The Land Rover Discovery 1 SD is a highly capable off-road vehicle as it comes from the factory—buying a used one and equipping it for overland adventures doesn't necessarily need to break one's budget.
Just ask Mike Hallmark, the Sales and Marketing Manager for Hellwig Products, a company that specializes mainly in suspension for trucks, muscle cars, and off-road vehicles.
Ever since Mike started working in the automotive aftermarket industry, he couldn't stop himself from finding project vehicles and modifying them to his tastes. His profession even took him as far as Mexico, where he participated in and completed the 50th Baja 1000 race.
Even before his Baja 1000 experience, Mike was already interested in off-roading. He explains, "I was already kind of in the market for a 4-wheel-drive vehicle when my good buddy and former coworker Richard Barzaghi asked if I wanted to go off-roading and camping. Of course I said yes, but little did I know that he would show up in a tricked out Land Rover Discovery 1. Man, we hit the road in style with that thing. After three days of nonstop off-road abuse to the Rover, and with ice-cold A/C blowing all the way to the back seat, I knew I had to buy a Land Rover too."
After some searching, Mike found this 1996 Discovery 1 SD. He admits that it's a base model, but he didn't mind that. Apparently, he wanted something simple to build up anyway.
People have been known to say that Land Rovers are the "Best 4x4xFar." According to Mike, that saying rings true, even though Rovers are also known for being grossly underpowered as well as riddled with electrical gremlins and oil leaks.
Nevertheless, Mike loves his rig. He made a case for his fascination with Land Rovers, saying, "Dude. Where else can you find rugged ability and awkward good looks that get the job done every single time? It has a ladder frame chassis design with coil spring suspension—it even gives you a comfortable ride and good articulation for driving over obstacles. Bone stock, these vehicles are truly something only a mother could love... but with the right lift, wheel-and-tire combo, and of course, the snorkel, these Land Rovers just look tough!"
As he splashed his way through mountainous backroads filled with soft clay-like mud for our shoot, I found it really tough to disagree. This Discovery 1 SD does look tough as nails.
When asked what type of look he was going for on his build, Mike explained that he always intended for his Discovery to be "Full-on Safari Overland style. Back in the early 2000s, nobody, and I mean nobody, had any idea about what overlanding was - and only now is it becoming popular in the automotive aftermarket. I always wanted my rig to be a blend of traditional Camel Trophy style with a blend of American off-road style as well. For me, this means wide tires with a good stance, not the tall and skinny traditional English off-road look."
Mike owns a lot of different vehicles and admits that he wanted to be budget conscious with this Landy build. This being said, about 85% of the aftermarket parts he scored for his Discovery were purchased second-hand. The only items he bought brand new were the Bilstein shocks, Mickey Thompson tires, and other miscellaneous suspension upgrades.
He continued to explain, "I only bought the tires and suspension components new because I didn’t have a choice. I waited for months - even years for the right aftermarket parts to pop up on the used market so I could buy them cheap and install them. I was just patient and waited for deals to come along on the parts I wanted so I could build my rig the way I wanted to, while still adhering to a budget. I’ve had this Land Rover for 16 years, and I’m still not done with it."
When you own an adventure vehicle like an old Land Rover, you're bound to have great memories and great stories with your rig. Mike described his fondest memory with his Land Rover, saying, "I decided to take it to the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab Utah for work. I planned to have my rig stand out as an ugly duckling among all the crazy Jeep builds that gather up on Moab.
In about four weeks, I redid the entire suspension on the truck, going from a 2-inch lift to 4. Then, I added caster-corrected front trailing arms, cranked rear trailing arms to allow for more articulation, a pinion angle corrector, extended steel braided brake lines, tubular upper shock tower mounts, and bolted on custom valved Bilstein reservoir shocks.
This was all done so I could gain ground clearance and articulation, but also so I could use 33-inch Mickey Thompson tires. I drove my Landy from Quartz Hill California all the way to Moab Utah, wheeled it for a solid four days, then drove her all the way back home to Southern California."
"I’d love to say the trip was without issue," Mike continued, "but it's a Land Rover. My water pump gave out on the way back, just outside of Wilson, Arizona. We were down, but not out. Knowing potential issues with my Landy, I luckily had a spare water pump with me. The kicker is, I was missing one key tool to remove the fan from the fan clutch. Luckily there were a couple of kind souls that came through the grocery store parking lot and offered to give us a hand. One of the guys who volunteered his help wouldn’t rest until he knew we had the situation handled. With a handmade tool that his stepdad MacGyvered, we were able to get the water pump replaced so I could get my rig back on the road.
That was such an awesome experience - to be able to say we successfully drove the Land Rover all the way to Moab, wheeled it hard, then drove the rig home under its own power."
Moab isn't the only place Mike has gone exploring with his Discovery. He says he loves to drive it to explore places like John Bull Trail in Big Bear, Miller Jeep Trail, Panamint, Death Valley, and Area 51.
The truck looks mean from the exterior, with the TJM HD steel bumpers wrapping the front and rear. It's impossible not to notice the Hella 4000 Euro beam fog lights on the front bumper. Above the truck, on the Safety Devices roof rack, there are four more Hella lights - two spot lights in the middle, and two cornering lights on the edges.
Also mounted on the steel front bumper is a Bulldog 8K winch with synthetic line, which is essential for getting out of tough situations that sometimes occur when off-roading.
Mike removed the standard hook that comes with the winch and replaced it with a Factor 55 closed loop shackle, which is a lot stronger and secure than the normal hook that most winches use.
Even though the interior looks pretty stock, there are a few details to point out. This Discovery is an SD model, which is the lowest trim level that was available from the dealer. Mike wanted to spruce up the interior a bit, so he swapped his factory dash trim with the wooden interior trim from a SE7 model that he temporarily had. The SE7 is the highest-end version Discovery that was sold.
With proper maintenance and care, Land Rovers can last a very long time. This Discovery has 172,000 miles on the counter, and it's still running strong.
The factory head unit was swapped out for a Kenwood CD player to add Bluetooth functionality, so Mike can blast his favorite music straight from his phone library.
Attached to the center console is a Cobra CB Radio, making it possible to communicate with friends out on remote trails where cellphone reception does not exist.
Mike was excited when he found a set of used factory Land Rover all-weather mats for his Discovery. They look great on the floor of the truck, which is always used the way it was originally intended—discovering new trails.
Mike also swapped out the factory cloth interior from his SD in favor of a set of used leather-covered manual seats from an SE model Discovery. Going from cloth to leather really is quite the upgrade.
The rear fabric seats were also swapped out for SE version leather 60/40 split seats, that also came with a center armrest that the base SD model does not have.
Just in case anyone makes him angry while navigating a trail, Mike has a big ax hanging on the back of his Safety Devices roof rack. Swinging out the massive door on the back of the Disco, one will find that Mike always has a recovery kit just for if his truck or others get stuck in mud.
Next to the Kenwood 12" subwoofer box in the back, Mike always makes sure he has proper accessories for off-road recovery use - a winch line doubler, snatch block for synthetic rope, and a big with a kinetic tow line, which is basically like a huge rubber band for getting trucks out of the mud.
On the back of the Land Rover, Mike had to customize the mount for his spare tire carrier to accommodate the 33-inch spare. He also carries a high-lift jack and a Crazy Beaver shovel carrier with his spare tire, just so he is always prepared.
This Land Rover definitely sees off-road use, and has driven through its share of running water, thanks to the Safari Guard snorkel mounted up to the A-pillar.
The Safari Guard snorkel routes clean air all the way to the Land Rover factory airbox, which has a K&N drop-in air filter in it.
Propelling the 5,880 pound Discovery is the factory V8 engine made by Buick. Mike left the engine completely stock and makes sure to always keep it maintained with fresh fluids.
It's pretty difficult not to notice the Bilstein front shock reservoir just sitting haphazardly in the engine bay. Mike explained, "I know that this isn't the ideal place for these high end remote shock reservoirs. Having them in the engine bay, is probably the worst place for them, because they can get hot after a long time driving. But that was the only place I could put them when I was installing the suspension. I'll probably figure out a better place for them later, when I have the time."
Peeking through the rear fender well, one can see that the Bilstein 7100 suspension definitely gets used. These are 4-inches longer than the normal shocks, and have custom valved reservoirs for better off-road handling.
Looking under the front of the vehicle, one might notice the Rovertym 2-inch lift springs with 2iinch lift spacers—but that's not all. This Discovery has a multitude of aftermarket suspension components. Sway bars, strut bars, control arms, Terrafirma extended front shock tower mounts, 2inch lift rear shock tower mounts, a rear 3-link rear pinion angle corrector, cranked rear trailing arms, castor corrected front trailing arms, and an HD trackbar. This photo also shows the 6-inch extended steel braided brake lines, which give the brake lines plenty of slack for off-road articulation.
Mike's Discovery has rusty lugnuts holding his used steel beadlock wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson 285/75R16 MTZ tires to the truck. An observant eye might also notice the Great Basin heavy duty rear axles, rear drive shaft, and Tom Woods double cardan front drive shaft.
Looking under the rear bumper, one might notice the rear skid plate and rear differential cover with pinion cover. Mike also has a skid plate and diff cover up front, as well as a belly pan for safety. The Rover factory pumpkin was cracked open to install the 4.11 gears and Detroit Locker differential in the back, with a 4.11 Trutrac diff set-up in the front.
Since Mike works for Hellwig, he got himself a set of custom disconnecting front and rear sway bars, which allow the rig to achieve more wheel articulation when doing serious rock crawling.
Even though Mike has a ton of mods on the Land Rover, he says the 4-inch lift, front and rear lockers, and 33-inch Mickey Thompson tires have been the major factors in improving his Discovery's off-road capabilities.
Mike explained that his Land Rover was actually built as a dual purpose rig, saying, "most overlanders wouldn’t take the lines I take when I'm rock crawling. They are concerned about breaking things, but I'm a bit different. I build all my cars and trucks to be used. I'm not scared."
With a rugged Land Rover like this Discovery, it's no wonder Mike loves blazing new trails on random backroads and rural mountain areas. He continued to preach, "This isn't a show car. I built this rig to be used. I don't care about getting awards, just making memories."
"Of course, when you own a vehicle like this, your build is never truly done," Mike explained. "I still need to install my rooftop tent, freezer fridge, dog guard, and awning. Of course, even more modifications will happen as I come up with new ideas for the Landy. The fun thing is, this is an ongoing build that will most likely never be done. As used parts pop up that are on my want list, I snag them. I try to save money by buying stuff second hand only, but that's what this project is all about. Build it, beat it up, repair it, repeat."
If you liked this Land Rover, you might also like this 1974 Santana Series III we covered previously. Also, make sure to check back here for future Land Rover articles. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS