Land Rover Discovery
If the Land Rover utility initiated the Solihull 4x4 line in 1948, it was the Range Rover which broadened its possibilities in 1970. But the vehicle which finally took the Land Rover marque into the mainstream car market was the Discovery, announced in 1989.
Today, early Discoverys are at the very core of the Land Rover enthusiast movement, and the vehicle's sales success as a current model has been eclipsed only by the less expensive Freelander, which provided Land Rover with a fourth model-line from 1998.
Two key factors brought the Discovery into being. The first was the sudden collapse of Land Rover's traditional overseas markets for its utility vehicles in the early 1980s. Partly caused by political changes, this was made worse by the overseas expansion of the Japanese motor industry, which seized on its opportunity and undercut Land Rover's prices. The second key factor was the rapid rise of the family 4x4 market during the 1980s. Ironically, it was the Range Rover which had demonstrated the potential here (though it was not then really a family-oriented vehicle) and the demand which Solihull was unable to meet was satiated by cheaper 4x4 vehicles – again from the Japanese manufacturers.
Land Rover management settled on a strategy which involved moving the Range Rover up-market into the luxury class and tackling the family 4x4 market head-on with a new product at a price to compete with the Japanese. This strategy was agreed in 1985-1986, and the new vehicle had to be on sale in 1989 if Land Rover was to meet its business targets. So the Discovery was developed with record speed, both cost and time being saved by building it on the chassis of the existing Range Rover.
It was important in the beginning to create an image for the Discovery which was very different from that of the Range Rover. So the first Discoverys had "three-door" bodies (with two side doors and a tail door) and large, colourful side decals intended to give them a fresh and youthful appeal. Their bright Sonar Blue upholstery reinforced the message, and a wide range of custom-designed accessories enabled buyers to personalise their vehicles to a high degree. A bargain-basement entry-level showroom price was a further help. At this stage, petrol Discoverys had the carburettor 3.5-litre V8 engine which had been gradually replaced in Range Rovers by more powerful injected engines in the mid-1980s. But relatively few people were attracted by this thirsty engine, and most Discoverys had the new 200 Tdi turbocharged direct injection diesel which, though fairly noisy, was both gutsy and frugal. Whichever engine was fitted, the gearbox was always a five-speed LT77 type.
The first 12 months of Discovery sales allowed the vehicle to create its own image, and also enabled Land Rover to reposition the Range Rover more firmly in a higher price bracket. With the 1991 models, introduced in autumn 1990, the company's real strategy for the Discovery became clear. For the 1991 season, the original three-door models were supplemented by five-doors (four side doors plus one tail door). More soberly dressed, these were aimed squarely at the family buyer, but benefited from the youthful and adventurous image which the three-doors had already established. A Bahama Beige trim option toned down the interior, and side decals were absent for most markets. While the Tdi remained the more popular engine choice, the carburettor V8 disappeared in favour of a more powerful, injected 3.5-litre engine. Models with this were called V8i types.
The five-doors helped the Discovery to surpass Land Rover's own sales expectations of the Discovery, and from now on changes to the Discovery were driven by customer demand rather than by Land Rover's own assumptions about what would sell. So from mid-1992 a four-speed automatic option was introduced for those who wanted it, but with the V8 engine only.
For markets where high taxes made the V8i unsaleable but customers wanted petrol engines, Land Rover next introduced a 2-litre four-cylinder engine developed from the T-series used in Rover cars. Discoverys with this were known as Mpi models (the letters stood for Multi-point injection), and the engine remained available until 1996 – always with manual transmission – although it was never a strong seller.
Meanwhile, the V8i models switched to the more powerful 3.9-litre engine already used in the Range Rover. Also made available for the 1994 models introduced in mid-1993 was the combination of Tdi diesel engine and four speed automatic gearbox. This was also the year when the Freestyle Choice option of front-and-rear anti-roll bars with alloy wheels on lower-profile tyres brought improved on-road handling to the Discovery. And from the spring, customers could buy a Discovery Commercial, based on the three-door model and as stylish a van as any business could wish for.
The Discovery was not originally designed with the North American market in mind, but buying patterns across the Atlantic and the vehicle's mass acceptance in Europe and elsewhere persuaded Land Rover to look for further sales there. However, the original Discovery needed further development before it could be sold in North America. In particular, it needed more luxury features and it needed airbags to meet US safety legislation. So by March 1994, a facelifted Discovery was ready, incorporating all these features and many others. In most markets, these new models were known as 1995 models.
The airbags – optional on most models outside North America – were incorporated into a redesigned fascia. There were cosmetic changes front and rear (mainly affecting the lamps), and new upholstery fabrics. These included leather for the first time, which was made standard on a new top model called the ES.
Outside North America, the most important change was to the much more refined 300 Tdi diesel engine – a development of the 200 Tdi which offered no more power or torque but could meet forthcoming emissions legislation. All Discoverys with manual gearboxes gained the slicker R380 type in place of the older LT77 (which had become an LT77S in 1991 when its synchromesh was improved).
Some people call the 1995 and later model Discoverys "300 series" types after the 300 Tdi engine. However, Land Rover never used that name and it is clearly inappropriate for the V8i and Mpi models built in this period.
Relatively few changes were made to the classic Discovery over the remaining years of its life. However, Land Rover did play mix and match with the options in order to create new variants, and a notable one was the sporty XS five-door which was announced in mid-1995. Distinguished by special upholstery, special side graphics and special wheels, this model had its own appeal – though in truth its sporting pretensions were all in the eye of the beholder.
These, though, were difficult years for Land Rover. The runaway success of the Discovery forced the company to increase production volumes, and the assembly lines were stretched to the limit. It was perhaps no surprise that this extra pressure on production led to an increased number of assembly problems, and Discovery build quality took a nose-dive in the mid-1990s. There were well-publicised failures of the R380 gearbox, water leaks into the body, and dashboards which curled up in the sun. Land Rover’s owners since 1994, the German BMW company, publicly described these failings as a disgrace.
This was the period of special editions which helped to keep alive sales of vehicle which was now in its final years. There were dozens of different ones, each one designed to appeal to a particular market segment in the country where it was released. In Australia and North America, new model names (S, SE and SE7) appeared on the vehicles, and in Britain the un-badged mid-range model gained GS badges for 1998. Right at the end, "50th Anniversary" editions in various countries celebrated 50 years of the Land Rover marque – but it was time for the first-generation or classic Discovery to move over.
In its place came the radically redeveloped Series II range. Still looking like a Discovery with the characteristic stepped roofline, the new models nevertheless took Land Rover's mid-range model into new te rritory. As the Range Rover moved up-market once again and the Freelander arrived to occupy the bottom end of the Discovery’s traditional market, so the new Discovery moved almost imperceptibly up the market itself.
With the Series II Discovery, Land Rover had succeeded in moving the Discovery into the price bracket once occupied by the Range Rover, but also in bringing with it the wider audience which the original Discovery had created. And that Series II Discovery – a thoroughly excellent vehicle in every respect – will no doubt one day occupy a place in enthusiasts’ hearts like the one which the original of the breed does now.
Vehicle Production & Specification Summary
||V8 3.4 efi
||V8 3.9 efi
||Sept '89-Sept '90
||Oct '90-Sept '93
||Sept '93-Nov '98
||Sept '89-Mar '94
||Mar '94-Nov '98
||June '93 on
|Chassis No. Prefixes (3 dr)
|Chassis No. Prefixes (5 dr)
|Engine No. Prefixes
||22D, 23D & 24D
||35D, 36D, 37D & 38D
||17L, 18L, 19L, 20L, 21L & 22L
|Manual Gearbox (5sp)
|Auto Gearbox (4sp)
||3 door only
||3 & 5 door
||3 & 5 door
||3 & 5 door
||3 & 5 door
||3 & 5 door
|Engine Capacity (cc)
|Power (bhp & rpm)
|Torque (lb/ft @ rpm)
|Top Speed (mph)
|Acceleration (0-60 mph, secs)
|Ave Fuel Cons (mpg)
|Dimensions & Weights (all Vehicles)
To ensure the parts that you order are correct for your Discovery, you will need to know exactly when the vehicle was manufactured. Although the registration document will tell you when it was first registered, this may have been some time after it was actually built. The most accurate way to determine your Discovery’s age (along with information relating to its specification) is by the chassis number (also called the VIN - Vehicle Identification Number).
1. On a plate riveted to a panel in front of the radiator.
2. Stamped onto the chassis, front right hand side, visible inside the wheelarch just forward of the road spring.
The VIN number contains details about where your vehicle was manufactured, the year of manufacture and also the vehicle specification (see the chart above). The VIN number for a 1990, 3 door V8 would begin SALLJGBV7GA
, followed by a 6-figure serial number. This information is broken down as follows:
||Manufacturer code for Land Rover
||Vehicle code for Discovery
||Type code - standard 100 inch wheelbase
||Type code - 3 door body
||Engine code - 3.5, carb V8
||Steering & transmission code = rhd 5sp manual
||Model year - 1990
||Assembly location - Solihull
Model year codes (note: from 21 April 1995, an additional series of VIN numbers was introduced, starting with MA500000, and running alongside the existing numbers)
||1990 Oct 1989 to Sept 1990
||1991 Oct 1990 to Sept 1991
||1992 Oct 1991 to Sept 1992
||1993 Oct 1992 to Sept 1993
||1994 Oct 1993 to March 1994
||1995 April 1994 to Sept 1995
||1996 Oct 1995 to Sept 1996
||1997 Oct 1996 to Sept 1997