/ six-cylinder petrols. You’ll be doing well to find a Mk1; even the second-generation models are scarce now, especially in good condition. But as a proper off-roader it’ll give the Disco a run for its money.
Toyota land cruiser
Toyota land cruiser
Whenever you see a news report from a war zone it’s always full of Toyota Land Cruisers. Built to withstand pretty much anything, the J80 Land Cruiser was introduced in 1990 and survived until 1997 when a plusher edition took over. Big, tough and simple, buyers could choose between 4.2 or 4.6-litre petrols or a 4.2 diesel, all in-line sixes. If you can track one down it will have led a very tough life...


Incredibly, it’s now 27 years since the Discovery made its début and the model is undoubtedly a new-wave classic. The fact that you still see loads of them in daily use shows just how tough they are, even if many are now tatty or have been modified extensively. Low values mean many Discos are still being scrapped or broken, with early cars (including the three-door models) now especially scarce. We saw a similar situation with the original Range Rover, with early (three-door) models the first to be scrapped. Now these are the most sought after editions of all and it’s likely the Disco will go the same way. It’s likely to be a while yet before these earliest Discos become truly collectible but it will happen – so start hunting down that perfect example before word gets about how great this cut-price Range Rover really is.

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