I Bought a ’90s Land Rover – Will I Be Doing More Wheeling or Wrenching?

Hopefully this old truck will be my ticket to regular off-road rascality.

After a couple of posts on Car Bibles that can essentially be summed up as “Man, off-roader press cars are so fun, but I’d love my own someday,” I finally bought my own. Yes, I’m aware of Land Rover’s reputation for reliability—or lack thereof, really—but I refuse to be deterred. I’m looking forward to wheeling and wrenching on this thing in the coming days and months.

Feast your eyes upon this gorgeous, Caspian Blue 1997 Land Rover Discovery. It’s done a lengthy 182,000 miles but has been well taken care of over the course of its life. It runs and drives very well for its age, its ancient Buick-origin V8 still has some spring in its step, and it’s only mildly leaking one fluid at present. The transfer case also works just fine, the safari windows (also known as “alpine windows”) up on the sides of the roof are crystal clear, and the jump seats, which are the rear folding seats in the cargo area, are surprisingly comfortable!

The seller lives up in Los Angeles and was asking $4,250. I rolled up there one afternoon two weeks ago to give it a test drive and good going over, and despite the power steering being disconnected and therefore being a real bear to steer at 0 mph, I fell in love. He also revealed that he had a ton of spare/extra parts to include. An extra set of OEM wheels and tires, some exterior accessories, the OEM front bumper, a mesh DIY “Saudi” grille, and various other bits. Oh, and it has some very-fresh Falken Wildpeak A/T tires mounted up. I offered $4,000 in cold-hard cash pending a clean bill of health from a smog inspection, and we shook on payment and delivery a few days later.

It passed smog the next day, and we coordinated to do delivery/payment that evening ahead of schedule. The whole process was incredibly easy and the seller was incredibly nice, I could not have asked for a better SoCal private-party car sale. A testament to the seller’s friendliness: He drove it down to Long Beach where I live, which seems like a rare level of generosity in this day and age.

I Bought a ’90s Land Rover – Will I Be Doing More Wheeling or Wrenching?
I’ve never been so excited about rear seats before! Jump seats! – Image: Peter Nelson

I know there will be people out there who find $4,000 to be way too expensive for an old Disco. It might be a little on the high-end, but considering the asinine prices that all used enthusiast cars go for these days, as well as the extra parts and service history, I’m very satisfied. Being in SoCal adds its own price inflation, too.

I’m going to re-connect the power steering, find out where the oil leak is, remedy that, and then slowly tinker away as time and money allows. I’d also like to figure out how to tighten up the steering a tad, as there’s a pretty big dead spot on-center. But that might just be chalked up to old truck things.

Besides that, it doesn’t need a whole lot of work besides a good cleaning and detailing. It doesn’t have any dents in its body which truly seems a miracle. It’s got some severely caked-on mud underneath it, too. I look forward to going to town with the power washer. I’d also like to lift it a few inches in the future and possibly, eventually, get it painted. But that’s all, my main concern is keeping it cool and reliable so I can enjoy it off-road to the fullest. SoCal is chocked-full of brilliant off-roading, I can’t wait to hit some trails.

I’ve always loved old ’90s and early-’00s Discos. Fond memories fill my head of seeing them on display on some kind of craggy hunk of fake rock at a dealership near where I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. I also made sure to get a good sit in the full range of LRs at the Chicago Auto Show every year. There were tons of Discos rolling around Chicagoland streets in the ’90s – most of them probably never saw any form of off-roading beyond driving down a dirt road to a pumpkin patch.

The Discovery 1 was mostly just a high-sitting status symbol. But a capable one at that.

Its design is timeless and exudes utility and go-anywhere potential like a lot of its Japanese counterparts, but in its own unique way. C’mon; safari windows! Land Rover also integrated capability brilliantly into its marketing and promo work at the time; the iconic spare tire covers with illustrations of safari scenes and animals running along are so cool. I need to find a few of these for myself. Land Rover in the ’90s was cool as hell, I wish they still did fun stuff like this. Oh, and of course there was the Camel Trophy, and some fun commercials on the airwaves.

I’m thoroughly stoked on owning my very own capable off-roader with personality (hopefully it doesn’t end up being the bad kind of personality, where it can’t stop springing leaks); look forward to many more updates on my adventures with it.

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.