We started our exercise with a fine Discovery 1. Not just any example, either, but the first saleable unit: a highly prized 2.5 Tdi 200 diesel from the company’s heritage collection that has done only a handful of miles and is in better-than-new condition.
I remember plenty about this model’s launch, having been among the pressing crowds that watched its unveiling at the Birmingham motor show in 1989. The company had also revealed it in Frankfurt a few weeks earlier – in a bold attempt to underscore its challenge to international rivals – but this was very definitely the main event.
We might have been dismayed that the vehicle they unveiled was a two-door (or three-door, if you counted the single side-opening rear door), given the 10-year gestation of the four-door Range Rover. But Land Rover had already revealed that a four-door Discovery was less than a year away.
To inject some drama and shroud the pragmatic decision to use Range Rover running gear, bosses engaged product designer Jasper Conran to create a new interior, a move that really drove the public’s imagination. Not all of Conran’s innovations made production (he visualised, for example, a sunglasses holder in the steering wheel boss), but features such as the then-adventurous grey-blue upholstery and a holdall that zipped into the car’s actual console made positive headlines.
The exterior designers also excelled. Although the dimensions, weight, chassis, coil suspension and steel inner body structure (beneath aluminium outer panels) were all close to the Range Rover, the Discovery had its own identity – a major achievement given that the pair shared the same scuttle and windscreen. But the Discovery’s two-level roof, with revolutionary skylights, gave it a character that has driven its styling since.
On the outside, decals were the thing. Land Rover used them to imply modernity and make the difference between its new model and the more tasteful Range Rover, although they didn’t last long. The customers just didn’t like them.
Even after 25 years, it’s the drive that impresses. Our early model’s meaty 111bhp turbodiesel had a rattle about its idle that always seemed reassuring and remains so today. Plug the short gearlever into first and the memory of rifle-bolt shifts flood immediately back, along with the sure stroke of a long-throw clutch. The Discovery strolls away from rest and over Eastnor’s bumps with a low-rate gait that is ridiculously pleasant as long as you don’t hurry, although these days suspension designers would probably want to tame it with more powerful damping.