Little By Little
Neil Witt wasn’t in any hurry to modify his Discovery. Instead, he just kept an eye out for the right bits when they came up on eBay – and his patience has been rewarded with a practical fun truck that owes him less than a month’s salary and looks set to last another decade.
Many’s the story of an off-roader’s devotion that ends in rubble. If not actual rubble, certainly the 4x4 equivalent.
Neil Witt’s story starts with rubble. Not the metaphorical kind, the final acceptance that your much-loved project is never going to turn a wheel again. Actual rubble. The kind you put in a wheelbarrow and wait to get a bad back.
A dozen years ago, Neil bought a new home in Devon. ‘Not a barn conversion,’ he says. ‘A converted barn. There’s a difference.’
The difference was that when you move into a barn conversion, your main concern revolves around which brand of champagne to serve at your house warning. When you buy a converted barn, if appears, you find yourself needing to shift ton after ton of building material inwards, and a similar amount of broken concrete in the opposite direction.
If Neil’s life had gone a very slightly different way, he would have become the owner of a Hi-Lux or L200 or something like that. And now, with the building work well in the past, he might be doing his daily commute in a Mondeo or Laguna or some such Eurobox.
But no. A friend was into Land Rovers, and rather than getting an identikit pick-up he convinced Neil to plump for what he describes now as ‘a rusty, knackered Series IIA.’
The phrase ‘with friends like these, who needs enemies’ might conceivably come to mind. Yet it was the beginning of a love affair with Solihull that sees Neil, today, as the owner of three Discoverys – including the prototype long-wheelbase 200Tdi, of all things, as well as a D3 workhorse and the off-road machine you see here.
The Series IIA did well, and clearly wasn’t all that rusty or knackered as it sailed through its MOT after he’d had it for three years. ‘I took that as an omen that I should sell it,’ he says, which sounds a bit harsh but with an hour’s commute every day, you can see why he replaced it with a 200 Tdi Discovery instead.
He ran this for four years, but it didn’t repeat the IIA’s trick of sailing through its MOT. Instead, it fell to bits, so he sold the engine and bought a 3.9 V8 ES on gas. This was his first auto, ‘and what a revelation.’
Three more years passed, then with a bit of spare cash about his person Neil was able to trade up to the Disco 3 he still owns today. That was about three and a half years ago, and in the intervening period he says he’s learned that just because they’re cheap to buy these days doesn’t mean they’re cheap to own.
Maybe because the Disco 3 is that much more sanitised than older Landies, Neil started having withdrawal symptoms. He found himself with ‘rose tinted specs’ about Series IIA ownership, and having sold the V8 he ‘instantly regretted not having a Series I Disco.’
You know where this is going. First, he bought another IIA and rebuilt it. Then a Disco Mk1 Commercial came up for sale in Cornwall, which was perfect as he’d always wanted a van and was now on the lookout for something practical he could use for laning and so on.
This one seemed to tick a lot of boxes. Its chassis was solid, it had just had a new gearbox and its 300 Tdi engine had the right history: ‘so long as it’s been looked after,’ says Neil, ‘with regular oil changes, it’ll go on forever.’
Better still, though it had the later engine this one was old enough to be from the days before electronic management, meaning he could look after it himself. And best of all, he managed to pick it up for £1200.
Actually, there’s something better still: he reckons all the mods he’s done have only cost him the same again. He built the project on an ‘as and when’ basis, buying cheap bits when they came up rather than paying strong money to get everything straightaway.
That was in the main, at least. One thing he did have to buy off the shelf was an Allisport intercooler. ‘I found out on the drive home that it was very underpowered. Special Vehicles had built it with air-con, but I quickly learned not to use it! I overhauled the engine and went to Allisport for the intercooler – the air-con meant I needed specific fit rather than their standard one. But it makes a huge difference – I’d say it adds half as much power again.’
Of course, doing it bit by bit is easier when you’re only doing a tickle-up of a project rather than setting out to build something epic. And Neil’s intention was never to create a colossus of a Disco, just a good, practical everyday truck he could have some fun in too.
A good example was his first event in it. No, not a novice winch challenge, but the Mac 4x4. He entered it for the first time last year, finishing a very decent 17th out of 63 under the moniker of Team Toad.
‘My last Series IIA was pretty well known as Ratty in the Series II Club,’ he explains. ‘So the Discovery got called Mr Toad, since it’s green. And when I bought the LWB Discovery Ambulance last year, we stuck with the Wind in the Willow theme and called it Badger, since it’s black and white.’
And why not? The Ambulance is soon to be restored into a truck Neil can use when he’s surfing, though he won’t do anything to ruin the character of what is a piece of Land Rover history. It’ll be appearing at a few shows, and he’s thinking about using it in next year’s Mac.
Does that mean Mr Toad will be usurped on his drive? Not likely. Now the Disco has come together, he’s going to off-road it. He’s even left the suspension at its standard height – because on the sunken lanes of Devon, headroom is often your biggest concern. There’s a very bent roofrack and some wrecked guttering in a skip somewhere that says amen to that.
So many of us set out to build projects that are going to make us feel like heroes. And lots of us end up wishing we’d set our sights a bit lower.
Neil’s Disco is a perfect example of doing it right. And that’s why he’s got a tidy truck that’s 100% sorted and set to last him as long as he wants it to. His love of Land Rovers may have started in a sea of rubble – but it’s not going back there any time soon.
Thanks to the Discovery Owners Club for its part in bringing this article into the light. If you’ve got a Disco of any kind, check them out at www.discoveryownersclub.org.