By Richard Russell
Fort Garland, Colorado – Since 1948 Land Rover has been linked with safaris, expeditions, and high adventure, ferrying soldiers between uprisings in Africa, blazing across the Australian Outback or picking through tropical jungles in South America.
The Land Rover Range in Canada currently consists of three products: Freelander, Discovery and Range Rover spanning the $35,000 – $105,000 price range. The mainstay, oldest and most versatile model is the Discovery, born in England in 1989 and emigrating to North America five years later. Redesigned and given a new chassis and suspension in 1999 it was renamed Discovery Series II. Following the investment of $220 million of Ford’s money to upgrade its production facilities and quality control, Land Rover gave the Disco the 217-horsepower 4.6 litre V8 engine from the Range Rover last year along with more than 300 other upgrades.
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In addition to the S, SE and HSE trim levels, for 2004, Land Rover will build 200 Discovery G4 vehicles modeled after those used for the recent Land Rover G4 Challenge global adventure. Only fifteen will come to Canada. This event pitted individuals representing 23 countries against each other in a variety of challenges including on and off-road driving, kayaking, rock-climbing, snow boarding and rappelling over four weeks and 4,000 miles in four different Land Rover models over four stages. The events took place in New England, Africa, Australia and the Rocky Mountains. The $59,000 special edition Discovery G4 is painted in Tangiers Orange and carries exclusive G4 identification, accessories and interior appointments.
Other changes to the Discovery for 2004 include a manually-locking center differential as standard on all models as well as a CD-player. The HSE model gets burled walnut trim on the center console.
A 1999 redesign retained the trademark alpine windows, flat panels, straight lines and utilitarian styling while eliminating some of the eccentricity. But the Disco will never be used as a model for ergonomics. Switchgear is still scattered around the interior and once located, often awkward to operate. Getting in and out of the rear seat requires squeezing through a very narrow opening and over an intrusive wheel well. Once in though, things look up. Seats are supportive and comfortable, thanks to theatre seating and extended roof headroom and visibility are plentiful. Nor will it earn high marks for on-road ride, handling and noise levels. The heavy body-on-frame structure and anti-aerodynamic shape combine to thwart any semblance of fuel economy.
But venture off the beaten path and you can almost feel a sigh of relief as the Discovery enters its element. Here it has few peers -at any price and from any source. We had an opportunity to put several hundred kilometres beneath the wheels of a G4 while here to witness the finals of TReK 2003. After extensive on and offroad driving and a variety of severe offroad exercises, we can attest to its prowess in tough situations. Amazing wheel travel and suspension articulation, well-chosen gearing, vertical sides, high ground clearance and generous approach and departure angles allow the Disco to go where few dare tread.
This is the real deal.
While others talk about Life Style, Land Rover is busy living it. The company stages events around the world to showcase its wares.
One of these, TReK 2003, pitted 40 three-man teams representing Land Rover stores throughout North and Central America against one another in a series of motivational head-to-head challenges. The idea is team-building and brand knowledge, so that when they return to their Land Rover store, participants can speak knowledgeably about product attributes and abilities. We witnessed the finals of the North American TReK program here 9,400 feet up the side of the Rockies in southern Colorado.
The events these men – there were no women in the finals – faced, were the work of a twisted mind. The incredibly grueling day starts before dawn and lasts until dusk. After a 50-question quiz on product knowledge, history, operation and offroad driving techniques at 4 am, competitors are given a GPS unit and a set of coordinates and told to find their Discovery in the pitch dark. There they find the front wheels missing – located through another set of co-ordinates. Once located, carried to the vehicle and mounted, it’s off for a whole 30 metres before getting stuck on wet logs, requiring the use of a winch to get free.
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Next, 1.5 metre planks were required as sand ladders to traverse the next 30 metres. Teams then had to push the 5,000 pound Disco over the final 30 metres over the finish line. From there it was off to compete in a trials course, two offroad autocross events, an off-road time, speed and distance rally and an orienteering exercise lasting until lunch!
Next up, a combined mountain bike, kayak and off-road event. The day wraps up at with a head-to-head competition between pairs of teams over a diabolical course. It involved winching, trail-building, boulder-filled trails, a tunnel to ramp in and out of, single log-wide bridges to cross deep ditches, using a double buck-saw to cut through a 12-inch log blocking eight-foot logs that had to be moved etc. Exhausting for spectators!
The winners of the 2003 event hailed from Minnesota but the Land Rover of Richmond team did Canadians proud, winning one of the heats and finishing sixth overall out of 40 teams. In addition the team won the “Spirit Award” for continuous encouragement and positive attitude throughout the event.