Discovery gets to prove itself

I got the Discovery back today, after it went away for a new timing belt – needing a new water pump, thermostat and radiator in addition. It’s been very frustrating owning a car for almost a month, which I’ve barely driven. Therefore, attempting to shrug off a cold, I decided I had to get back out for a spell of greenlaning.

I had missed it. I love the countryside and like to use different methods to access it. Walking is great, but so is tackling the terrain in a 4×4. Mind you, I stuck to largely easy lanes today – some of which I’ve tackled in the 2CV. I wanted to get a feel for the Discovery before tackling anything severe.

Discovery proves capable in the rough stuff

Discovery proves capable in the rough stuff

The lanes of Nant-y-Moch proved ideal. They’re not far from my house and apart from one or two tricky sections – which I didn’t venture near this trip – they’re very accessible. A soft-roader wouldn’t struggle to be honest. Another reason for keeping the difficulty level low is that I was heading out on my own. I let my wife know roughly how long it should take, but you can’t guarantee mobile reception when you’re out in the wilds, and should mechanical trauma or an accident halt my progress, I could be a long way from rescue.

I do like solo laning though. Heading out in big groups can be seen as very anti-social by others who love the countryside, though this is often without justification. Sadly you do get some groups who love chucking enough gear onto their 4x4s to survive a rainforest expedition, and I’ve seen plenty who love revving engines and deliberately getting stuck. There’s no need for that. If you want to play silly buggers, go and do it at a Pay and Play site.

Anyway. Now I was finally away from sealed surfaces, how did the Discovery fare? Pretty good. The low ratio gears worked, and they are much lower than my previous Budget 4×4 – the Ford Maverick. This gives much better control on descents and over rocky ground. Being a diesel helps too. I only engaged the diff lock briefly for one tricky climb, but it seemed to do its thing. It took a while to disengage though – I suspect it hasn’t had a lot of use. The diff lock is on the centre differential, which allows the front and rear axles to travel at independent speeds – essential for on-road use, but not always great when off-road.

The main difference compared to the Maverick is the suspension. With long-travel coil springs all-round (rather than just on the back of the Maverick, which uses torsion bars up front) and simple beam axles, the Discovery is far better equipped straight out of the box. Yes, it can feel a bit clumsy on the road, but I like that. A 4×4 should feel like an off-roader in my view! It still handles well and it really is a tribute to the cleverness of Spen King, the man behind the Range Rover of 1970 – and therefore the platform underneath the Discovery of 1989.

Discovery contemplates the view

Discovery contemplates the view

It isn’t just the ability that impresses though. I find the Discovery a great vehicle to sit in. I love the blue Conran-penned interior and the high driving position. It’s better than the Range Rover, because there’s more headroom. They may share a body structure, but the Range Rover always left me feeling like I’d been squashed against the ceiling. The interior is far, far better than that of my similarly aged Range Rover too. More cohesive and less rattly. Which one was the premium product again?

With the laning itch scratched, I can now focus on further improvements. A full service needs to happen, including fresh oil for the engine, gearbox, transfer box and both axles. That’ll keep me busy for a bit! So far, I’ve spent about £250 on the new purchase, so it stands me at £700. Still cheap motoring so far…


Disco enhancing

I still daren’t drive the Discovery, though the timing belt kit has now arrived and should be getting fitted next week. It will be very nice to be able to drive my new car again.

Instead, I’ve been carrying out further improvements. The boot floor has been treated to a coat of Rustoleum and the interior has been refitted. It’s a lot nicer in there now and smells much less of cigarette smoke and dog. Then I started getting all cosmetic. I told myself that the shabby looks didn’t matter, because I was going to use it for green laning and possibly for Pay-and-Play sessions and/or trialing. Then I made the mistake of parking it outside my office/dining room window. The faded grey plastics and rusty front bumper – ‘improved’ with aluminium tape – were starting to really annoy me.

Ugh. Unsightly and unpleasant.

Ugh. Unsightly and unpleasant.

So, it was out with the Rustoleum once more, to give the metal part of the bumper a good coat of fresh paint. Then I rooted about in the garage until I found my Meguiar’s Vinyl and Plastic cleaner. It’s good stuff, working even though the plastic container got smashed ages ago. I also tidied up the front and rear wiper arms while I was at it. The results have been impressive.

That's better! It's cleaned up nicely.

That’s better! It’s cleaned up nicely.

I’m thrilled with the difference. Ultimately, that bumper still needs replacing – I simply painted over the aluminium tape which masks the missing metal beneath – but it’ll do just dandy for now. It’s taken years off the car. Of course, it still has a whopping great dent in the back corner, so it won’t be winning any shows just yet – probably because I’d never enter a vehicle for one anyway. It does at least look a little more cared for.

Incidentally, I’m really not sure how Land Rover avoided a lawsuit with Ford when you consider how the Discovery seems to have taken the nose of a facelifted Mk2 Transit van. In actual fact, the headlamps come from the Leyland-Daf 200/400 van range, so there’s more than just one commercial light fact.

Land Rover Transit

Land Rover Discovery in a former life

In other fleet news, the 2CV is awaiting a front brake overhaul, the BX has had a brake fettling session and is busy covering tourists in soot (I suspect a boost problem with the turbo) and the Mercedes is remaining resolutely unsold. The Green 2CV will be off to a new home later in the month – I really do need to get this fleet back under control. How I’m ruing my words earlier in the year when I confidently predicted that I wouldn’t buy as many cars this year. Oh well! Perhaps now things will settle down – or is that too dangerous a statement to make?



Disco frustration

No, this isn’t a post about failing to be like John Travolta, nor about discovering that my Discovery is a heap of rubbish. No, the frustration stems from the fact that I dare not drive it! However, I would also like to officially relaunch Project Budget 4×4 – my attempts to prove that 4x4s need not be expensive to buy and own.

Disco three door with steel wheels

It’s great! But I can’t drive it…

Back to why I’m frustrated. Just driving the Discovery home was risky, as I’ve absolutely no idea when the timing belt was last replaced. The people selling the car certainly didn’t have a clue, though they did helpfully tell me that it looked to be in good condition – this belt that you can’t see without dismantling the front of the engine…

In short, the timing or cambelt transmits power from the crankshaft to the camshaft. The crankshaft is turned by the pistons as the engine fires, the camshaft opens and closes the valves at the right point. So, what’s so bad about a timing belt failing? The not insignificant problem caused by the fact that on most engines, the pistons and valves move in the same space. They overlap, but the way the timing works means that they’re never in the same space at the same time. Unless the timing is massively out – like if the belt has snapped or something…

If the pistons come up and smash into the valves, there’s going to be damage. It varies from engine to engine, but there’s a very good chance that a large number of valves will be bent and therefore useless, and you might have damage to the cylinder head as well. So, it needs replacing – and pretty darned soon.

I’ve booked the car in with a garage, because the job can be a mucky one and I’m very worried about further staining our already disgusting driveway – the BX’s various leaks allied to once owning a Mini have left it in a bit of a state. If I’m not careful, folk will be turning up wanting to frack my driveway…

There is also a requirement for tools I don’t own, and when you start adding up the price of things, farming the job out starts looking more sensible. Sadly I must wait for parts to arrive, so that leaves me with a Discovery I can’t drive. Not that I can’t meddle with it – the sun is shining, it’s on my driveway and the to do list is sizeable.

The first job was to clean up the interior. It was disgusting as the car had been used to ferry children, dogs and horse paraphernalia about the place. Scrubbing the seats, plastics and carpets with soapy water has improved things greatly, as has a session with Henry the vacuum cleaner. I then started getting a bit carried away and pulled out the rear carpet to find this.

Land Rover Discovery boot floor

Hardly surprising to find rot here, but it’s actually pretty solid! That is surprising…

Amazingly, there is metal there. It looks worse than it is really, thanks to bits of icky, rust-soaked foam. I scrubbed it down and gave it a coat of Rustoleum, so it looks alright now. The bigger problem is what to do with the boot floor. It was pretty wet, thanks to leaks from the rear alpine lights (at the sides of the roof) and possibly the rearmost side windows. There’s no point putting the mat back as it’ll just start trapping moisture again. Perhaps I’ll just leave it.

I also fiddled with the rear wiper, so it actually now clears the window – a bent arm and too-long wiper blade being the issues there. It’s all unimportant stuff really, but makes me feel better and gives me a chance to get a feel for the car. After all, I bought it, then disappeared off to a music festival for five days, so I’ve barely seen it since I got it home!

Looking much nicer inside after a good clean

Looking much nicer inside after a good clean

As you can see – my efforts have not been in vain. The interior has come along brilliantly. There is some damage to the driver’s seat, so I’ll leave the cover on it for now. The two front seats seem to have a bit of play in them too – they tilt forward in an unusual manner to allow access to the rear seat. An advisory on the most recently MOT.

I also inspected the damaged rear quarter more closely.

It's taken a beating

It’s taken a beating

I pulled off the gaffer tape and found some nasty damage. There’s nothing I can do about it so I set about covering it up with a combination of black gaffer tape and aluminium tape – which at least looks much nicer than the blue gaffer tape previously used! Ideally, it needs an entire rear side, but I can’t see that happening. The gaffer tape smooths over the sharp edges, and the aluminium tape hides a panel gap you can get your hand in!

Attempts to investigate a braking issue – it pulls to one side on heavy braking – were frustrated by the fact that I can’t find a suitable socket for the wheel nuts. I must own one as I managed to remove the Range Rover’s wheels. I wonder where it is?


Improving the quality – bye bye Maverick

After a bit of a buying splurge, I’m currently going through a major fleet reduction. Trying to live a reduced-income lifestyle was beginning to sit uncomfortably with owning five cars. It’s a bit like trying to lose weight while enjoying profiteroles for breakfast and take-away pizza for elevenses. I’m a hippy trying to reduce my impact on the world while driving around in fossil-fuel-munching CO2 monsters.

Ford Maverick suspension raise

It’s been fun, but the Maverick needs to move on

The thing is, I really am a hippy petrolhead, so it’s not like I’m going to abandon motoring. But I had to admit that the biggest problem with owning so many vehicles is that it becomes a challenge to keep on top of maintenance, especially with a somewhat meagre income. I have no complaints about the income – we made a decision to earn less and that means hard decisions often have to be made. It’s one reason we get to far fewer car events than we used to.

So, it was time for a cull. The Mini was axed some months ago, the Nissan Bluebird sold the other week and now a deal has been clinched on the Maverick. That leaves me with the new Citroen BX TXD Turbo and the 2CV as the sole working vehicles on the fleet. In theory, that should be plenty. After all, there are only two of us and one of us would rather not drive anyway. That’s not me just in case you were wondering.

Selling the Maverick was a tough decision. I’ve had to turn my back on the world of green laning, having made many friends along the way. But it isn’t the first time I’ve sold a 4×4, nor even the first time I’ve sold a 4×4 when the winter is about to set in!

I can now, in theory, focus on improving the quality of the two remaining cars. The BX is a long way from being fully sorted and is currently leaking various fluids in various quantities. I apologise to my friend Chas who’s driveway is no doubt quite well marked by my visiting him this weekend. My BX likes to mark its territory.

It will also hopefully see me use the 2CV much more. It’s been shamefully neglected this year.

Of course, the biggest challenge is ignoring Ebay and its searches of temptation. I think the general lack of funds should help here though!


Project Budget 4×4: MOT time

Just a quick one today. Got the Maverick back after its MOT work. The good folks at Tsalta Motorsport sorted out two rotten sill ends and fitted a new rear brake flexi for me so it’s legal for another year for an all-in cost of £189.

In all, I reckon I’ve spent somewhere in the region of £1100 on this car, including buying it. Considering one car I looked at back in January was a rotten Land Rover Discover with issues galore and an asking price of £1800, I think the Maverick stacks up pretty nicely! Especially as the underside is in rather lovely condition. Must smear some more anti-corrosion wax over it…

Now, how long before I can get it out on the lanes again?

Project Budget 4×4: Strata Florida

Strata Florida is one of the legends of greenlanes, though I’ve never been entirely sure why this is. Sure, it’s good, but there are other lanes around that are just as challenging and just as scenic, if not more so.

However, it beats the M25 and the other evening, I finally got to explore it in my Budget 4×4 Ford Maverick.

It was an entirely Japanese outing actually, with a much-modified Maverick and a mildly tweaked Suzuki Grand Vitara joining me. We started at the Pontrhydfendigaid end, passing the legendary abbey ruins that give the lane its name. That name is either the Latin for Vale of Flowers, or an Anglicised version of the Ystrad Fflur which means Valley of Flowers. No surprise that the two are so close as Latin would have been the official language of the Abbey. Founded in 1164, it was a victim of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of 1540.

However, it’s not that close to the start of lane, which is further into forestry land. From the start, it’s a rocky lane and immediately, the cushioning all-round coil springs of my Range Rover – the last vehicle I drove down this lane – were sadly missed! The Maverick uses stiff torsion bars up front, with a fairly-flexible but still-firm coil sprung live axle at the rear. It’s really not comfortable over this sort of terrain.


No soft-roader this one. Maverick laps it up

Not that the Maverick seemed to mind. It pottered along as I picked what I thought was the best line through the rocks, only bottoming out a few times. That underbody protection – standard fitment but not really designed for big knocks – is thankfully good at preventing damage.

It was very much a job of keeping the thumbs well clear of the steering wheel spokes. This is often a first lesson in off-roading and the reason is simple. If the steering kicks back – which is more likely over rocky tracks – you’ll snap a thumb in no time at all if it’s inside the rim of the wheel.

The famous bombhole was dispatched with little trouble, though I did re-arrange the rocks at the bottom to avoid clouting the bumper. Short overhangs were a major boon here and I avoided damage. The Range Rover wasn’t quite so lucky, bending the number plate and catching the tow bar here. Nothing major, but the Maverick was entirely unscathed. Then my pal in the modified Maverick though we’d better drive back up the bombhole. I’d not done this before but the Grand Vitara made it up with a touch of wheelspin (it lacks a limited slip rear diff) and the modified Maverick also made it – albeit with a second attempt necessary. Would I make it?

As it happens, yes I did, though I rather overdid the power. My usual way to deal with an obstacle is to make sure momentum is maintained. When you’re climbing a rock face that’s well over 30 degrees, I felt I needed a fair chunk of momentum. I was still in low first, so that’s still not very fast at all, but the ride up was a bit rough! My tools were flying around in the back, reminding me that I really need to find a way to secure them (they are in a bag, but the bag flew quite merrily!).

We bounced our way to the end and then also tackled Soar y Mynydd (so-ar uh mun-uth). This is a very pretty lane, with some very loose rock on a couple of steep climbs. I took these gently and let the limited slip diff do its thing – preventing either of the heavily-loaded rear wheels from spinning excessively. No problem.

Then it was a matter of driving home, where the Maverick reminds you that while it isn’t very compromised off the surfaced road, it’s also exceedingly well mannered upon it.

Project Budget 4×4: Still here!

Last year, I went a bit silly and changed vehicles very frequently. It was costing me a fortune in stamps as I sent ever more logbooks to the DVLA!

I promised to be better this year, and amazingly, I’ve done it! I’ve only purchased one new vehicle this year (ignoring the recently-returned BX ‘Safari’) and the Ford Maverick is it. Incredibly, I’ve owned it for over six months now, which means that all of my vehicles (the fleet is currently 5 including my wife’s Mini – which is for sale) have survived more than half a year on the fleet. That’s quite remarkable for me.

Splish splash

Maverick proves ideal in wet West Wales

Deciding to keep the Maverick is really quite a simple choice. It’s very good. I felt I needed to keep it for a while because I’d shelled out so much on overhauling the brakes. That took my £500 initial vehicle purchase up to closer to £800 by the time I’d factored in new calipers, discs and pads. Happily, the Maverick has proved so joyous to own that keeping it certainly isn’t a bind.

Time and again it has impressed me off the beaten track, but it’s also pleasant on the highway too. It handles well, isn’t too noisy and is spacious and pleasant behind the wheel. It can carry quite a weight and tow one as well.

Compared to the Range Rover I owned last year, it’s a revelation. Sure, there are some quality issues – the sunroof screen rattles and some bits of trim are broken (I suspect more to do with previous owners than any failing on Nissan’s part) but whereas the Range Rover’s dashboard always felt like it was about to fall apart, things do feel a bit more together in the Maverick. Not that it’s all been plain sailing. The heater blower resistor (as on the Range Rover) was faulty – but unlike the Rangie, it was a few minutes work to remove and repair. The driver’s electric window switch sometimes plays up too. Very little else does though. I like stuff that works.

I’ve clocked up about 1500 miles in the Maverick now and it doesn’t feel like time to say goodbye yet.

Project Budget 4×4: Why so cheap?

The fleet is running over-capacity at the moment. My wife and I agreed a four car limit, but the return of my old BXmeans that we have five vehicles now. This has its pros and cons. Sharing the mileage out amongst the cars means that service intervals don’t come around very often, but keeping on top of the inevitable maintenance becomes a bit of a pain. Just remembering when each car needs a service/MOT is tricky to keep on top of!

Ford Maverick 4x4

What’s the problem with the Maverick? It’s great, so why so cheap?

So, I half-heartedly started looking at what Ford Mavericks are going for at the moment. Truth be told, I don’t want to sell it but it is the thirstiest motor on the fleet, and the one I have most trouble trying to justify. Due to its fuel guzzling nature, it’s not the one I ever choose for long trips. It’s just an occasional workhorse and play vehicle.

Watching similar examples on Ebay has hardly made me keener to sell. Maverick 2.4s are struggling to top the £500 I paid for mine back in January. Why is that?

Firstly, thirst. Yes, it drinks a lot, but the diesel is not that much better (27mpg to 22) and diesel fuel is more expensive to buy.

Perhaps it’s because they’re a bit rubbish? Well, that doesn’t stop people paying three times as much for a Discovery in similar condition! Besides, they’re really not rubbish at all. Off-road, they’ll go pretty much anywhere that a Discovery will go – which is impressive. I really do rate Land Rovers when it comes to proper mucky stuff, but the Maverick has all the kit it needs. Separate chassis, low ratio transfer box, limited slip differential at the rear and (ok, rear only as the front suspension is poor) good axle articulation. Very similar to a Mitsubishi Pajero/Shogun in fact, but these also fetch silly money by comparison.

I can’t believe Mavericks are cheap because of the looks either. I find it a really appealing vehicle to look at. The inside is a bit cheap and plasticky perhaps, but that’s true of almost any Nineties car.

So, as selling doesn’t look very appetising, I shall just keep it for now. After all, it’s useful for lugging a trailer around and still good fun when I go laning. It’s a really nice car overall that’s hard to fault, so why doesn’t anyone else think so?

Project budget 4×4: Stuck in the mud

I seem to have found the limits of the Maverick, in some very muddy woods in Carmarthenshire.

Maverick off-road

Oops. Maverick gets stuck!

I had concerns about taking the Maverick to a Pay and Play site. I’ve been to a couple before and found them rather a challenge for vehicles in stock form. Bodywork damage seems inevitable, as does getting stuck as a lot of the trucks there are very much modified – which means deeper ruts than a stock vehicle can cope with.

And that was the undoing of the Maverick. I was amazed about how a friend’s near-stock Defender coped in the same conditions. That extra ride height, axle articulation and some proper mud-terrain tyres kept it going where the Maverick failed. Which was good as it rescued me several times!

But, it’s ok. I accept that the Maverick was always a compromise that put road manners ahead in priority terms of something as skilled off the road as a Land Rover. I found the limits, scratched the bodywork in quite a lot of places and impressively filled the front end of the Maverick with lots and lots of clay! I also learnt a lot about vehicle recovery…

But, the Maverick is happily proving more than just an off-road toy. It’s also been busy hauling wood about. It’s nice that I can chuck 300kg of wood in the back and it barely notices. If anything, it stops better because a load sensing valve increases rear brake pressure – which makes the rear shoes work harder. That has to be good for them. A loss of brake fluid, which stopped the rear brakes working altogether, has caused some concern. I’m monitoring to see if it drops again, in which case I think one or both rear wheel cylinders could be to blame. There was so much mud and water in there when I cleaned it all up at the weekend that I couldn’t tell if there was a leak or not.

I still plan to take it laning later in the year too, though I might pass on any more Pay and Play action for the time being…

Project Budget 4×4: Modify or not modify?

I had a jaunt yesterday along the Golf Links green lane, that runs alongside the fabulously scenic mountain road from Rhayader to Cwmystwyth. I’d tackled it several times previously in both my Land Rover and Range Rover. It has a couple of challenging rock climbs, but I was feeling confident about the Maverick’s abilities – and I was not mistaken.

As the picture shows though, there’s no getting away from the fact that there isn’t really enough axle articulation. The right rear wheel is barely in contact with the ground. To be fair, this isn’t the handicap you might assume, as the limited slip differential will always ensure that the one wheel that does have grip will receive power, but a little more flexibility has to be a good thing. Doesn’t it?

That leaves me pondering whether I should begin the modifications. Already, the lack of ground clearance is becoming a bit of an issue. With independent front suspension, there’s always going to be a low ‘belly’ between the front wheels. Thankfully, there’s a hardy, reinforced plate beneath the engine and front differential, but I’d still rather not scrape my way along rutted lanes. As it happens, I suggest a lot of Pajeros had been through previously, so some sections had been flattened!

Good off road? Maverick

Check out the dangle angle. But should it be modified?

Raising the front end is not difficult. It’s a question of adjusting the torsion bars. Pretty easy. It’s also quite easy to raise the rear end by fitting long-wheelbase springs. A pal on the Nissan 4×4 Owners forum has offered me a pair of long-travel shock absorbers and there’s also the distinct possibility of removing the rear anti-roll bar. With these modifications, the rear end should have vastly more suspension travel and a lot more flexibility.

The problem is, I really like pushing a standard vehicle to its limits. I get very wary of those who feel the need to bolt huge lumps of metal to their 4x4s and the obligatory row of spotlamps above the windscreen. I’m also very aware that the general public takes a very dim view of such modified machines when they see them tearing around the countryside. A pretty, metallic blue, bog-standard Maverick doesn’t seem to garner frowns in quite the same way.

That’s not to say that the suspension modifications will make the car look vastly different – they won’t bar a slight rise of ride height. But the question is, where do you stop? And would it be a waste of time? My Maverick will never be the best off-roader in the world. The petrol engine lacks that lugging torque and the low ratio gearing (allied to poor engine braking – another petrol weakness) mean that there’s always a lack of control at very low speeds.

I shall give this question some more thought over the coming weeks.