Mike Humble drives the very first Land Rover Discovery off the line – and finds himself transported back in time…
You know, it’s a really long time since I have driven an early Land Rover Discovery. Many of you are bound to know that this year marks some very important birthdays on the British automotive calendar, one of which is the Rover 214/216, and the other being the Land Rover Discovery – both are 25 years young towards the end of 2014.
At the recent SMMT Test Day, Land Rover, along with BMIHT, brought the very first Discovery off the Solihul production line. It’s a red three-door manual 200Tdi, which looks as good today as it did when it rolled off the line. Invited media were given a free reign of the extensive Millbrook proving ground, and Disco number one was available for a drive around the high speed bowl.
This Discovery normally lives a very sheltered life as a part of the Gaydon museum collection – in fact, it was only registered for road use in March 2012 and the speedometer reads a paltry 1200 miles. As you would expect for the mileage, that works out at less than 50 miles per year, this very special car is in pristine condition and created a great deal of interest at the event that was aimed to showcase new and upcoming cars.
In the best interest of all things nostalgic, AROnline made a beeline for the Land Rover display in order to grab a steer of this incredible and ground-breaking Land Rover. Just walking around the vehicle before grabbing the keys, the fixtures and fittings on their own prove to be a treat for all followers of Rover Group and its previous owners.
Tail lamps donated from the Maestro Van, door handles that have graced cars from the Marina to the Lotus Esprit, and front lights that have fitted commercials as small as the Freight Rover 300 series through to the heavyweight Seddon Atkinson 2 and 3-11 truck. Today you just wouldn’t get away with such rampant parts sharing, but bear in mind that the Discovery hailed from an era where budgets were tight – and all assets had to utilised.
This process of identification continues once you have clambered in. Drivers of Metro/Maestro/Montego models will feel right at home thanks to those familiar looking column stalks. Rover 800 owners will appreciate the dashboard air vents – even the pedals are taken straight from the classic Range Rover – as are much of the Discovery’s underpinnings.
Familiarity breeds… happiness
Placing the blue Austin Rover wing branded key into the barrel fires up the well known Land Rover 200 series Tdi engine. Shifting the LT77 gearbox (a transmission with its roots well and truly in the BL-era) into first, away we go – and the incredibly long throttle pedal travel reminds you of a time where fly by wire was strictly for the likes of Concorde.
Being an early model there are no fancy anti-roll bars fitted and the first corner before entering the bowl circuit sees the Land Rover lean over to the side enough to make me quietly gasp in slight alarm. The direct injection engine pulls strongly and cleanly, and soon enough we are through all five gears running around the bowl at an indicated 80mph.
One thing that does impress is the way a conversation can be heard even at these speeds; sure there is engine and tyre noise in abundance but never enough to make you wince or wish you were driving something more civilised. Even the steering needs little more than an occasional token correction.
The Discovery was met with universal praise, and the light and airy interior styled by Conran Design is – in today’s terms – very retro, blending both form and function. And yet still looks great. Not an inch of space is wasted either, and the soft padded front seats are a joy to sit on.
A quarter century down the road and the Discovery still impresses – it’s so easy to concur with the motoring pundits of the time, who gave it a universal thumbs up when Maggie still ruled the waves.
Oh dear! We seem to have missed the exit from the bowl – looks like we will have to go around again just one more time. As capable as a Defender and yet comfortable like the Range Rover, it’s easy to see why the Discovery has evolved so well over the past 25 years, maturing into a superb luxury vehicle losing none of its off road ability or character. AROnline would like to thank Jaguar Land Rover and BMIHT Gaydon for a most enjoyable drive down memory lane.
Happy Birthday Land Rover Discovery!