In October 2012 we spotted a Land Rover Discovery I V8i for sale at a roadside dealership. We bought the sorry-for-itself Landy for what we thought was a reasonable price, keen to get stuck into a restoration-cum-customisation process. Now, 18 months later, the V8i is kind of done, fittingly in the same year that Land Rover celebrates the 25th birthday of the Discovery. This is the story of Mango One, the orange Disco
It seemed like a good idea at the time. It really did.
For the princely sum of R28 000 we bought a Land Rover Discovery 1 V8. The four-litre engine even started at the first turn of the key, and although the big V8 seemed in dire need of a service, it appeared to be fundamentally sound. A few bucks invested in fixing her up and voila, we could use the Landy as a go-anywhere camera vehicle that we wouldn’t shed a tear about if it got a scrape here and there.
We reckoned it wouldn’t take more than three months to fix her up, and then we could start using the Disco as our official back-up vehicle.
Alas, how wrong we were! In fact, on a scale of wrong, we’d be off the chart.
After the sale we drove the Landy home, and then attempted to take it to Green Oval in Boksburg — a small company run by Dan Green, specialising in Land Rovers rebuilds and custom accessories.
But the Disco wouldn’t start, the battery having died overnight. So we charged up the battery and tried again the next day. Same thing. So we towed the vehicle to a nearby auto electrician, who supposedly replaced the alternator’s regulator and added a new battery for R4 500. It was an unexpected early knock but hey, at least it was fixed.
But it wasn’t. Next morning, the new battery was as dead as the old one, and the Landy wouldn’t start, even with a jump start from another battery. The Landy went back to the auto electrician. It was returned – with the very same problem.
We gave up on the auto electrician, who we still reckon didn’t actually bother to replace anything but the battery, but just charged us anyway. Thankfully, we got our money back for the new regulator.
Eventually, with a back-up vehicle along for the ride, we left on the great adventure, driving the Landy from Roodepoort to Boksburg. Everything went OK-ish until we hit the highway, and reached a speed of about 100km/h. The Disco started wobbling and shaking and rattling like you wouldn’t believe. So we kept the speed down, and struggled to Boksburg.
A few days later Dan phoned. The news was good, bad and well… more bad. The engine, he said, was indeed basically OK. A good service should sort it out. But the wiring, electrics and the electronics were another matter.
The previous owner clearly didn’t believe much in maintenance and replacing defective parts. So the defective electronic control unit (ECU) was bypassed by tapping volts from the windscreen wiper motor directly to the starter motor.
It was the tip of the iceberg. Four of the eight plug leads were so badly corroded that they made no connection whatsoever, so essentially the engine was running on four cylinders. The spark plugs were past their sell-by date, and the original fuel pump – situated under the floor in the rear cargo area – had been replaced by an undersized unit from a small hatch that appeared to have fallen off a truck somewhere. No wonder the Landy gurgled down 100 litres/100km!
So Dan set about correcting all the mechanical wrongs. Besides the engine, these included a complete brake system overhaul, new polyurethane bushes all round, new ball joints, refurbished prop shaft and coupling, and new tie rods. Just about everything that could be replaced was replaced.
The money-meter had officially started rolling. And it was ticking over fast.
With the basic mechanics just about sorted, Dan threw us another, irresistible curveball. Why stick to boring white? How about a striking tangerine orange?
Since the Landy’s battered body required some rather extensive panel beating, we agreed – and so the beaten-up white Disco was turned into a shiny orange and black Disco. However, this took time, so that added another month to the makeover. In that time we sorted out the standard wheels, which were all bent and buckled. Finished in a glossy black with polished edges, the new-old rims were fitted with Bridgestone Dueler M/T tyres (245/75 R16s).
Once the wheels were on and the paint job done, the Disco – without a windscreen – was towed to Conqueror Connection in Pretoria North where an adjustable Tough Dog suspension from Opposite Lock was installed. Opposite Lock also supplied an adjustable Tough Dog steering damper, which was fitted by the folks at Conqueror Connection.
Finally the Disco was ready for the next stage of its remake – refurbishing the dilapidated interior. The seats were trimmed in black leather with orange stitching by AK Leather in Pretoria. And the original dashboard, which looked as though it had been cooked in a microwave oven, was ripped out and a custom fibreglass unit was manufactured by Duane Black of Duane’s Services.
Next, the Landy was delivered to Attitude Dyna Tuning in Rosslyn, where a Spitronics electronic engine management system was fitted, along with a 57mm free-flow exhaust system.
All these upgrades took time, and it was late in 2013 that the Landy finally made its way back to Dan at Green Oval for the finishing touches. However, it was soon clear there was still much to do – and plenty more money to be spent.
Frustratingly, a major issue was fixing problems that arose from custom jobs. Somewhere along the line the original centre dash section had been ripped out and most of the little connectors and levers had been broken off, and the air-conditioning ducting destroyed. Ditto the instrument cluster. All these items had to be repaired, or replaced. (Cue the sound of the cash register.)
And then there was the engine. It just wasn’t running smoothly, missing at times, even though it seemed to pull decently enough. Dan traced this to a poorly connected wire, following the aftermarket ECU installation.
After this was fixed we took the Landy for another dyna tuning session – apparently the first one simply comprised an existing “program” that was downloaded for our Landy’s aftermarket computer brain. The result was a marked improvement in the driveability of the Discovery. It was more responsive and smoother, and it felt more powerful, too.
After this was sorted out, there were still a lot of details to attend to. Like fitting the custom front bar, the LED light, the new rubber lining in the cargo area, the aluminium hatches that replaced the rear-most side windows, the replacement of the bonnet release mechanism, fine tuning the sun roofs, and a whole lot more.
Hats off to Dan of Green Oval – he really went beyond the call of duty to get the Landy in the best possible shape.
And now it’s done. Well, mostly done. As we’ve discovered over the last 18 months, there always seems to be something here or there that needs fixing, adjusting or replacing on a nearly 20 year-old Land Rover.
But she now goes really well. And she looks good. Off-road she is pretty spectacular, with the Tough Dog suspension, Bridgestone muds and the sheer mechanical grip of the solid axle set-up allowing surprising amounts of grip in the rough.
The first refuelling stop showed an average consumption of 20 litres/100km. Yes, it’s still a guzzler, but it’s five times better than the 100 litres/100km we started off with!
Would we tackle a project like this again? Probably not. With an older 4×4, and especially one that was so badly beaten up, there are endless things to fix, and although parts are not impossible to find, some suppliers charge an arm and a leg, just because they can. Upgrading a more modern 4×4 would make more sense.
Still, driving the orange Land Rover through the bush and over some obstacles, hearing that old Buick V8 engine sing its beautiful song and knowing what had gone into getting it to this happy state… well, it’s a special feeling.
Saving a classic old Landy from impending doom was one of the hardest and most challenging projects we’ve undertaken, but also one of the most rewarding.
Long live… Mango One!