How I Made My Used Land Rover Discovery Look Presentable on a Dollar-Store Budget

It didn't take much to get noticeable results!

While working to make my Land Rover Discovery as reliable as possible, I strayed off the mechanical path a tad to make it look more presentable, too. Regal, even. Previously, I’d gone over its bumper trim pieces with some Mothers Back-to-Black which is still working well — it’s been about a month and the finish looks quite good. But now I’ve also been able to revive the SUV’s paint a bit and undo some of the previous owner’s bad decisions.

Grille-ing Out

Land Rover offered a special, thin-mesh grille for warm-climate markets (such as Saudi Arabia) and enthusiasts have nicknamed this piece “the Saudi grille.” It’s a rare item in OEM-form (we can’t even find a good picture of one) but a lot of folks like to make their own to aid cooling.

Don’t get me wrong, the Saudi grille does seem to allow more air to pass to the truck’s radiator, and the version my Rover’s first owner made didn’t look bad… in photos. Up close was a different story; the thing had to go. Glue residue on its front-facing surface, bumpy mesh not perfectly flush and flat, visible zip ties, etc.

Finding a stock grille for a Disco 1 in either brand-new or good condition is surprisingly tough, though. I spotted two in junkyards that were too beat to consider buying and fixing. They seem to rarely pop up on eBay, and imports from the United Kingdom can be over $200 before shipping.

Finally, someone in Texas had the grille I needed (oddly mislisted as fitting a Range Rover Classic, a good reminder to search wide when you’re looking for rare parts). So $53 and a few days later it was in my possession. It had all the tabs and was in very good condition, but had the wrong color trim piece.

How I Made My Used Land Rover Discovery Look Presentable on a Dollar-Store Budget
Image: Peter Nelson

To rectify the color mismatch I masked it off with some gaffer tape and went against the Car Bibles grain by painting it with flat black Plasti Dip. After something like six light coats, it actually matches the rest of the grille really well, and my masking job wasn’t terrible. It doesn’t match the side trim pieces that sit under the headlights, but it matches the rest of the front end overall. Close enough.

So Biff Wants To Be a Buff

How I Made My Used Land Rover Discovery Look Presentable on a Dollar-Store Budget
Image: Peter Nelson

I was inspired by seeing an Instagram story that demonstrated a quick buff getting rid of a lot of fade in the clearcoat on an FD Mazda RX-7. My Disco isn’t an FD and luckily doesn’t act like one (no apex seals, as far as I can tell, and I’d be really concerned if it drank a lot of oil). But like an RX-7, it does have a paint job that was laid down when I was in elementary school. Twenty-four years in the hot SoCal sun later, and it could stand a nice buffing. But how much buff would it need?

I decided to pay a visit to my local Harbor Freight and look for the cheapest buffer-slash-polisher I could find. And $15 on sale for this magnificent little thing looked enticing, so I grabbed it and a couple of cotton buffing pads. I already had bottles of cutting solution and polish at home, so I was all set.

The thing about my Disco is some panels look quite good for the age, whereas others look pretty faded. The roof is too far gone. As I mentioned in a previous post, I think I’ll wrap it white and call it a day.

How I Made My Used Land Rover Discovery Look Presentable on a Dollar-Store Budget
Pre-rear quarter buff. The rear door used to look like the rear quarter, now it doesn’t! – Image: Peter Nelson

After a quick wash, I gave the faded panels a good going over, and the results turned out great. Well, great for the amount of money I had invested in this little project. It cleaned up the rear doors really nicely, but the rear quarters didn’t get too glossy—even after hitting them with polish afterward. I think that’s just due to their clearcoat being just a tad too far gone. Or maybe entirely gone, it’s hard to tell. That, or I didn’t get aggressive enough with my choice of buffer or cutting solution. Regardless, they look much better, especially in photos and from a few feet away. I didn’t do the rear sections and rear door just yet, as those will require a lot more masking and removing the spare tire. I’ll save it for another weekend.

Future Strategy

All in all, this felt like $68 well-spent. The front end looks much better, and the paint job has an overall better gloss to it. There are still a few spots to clean up, but I’m quite pleased.

How I Made My Used Land Rover Discovery Look Presentable on a Dollar-Store Budget
Image: Peter Nelson

I also removed the retractable step from the rear bumper; I’m tall enough to get in without it. Plus, I might be able to sell it for a nice piece of scratch to finance future parts costs. I considered selling the center-facing rear jump seats as well, but no way. They’re too cool. Who knows if they’ll ever get used… but still!

Recently, I concluded after a 50-mile trip, most of which was on the highway, that my Disco runs a little hot. Luckily, the water temperature gauge never read too high… as long as I kept blasting the heat in the cabin. Long-term feasibility is lacking with that solution, big time, so I’m going to troubleshoot that. I burped the cooling system before this trip, and the head gaskets were professionally replaced a few thousand miles ago. So it’s gotta be the thermostat, a line, or the radiator. I’m emotionally prepared to drop $300 on a good-quality radiator for the next phase of this truck’s restoration.

Oh, and I still have to fully-figure-out a ticking sound. There’s never a dull moment when you own a Disco.

Peter Nelson
Peter Nelson

Peter Nelson has been wrenching on and playing with cars since he started driving them quickly between the cones at Chicagoland autocross events in his late teens. Nowadays, he can be found wringing out his Mazda2 at tracks all over California. His writing background includes Winding Road, Donut Media, and Autolist.com. He's also an avid cyclist and '80s/'90s action film connoisseur. Contact the author here.