My tiny top-secret off-tarmac course in Orange County’s Santa Ana Mountains was the perfect place to do a dry run with my 1997 Land Rover Discovery. I had gotten it to the point of running quite reliably, with very little leaking oil, so it was time to see how it fared off-road. It had already survived an 850-mile road trip, now to see if it did anything peculiar atop the terra firma.

I chose this location specifically because it has good cellular reception, so if something went wrong, broke, or exploded, I’d be in range for an easy tow home. Going solo was also part of the plan. Not only did I want to be able to concentrate and take my sweet time checking things over, but I also didn’t want to embarrass myself too hard in front of my friends.

Image: Peter Nelson

“Any way to minimize the number of jokes made at this rickety old British tractor,” I thought to myself as the mighty Rover endlessly squeaked and rattled over crappy SoCal highways en route.

I could not have asked for a better morning for the run, too. Barely any humidity, nice breeze, and temperatures in the low-70s. It was perfect for rolling around with the windows down and keeping the Rover’s mercury reading as low as possible. After all, I planned on demanding more than average from it.

First Up: How’s It Traverse?

Shortly before getting very sideways. Image: Peter Nelson

As I found out while researching the Land Rover Discovery 1 Car Bible, these vehicles can tilt as much as 30 degrees in factory form before they topple over. Impressive, right? Thirty degrees is pretty darn extreme, and I’ve really only found myself in the 15-degree range, max. Well, one time I was around 30 degrees in a Lexus GX for a frightening couple of minutes (with fellow Car Bibles contributor Chris Rosales seated next to me, funny enough!), but that was an exception.

With those stats and experiences in mind, I climbed the passenger side of the truck onto a small gravel mound and got it to 15 degrees with ease. My trusty gauge from Atlantic British came in handy here; such a simple, cheap addition, right?

With the SUV in position, I got out and looked it over. The suspension looked good, the shocks didn’t appear to be bound on anything, and all four tires were in good contact with the Earth. *green checkmark*

How’s the Transfer Case Shift?

Image: Peter Nelson

Once my initial inspection was completed, I then rolled down the road to a tiny little section that allows for a short-yet-steep climb and descent. I approached the hill, shifted to neutral, let off the brake to let it roll an inch, easily shifted into 4-Low, shifted to third gear, and I was on my way up. The Discovery didn’t bat an eyelash and climbed the incline without slipping a tire. 

It was also simple and easy to shift into 4-Low; I’ve read that the transfer case linkage in these things is a use-it-or-lose-it-type deal, so I’m glad mine is still functioning flawlessly.

To descend, I shifted to first gear and let the drivetrain and powertrain work its mechanical hill-descent-assist magic. I had to feather the brakes just a touch to smoothly get over some bumps, but otherwise, the Disco happily scampered down.

I then repeated this a few times before once again getting out to inspect the mechanicals. The diffs weren’t leaking, I never contacted any rocks, there were no new smells, and everything looked generally great underneath, aside from the minor oil leak up front that’s been there for a while.

In the future, I’ll probably let the diffs cool after I do some large ascents and descents at bigger off-road facilities, but all-in-all, a green check-mark was well earned.

But Wait, It’s Still an Old Rover

Satisfied with my test trip, I headed back home and stopped at a delicious Mexican spot on the way. I must’ve really had burritos on my mind, because as I was exiting the Rover and locking up, the key was still slightly in the lock. SNAP, I broke the key off in the door lock.

Ugh, and the day had been going so well! Luckily, I was just down the street from my apartment. I still had the fob at home, and my girlfriend was nice enough to bring that and the spare key to me. I tried to extricate the broken key when I got home, but no dice. Thankfully, it looks like I can possibly get at it from the other side if I remove the door card. Fingers crossed this is the solution; stay tuned for a future blog on that.