How I’m Planning To Make My 1997 Land Rover Discovery As Pretty and Healthy As Possible

So far, it's not so bad. It could be a lot worse. Hopefully it doesn't get there.

I knew owning a ’90s Land Rover was going to be a hands-on experience. Less than 48 hours into Disco 1 ownership I developed a plan for sorting this thing out, and so far, I’m pleased to report it’s not as bad as I had anticipated. There’s still plenty to do to get this truck where I want it, though.

I arrived bright and early at AAA in Long Beach to get registration all legit, and immediately paid a visit to my local Pep Boys for some detailing and maintenance items. In addition to a Mother’s clay bar detailing kit, Mother’s Back to Black for the trim, and a pack of terry cloths, I picked up a can of good ol’ Seafoam.

Seafoam’s an all-purpose engine cleaner that’s been around for ages. It’s common to pour some in with the crankcase oil to help melt away sludge, as well as feed in through the fuel lines to clean injectors and help burn away carbon. Some say the latter isn’t good for catalytic converters, I’ve personally never had issues. I hadn’t Seafoam’d anything myself since George W. Bush’s second term; it was nice to be reunited with an old friend!

I then proceeded to a DIY carwash to invest a towering stack of coins in pressure washing the Disco’s undercarriage. The previous owner took care of it, but a deep underbody hose-off would help the engine stay cooler and more importantly make it easier to spot leaks. OK, the mud was thick enough to make pottery out of. I must’ve blasted off a good twenty pounds worth of the stuff. On the plus side, a lot of steering componentry looked brand-new with fresh hardware and good bushings. Most importantly the steering box looked to be recently serviced, as its hardware and finish were quite fresh. I trusted that the previous owners took care of the rig, but a little visual proof is always reassuring.

Having a Closer Look

The previous owner had disconnected and looped the power steering due to a leak somewhere. I was relieved that the steering box itself didn’t seem to be the leak source, though. Remanufactured units cost nearly $600 before refundable core deposits. I’ve read that high and low-pressure line kits are reasonably cheap and easy to replace; I hope when I go to connect it all up, flush and fill the system, and troubleshoot, they’re indeed the source and not the pump or box. It’d be nice to only have to replace one of the lines, too.

Pre-hose-down there was a lot of oil mixed in with the hard chocolate mud shell on the engine block, probably to the point of helping keep the drips at bay. Blasting away all the muck made a small oil leak dribble even more. Though weirdly, it seemed to only dribble after turning the engine off, rather than while it ran. There could be at least six potential spots for oil to leak out of the front of the block in this vicinity: the oil pan gasket, oil pressure switch O-ring, head gasket, front main seal, oil filter, front cover, or camshaft position sensor O-ring.

Gods be praised, I didn’t see any leaks whatsoever from the sides or back of the engine or the drivetrain.

When I got home I wiped away all the freshly leaked oil from the Disco’s freshly-washed block, then turned it on and let it run/get up to temp. Much to my relief, it seemed to only dribble out of one spot, which was also among the easiest to remedy: some sort of O-ring! Less than $5 of my hard-earned cash and elbow grease should remedy that. Hopefully.

Clean-Up Procedure

How I’m Planning To Make My 1997 Land Rover Discovery As Pretty and Healthy As Possible
In Process, note my Mazda2 looking on with jealousy. Image: Peter Nelson

One of the first non-health-related issues was removing the brush guard and re-installing the OEM front bumper covers. This was an easy, though time-consuming process. I’m glad to have gotten rid of the front bars; this ol’ Rover gets something like 13 city mpg in the best of times, pulling that 60-pound hunk of steel off the front end should ensure I get as good of mileage as I can, short of re-building the engine.

The front bumper covers look nice, and the previous owner’s DIY Saudi grille was thrown on to clean up the front end and possibly, slightly improve fuel economy. Previously, there wasn’t any form of grille on the front end. It looks a lot better this way, and the bumper covers look even better with a hearty coating of Mother’s Back to Black on them. Any trim that’s too far gone I’ll just paint satin black. This, in addition to a good wash, clay bar rub-down, and wax should definitely spiff it up nicely. I’d also like to eventually swap in the spare wheels it came with; they’re the same wheels as the NAS Defender!

I’m digging the idea of a cleaned-up Disco with a nice patina, but I might try to wrap the roof gloss black or gloss white as a way of cheaply covering up its cashed-as-hell clear coat.

How I’m Planning To Make My 1997 Land Rover Discovery As Pretty and Healthy As Possible
Mothers Back To Black is in my opinion the best, easiest way to restore cladding-type exterior bits. Image: Peter Nelson

Pre-Emptive De-Sludging

In my experience there’s no harm in using good ol’ Seafoam in older cars. It helps, but isn’t a perfect solution. When I went to check and add oil, I noticed some sludge under the valve/rocker cover. I’ve got records of the head gasket being done not too long ago, I’m surprised all this wasn’t blasted away at the same time. Regardless, I’ll be researching the best method for pulling the valve covers and cleaning it out without causing any damage.

Who knows, maybe that’ll help solve a light ticking sound at idle. I’ve read that it’s a common trait among 4.0-liter V8 Land Rovers, and could either be rocker, lifter, or piston sleeve-related. I’m hoping for one of the former, and from my research it sounds like sleeve issues are quite rare in 4.0-liter V8s like mine. More research and troubleshooting is in order, and I’m very much looking forward to all of it. I bought this thing to have fun and tinker; as long as I keep up with the latter I should be able to endlessly do the former.

Next Steps

Next on the docket is to solve the oil leak and put some miles on the ol’ rig! Driving it around to see what it’s like, what’s rattling, where the coolant temp is at (these things usually need some cooling system work later in life), and keeping an eye on the oil and coolant levels will be paramount for ensuring I get it in go-anywhere shape. I’ve got a bunch of parts on order, and my fingers are very crossed that: restoring the power steering won’t be a headache, it stays cool, and the ticking under the valve cover is something easy. Heck, it could even be too-thin of oil; man I hope it is.

Peter Nelson

Peter NelsonPeter 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.