I’ll save the nitty-gritty sentimental details for my forthcoming autobiography—but while most people reading this likely could have purchased a Land Rover Discovery brand-new from the showroom floor—I couldn’t. Millennials like myself would never have that chance to buy what the enthusiast community behind the famous British marque labeled the last real Land Rover in the United States. But does it really matter?
We all grew up with the Land Rover brand as an icon—but a different icon to each generation. Advertisements conveniently placed in between The Simpsons and Home Improvement showed my generation destinations far beyond the imagination of your average Nintendo 64 kid. It was Land Rover’s way of planting a seed that would eventually grow into another generation of enthusiasts. One born not from the Camel Trophy and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom but from the TReK (a dealer-based competition series in the U.S.) and G4 Competitions.
A few years after buying and selling my first Discovery, I began to daydream about what it would be like to go back in time. Now I wasn’t thinking about saving the world or making smart investments on my time travel adventure, but rather finding myself a brand-new Land Rover Discovery. Perhaps something of the Tangiers Orange flavor, with some quality Land Rover Genuine Kit. I thought that it would be the car I’d want to drive for the rest of my life.
Pinch me when I wake up.
Last October, Land Rover North America decided that a vehicle sitting behind their Mahwah, New Jersey Headquarters could use a new home. Instead of letting it continue to deteriorate and become a forgotten corporate relic, they decided to give it to Expedition Portal for a long-term project. The vehicle, a 2003 Land Rover Discovery II TReK Edition, only had 900 miles on it when we first received it. I had finally found my brand-spankin’ new Disco, I didn’t even need to go back in time, I just needed to go to ‘Jersey.
A quick look at a TReK Discovery is enough to sizzle the emotions of any Land Rover enthusiast in North America. It’s the face of a new Land Rover—bold, adventurous and active, quite literally, it was my dream car. But even though it was virtually new, could it compete with vehicles 10 years newer?
At first the idea was simple, as a project vehicle we’d modify it and make up for the shortcomings of the platform. Perhaps we’d try to find the cure for it’s rather large behind (departure angle) and its not exactly Dusy-Ershim ready ground clearance. Before the poor little TReK had even left the parking lot on a drive, visions of a highly modified, brand-new Discovery II had developed.
So what have you actually modified?
The fine individuals at Land Rover’s Special Vehicles Division did their homework when they sat down to build the TReK competition vehicles. They could have made it easy on everyone, themselves and the competitors, and simply bolted-on a large lift kit, beefy tires, steel bumpers, called it a day. But then it wouldn't do justice to the vehicle which represented the pinnacle of solid-axle Land Rover engineering in North America. With a catalogue of accessories at their feet, they chose to fit only basic rocker protection, a winch, and auxiliary lighting which was mounted to the Safety Devices roof rack that hauled the competitor’s kayaks and mountain bikes. It even came fitted with the aero roof rails and center locking differential ubiquitous of the 2004 Discovery model—which leads me to think this 2003 model may have a bit of an age crisis.
It’s really impressive that every part on this vehicle could be ordered directly through your Land Rover dealership in 2003—there’s really nothing that needs to be done for my style of travel.
Shortly however, I’ll be giving in and refreshing the front suspension with a new set of Land Rover Genuine HD springs. I’ll probably pair this with a set of new shocks to better handle the weight of the Warn winch and Genuine tray. I’m hoping that, combined with the weight loss from synthetic rope, gives it the extra inch it needs up front to be level with the rear air suspension.
How does it compare to a modern Discovery?
Land Rover has always known that vehicle-based adventure travel wasn't about buying the biggest vehicle possible and bragging to your buddies about how easy that trail was. I’ve taken the TReK through technical rock trails, long desert tracks, and slick rock playgrounds in Moab—it’s brought me everywhere I’ve wanted to go, and even taught me a few things along the way. This vehicle lives and breathes the mantra taught to me by a close friend early in my 4WD career—drive elegantly.
Solid-axles or not, that mantra is still alive in even the newest Land Rover models. Driving two brand new vehicles with the same linage, separated by almost 10 years quickly shows their strengths and weaknesses. I’ve had the pleasure of piloting both this TReK Discovery and a stock LR4 down the same trails, and it’s almost too close to call which is more capable. There’s no doubt in my mind though with the same modest modifications, an LR4 would walk over the TReK Discovery day-in and day-out, over a wider variety of situations (it has taken me a while to come to terms with saying that out). It’s something we’ve proven with Overland Journal’s LR4 project. (the word spooky comes to mind when talking of the capability of that vehicle). Start modifying the Discovery, and things would certainly become significantly more competitive.
The TReK Discovery isn’t bad at anything it does; it is comfortable, capable, and has even proven reliable now that it has 8,000 miles on the clock. The trouble is that the LR4 is even more comfortable, and every bit as capable. A quick walk around the nearly empty service departments of most Land Rover dealers would probably tell you that the LR4 is going to be even more reliable than the TReK.
Once you’ve fallen in love with a vehicle, none of it really matters though, it’s perfect how it is. Call me ostentatious because I love the orange, but in my eyes, the TReK is everything a Land Rover should be—bold and ready to take you on your adventures right from the dealership.