Land Rover Discovery V8 (L318) | The Brave Pill

More Goldmember than Goldfinger…

By Mike Duff / Saturday, 16 July 2022 / Loading comments

Younger readers might be surprised to learn this, but in the 1990s Britain was overrun by enormous herds of feral bulls. Large, angry male cattle were a constant menace everywhere you went, especially in urban areas and – the riskiest place of all – while doing the school run. This is why so many of this era’s off-roaders were forced to wear large, ugly bits of aftermarket metal reinforcement up front, these applied to everything from Suzuki Vitaras to Land Cruisers – these ‘bull bars’ the only protection that could hope to save you from an impact with these marauding bovines.

Hang on, wait – that was actually in a parallel universe. In our reality these silly bars were only ever fitted by poseurs trying to increase the machismo of their vehicles, a trend only slightly less ridiculous than the habit in the redder necked parts of America for attaching full-sized stag antlers to the front of pickups. Bull barring was a bizarre styling fad that led to the creation of such vehicles as this week’s Brave Pill, a ‘Series II’ Land Rover Discovery V8 in what seems to be full 1999 urban adventure spec.

Our Pill has got a vast, shiny chrome bullbar rising from under the front bumper, this housing a set of auxiliary driving lights. The extra illumination will certainly help given that the original headlights are wearing smaller black grilles, presumably to guard them from suicidal squirrels, with the rear lights carrying similar protection. The Disco also has some spangely side steps, a safari-grade roof rack and a rear access ladder. Additional visual bravery comes from an eye-burning shade of gold paintwork, tinted rear glass, plastic wind deflectors and the prominent placement, both front and rear, of the well-known Land Rover catchphrase about living your one life.

In short, it’s not a car that is likely to make a great first impression to anybody who isn’t into the whole bullbar thing, or alternatively contemplating another bit of nineties nostalgia by using it to ram-raid a retail park store. Yet behind the tat and the Montezuma paint scheme, lies a car that is both characterful and risky enough to qualify as a Brave Pill regardless of the add-ons. It’s a mild surprise to realise that we haven’t featured either an original Discovery or the so-called Series II version before now.

The first Discovery was a huge success, but never a poster child for reliability. It was launched in 1989 and immediately turned into huge hit with those looking for a 4×4 that hinted at a rugged lifestyle rather than making you look like a farmer. Beneath the butch design it shared much with the first-generation Range Rover, including live axles, a locking centre differential and a two-speed transfer box. Engine choice at launch was between a new 2.5-litre four-cylinder direct-injection turbodiesel, this so-called 200 TDI, which made what was then a respectable 111hp – or a 3.5-litre V8. To maintain some marketing distance from the much grander Range Rover the Discovery was launched with twin carbs rather than fuel injection – making a very relaxed 143hp and lots of nice wuffly noises. 

This was the first one I experienced as an impressionable teenager. A friend’s father was an upper-middle manager of sufficient importance to get what always felt like grand company cars. Some time in 1989 he became the coolest dad in school when he swapped a Ford Granada 2.9i Ghia X for a very early three-door Discovery V8. I remember the biggest surprise of my first passenger ride not being the vast size, or need to scramble past folded seats to reach the back, rather the discovery that the Discovery only had wind-up windows. Which seemed a step back from the all-round powered glazing of the Granada.

The Disco’s early success was such that Land Rover struggled to keep up with demand, something which quickly created some quality issues as production volumes were turned up well beyond original projections. A series of upgrades included fuel injection for the V8, a five-door variant and even the little chosen option of a 2.0-litre petrol four-pot which lowered company car tax for user-choosers, but which also came dangerously close to combining the performance of the diesel with the thirst of the V8. It took the arrival of a heavily revised version in 1998 for bigger changes to arrive.

Land Rover had chosen not to mess with success, and although the so-called Series II looked so like the original Disco that many struggled to tell them apart, every panel was different apart from the rear doors. It also got a fresh interior and many other upgrades. The four-pot diesel was replaced by a new five-cylinder version, the TD5, while the V8 was a brawnier 4.0-litre from the P38 Range Rover, this now making 182hp. A new technical feature was the very advanced option of what was called ACE, or Active Cornering Enhancement, a system that applied hydraulic pressure to the anti-roll bars to fight lean and which, when operating, worked well. When it decided not to function, as it often did, it could create wallet-melting bills. To the extent that some owners removed the system.

The office standard of Land Rover geekery isn’t high enough to tell whether our Pill has ACE from the available pictures. A look under the bonnet would be the easiest way to see, with a second fluid reservoir next to the one for the power steering fluid at the back of the bay. Alternatively, a glance into the offside front wheel arch will reveal the presence or otherwise of the hydraulic ram. The advert doesn’t mention it, or indeed anything else, with the minimalistic description: “3.9 Land Rover Discovery.”

The pictures do enough talking to show that our Pill appears to be fully loaded, with leather trim and power operated front seats. The images also show what seems to be an LPG filling port below the petrol cap, although the car hasn’t been re-registered as alternative fuel according to the online tax record. If the gas is working it should take some of the sting out of the V8’s fearsome thirst for fuel, something that the unaerodynamic roof rack is unlikely to have improved. For perspective I wrote a story about the retirement of the Rover-Buick V8 in 2004, featuring a very similar Disco – the last new production car to use it – when I was fairly shocked by the need to pay £63 to refill after just 250 miles. That was with a litre of unleaded costing £0.82, meaning a similar trip would cost a bit over £150 at 2022 prices. Which might help explain, LPG or not, why our Pill has only averaged 2,400 miles a year since it was first registered.

The car is also missing a current MOT, the last one having expired in September last year. The advert doesn’t promise a new one will be screwed on, but it definitely should be given a £5,990 sticker that makes this one of the more expensive Series IIs currently in the classifieds; in terms of mileage and condition asking prices are now higher than for early Disco 3s. The MOT history reports a failure for an ABS light, ineffective brakes and a wobbly shock back in 2017, but those were rectified on the same day and there have only been a couple of minor advisories since.

Bin the bolt-on bull-ocks and there’s a decent car lurking here for anyone who likes the base colour. Could this be the new gold dream that helps you live your one life? Or would buying it be more likely to engender the frequently rearranged version of Land Rover’s unofficial slogan: “one wife, livid”?

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