I’m a Land Rover nerd. Have been for longer than I can remember and so when someone sends me a message through Facebook saying “I have an original condition G-WAC, would you like to come and have a look?” obviously I jump at the chance. The promise of bacon sandwiches just serves to seal the deal, seriously, it’s becoming a theme when I visit special vehicles! That and the settings of the Yorkshire Dales all made for an attractive proposition.
“Original condition”, I lose count of the number of times I hear that, or the a vehicle described as immaculate to actually realise my war torn modified 110 is more original and more immaculate than some people consider their originals. James Brackenbury however is another kettle of fish. When he told me “good, original condition” I went with no grand expectations but when I met with him and his G-WAC I was very very impressed. You see, it is about as immaculate as a 24 year old, daily driver car can be. Yes it’s boot floor has had some repair work but not much and it’s a very solid truck.
Announced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1989 and then to the public in the November of 89 the Discovery took Land Rover in a very new direction. Prior to it’s launch you had two options for ownership of a Green Oval. Either the utility, multi-purpose, do-anything Defender (still in it’s 90/110 guise until the Discovery launch introduced the 200tdi into the mix and the Defender name to the utility Rover to distinguish it from the new Land Rover) or the luxury level Range Rover.
The Discovery introduced Land Rover to a new market. The UK had, for a few years been importing Asian 4x4s and they were becoming popular with the British buyers. Lower cost than a Range Rover and more family friendly than the 90/110, even if their off road abilities couldn’t match those of the Solihull products, their sales figures weren’t lying. They were on to something.
Land Rover, in their well thought wisdom decided to capitalise on the market and Discovery was the answer. In the classic Rover system of parts bin raiding they actually stole the whole chassis and running gear from the already proven Range Rover, well, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. That and the 90 was too short and the 110 too long for the planned new vehicle.
The Discovery was introduced with two engines, the 3.5 carb’d V8 from the Range Rover and the cream of the launch engines, the Gemini, which we all know as the 200tdi, still regarded as a good engine.
In motor vehicle terms at the time, the Discovery was astonishing. From concept to showroom in under three years and at a cost of a mere (yes, apparently mere) £45 million! And that was 45 of your 1980’s million £s!!!
Back to the G-WACs, so called (as if you didn’t already know) because their Solihull registration was Gxxx WAC where x was obviously a number. The G-WACs were mostly Discoveries though a few Range Rovers and Defenders carry the plate as well as a 200tdi in most cases and Land Rover Special Vehicles had access to the same registrations so who knows what else is out there. The G-WAC Discos were mostly press and dealer demo vehicles for the launch in October 1989. 86 were registered with numbers from G451 WAC through to G537 WAC (though not including G500 WAC) and they were a mixture of V8 and Tdi engines as well as steering sides.
James’ G-WAC is G534 WAC although near the end of the registration run, it was designated SDV 43 (specially designated vehicle) and came with a factory V8 and all the mod cons. Electric windows and air conditioning as well as a wood trim that never made the final production vehicles.
How has it aged? Since 1989 I have aged badly. This Discovery however, not so badly. Actually it’s aged really well. In terms of original condition, G534 still has the original driver’s seat which is still firm (an amazing achievement in any early Discovery), the man bag that came in place of the future cubby box (James has the man bag but not in the vehicle), original set of carpets, window blinds and most unusual of all, an original headlining that doesn’t sag!
As for driving, it still drives like it did 24 years ago. The steering is tight, the suspension firm and as best as James knows, original, and the engine and gearbox drive as well as any Discovery I’ve driven. And the Yorkshire Dales doesn’t have the most forgiving of roads for running gear.
The young interloper
Now obviously, being primarily photo driven, I wanted to show this G-WAC in it’s best light and along with it, show what it has led to. I wanted a Discovery 4 to shoot (photographically speaking) along side it’s grandparent. So, one conversation with those nice people at Land Rover and a Discovery 4 was obtained (I love this job, have I mentioned that?).
Kids loaded into the cavernous car and off we headed for the Dales. Now depending on whether you count the 300Tdi, facelift Discovery 1 as another model and likewise the facelifted Discovery 2 and the Discovery 3 (after all, the Discovery 4 is a much facelifted 3) then you can say the D4 is either the grandchild or the great great great grandchild of the original vehicle, so have many family traits made it through the generations.
Yes. The Discovery 1 was always nice to drive. Up there with executive cars of the time in comfort and ease of drive. And they were huge for the time. Remember this was the late 1980s, all cars were much smaller than they are today (the current Mini has a longer wheelbase than the 100” of the Discovery) and at the time the Disco was huge. And 7 seats too? Okay, if you were taller than my eldest child (4′ 10”) then they were not much use for more than a short journey but that was okay, they were still there.
The D4 however is an astonishing vehicle. If you fold down all the seats it’s virtually a van. Even with the middle seats in their upright position, the back is still huge and can easily accommodate the equipment I usually take on a shoot (see photo evidence). Put the back row seats up and whilst you lose a lot of the space, you can seat two adults in real comfort, I know, I’ve tried them. And the ride……oh the ride, it’s so comfortable. The air suspension taking whatever you or the Yorkshire Dales, throw at it with total ease. Lift it by 100mm for off road ground clearance and lower it by 50mm to fit in a Nottingham car park. Okay, it would have fitted in the car park without access mode but with the DAB aerial on the roof, it only left me 18mm of clearance so I wasn’t risking getting a scraping noise!
Externally, the family traits are evident. The stepped roof, the bonnet detail, the stepped tailgate, it’s unmistakable where this design originated. Okay, the alpine roof lights have been super-ceded by the large rear side windows that reach to the roof rails and the bonnet, being a clamshell design is now closer to Range Rover than the original car but the lines still hint to it’s origins.
I have mentioned before in an article, I was never the Discovery 3’s biggest fan when it came out but when it was facelifted to the 4 I instantly became a fan. I don’t know if it was just the Sport-esq grill and vents or the colour coded bumpers and revised lights but whatever it was sold me on it and gave me a new appreciation of the 3.
To drive it’s a dream. With the SDV8 engine and 8 speed auto box, it drives as well as a modern car from any marque. Okay it doesn’t corner like an Audi, but it’s not built to and for a 2.7 tonne lump it’s surprisingly nippy and agile. Push the loud pedal and it pulls out the power to get you to 60 in under 9 seconds. Remember, this is a HEAVY truck.
My genuinely biggest surprise was the fuel consumption. Land Rover estimate it’s capable of up to 34 MPG (extra urban). Well I didn’t for a moment imagine I’d get anywhere near that with a combination of motorway, Yorkshire Dales lanes, Lincolnshire lanes and a trip to the NEC. But, whilst not 34 to the gallon, the on-board computer was convinced I was doing 31MPG! I wasn’t convinced but on filling up I worked out the figures and obviously the person who filled it before me may not have brimmed it the same as I did but even so, my figures worked out to be 30.7MPG so not bad at all. I could live with that (if anyone wants to donate me a D4 then I won’t object).
And what about gadgets? Well the D4 certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front. From the 5 cameras mounted around the vehicle to the adaptive headlights and the automatic lighting, this HSE model is full of toys. Many very helpful. My only complaint is the auto-dip headlights can react a tad slowly on corners and over summits and through dips, as expected, so if you rely solely of the auto function, expected oncoming traffic to occasionally flash you in frustration!
Oddly enough, I was talking to my dad at the time I had the D4 and (Defender aside as I’d always have one of those) the latest incarnation of the Discovery is the only current Land (Range) Rover model that I wouldn’t have to think about buying if funds allowed. All the others, whilst great in their own ways, would leave me to “umm” and “err” as to the pros and cons of each one. I don’t have any of these with a D4. None. There is nothing I dislike or am unsure about with it.
I don’t know if this really was a try to compare but having had the chance to drive the earliest and the latest on the same day I can comfirm the the Discovery, whatever it’s vintage, is a great car to drive and live with. Even by today’s standards the older model stands up well. No, it’s not full of electronics but that’s not a bad thing, means home servicing can be easy and it won’t start beeping when you upset it.
Now, must email the lottery people, they keep selling me faulty tickets!