09 January 2019
You don’t have to spend a fortune to be the proud owner of a stunner like this
There's a common myth that owning a Land Rover is an expensive business. With new Range Rovers costing the price of a small house and secondhand Defenders fetching silly money, you can see how that myth came about, but it simply isn’t true. Just ask Tom O’Donnell.
Tom is the proud owner of the stunning and extremely capable Discovery 2 on these pages. It looks a million dollars, but it didn’t cost him that much. Believe it or not, Tom paid less than £1000 for the base vehicle, then another £5000 adding the extra stuff that turned it into a genuine head-turner.
Tom O’Donnell is proud of his Disco creation
By now you’re probably shaking your head in disbelief and muttering: ‘Who are they trying to kid? All that extra kit alone is worth well over £10,000...’ And you’re right: it is. Tom achieved massive savings by shopping around online for secondhand parts.
“I’m good at spotting bargains,” says Tom. “The Raptor winch bumper alone would have cost me £600 brand new, but I paid £150 for it. There was a bit of rust on it, but if I’d bought a new one that would soon have gone rusty, too. I just stripped off the enamel and repainted it with stone chip paint and a coat of lacquer. It takes a bit of effort, but the end result is worth it.”
Nobody would argue with that. But 27-year-old Tom has never complained about putting in hours of graft to get his vehicle just right. This is his second foray into Land Rover ownership and he is determined not to repeat the mistakes he made first time around, as he explains.
“My first Land Rover was a 300Tdi Discovery 1, which I bought in July 2014. It was very cheap, but I loved it, and within a couple of weeks I couldn’t resist putting stuff on it. I went a bit mad: I couldn’t stop myself. I did everything to it that I could, including everything I shouldn’t. I’d seen a few off-road Discos with raised suspension, so I decided to go one better. I went totally over the top and gave it a six inch lift. It looked good, but looks aren’t everything.
“It was great off-road, but it was a disaster on the road. It was terrifying to drive on tarmac. There was too much body roll and that, combined with the soft suspension, made braking and handling really scary. It was a disaster, to be honest. I sold it in January 2016 and, because it looked good, I got a good price for it. I used the money to buy a Transit van, which I started my own delivery business with.
“I was determined to get another Land Rover as soon as possible, but I also pledged I’d never make the same mistakes second time around.”
By late 2017, Tom, from Chippenham, Wiltshire, was ready to buy another Land Rover. But what would he buy this time around? “I liked the idea of a Defender,” he says, “but I couldn’t believe the money they were fetching. Discoverys are much better value. For example, a 2000 Td5 Disco 2 when new would have cost half as much again as a 2000 Defender, but now, secondhand, that same Discovery would cost a fraction of the asking price of the Defender. I have seen Td5 Defenders costing £10,000 and some of them are rubbish. I went for a test drive in one and it was terrible. Discoverys are more comfortable and much better value than Defenders.”
So, Tom decided his next Land Rover was going to be a Discovery. But which one? By now most of the Discovery Is still on the road were riddled with rust, while Disco 3s were way out of his price range. That left Discovery 2.
“I began checking out Disco 2s,” says Tom. “I had a look at a few for sale locally, but most of them were suffering from chassis rot. Then, on New Year’s Eve 2017, a friend messaged me on Facebook. He had found one for sale in Wales. It was being sold for spares or repair, but on the photos it looked really nice. I had to go and see it. It was a 2001 model, with 150,000 miles on the clock. I had really wanted a later facelift model, and this was an earlier model, but it had a sound chassis and the price seemed right.
“The owner told me it wasn’t running right and he just wanted shot of it. I had a test drive and it definitely was very sluggish, but the handling was lovely and it was in good overall condition. I had a look underneath and there was absolutely no chassis rust at all. The automatic gearbox worked perfectly, too, which was a good sign because they have a bit of a reputation for going wrong.
“I decided I had to have it. I haggled with the owner and got the price down to under £1000. We had a deal.
“I paid up and drove off. About 200 yards later, I pulled up at the side of the road and popped the bonnet. I had a careful look around the engine compartment and I could see that the boost hose to the intercooler had come loose. I fixed it back on with a jubilee clip and drove off: it was back to full power and I enjoyed an incredible drive home, with no further problems. I knew I’d been lucky and had got myself a real bargain.
“As soon as I’d got it home, I was on eBay starting to browse for stuff for it. I couldn’t stop myself! I couldn’t wait to start getting the bits that would transform my Discovery, but I was still determined to think things through before buying anything. I didn’t want to make the same mistakes as I had made the first time around.
“As it happened, I didn’t have much choice about what to buy first. The next day I took it out for a drive on a byway near my home. Unfortunately, it soon got a bit tricky with some deep ruts and I decided to reverse out before I got stuck. But when I did so I managed to rip off the front spoiler and bumper. That was bad luck. I couldn’t believe I’d managed to damage my new Land Rover within a day of buying it, but later I went on eBay and bought my winch bumper and a T-Max electric winch. A lad from Wales was breaking his off-road Disco. It was a brilliant buy: I’d always wanted a winch, but had never had one before.
“It was January 2018 and heavy snow was forecast, so my next modification was replacing the Disco’s standard tyres with BF Goodrich all terrains, which I put on the original 18-inch alloy wheels. They got me through the snow no problem, although I’d already decided to go for new wheels and off-road tyres.”
Tom eventually opted for Mach 5 Challenge wheels shod with Maxxis Bighorn 265/75/16 rubber. “I went on Facebook Marketplace and there was a Bristol lad selling the four wheels fitted with the perfect off-road tyres. I told my girlfriend, Kez, to get ready because we were heading off to Bristol to buy them. I had always wanted something like these on my old truck, because they are brilliant off-road. On my old Disco I I had fitted cheap remoulds, which handled really badly on the road. The Maxxis tyres are noisier than BFGs, but they handle much better on the road.
Tom regularly goes off-road in his Disco
“The wheels and tyres were only two or three weeks old when I bought them. They looked brand-new. A lad selling them had bought them for his Discovery, but then changed his mind and decided he wanted to keep it standard-looking, after all. So I got a real bargain, but the only problem was they were a set of four. I needed another wheel and tyre as a spare, because having an odd wheel and tyre mounted on the back door looked terrible.
“Buying another one wasn’t as easy as I thought: they are actually very scarce, secondhand. But I didn’t give up and, a few weeks later, I managed to get hold of a wheel and tyre that matched. Then there was a slight problem: it didn’t fit the spare wheel carrier, which had to be modified. But I flipped it around, re-drilled it and eventually it fitted – and looks much better.”
Tom’s transformation of his Disco proceeded over the coming months as he added more items – mainly bought secondhand. These included:
• HD rear bumper: “I picked this up from a Land Rover breakers while I was on a delivery run in the Glastonbury area. As usual I scraped the old paint off, then repainted it with stone chip paint and a lacquer finish, because mud tends to stick to stone chip.”
• Steering guard: “This was also from the Glastonbury area, from a friend of mine who took it off his Td5 Discovery. This is really important if you do any off-loading, as this is a very vulnerable area of the vehicle.”
• Terrafirma tank guard: “This was a rare new purchase, from Frogs Island 4x4.”
• Terrafirma plus 2-inch shocks: “I bought these online. I thought a two-inch lift was a good compromise, making it more capable off-road but at the same time not affecting on road handling too much. I had learned my lesson on my old truck with its excessive lift.”
• HD springs + lift blocks: “These completed my new suspension set-up and I was really pleased with the
• Silicone boost hoses: “There was a leak on one of the originals, so rather than replace just one I bought the whole set. It gives me peace of mind.”
• Safari Snorkel and breathers: “These were a mail order bargain. I fitted them myself. It meant I had to cut through the wing and inner wing with a reciprocating saw, but I was very careful about what I did and the end result looks good as well as making the Disco able to wade much deeper than a standard vehicle.”
• 54-inch curved light bar and custom gutter mounts: “These were from LR Extreme, bought online. I didn’t want a big bar, because they look too big and clumsy. I just bought the lights and the mounts which are much better. Both are controlled by either a remote control or switch inside the vehicle. It goes nicely with the 20-inch LED light bar on the front bumper, which I bought separately.”
• OEM front and rear light guards: “Purchased off eBay.”
• Extended wheel arches: “ I needed these to accommodate the big wheels and tyres. I bought them at the same time as the winch and bumper.”
• Extended brake and ABS lines: “I needed these to allow the lines a bit of slack after I had lifted the suspension an extra two inches.”
• Rear LED reverse lights built into rear bumper.
• Decat and centre silencer removed: “Sounds much better.”
• Tinted rear windows: “I did this myself. I’ve done this a few times on other cars I’ve owned in the past and it’s not as tricky as it looks.”
• Roof rack, ladder and roof rack accessories: “The roof rack is galvanised and I bought it secondhand off eBay, along with waffle boards which are clamped to the sides, so can still use the rack, and a Hi-Lift Jack.”
• CB radio: “Really handy when me and my mates go off in a group driving the byways. It means we can keep in touch.”
• Upgraded stereo: “Includes a big woofer in the boot.”
Tom admits that buying and fitting new kit to his Discovery is a bit of an addiction, but insists that this time around he has been sensible and created a genuine stunner rather than a monster truck designed by a mate of Frankenstein.
“I admit I did originally say that I was going to keep it standard, but that soon went out the window and then the parts started rolling in,” he laughs. “But I have stuck to a theme: to make it a better off-roader. I used to go off-roading a lot in my first Land Rover and I still go whenever I can, although time has been short recently because I’m now running my own business.
CB radio allows Tom to keep in touch with pals when driving the byways
“My favourite drives are along the byways around Salisbury Plain, which are absolutely brilliant. I’m very lucky to live in an area like this, which is blessed with so many lanes. Believe it or not, I’ve never been to play a pay-and-play off-road site yet. I really want to give it a try, but have not had the chance so far, although I will soon.
“My girlfriend loves off-roading and always wants to come out with me and explore the byways. I let her drive my old Discovery once – she was bouncing along laughing but went into a rut that was a bit too deep and almost rolled it. That was on Salisbury Plain. I haven’t let her drive my Discovery 2 yet, because she doesn’t seem to have any fear!
“Some people fit expensive off-road accessories and then never go off-road because they don’t want to spoil them. If you buy secondhand you don’t have to worry about things like that. There is also the satisfaction you get from buying something secondhand, cleaning it up and making it look like new.
“Most of the work I did was fairly easy, but fitting the new shock absorbers was challenging. All the old fixings were rusted and seized. Also, access was very cramped compared to the Discovery 1. There was a lot of kicking and swearing and what should have taken two hours ended up taking 20. My friends helped me with the big things.
“Fitting the winch bumper was the hardest part. I had already fitted the winch to the bumper and realised there was no way I was going to do it on my own. I tried lifting it into place with blocks of wood and I was getting nowhere. I needed a second pair of hands, and none of my mates were available that day. But most of most of the work I did myself.”
Winch for those occasions when big tyres aren’t enough
Future plans? “The engine is being remapped this week. I just want a bit more power and acceleration. I have to admit the Td5 is a bit thirsty, but it could be down to the way I drive it. I’ve never actually calculated the exact mpg figure but I would guess it’s in the low 20s.
“One thing I will do soon is install a centre diff lock. The early Discovery 2s didn’t have them because Land Rover thought that traction control would be good enough, but it wasn’t. Off-roaders demanded a diff lock, so Land Rover made it an option for post-facelift models. I’ve researched it and I don’t think it will be too difficult to fit one on mine.
“I’ve always wanted an exterior roll cage. I’ve seen a couple on Instagram, and they do look brilliant, but you have to be sure you’re happy with it being an off-road vehicle before you start doing anything as drastic as drilling into the bodywork to fit a roll cage because once you’ve done it it’s a permanent thing. I think I will be doing it eventually though.
“There are a lot of Discovery 2s being broken now because of chassis rot which means secondhand parts are readily available. I’ve been looking for a leather interior for some time to replace the cloth seats in my Discovery, but the good ones are too expensive – at the moment they’re going for up to £600 a set, but I will eventually find some cheaper than that. I do like a bargain. I’m always spending time looking on eBay and everywhere else for stuff for my Land Rover.
“With everything that I do, it has to be more capable off-road, without preventing it from being fun driving on the road, so it’s always a bit of a balancing act. This summer I will get it really well cleaned up and Waxoyled, to prevent the chassis from rusting.
“I do like really big tyres and I’m seriously considering them, but I won’t fit them until I’ve done a bit more research as I really have to stop myself from compromising its road handling. I have a new plan every week. I see what my friends have done to their Land Rovers and I want to do the same, but I know I shouldn’t. I have thought about stripping out the rear and turning it into a camper with a bed and storage in the back, after seeing a video on YouTube, but it probably won’t happen.
“I’ve spent less than £5000 on my Land Rover. It sounds a lot of money, but I only paid less than £1000 for it in the first place, and because I’ve opted for secondhand parts wherever possible I’ve actually put at least £10,000 worth of equipment on my vehicle. I reckon it’s worth every pound I’ve spent, because it is a real head turner.
“To any reader thinking of doing the same, my advice is to start off with a good, standard vehicle. Make sure you check it out thoroughly before buying it as I’ve known a lot of lads who have bought cheap vehicles, then put stuff on their truck, taken it off-roading and the chassis has snapped in half. But get it right and you could, like me, transform your Land Rover for less than £5000.”
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