Cars of a Lifetime: 1995 Land Rover Discovery – The Best Four by Four by How Far?

I had wanted a Land Rover for a long time but I never liked the Discovery because of their suburban mall-crawler image. I was well aware of the problems and tribulations associated with owning British vehicles, having worked on MGs, Series Land Rovers, Triumphs, etc during my aspiring mechanic phase. But you all should know by now that I don’t let little things like reliability deter me.

I stated in a couple of posts back that we wanted something more comfortable and modern after the Suburban. But I placed this story after the Ford van even though it came before it due to certain clerical errors. We actually purchased that van to replace this Land Rover, though for a time we had both of them at once.

I’d been having some thoughts about an older Discovery for some time. So having some cash to spend, one day we found a Land Rover Discovery for sale, and on a bit of a whim (what else is new?), we purchased it.  It stuck with us for quite awhile and carried us through several adventures; some of them were my doing, others of them thanks to the Land Rover.

The Land Rover was in Portland so we drove up to see it in my 79′ Suburban which by then was getting to be a bit of a problem. It was dark when we arrived and the Landy looked pretty good (they always look better in the dark). The owner was a car salesman who worked at a local dealership. His son had been driving it since he had gotten a new car. It was apparently his son who put the dent on the front driver’s side of the bumper. We drove it around the block and I noticed the steering was very stiff. He said something about having replaced the steering gear box, but to little benefit. None of the power windows worked either. When we took it for a drive, I found that it was pretty gutless. I had heard that they were not to powerful due to their massive weight and all-wheel-drive.

Nevertheless, after a brief inspection of the engine and such I purchased it. Driving it back home was a good deal different than driving the Suburban!

After getting it home I changed all of the fluids, which I quickly discovered to be a rather expensive and troublesome project given that the engine alone takes nine quarts of oil. Add to that the differentials, transfer case, transmission, steering knuckles, etc! The steering knuckles of course leaked like crazy. I “cured” this by using a combination of 600 weight Model T gear oil and Molybdenum Disulphide assembly lube. Apart from the knuckles it never leaked a drop, which is pretty amazing for a Land Rover.

I took the windows apart and found that everything in them was bad: the mechanisms, the motors, the switches. So I put them back together and left them as-is. I did make a little wedge out of steel bracket and electrical tape to let me lock the drivers side window up or down though.

It seemed to me that the engine was more gutless than it should be, and the idle was pretty rough at times. And then I discovered the IACV clean out ritual. The Idle Air Control Valve gets carboned-up quickly and must be cleaned every few months, I now discovered. The rest of the engine was a different story. The Rover V8 all aluminum engine was a former GM product and the management system was all very Bosch LH Jetronic-like (pre GEMS Land Rover used a Lucas system) and it was very familiar to me. I set about checking and adjusting. The thing that made the biggest difference was actually resetting and adjusting the MAF. After that it had a lot more power; not a lot of power, but more.

That is, until the fuel pump started dying. It’s an in-tank unit, but Landy was nice enough to provide an access hatch for it on the rear floor. The pump comes out as a typical GM style assembly and costs in the neighborhood of five hundred bucks. But through the help of the interweb I discovered that the actual pump motor could be replaced inside the assembly. It was essentially the same as any GM car from the 90’s with a large V6 or small V8, and in the end it cost me forty eight bucks.

The first real adventure was a scouting trip over the summer in preparation for hunting season. My oldest son, two friends and I scouted the Oregon coast range. We soon discovered that the tires were not up to the task. We got a flat on our first trip down a logging road.  Gravel had penetrated between the treads making a nasty hole. So down came the spare. But the lug nuts had stainless steel coverings on them. The thin covering material was all bashed up from someone using the wrong sized socket. Our lug wrench would not fit! So we got out our air pump and tire plug kit (never leave home without them). After three plugs, we got it up and going.

But on the very next road we turned off on, we got another flat. This time in the other rear tire! Five plugs, more air and we were up and going. But as we continued on, the other tire began to leak around the plugs. The hole was tearing larger and larger. We were out of plugs and it was not repairable anyway. So we tried to get the wheel off but were having no success. Finally through the judicious use of a hammer we were able to force the lug wrench on the the nuts. But getting it off was now the hard part! We eventually got it changed and immediately went home, fully defeated in our scouting efforts.

After that trip I went out and got some better tires. The previous owner had installed load range B car rated tires. Anything under a load range C is far to light duty for most SUVs especially a heavy old Landy!

We used it on a good hunting trip that year and then came my eldest son’s illness. One day he had a stroke. We rushed him to the hospital where they sat around wondering why. Eventually they said things like that just happen. So he recovered to about ninety percent. His speech was slightly slurred now but he was OK. And then one morning several weeks latter he woke up with very little feeling or motion on his right side and heavily slurred speech. We took him back and they once again were at a loss. He grew progressively worse and was finally sent to Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.

During his time at OHSU the Land Rover had plenty of opportunity to show off its poor fuel mileage. The highest I ever achieved on the highway was seventeen with a tailwind. But it normally averaged about fifteen.  Michelle was staying with Ace (that’s his middle name, which he goes by) while my mother (who was still alive during this time) watched the other children and I worked. I was not making much money then, but the boss very nicely let me use the company fuel card to fill it up several time in order to make the trip.

Parking in the city with very stiff steering is a real hassle. I latter figured out the steering problems, but the solutions were so expensive that I just lived with it. Eventually Ace underwent brain surgery and made a good recovery. He is now mildly disabled on the right side but is a fully capable and intelligent young man.

After Ace healed up from his surgery we planned a big hunting trip of at least a week long. For the the first few days we would host six friends. And then when they left we would host two more friends. All of this was done in our big tent. But we discovered that there was not enough room in the Disco to carry everything. So we hauled most of the gear in the Ford van.

We drove back and swapped for the Disco which carried our water supply and other odds and ends.

The Disco worked great showing off it’s incredible factory suspension travel and its sure footing as well.

After the first few days our first bunch of friends left and it was just myself, Peter and Ace.  We awaited the arrival of our friend Reginald, who was due in a couple of days. But before Reginald showed up, our starter died; luckily in camp!

One problem was that for three days we had no means to get out of camp. We had plenty of supplies but I needed to ask Reginald to bring some tools and to have him get a starter. Unfortunately we had no cell phone coverage. After day one I decided to walk the ten miles or so out to a house . But just as I was setting out, the first car we had seen all week came up our little road. He was a local and was very nice to let me use his phone which had coverage. I made arrangements to get a starter in the nearest town. I also would need to buy some tools because the starter used recessed hex key bolts. It was a very boring three days waiting for Reginald and the hunting was no good around camp. We took some shots but never even scored a grouse for the pot.

Eventually Reginald showed up with his pickup and ATV. We fixed the starter and had lots of fun not getting a deer as usual. We hauled our gear out in his pickup this time.

After one more year of hunting, the Landy was starting to wear on me. There are a myriad of reasons not to own one, and they were all becoming more and more apparent. So I sold it for about three quarters of what I’d paid for it and got something much more reliable, if quite a bit slower, and way less comfortable. Discover and learn.