By on January 20, 2013

Yesterday, we witnessed Sandy being picked up by Mental Ward. Today, we follow both on the roadtrip through America. Will they make it?

Just east of Philly, it had started snowing pretty well. During the first (of many) fuel stops, I pulled the light covers. At speed, the lights off the snowflakes resembled the cockpit view of the Millennium Falcon making the jump to light speed. It was simply awesome. Snow? HA! Disco Sandy positively yawned at the attempt and sped through the Pennsylvania night.

Comfortably perched in the high leather seat, I began to grasp the concept of “command seating” outside of marketing buzzwords. Sorry, you don’t have it. In fact nothing else outside of the starship Enterprise has command seating. The window frame is just above my hipbone with miles of headroom. The dash is low and the gauges succinct but informative. The seat is as comfortable as you expect British leather to be. There is an armrest, cup holders, dual sunroofs, suspension adjustments, and my favorite; a curry hook. 4,500 pounds of steel and three locking differentials certainly ads to your swagger. Exit the vehicle and hear air pumping the suspension level. You drive a sedan, you pilot a race car, but you command a Land Rover.

Am I hearing banjos?

By this point, my friends on Facebook and message board were starting to question my sanity.  Going through a bit of  West Virginia, even my iPhone questioned my sanity and violently shook its head. I could easily answer all of the questions, texts and posts during the frequent fuel stops, instead of while driving. With a buried foot climbing the Smokey Mountains, I was averaging a dismal 11 MPG. I didn’t realize unless the climate control in “econ” the AC is always on. I remedied that and road flattened, yielding a more respectable 13 MPG. Even with a 25 gallon tank, the stops came often. Thank god for the Truckmaster Fuel Finder!

John Mellencamp did not meet me, I was disappointed

By Indiana, the Red Bulls weren’t cutting it. I found a well-lit truck stop, crawled into the back seat and grabbed a few hours’ sleep. The next morning I employed the Hurley Haywood trick of fresh under wear and socks, grabbed a coffee and setoff racing the sun to Sooner state.

Blagojevich offered me a senate seat if I gave him the Disco, I declined

For an off-road vehicle, Disco Sandy is just absurdly competent for this kind of trip. The mileage never got any better, but it swallowed tarmac with alarming ease. The cabin is quiet, the stereo good and the whole affair is not physically taxing at all. Just outside of Indianapolis, a clear blue sky greeted me for the remainder of the trip. The radio was abuzz of  a seriously troubled Jersey shore and lower Manhattan. At each fill-up I answered updates, and felt a bit guilty compared to some of my east coast friends.

Louie Louie

I made Missouri before lunch. Sandy’s sweet spot was 75, but I wanted to get home, so I pushed it. Oklahoma by midafternoon and my last food/fuel stop was the McDonalds that arches over I-44 in Vinta OK. 20 miles from home the sun was setting. I parked my new acquisition in the drive as the trick-or-treaters came in droves,  three hours before my flight would have landed.

You want fries with that?

A week later, Sandy carried the wife, our dogs and me to Colorado. The vast cargo space immediately earned the canine seal of approval.  I have pulled my big dog out of the driver’s seat twice because she thinks she is coming with us. After that trip, my wife laid claim to Sandy, selling her G35. The next trip was to Atlanta and the Carolinas for Thanksgiving. A month later, the missus and the dogs headed to Omaha for Christmas. Sandy ferried 2 pregnant sisters shopping and made food runs for the whole family.

Her new home

She’s one of us now and I love the silly girl more than I should. During our 11 year marriage, my wife has always feared any car out of warranty. The confidence Sandy inspires in her is strange. Chris joked that this Disco was built on a Wednesday under BMW’s very strict German supervision before Land Rover lost their character; “No! Unacceptahble! Beeldt it cohrrectly! Du blöde Kuh!”

The ups? Huge cargo capacity, great long range travel and it can tow. It seats seven with and each row is stadium style seating. Our two big dogs and a precocious Dachshund fit easily; along with luggage and anything else.

The downs? I better get a Valentine’s Day card from BP after all that money. Even without the safari rack there is no room for a Disco in our garage. The dash is too close and too low. On the passenger side I hit it with my knees quite constantly, and that is at just 6’0. In contrast, my 5’4 wife literally has to climb into the seat using the window frame and interior door pull to pull herself up. It is a rolling brick and the slightest crosswind knocks it around, and  in Oklahoma, yeah, you notice. This particular Disco is not without issues. The trans mission overheat sensor is bad,  the passenger O2 sensor is bad, the sunroofs don’t work, one rear lock is wonky and the brake pads were meant to tow. They need some heat before they grab, so that first stop sign in my neighborhood is always an eye opener. Finally, if I make reference to the curry hook one more time, my wife may impale me on it.

Are we going for a ride?

All of those quirks just add to her character, which she has in droves. I suspect all of the Discos have some character, they certainly have the British sensibility and feel, you know, stiff upper lip and all that.

Now I might not be doing mother earth any favors by driving such a pig, but I do consider it recycling in a sense. Besides, she started it.

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39 Comments on “Capsule Review – 1999 Land Rover Discovery Series II, AKA – The Great Southwest Escape. Take Two...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    That LR has been far too reliable for you… :)

    Damn it now you make me want to by a used car from brand/model that everyone tells you to stay the hell away from. Sigh…

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      +1000. Sigh, there’s not enough bank account or garage/driveway space for any of it though. And certainly not for the ’81 American Coach Eagle motorhome I was eyeing on Ebay this morning.

      I was expecting a tale of woe and was pleasantly surprised.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Two cars I am weak for even though I know I should stay away. Late 90s to mid 2000s Jaguar XJ sedans (that body is poetry and god forbid I come upon one in green with a tan interior while I’m actually car shopping…) Northstar powered Cadillac, I know the shortcomings but they’re so cheap used and are very sweet sounding at high RPM…

        I need to stop now.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        @PrincipalDan, you and me both. ’98-’03 XJs are what a sedan should look like. Probably my worst guilty pleasure is actually wanting one. I’ve come close to pulling the trigger on 2 different XJRs, but couldn’t do it. I’ve decided to wait for one with broken timing chain guides and LS1 swap it.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      My folks had a 94 Deville Concours they bought as a 2 year old CPO. It was before the Northstar was standard, so the Concours got that over the 4.9 and other stuff over the standard Deville.

      Dark green with saddle interior. Looked good even with the factory fender skirts, 15 way seats that still managed to have no support,typical GM interior. But letting that Northstar wind out, just like any 4 cam V8, what a sound! In a straight line, that car was so much fun. They traded on a 95 S320 about 4 years later, when the GM-ness started to wear on my Dad (and his itch for a new or new to you car, which my brother and I inherited. Thanks Dad)

      The Benz is arguably a better car ( he still has it and refuses to part with it) and it does OK with the straight 6. But it’s not a Northstar Caddy. Now, if it were an S500 or S600…

    • 0 avatar
      Snaab9-3

      You aren’t the only one! I always seem to lust have dead or rare brands. I have an irrational love of Range Rovers and Alfa Romeos. Then again I think most “car guys” do!

  • avatar
    Tstag

    You don’t hear all that often of Land Rovers breaking down by the side of the road. I have a suspicion that their unreliability is more about things like broken electric windows. And who cars about that if you have air con and need to get across rough terrain? Unless the air con breaks in which case try the windows as they are also known to fix themselves……

  • avatar
    motorrad

    My Disco was the worst vehicle I ever loved.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    One more downfall to the stadium seating is, well, that dual level roof is there for a reason. Sadly, there isn’t a dual level door line to match. Every time I’ve gotten in the second row of one of these, I’ve been convinced I’ll bang my head.

    I still want one, and I’m taking this as proof I’ve had worse ideas.

  • avatar

    Love it. I’ve had similar experiences in my old Montero. Haven’t had this much fun behind the wheel in years. It’s like those childhood, Tonka dreams come to life on the open road.

    Still, aren’t the Discos known for popping head gaskets on a whim? You should carry spare head gaskets. ;)

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    When I was a lowly car washer at Enterprise in the late 90′s, I drove many types of your typical rentals, foreign and domestic.

    Briefly, our area manager had one of these as a company car. I don’t remember the specifics, but I had the chance to take his Disco to go pick him and other people up. I’ve loved these things ever since, even though I know they have many shortcomings. Doesn’t stop me from wanting one.

    The Disco and the 90-97 Town Car are some of the cars that will always have a spot in the garage in my head.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    As I said yesterday, I loved mine and it was a Series 1, which was known to be even worse for reliability. It only left me stranded once, with the aforementioned master cylinder. And actually I wasn’t stranded, it just happened to break about 2 miles from my dealership, so I coaxed it up there on back roads at 10mph and picked up my handy dandy loaner. I believe it would have cost me around $500 to have fixed were it not under warranty.

    My mechanic says the air suspension on the newer ones is prone to expensive repairs, but replacement coil suspension is only a few hundred bucks plus install time.

    Fuel economy is abysmal though, and power is lacking. I drove mine to West Virginia a few times, and yes it is a wonderful highway cruiser, those trips were very comfortable. But going over the mountain passes in VA/WV were full throttle, 45mph runs. But these engines are notoriously detuned. They are basically a Buick V8. Just opening up the breathing and exhaust is supposedly good for 50hp or so, and a stroked/bored rebuild can add a ton of needed power. I have heard of guys swapping in SBCs and even diesel engines from Euro models. You can get them cheap enough to justify the extra repairs and even engine swaps. I have seen nice Series 1 and 2 models for $4-6k. Everyone gets scared around 100k miles and dumps them. If you are really lucky you find one with a bad engine for around $3k and install the powerplant of your choice.

  • avatar
    sitting@home

    “the passenger O2 sensor is bad”

    Do you now have to keep looking over to see if your wife has turned blue and is gasping for breath ?

  • avatar
    Joss

    Its not practical for you. Disco doesn’t fit your garage or your long-term wallet. Sandy was a nice flash in the pan. You can haul & eat asphalt with Voyager or Odyssey. Land Rover is a failed brand – the reasons apparent.

    I lived the BMC – British Leyland era where internal strife bred by class system destroyed the ability to produce quality, manufactured goods. Land Rover has its genesis in theft from JEEP. Its post war birth was for the British military, coast guard & civilian farmers. Then along came Range Rover for the moneyed horsey crowd. Disco was a FMC 90′s slot-in for the booming middle class, financed by LOC’s on rising RE prices.

    Writing this adventure you’ve been buttering-up a bigger fool for Sandy – let her go.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      Did you even read the article? Sounds like he loves it, his wife loves it, and it isn’t going anywhere. And a Disco WILL fit in a standard garage without a roof rack, mine always did. And who wants to drive a minivan??

    • 0 avatar
      mikeg216

      If your gonna pay for it you might as well enjoy it. Plus where’s the fun in driving a minivan? And I’m sure the acquisition cost was nil compared to the any half way decent used van. I feel the same way about my grand Cherokee orvis, sure it passes everything but a gas station but who cares I love it and get it dirty as often as possible. Try as hard as you might but you can’t take the money with you when you die.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Land Rovers have caught my eye here and there…… but, the mechanic in me just can’t go for it.

    I have a 06′ Liberty CRD. Heated leather seats, power windows, moon roof, etc. Fairly comfortable and can pull off 22-32mpg. Use it for trips, great vehicle and with BFG all terrain tires it’s more the capable of getting through anything I’m going to come across.

    Hope to never let it go, but if I do, I still think I’ll pass on the land rover and go for a old Grand-Wagoneer; much more reliable and cheaper to keep going.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      The Liberty CRD is a great vehicle, I have always believed that a smaller diesel engine is perfect for an SUV. The problem I have with the Liberty is the rubbermaid quality interior and other cheap components Jeep used. A Disco is a very nice place to spend time on a long road trip and it has a lot more room too. And while I love the old Wagoneers like I love classic Mustangs, they are not nearly as nice on road trips, or even trips to the mall. I agree they are very reliable mechanically though. And they hold insane resale value, they are basically classic cars now.

      But both those vehicles are not cheap to buy, you will pay a premium price for either one in good shape. For me, the main reason I like the Discos is the crazy low prices on used ones. When new they were way too expensive, and even some of the newer low mileage ones are still too high to consider. But when you can buy a 100k+ mile example still in excellent shape for well under $10k, some as low as $5-6k, the value proposition goes way up.

    • 0 avatar
      mikeg216

      The waggy though a timeless classic who created the luxury suv class is anything but reliable. If you take out the emissions choked amc 360 which is severely lacking in hp for its size and averages about 8 mpg and drop in a 350 crate engine and a 4 speed auto instead of the 727 torqueflite. You will save yourself headaches gas and weeks of frustration not trying to find a vacuum leak in the 32 feet of hose it came with.

      • 0 avatar
        Onus

        That describes every domestic v8 from the era. Low on power, miles of vacuum hose, horrible feedback carbs. Fuel injection greatly fixed this. Sadly the amc 360 never saw that. In fact it was the last carburetor vehicle, in 1991!

        Heck i have a 1983 f250 here with a 300 6. i was just looking at the vacuum diagram. Yikes! This one doesn’t even have air injection since it’s not catalyst. But, dang. Not sure where all the crap went but it’s gone.

        On a side note the 360 is a good engine, as is the torque flite trans. For awhile they did have the th400 behind them. Just pick your year!

  • avatar
    vent-L-8

    I had a 1996 Series-1, was the last year you could get a 5-speed in the states. The car never didn’t start, never left me on the side of the road … but always felt as though I could at any time. You become accustomed to the loose fit of it all. The same loose fittings turns your driveway into a superfund eligible toxic soup of leaking fluids. With the 5-speed manual you could drive it like an extension of your body, lean into the turns etc… I never did get accustomed to the 11mpg (premium fuel please) thirst. All kinds of character.

  • avatar

    just bought a disco bank repo. winter back up to xj8 and alfa spider. awesome vehicle, and amazingly no probs of any kind, except one back door lock does not work with key. I agree with writer – its a perfect road trip vehicle, if you have a free gas card. will report on 1K road trip to UP MI in a few weeks.

  • avatar

    I see plenty of those sand-colored Disco Series-II’s here in OKC, and I’ve probably seen yours. I have a friend that has a Disco Series-II identical in color and trim to yours. He asked my help to top off the motor oil in his. I turned my back for one second–to take a phone call–and he’s gone and poured the stuff down the power-steering-fluid reservoir!

    That made for an interesting trip to the shop…

  • avatar
    360joules

    I remember when these were popular. A friend and his wife bought one. We were driving in his Disco (the guy car) through the Columbia River Gorge against a 40 – 50 mile an hour headwind trying to keep up with my wife driving her 4Runner. She pulled ahead. I was about to chastise my friend for driving too slowly when I realized he was gritting his teeth and the engine was howling. Then it hit me- he was flooring it and we couldn’t even maintain 65 mph. Other than being a gutless gas sucking vehicle, it was great off-road but he kept needing to borrow gas from my gas cans.

  • avatar
    markholli

    @Mental Ward, I’m curious what you picked it up for, if you don’t mind me asking. Considering the already-low fear-based (and justified, I understand) resale values for Discos, and the fact that Sandy had 200k on the clock, I’d guess you got it for a song.

    I’m such a sucker for Land Rovers, and reading this just inspires me to do something irresponsible. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) my wife manages the money, and she prevents me from acting on my whims.

    • 0 avatar
      dswilly

      I’ve stalked these heavily for the last year and ultimately didn’t pull the trigger, got a 4runner instead. What I learned from my due-diligence is that there probably isn’t a more maintenance intensive modern vehicle made. And I still want one. As for cost, if you keep your ear to the ground you can find a 100k 2002-2004 Disco II anywhere from 4k-12k. I think paying over 6k for one would be foolish no matter what. The high dollar weak link on the things is the engine which seems to be a head gasket leaking, sleeve-slipping, oil pump eating time bomb, especially the 4.6. The other issues are really only annoying and not necessarily expensive now that the enthusiast crowd has figured out all of the work a rounds. I want someone to figure out a LS1 conversion that would still talk to the LR BCU to maintain all the tech stuff. If you decide to jump, get on the Disco forums and read lots.

      • 0 avatar
        markholli

        I’m sure the 4Runner will serve you well. I helped my brother sell his 2003 SR5 4×4 a few months ago, and was tempted to keep it. They ride nicely for a real/capable 4×4, and are as reliable as any Toyota.

        What ultimately kept me from making it my own was that it just didn’t feel special (If it had that sweet Lexus 4.7 V8, I might be singing a different tune).

        And that’s what it comes down to with Land Rovers: in spite of all their flaws, you feel special every time you sit in one. It’s like that saying girls like to post on Facebook: If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.

    • 0 avatar

      I am totally selling out my buddy, but friend price was $1400. I didn’t even attempt to haggle. I spent just under half that in premium getting it home.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I did the same route from Indiana down to Tulsa I-55 to I-44 along old route 66. I drove it in the ’97 Suburban (5.7L 4×4) I had the time and averaged 20 mpg on that trip, loaded with 4 adults and packed to the ceiling with gear.

    Range was really good with that truck, filling up in Ann Arbor, MI and not stopping until Springfield, MO.

    While I agree the Disco has character, I just couldn’t sacrifice everything else in exchange. There’s a good reason these things are some of the worst depreciating vehicles around.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    I have exactly the same Suburban and get exactly the same gas mileage. In four years and over 30,000 miles of hard towing, I have replaced two oxygen sensors…..that is the some total of repairs. The thing is ridiculously reliable and dependable. Driving it across country and back wouldn’t merit a raised eyebrow, let alone a two part story indicating extreme courage/foolhardiness.

    But since this is TTAC……GOVERNMENT MOTORS/BAILOUT!!!!……FISHER PRICE INTERIOR!!!!! DEADLY SIN!!!!!! THE INTERIOR IS A CRIME!!!!

  • avatar
    Carl Kolchak

    Have a 99 GMC Suburban. No idea how you got 20 MPG on the highway but each vehicle is different. As to the interior, very functional but made of the plastic Fisher – Price rejected.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Steady state 70-75mph, no mixed drivng, no stops. I track my mileage the old fashioned way, pump to odometer reading, not by trip computer.

      Some rough route calculations; Ann Arbor to Springfiel MO is 730mi and the Suburban had a 42 gallon tank of which I would have used approximately 36-37 gallons. Thats right at about 20mpg.

      I love that truck.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    It will be interesting to monitor Land Rover. I have a suspicion reliability will pick up. Largely because they are gradually dumping a lot of the suppliers that let them down. Take the current Freelander, which is a lot better than the old one. Why? With the old Freelander they were stuck with the K series engine which was designed in an era when Rover group was still owned by the tax payer.

    The Evoque will be a real test model to see how much they’ve improved. My gut feeling is JLR is a bit of a work in progress. But each model seems to be getting better. Once the Sport and the Disco are replaced I have a feeling we will see a big step up in reliability.

  • avatar
    calienteward

    This is Mrs Mental here…

    Christian gives me too much credit..I’m only 5′ 2″….Nevertheless, I do have to grab any place I can on Sandy to pull myself up to the driver’s seat. I have to giggle each time I do it because I must look like a “hot mess” from anyone watching close by! Free show every time I go someplace!

    But alas, Mental is right…I surprisingly have more confidence with Sandy than I know what to do with. Maybe it’s because Sandy lifts me off the ground so high that I feel like her majesty, herself. Maybe it’s because she weighs so much that if anyone even dare to hit me I would get out of the truck see maybe a dent or two and be able to just get back in her and go. Or maybe it’s because she makes me feel like I can get anywhere I want to go no matter where it may be or what the weather brings my way. Who knows…I like driving her.

    Man, she LOVES her petrol though…and I have to admit, I weep a bit each time I have to fill her up, but she makes me smile still and I know that makes Mental happy….

    Chances are I’ll be getting rid of her when Mental gets back and upgrading to another SUV that Mental will hate…but, for now I will have a little fun with Sandy and then kick her to the curb for something better! (Man, that sounded like such a “playa” thing to say!)

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    This was a fantastic read! As a fellow old-SUV-road tripper, I totally connected to just about everything that was written, except I get a bit better mileage, around 18-19 mpg :P Just got back from a weekend in Indiana, hit snow driving across Western NY both ways.

    I also get thrown around in crosswinds, steep hills leave the engine sucking wind (155hp/169ftlbs to move 4000+ lbs, gee I wonder how well that’ll work?!), and fuel stops are frequent and expensive. Despite all that, there is something to be said about sitting up high in my comfy captain’s chair, staring at a wall of falling snow and not flinching. With my snow tires mounted, I didn’t even bother putting the car in 4wd, it did great. The car’s weight and narrower than stock 215 series tires slice through the piles of snow and slush that accumulate between lanes and tire tracks that need to be crossed when changing lanes. I was able to maintain a safe pace of 60-65mph, and was able to get to my destination no worse for the wear and on time (albeit with a significantly lighter wallet lol). The one thing that unsettles the car are wind gusts, which unfortunately coincide with snow drifts across the road.

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    “4,500 pounds of steel”

    Not quite. The doors and roof are steel, but other body panels are traditionally aluminium (al-you-min-i-um).

    I believe at least part of the reason, beyond weight-saving, etc., is that post-WWII, they were using recycled aircraft aluminum.


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  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • Tycho de Feyter, China
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India