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1996 Land Rover Discovery - Red Rover, Red Rover

A Capable Factory Rig Made Better

Harry WagnerPhotographer, Writer

Most people who buy Land Rovers are part of the "tea-and-crumpets" crowd; they're more interested in weekends spent at the country club than on the trail. That is a shame really, since Rovers are extremely capable vehicles whose prowess has been demonstrated in events like the Camel Trophy and G4 Challenge. With the release of the new LR3, and prices for used Land Rover Discoverys becoming reasonable, we fully expect to see more of these rigs on the trails in the future.

We met Scott McBirney at the Vegas Valley Four Wheelers' annual Hump N Bump event. Scott works as a technician turning wrenches at Land Rover Las Vegas, making him intimately familiar with these machines. But instead of being content with the typical roof rack and auxiliary lighting, Scott set out to build a Rover in a more American mold. Large tires, low gears, and gobs of suspension travel allow his '96 Discovery to tackle the trails, while upgraded drivetrain components and thoughtful engineering deliver Scott and his daily driver home in comfort.

The engine is a stock 4.0L aluminum V-8 that produces 182 hp and 233 lb-ft of torque. It has 67,000 miles on it and is stock with the exception of a Flowmaster muffler that produces a throaty rumble at idle. Behind the V-8 sits the stock ZF four-speed automatic transmission that features a 2.48 First-gear ratio. Things start getting interesting with the LT230 transfer case, though this is also a stock powertrain component. Land Rovers utilize an offset transfer case that provides a 1.22 gear ratio in High range and a whopping 3.32-ratio Low range.

With no need for aftermarket transfer case gearing, Scott turned his attention to the axles. Both feature chrome-moly shafts from Great Basin Rovers, 4.11 gears, and disc brakes. The front differential is an ARB Air Locker that can be manually disengaged for improved turning, while the rear Detroit Locker provides rock-solid traction at all times. Taking advantage of the resources available to him at the Land Rover dealership, Scott used air suspension components sourced from a classic Range Rover to plumb the Air Locker. Long-travel CV driveshafts from Tom Woods (in the front) and Great Basin Rovers (in the rear) connect the axles to the trick transfer case.

With the drivetrain capable of withstanding the harshest of trails, Scott turned his attention toward a suspension that could deliver him to such locations. Because the Disco is his daily driver, a significant amount of thought was put into selecting suspension pieces that are rugged and reliable, working as well on the road as off. Rovertym Engineering components are featured throughout the suspension, as they met all of Scott's demanding criteria. Rovertym radius arms, panhard bar, and 3-inch coils are combined with custom 2-inch spacers in the front, while Rovertym 5-inch coils and trailing arms are used in the rear. Damping duties at both ends are handled by 12-inch-travel, remote reservoir Fox Racing Shox.

The suspension, combined with a 1-inch Rovertym aluminum body lift, clears 35-inch Goodyear MT/R tires mounted on TrailReady bead-locked wheels. The steering components are protected from harm with a galvanized skidplate from Atlantic British, while the gas tank is shielded with 1/4-inch-thick aluminum protection from Rock Ware. Other armor was mainly sourced from Rovertym, including the rock sliders and both bumpers. The front bumper houses a Warn 9000 winch and three (in British fashion) Rover brand driving lights. Other exterior features include fender flares from a later-model Discovery II. Scott spent hours molding the flares to his Rover to make more room for the large tires, and the time spent is evident in the quality of the end product.

During the weekend we wheeled with Scott, his Rover performed flawlessly. He seemed to forget that he was wheeling a "wagon" and not a Jeep, because he went everywhere the Wranglers did. Attention to details like the routing of the air line for the front ARB on top of the radius arm, and the false floor in the rear to store heavy items down low, ensured that the Disco did everything that was asked of it. We hope to see more Land Rovers turn up on the trails soon, and when they do, we know exactly where to send them for service work and dealer-installed parts.