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    • Posted: 04/12/17

      In the mid-1980s, Land Rover tasked themselves with developing a new utilitarian vehicle they hoped would bridge the gap between the classic Range Rover and the Ninety/One Ten, which would later be named Defender. This led to the origins of ‘Project Jay’.

      ‘Project Jay’ was crucial for the future of Land Rover. The assignment for the design team was to create a vehicle which would provide the rugged capability of the Ninety/One Ten, with interior comfort to compete with newer, smaller competitors to the Range Rover.

      Enter the Discovery.

      A fleet of Discovery's during a press-day in 1989 following its release.

      On 16th September 1989, Discovery 1 made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Its now iconic name ‘Discovery’ was chosen ahead of other options including ‘Highlander’ and the ‘Prairie Rover’. The design included its now instantly recognisable stepped roof, reverse C-pillars and clamshell bonnet. To ensure it did not detract from the Range Rover, Discovery was initially launched only as a 3-door model rather than 5-door. The chassis and drivetrain were however taken from the existing Range Rover.

      The interior offered comfort with features suitable for everyday life. For example, centrally located radio controls, twin removable sunroof panels and a detachable shoulder bag located to the rear of the centre console for storage, which could be removed and used outdoors. The interior design received critical acclaim at the time, including a British Design Award in 1989. There was seating for five, with the option to add an additional two jump seats in the rear.

      The interior of the original Discovery, featuring manually lockable centre differential.

      When launched, you could purchase a Discovery with either a 2.5-litre 200 Tdi diesel or a 3.5-litre Rover V8 petrol engine. The original transmission was a dual-ratio five-speed manual with drive via a transfer case with a lockable centre differential. This lockable differential became an integral design feature which allowed Discovery to perform so capably off-road. Putting the vehicle manually into low range allowed you to control traction and stability on all off-road terrain using engine braking, enabling maximum control, before the days of systems such as Terrain Response, Hill Descent Control and Traction Control.

      Another key feature of Discovery’s versatility was its towing capability. The original vehicle offered 3,500kg maximum towing weight for trailers with overrun brakes. As Discovery progressed over the years, towing remained a pillar of its capabilities, which would eventually become an award-winning feature in later editions.

      A Discovery 1 tours the grounds of Eastnor Castle.

      In 1990, Land Rover launched the 5-door model which featured fuel-injected V8i and luxury ES versions. These updated models also incorporated further features such as central locking and electric windows, with air conditioning and heated door mirrors also available on the ES.

      Following a model update in 1994, further changes were made to the Discovery. The 200Tdi and 3.5 V8 engines were replaced with 2.5-litre 300Tdi and 3.9-litre Rover V8 engines, as well as the addition of stronger gearboxes. The updated models also featured external design revisions such as larger headlights and a second set of rear-lights in the bumper.

      These changes paved the way for the second generation Discovery, which would launch in 1998.



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