I am no stranger to Land Rovers. Over the past two decades I have owned a Discovery Series I, Range Rover Classic, Series III 88 and an RHD D90 turbodiesel.

I was looking for something civilized for the mild trail runs the Pacific Coast Rover Club puts on every couple of months. 

I’m not a rock crawler. You won’t find me in Moab with 33-inch tires and my rig laying on its side.

I enjoy mildly challenging terrain. Even more, I enjoy the camaraderie of the Rover gang. It’s the only club I know where children and dogs are welcome. I will always remember one run where we were all crawling along a sunken trail in low gear. The group leader encouraged all the kids to get out and walk alongside us. It was fun for everyone.

A friend introduced me to a veterinarian who was selling her 2000 Land Rover Discovery II.

The forest green over tan truck had been in caring ownership for many years. It had covered 211,000 miles going between Portland and Spokane where she had her practice, a 700-mile round trip. It had always been properly maintained. There were no side-facing seats in the back — I assume to have more space to carry animals and their cages — which was a plus.

The price was $2,500, which seemed fair enough for a rig with those miles. It was straight, with no rust, and the power seats and heaters worked. It had no dreaded “Three Amigos” lights on the dash (for the Hill Descent Control, traction control, and ABS). The Disco had a good vibe, as if it had always been loved. It became mine, and it was now my turn to love it.

I went on a Rover Club trail run with good friend Chris Bright, who is president of the local Alfa Club.

While there was no entry fee that day, in the end it cost me over $10,000.

I’ve learned about off-roading the hard way. The Series III 88 defines the word primitive, with leaf springs and open differentials. On my D90, I had installed rock-sliders and an air-locker rear diff, to go along with its center diff lock.

Our local Rover guru, Doug Shipman, was a patient teacher. With no electronic nannies, you had to use skill and your limited power to get up and down hills.

With the Disco II, after the first day on the trail I knew exactly what I wanted to have done to it.

First, all-terrain tires. Then new steel bumpers front and rear from Rovers North to replace the ludicrous plastic fascias that are stock. A set of diff guards were added. I also added rock sliders, which helped me get in and out of the truck. I decided against a lift kit, as even at stock height it’s not easy for me to get behind the wheel.

I discovered that over-optimistic Rover engineers had decided the 2000 Disco did not need a mechanically engaged center-differential-lock (CDL), and that electronic brake control would do. They were wrong.

The CDL was still there. According to Rover forums, all I had to do to manually lock the diff was “crawl under the rig with a box-end wrench and turn the exposed bolt.” Given that so many of our runs are in the mud, I opted for choice two: Buy a CDL kit, complete with shifter and decals and have Shipman install it. (A manual CDL became standard again in 2004.)

Along the way, I had Doug replace various worn bits and pieces. Most recently a new cold-start emissions air pump went in. I also had Doug put a power outlet in the rear and got a high-capacity electric air pump to use for airing up after runs. (It is common to reduce tire air pressures to the 12 to 15 psi range for mild trails — referred to as “airing down,” a ritual before every run.)

I also decided against a winch, as there is always someone else with one.

I’m now at $15k “invested.”

Am I buried? Without question, yes. If this very rig were on Bring a Trailer, kitted out just the way it is, I would hope to steal it for $8k, and perhaps go to $10k, FOB Portland.

On the other hand, I know exactly how I want to use this rig, and it now it is set up for that mission. I hope to get out half a dozen times this year and see if the reality for my Disco turns out to fulfill my vision.

I can’t help but wonder if I would have been better off if I had just thrown a set of tires on my $2,500 rig and enjoyed it as best I could the way it was configured.

What would you have done?

 

5 Comments

  1. Brilliant! I so appreciate the reasonable ignoring of resale value to create something of more value to you! I’ve had a crush on your series of Discovery since they were new. My wife and I passed on a brand new, base model in Epsom green I think they called it. The gas mileage was so dreadful that she couldn’t get beyond it, but now that it would be a fun rig, and we just bought 12 acres of woods with trails, it just might be time to add it to our already-crowded driveway.

  2. Jim Rosenthal

    I’m curious- what other rigs go on the runs you speak of? I have never owned a Land Rover, but I am a fan of Series 80 Toyota Land Cruisers, and I would like to know if anyone drives them on those events.

  3. Paul Grisanti

    I think the value of having a vehicle configured for your personal preferences is that it makes the use of the vehicle much more enjoyable while you are using it.. Just don’t sell it for at least a year.

  4. Frank Barrett

    A Land Rover could have changed my life. In 1968 I was living in central Pennsylvania, where a Land Rover made sense. The local dealer had a new long-wheelbase version in red, and it was stunning but too slow. The local Afa dealer had a new red GTV, but when we were ready for a test drive, the battery wasn’t. So along came a used ’65 Porsche 912, which I still own. I joined the Porsche club, made friends, started autocrossing, met my wife, and started writing about cars. Last night I had dinner with a couple of old PCA friends who I met 50 years ago. Funny how cars can change the course of your life.

  5. Keith: I have been down the Disco II trail, and fought the fight (prop shaft, head gaskets, front and rear seals, and that’s just from memory). Loved the truck, but eventually let her go, for like $2k.. had about 120k on the odometer. relatively clean cosmetically, but still, it was turning into a money pit. And I did most of the work myself.

    After a couple of years, I got the LR bug again and test drove a very rough LR3, and fell in love.. Found an ’06 with 74k on the clock, paid about $10k for it. It is a vastly superior rig to the D2’s, IMHO. Extremely capable off road, right out of the box.. I found some 18″ rims on ebay, and put Nitto Ridge Runners on it, some rock sliders, and went wheelin’.. I live in Louisiana, so most of the rigs are jeeps.. joined a club, and was met with a lot of skeptical looks, until we hit the trails! Doesn’t have the ‘character’ of the D2, but the looks have actually grown on me.. now have about 120k on it, never been stranded, though it’s not without it’s own ‘peculiarities’.. keeps me busy in the garage, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing..

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