Developing new cars on the kind of budget that a German company would spend on a new dashboard has long been a speciality of the British motor industry. Many of these machines bomb, usually brought down by underfunded development programmes guaranteed to produce roulette wheel reliability, but some succeed despite such saddlings.
One of the more famous is the Land Rover Discovery, which began life in 1989 as a reclothed, cost-reduced Range Rover designed to sit between the ageing Defender and a Range Rover enjoying ever more success as it was pushed upmarket.
You didn’t need to look underneath the Discovery to see the similarities with the Range Rover. It shared the same windscreen and distinctively slim A-pillars, the same front door glass and much of its inner structure. But to avoid producing a vehicle of almost identical silhouette, the Discovery’s designers added a stepped roof – the raised rear section carrying slender lengths of glazing angled towards the sky.
The tailgate was one piece and side-hinged rather than being split like the Range Rover’s, and most striking of all once you’d climbed inside was an unusual interior finished entirely in shades of pale blue.
This was the work of Conran Design, which was asked to develop an interior suitable for a vehicle bought as a lifestyle accessory. Slender storage racks were mounted above the windscreen, stretchable overhead nets provided carriers for pith helmets and water bottles, and a massive panic handle confronted the front seat passenger.
Even before you’d turned the key, it felt like you were having an adventure. There was even a small lifestyle accessory stowed within this big, four-wheeled lifestyle accessory – a detachable carry-bag made from the seat upholstery clipping to the Discovery’s centre console.
The Sonar Blue interior and an impractical three-door body only lightly limited the 1989 Discovery’s success, Land Rover’s latest being decidedly more glamorous than the Shogun and Trooper offered by Mitsubishi and Isuzu. It was better off road than either of these nevertheless accomplished Japanese competitors too. The engine choice was either Land Rover’s new direct-injection 200Tdi diesel or the 3.5-litre Rover V8 that had started life 28 years earlier as a General Motors Buick engine in the US.
Most buyers chose the diesel: its modest 111bhp was buttressed by a more promising 195lb ft of torque, all of this appearing at a helpfully low 1800rpm. And once you get over the mild shock of hearing what sounds like a truck engine setting Land Rover’s very first production Discovery all aquiver, it’s this stout pulling power that draws you along in pleasingly languid style. You have to work at it – the 200Tdi’s torque peak being more pointy than flat – but once momentum is gathered, the Discovery bowls and rolls along with comfortable authority.