The Spotlight Series – Land Rover Discovery | Part One

The Land Rover Discovery was launched on 16 September 1989 Frankfurt Motor Show and was the first new product launch for almost two decades. Initially only available as a three-door version, the five-door body style became available in 1990 – both were fitted with five seats and had the option to have two dickie seats fitted in the boot.

Even though it was predominantly aimed at the family market, the Discovery still boasted the best-in-class off road ability that the Land Rover had come to symbolise. As well as powerful engine options, a transfer case and locking centre differential were fitted. The 100” wheelbase chassis was also fitted with a coil spring suspension.


The code name for this well-known vehicle was Project Jay, and used as many of the Range Rover parts as possible. The running gear was almost pure Range Rover – even down to the use of that car’s V8 engine and LT77 manual gearbox. In order not to damage the Range Rover brand, it preserved the use of twin SU carburettors, whereas the 200 Tdi 2.5 litre diesel engine (codenamed Gemini) – a direct injection unit – was all new to Land Rover, and had been in development since August 1985, before Jay saw the light of day. This boasted impressive and best in class performance.

The 200Tdi produced 111 hp (83 kW) and 195 lb·ft (264 N·m) of torque.


Big Changes

Between the initial programme start in 1987 and its launch at the Frankfurt Motor Show on the 16th September 1989, an enormous amount of work was undertaken to create a substantially new and cheaper vehicle. Although the carry-over parts were highly visible – doors and windscreen – the Discovery was visually different enough for Land Rover marketers to work their magic on the new car, all while preserving the prestige of the original.

The vehicle naming policy also ushered in a change of tack – Land Rover was the brand, Discovery the model. The original Land Rover would now be known as the Defender.


G-WAC Press Fleet

The G-WAC press fleet, as it became known, comprised of 86 cars registered G451WAC to G535WAC with the exception of G500WAC, which was not used. Other G-WAC’s were registered by the factory during late 1989 and early 1990. Many Range Rovers also had G-WAC plates in the series of GXXWAC and G1XXWAC, these were not connected with the Discovery launch.


Design & Build

Much of the interior was constructed from ‘Sonar Blue’ plastic (with blue cloth trim) with map/magazine holding slots above the windscreen, hand-holds for rear passengers incorporated into the head restraints of the front seats, remote radio controls on the instrument cluster and twin sunroofs. It also featured Land Rover-branded cloth fabric holdall in the front centre console.

Discovery utilised several Range Rover body panels, as well as headlights from the Freight Rover van and taillights from the Maestro van. The latter would continue to bear the Austin Rover ‘chevron’ logo on their lenses, until the production of the first-generation Discovery ended in 1998 – ten years after Austin Rover ceased to exist.

The transmission was a permanent four-wheel drive system, with a high and low range transfer box, locking centre differential at the transfer box. Similarly, to the rest of the Land Rover range, the handbrake acts on the transmission at the back of the transfer box, therefore locking the rear prop shaft, or both front and rear prop shafts, if the differential lock is engaged.

1993 saw the familiar Discovery with a Honda badge on the front, and Rover’s relationship with Honda led to the Honda Crossroad being sold in Japan.

More Developments

In 1994, the 200 changed to the 200 Tdi. A Bosch electronic emissions control was put in for certain models and markets. Around this time, a stronger R380 gearbox was fitted to all manual models. The newer models featured larger headlamps and a second set of rear lights in the bumper. The new rear lights had their wiring configuration changed several times to meet real or expected European safety legislation.


Stay tuned for Part Two on the Discovery models!

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