In the mid ’80s, Land Rover recognized the need to fill the gap between its two aging models, the rugged workhorse Defender and the country gentleman’s Range Rover. What it needed was an all-purpose, family-focused vehicle, one that would be equally at home on the streets of the city as off-road in the country.
Sketches emerged in 1985, followed by full-scale clay models the following year. When it finally debuted at the 1989 Frankfurt Motor Show, the newest Land Rover was a thoroughly contemporary all-terrain station wagon with a wonderfully evocative name: Discovery.
I’ve often contemplated the brilliance of Land Rover’s naming decision. Consider the explosion of the SUV market in the ‘90s and the various models names that entered the automotive lexicon: Explorer, Expedition, and TrailBlazer seemed to suggest breaking new ground. Others still referenced rugged-sounding placenames, such as Yukon, Durango and Santa Fe (if that even counts). And I won’t even go into the odd/random alpha-numeric permutations that identify (perhaps not coincidentally) the class of crossovers that came later.
Discovery, after all, is really the essence of the Land Rover brand.
In this company, Discovery seems like a standout.
Unlike Explorer, Expedition or TrailBlazer, which are all rather adventurous, Discovery doesn’t carry the connotation of conquest or a land grab. Land Rover also managed to steer clear of the place-name trap, which invariably sets false expectations. After all, have you ever seen a Malibu in Malibu? A Monaco in Monaco? Ok, you’ll see Santa Fes in Santa Fe, but who cares?
Discovery is not only adventurous, but also evocative, romantic, and encouraging. It’s what we all aspire to do with our Rovers when we get them: to go out and have an adventure, to find a new place and do something we’ve never done before. We don’t always have to conquer the world, but sometimes just experience a part of it from a new perspective.
Today the first two generations of Discovery are particularly popular as off-road vehicles; many owners outfit the with upgrades specifically designed to take them into (and out of) some of the most remote and rugged places on earth. But even without all that, a bone-stock Discovery of any generation is still the perfect vehicle for, well, discovering new corners of your world.
My family has used our Discovery for family adventures of all types. We’ve camped from it and taken it off-roading with other Land Rover friends. We’ve taken it down roads and through fields that were inaccessible to regular vehicles to spot rare birds on their migration. Our rooftop has served as planetarium, affording us as unpolluted view of the night sky during meteor showers and lunar eclipses. It has been our faithful Swiss Army knife on wheels, up for whatever task we throw at it.
In short, we consider every trip in the Discovery an opportunity for a small adventure. And we’re not alone.
I’m excited to see the Discovery name making a return, first on the new Discovery Sport, but more importantly, on the next-generation full-size Land Rover as well. It’s a shame the perception of quality on the earlier vehicles compelled Land Rover to hide from its history with the LR3/LR4 nomenclature (only in North America, however), but that will be reconciled with the Discovery 5.
Discovery, after all, is really the essence of the brand. Land Rover knows this, and came up with a brilliant way to let owners of all four generations, from all over the world, contribute to acknowledging its history. The video below, which uses clips submitted by Discovery owners, is perhaps the most compelling argument for continuing the Discovery legacy.