Discovery Series 1a + Range Rover Classic

The following article detailing the chaotic birth of the non identical twins that became known to us as the 'Classic' Range Rover and the 94 revamp Discovery was forwarded to me anonymously by an ex Land Rover development engineer. I think you will find it both entertaining and enlightening........ Russ

20th Century Schizoid Land Rover

This is about the Discovery/Range Rover 94MY or Romulus & Remus or 100" Airbag or Discovery/Range Rover 95MY Program whatever your preferred title may be.

Just to confuse things further the final volume date was intended to be January 1994, and to all and sundry the 95MY Range Rover was known as the Range Rover Classic.

Now all these names for the same project suggest either paranoia about the press reporting in Autocar or some serious problems. In actual fact it was both, because this was the time when the New Range Rover was nearing the end of its gestation.

However, here's a non-exhaustive list of new features introduced:

Driver and Passenger Airbag

Disco & RR

Collapsible steering column

Disco & RR

Integrated Multifunction Unit & Fusebox

Disco & RR

All Wheel ABS and Traction Control

Disco. Already on RR

R380 Manual Gearbox


300 Tdi Engine

Disco (eventually RR as well)

One shot Electric Windows

Disco. Already on RR, same electronics different plastic box.

New Fascias & Inst. Packs

Disco & RR (In theory the fascias were interchangeable. Do you know anyone who has managed it?)

Twin One Shot Electric Sunroofs

Disco. (The ECU is the only carry over part on Series II Disco.)

An awful lot of chassis and bodywork was eventually changed to meet US airbag crash regulations.

Interestingly the Yanks have slightly modified fascias for this reason as well.

I won't bore you with a list of the features it was decided not to include during the project.

Unfortunately the new Range Rover was responsible for many of the problems experienced during the early days of the project. Generally New Range Rover parts were fitted to Disco/RR Classic prototypes, found to be that which promotes growth by the bucketful, and eventually ditched because they couldn't be fixed in time as the New Range Rover continued to slip further and further into the future because there were, at the time, some very big 'lead time' issues with components.

e.g. Typical phone conversation between Land Rover engineers in different engineering teams.

1) 'Have you had any problems with the new door latches deadlocking the doors of their own accord when you slam the door?'

'No, we've had the supplier perform a million slam tests. There's never been a problem.'

'And they've been OK on the cars?'

'We haven't actually fitted any yet. Why?'

2) 'Have you found a problem with having all the switches in the bottom of the door latch mechanism, when it's on the wet side of the water curtain ?'

'No. this is a new all plastic design that is hermetically sealed and the supplier water spray tests show they're much more reliable than the existing latches and CDL actuators.'

'Really. The old ones still worked after the wading test.'

'Nobody goes in above 0.500m. There's no problem'


(It wasn't just door latches. It's just that I had a very painful time with them. They were a major reason why a prototype vehicle fleet build took four months instead of six weeks. It's also why the eventual New Range Rover door latches were somewhat different by the time the vehicle went on sale.)

95MY Discovery

The result of all this was that the guys working on Disco and RR Classic thought the legions of martini sipping, limp wristed, ex-car engineers working on the New Range Rover would be better employed on the Metro development team, etc, at Canley.

In these days Land Rover was part of BAe's 'successful' Rover Group. A fact much resented by the Land Rover Ltd old timers who saw their annual profit sharing bonus' vaporize.

Rover had just launched an airbag system on the Rover 800, which was based on the Honda Legend, which incidentally had been designed to carry windbags from day one.

Some genius, having seen how easy it was, decided that the Disco and RR Classic should have airbags at the next minor facelift. Three years and one very major facelift later they would have to concede, that maybe, that had been a trifle optimistic.

Disco, as was, was built on a virtually unmodified RR platform, ie. new roof, bonnet, tailgate and interior trim. This was 1991 and the RR was already over twenty years old. The crucial mistake was not doing the first crash test until over a year into the program and finding that the new windscreen was OK, but the sunroof flying forwards off the roof to decapitate people Omen style wasn't. That and the whole chassis and drive train conspiring to seriously amputate some poor crash test dummy's legs below the knee, not to mention the steering wheel removing his head, was a sign that maybe a bit more work was needed on the design simulations and assumptions. (Crash test dummies are very expensive after all.)

Unfortunately these mods involved having to re-site the fusebox on a new 'A' frame, which was added to reduce the trajectory of the steering column (Frank Bruno would have been jealous of the wheels punching power.) For some reason the chief engineer's comment about stretching wires didn't impress the members of the electrical team.

The chassis guys were also unhappy about the changes this meant for the pedal box and steering column, but did give them a chance to add crush cans to the front of the chassis behind the bumper. It also allowed them to modify the pedal box design dimensions to make it appropriate to the hole it was meant to fit in.

The final result after a lot of very hard work by the airbag team was a very, very, safe vehicle. The best example of the success of this work was the filmed test at MIRA of a head on collision between a Disco and RR at a combined speed of 60mph. All four dummies 'survived'. No direct legislative requirement existed for this test, but it did make a lot of people proud of their work.

(Contrary to rumour, there was no squashed Metro found on the floor afterwards.)

95MY Range Rover Classic

Some things to consider with these vehicles:

The multifunction unit in the fusebox, the alarm ECU, airbag system, and electric windows were the same components fitted to the same brackets. One to remember if the Range Rover Classic wash/wipe stops working and you can't find a workshop manual. Be warned however, it still only needs a paperclip to override the alarm 'immobiliser' function.

Don't try modifying the front bumpers or chassis on an airbag-equipped vehicle unless you like explosions and regularly replacing the steering column as well as the airbags. The crush cans fitted as original equipment behind the bumpers are there to make sure the collision shock wave arrives at the right place, at the right time to make sure the occupants hit the airbag at the right degree of inflation and occupant trajectory angle.

Disconnecting the airbag connections to the explosive bits, not only means there's an annoying flashing light on the dash, but means in the event of a crash, ones head will contact with a thinly covered metal object. Basically the disconnected airbag steering wheel has be to replaced by a non-airbag version to make it safe. (Obviously regular Defender drivers wouldn't notice.)

Dealing with an unfitted airbag produces some interesting legal issues. You only need an explosives license to handle the parts if they aren't fitted to the vehicle. Apparently it isn't an explosive device whilst attached to a motor vehicle!