I have a penchant for unreliable British automobiles. Not really. I just gravitate to the style of Jaguar and Land Rover, which happen to have a (well-earned) bad reputation. It all started with a screaming deal on a 2004 Jaguar XJR. I drove that super charged luxury land yacht for 4 years. I enjoyed it too. With 400 horse power and one of the best body styles to come out of Castle Bromwich, how could I not?
In 4 years of ownership, my Jaguar was actually reliable. I only had to fix a few things along the way. Nothing out of the ordinary. But, I got bored with it. You see, I really like off-roading and I live in a place where there’s fun to be had off the beaten path. I sold the Jag in June of 2020 and resigned myself to off-roading in my Toyota Sequoia, which is okay off-road. Not great (it’s too big) but certainly reliable.
I really wasn’t really looking to buy another vehicle. What gear-head is, right? But, I came across a Facebook Marketplace listing for a 2003 Land Rover Discovery 2. This is a vehicle I had lusted after for years. The boxy design, funky stepped roof line and alpine windows are hard to resist. I knew little about the Discovery, other than it looked really cool and had solid axles. Great for off road.
The listing I came across was freshly posted. Maybe only a few hours old by the time I had seen it. This was back in July 2020. The listing photos looked okay, like any 17 year-old, wore out truck, but as I read the description something stood out. It had to be a typo. There’s no way. What I read was this: “only 64,000 miles”. Surely the seller omitted a 1 from that odometer reading. 164,00 miles would be about right for a truck of that age.
I had to call the seller to find out.
The seller was quick to respond and we got on a call. He informed me that the truck had been sitting in a county Sheriff warehouse for 7 years and then outside that warehouse for 3 years (in the blistering sun). A total of 10 years this Discovery had only moved a few feet. It was a drug seizure from 2010. I wish I knew the whole story but someone had substances in this Discovery that were very much illegal and lost the truck to the county. After 10 years, the vehicle had been cleared for sale. Gotta love bureaucracy.
The seller had his eye on it all those years, literally. He owned an auto service shop across a strip of desert from the county warehouse. Once it was cleared for sale, he snatched it up, installed a fresh battery, fitted new tires, a fuel pump, fluids and posted it on Facebook for $5,000. I offered him $4,500 and he went for it. The only catch was, I had to call out sick to work and drive 2 hours to get it. This would be the first time, and hopefully the last time, I would find myself in Parker, Arizona.
With a deal this good, you can’t waste time.
The whole family loaded into the Sequoia and we headed down Interstate 10 in the sweltering 115 degree heat. Nice and cosy with the AC blowing cold of course. When we got to the auto shop where the Discovery was parked, the seller greeted us and handed me the keys. My wife and I looked it over.
Ultraviolet rays had sucked the life out of the Alveston Red paint and cracked most of the plastic trim. The black and beige interior was remarkably clean thanks to dark window tint. I started the truck and it sounded good. Popped the hood and all seemed well as we hovered over the running engine wiping sweat from our foreheads. No leaks. It drove well enough and my wife approved (what more can you ask for?) so we paid the seller. He was confident it would make it the 180 miles home, but made no guarantees.
Did I mention the AC didn’t work? Did I mention it was 115 degrees outside? Yeah. Hot.
The seller said the AC was working prior to my arrival and that it probably just needed some freon. After watching my wife and kids head down the highway back home, in the cool comfort of our reliable Toyota, I drove my new Discovery to the local NAPA to get some freon. They wanted $65 for a small can. That’s double what it would cost in a big city. With no idea what state the AC system was in, I didn’t take the chance of watching $65 blow off into the atmosphere. I decided to suffer the heat instead.
Here’s what I didn’t know about the Land Rover Discovery 2 before my ownership journey began and more-so, before I hopped in it to drive 180 miles in the extreme heat.
These trucks have a few problems. Okay, a lot of problems. One of those problems is overheating, which can destroy the engine in short order. Another problem they have is a self-destructing front drive shaft that can, without warning, blow to pieces and rip out the transmission pan, rendering the gear box dead in minutes, requiring a change of driver pants on the side of the road from the dramatic battering of 30 pounds of steal at 70mph.
I was blissfully unaware of these faults, but painfully aware of the extremely hot wind chapping my face and turning my eyes bloodshot from open windows at highway speeds. Ever point a hot blow dryer at your face? After a while, you get over the heat. It’s the dry wind that sucks the moisture out of your very existence, and it only gets worse. I made it home without a single mechanical problem. No over heating, no exploding driveshaft. Thank God.
Here are some photos I shot right after I got it home.
I spent a few days learning about the Discovery 2 after I bought one. This is not recommended although, had I known about all of the potential issues ahead of time, I might have passed on this. Glad I didn’t. I did find a minor radiator leak which I added to my extensive parts list. I performed the 60k mile service and replaced many things like pulleys, idlers, thermostat (I’ll have a whole blog post on thermostats, it’s that important), fluids and the front driveshaft.
Once I had the thing dialed in mechanically, it was time to do something about that paint.
Paint presented a dilemma. I’m going to use this truck off road a lot and that means the paint will get scratched. Spending a couple thousand dollars on paint seemed foolish. I decided to use bed liner instead. It’s super durable, UV resistant and doesn’t scratch easily. After watching hundreds of YouTube videos and picking a color, I prepped the Discovery and painted it in my garage using Raptor Liner (that’s another blog post). The color is Sarge Green. I think it came out looking pretty damn good and I get a lot of compliments on it.
Okay, cool. It’s running well and it’s painted. Of course, I wanted to lift it and ditch those hockey puck tires. Well, that and put on rock sliders, a winch, snorkel, etc, etc, etc. The front bumper was necessary since the factory plastic bumper was in shambles so I did put that on. I figured over the course of a few years I’d buy the necessary – yes, necessary – off-road bits.
Then something awesome happened.
My eye caught yet another Facebook Marketplace listing (see a theme here?). Another Discovery 2. This one had a bad engine and the seller was done with it. The best part about this one is, it already had all of the off-road parts that I would eventually end up spending thousands of dollars on. I mean everything…and more. The seller of the second Discovery happened to live a few blocks away from me and we worked out a deal (great guy). I paid $3,500 for it and let me tell you, that silver Disco doesn’t owe me a dime.
A short list of what I pulled off the silver 2004 to put on my (now) green 2003:
- 2 inch Old Man Emu HD lift with newish OME shocks
- Beefy steering stabilizer
- 5 nearly new 33″ Cooper Discoverer STT Pro mud tires
- Greg Davis steal rear bumper
- Safari Guard (I think) rock sliders
- Super Winch 9,000 pound winch with synthetic line and aluminum fairlead
- Backpack roof rack
- ARB on-board air compressor
- Knights Bridge Overland seat covers
- Safari Guard front bumper (I sold it though)
- Aluminum gas tank skid plate
- Front and rear weld-on diff guards (still have to swap those)
- Center locking differential with shifter
- Mantech snorkel
- Spare set of axles in a box the previous owner had on hand
- Spare set of headlights
- Raised spare tire carrier
- Aluminum back door panel with shelving
- Many other things
I didn’t waste any time switching the parts over even though it was the hottest summer on record, I sweat through it to get this project done.
This was a lot of work, but totally worth it. Now, my Discovery is pretty dialed in and all for under $10,000. I’m still swapping parts from the 2004 and I almost want to keep it just to have a spare…everything. Not sure though. I might strip it and scrap it.
Anyway, that’s the story of my Land Rover Discovery. One of these days, I’ll do a proper photo shoot of it.
And there you have it. I plan to write about some things in greater detail, like how to use Raptor Liner as paint, what to look out for when buying a Discovery 2, and why thermostats matter on these trucks more than you might think.