Survival Kit

Originally Published: December 2006 Words: Alan Kidd Pictures: Steve Taylor
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Unlike most people, when Greg McGuire set out to build a modified Discovery he didn’t intend to create the ultimate off-roader. Instead, he fashioned a vehicle that could teach a thing or two to everyone who thinks that’s what their next project is going to be…

I only bought it for green laning,’ says Greg McGuire. ‘All I did was put a winch on the front. But it’s just gone from one extreme to another.’

‘It’ is a 1992 Land Rover Discovery, which Greg bought five years ago and until relatively recently used comparatively gently as a general off-road plaything. As well as the winch, he added a full internal Camel Trophy roll cage from Safety Devices, but aside from going through several sets of tyres that’s how the vehicle stayed.

But then one day the civilised pleasures of green laning started giving way to the altogether more rigorous demands of challenge competition. And a project was born.

To start with, the main addition was a rear winch. ‘I cut a hole in the rear door and fabricated the winch into the back of what was still a full-length Discovery, with a fairlead in the door. But I was getting stuck on a lot of trees and damaging the bodywork.

‘Finally, it had a few too many dents in it, and I thought “it’s looking really scraggy now, it’s time for an overhaul.” So I set to with the grinder!’

This was in February this year, and was all done on Greg’s driveway. He’s definitely thankful to his neighbours for their forbearance: ‘I was lighting the street up with the sparks!’

And there can have been no shortage of sparks, because this was no five-minute job. ‘We took the roof off, and then cut two feet off the back. When you put the light clusters back on, it works out at 22 inches shorter than standard.’

Greg repositioned the winch mount, completed the back of the body and folded over the rear wheelarches, all still on his driveway at home. Like many bobtail jobs, he used the original rear crossmember. ‘Where we cut it was about three or four inches short of the crossmember, so it hopefully won’t twist, and just behind that we’ve got the new rear bumper.’

Already, the once-mild project had turned into something very serious indeed. So it’s no surprise that things didn’t stop there. Nigel Baines and Gus Ferguson from UpToTheAxles were called in to build a roll cage, creating a full external affair from Blue Band tubing which is at once fully demountable but also properly welded to the chassis.

Further protection comes from Scorpion Racing rock sliders, while Gwyn Lewis provided guards for the steering and diffs. The latter source also looked after the vehicle’s suspension, which is an all-round Old Man Emu kit giving a lift of two inches.

Regarding the suspension, Greg stopped short of fitting a full-house dislocation kit. But the non-captive nature of the standard set up means that with the extra travel allowed by the OME shocks, it’s all too easy for the springs to pop out of their seats. ‘Even if it comes away an inch,’ he says, ‘it’s enough to go back behind the spring seat. So I’ve welded in some home-made relocation bars. But other than that it’s pretty standard.’

This, and the lack of diff-locks in the vehicle’s axles, means that its 265/75R16 Anacondas have to make the most of every bit of ground contact they get. On this score, Greg is an absolute fan: ‘The tyres work very well in mud. They’re good on the road, and I think they’re pretty damn fantastic in mud. Especially for the size of them - I’m up against some much bigger tyres in challenge events. It’s the way you use them, I suppose, as well.’

The challenges he’s referring to have until now mainly been local events at Cwmderw and around Wrexham. But this season saw his national debut in the AWDC Scorpion Trophy, and on his first outing he managed a very decent 17th place overall. ‘I suppose we’re relying on other people going at it good guns and breaking something,’ he says. ‘We go at it at a medium pace and get to the end.’

Having tasted national competition, Greg says he’s definitely planning to become a regular at this level. With such an interest in this kind of off-roading, combined with a vehicle whose suspension and transmission lack the sort of ultimate mods considered vital at the cutting edge, this means he places a lot of reliance on his Discovery’s winches.

These are a Goodwinch X9 Plus from David Bowyer at the front, and a Superwinch Husky at the back. The Bowyer unit is mounted on a bumper from the same company, and the amount of use it gets is a pretty strong advert for its strength and reliability. ‘I like the winching,’ says Greg. ‘I don’t like big tyres where you just drive to it – I like the winching side of it, I like a challenge. I like to do the setting up and the rigging of the pulleys.’

This of course means that the vehicle’s winches see a particularly high amount of action. Despite this, however, their steel cables both continue to see service after two long-hard years. ‘I’m a bit of a nag for my winch man to make sure he puts it back on right every time. So my winch cable has lasted me all that time without me having to change it.’

The winches are fed through a split-charge system using two batteries. ‘It’s got a Bosch battery that’s still on there from when I bought it five years ago, plus a second one I put in to back it up. I’d like to replace them with Optimas, but as long as they’re doing the job and not letting me down, on they go!’

Elsewhere under the bonnet, the original 200Tdi engine continues to do a sterling job. It doesn’t get fired up as much as it once did, as Greg has another Discovery to take the strain of day-to-day life, but a full-width intercooler ensures it’s able to give its best whenever it’s called upon. ‘It’s a dramatic change,’ says Greg. ‘Now, from a standard Tdi, it’s got torque from nowhere. The other Discovery I’ve got, I’m going to put it on that as well.’

Further mods to the engine include a Safari Snorkel, which is pretty much mandatory if you’re going to be putting your vehicle through the rigours of challenge competition. Behind the Tdi unit, an LT77 box and LT230 transfer case just keep on going as they did the day the vehicle came out of the factory.

Even though there’s another Disco in the family, this one is still very much road-legal and sees plenty of use. ‘I still go shopping in it,’ says Greg, ‘if my wife’s using the other one. Me and my lad go everywhere in it!

‘It’s a very good all-round vehicle for a very low cost,’ he continues. ‘I paid £6500 for it five years ago. Back than it started off as one owner from new, a lady who only used it for school runs. It was immaculate – you could eat your dinner off the inner wings. That’s why I bought it – because I knew there would be a lot of life in the chassis. If you buy a second-hand vehicle that’s been off-road, they’re full of mud.’

Since then, Greg estimates that he’s spent another £8000 or so on modifications. ‘I’m a lorry driver – I don’t have that much money to throw at it!’

The majority of that money has gone to local boys Nigel and Gus, whose extremely distinctive challenge buggy was featured in last month’s issue of TOR. ‘When I started the vehicle,’ says Greg, ‘UpToTheAxles hadn’t formed. But they’re very good mates of mine, Nigel and Gus. I’ve known them a lot of years, and now everything’s from them. Keeping it within the family, so to speak.’

Much of the work has gone on protecting the vehicle from the inevitable knocks and scrapes that come with its new vocation in life. The diffs and steering rods are protected by the usual guards (the latter, which in fact also came from Gwyn Lewis, is of the kind that bolts to the radius arms), while rock sliders have been modified to fit. ‘I’ve had to cut the rear arches and the backs of the front arches,’ explains Greg, ‘so I had to take an inch off the rock sliders as well and cap the ends to stop mud getting into them.’ Back at the front, so to speak, the vehicle has a 90-style track rod arm and Greg removed its rather vulnerable steering damper.

Inside, the vehicle normally carries a Midland 48 CB, though this was away being repaired when we photographed it. Further equipment, none of which is unusual, includes a fire extinguisher and a Garmin sat-nav which is linked to a laptop. ‘It’s not the smallest of set-ups, but it does the trick when we’re green laning. If the satellite’s telling you you’re there on the computer, you know that’s where you are.’

Despite these additions, however, Greg is a believer in only changing what you have to. The Discovery is still on its original seats and belts, for example, and the same philosophy applies elsewhere. So much so that even though its suspension has gone up by a couple of inches, it’s still on its original propshaft UJs. This points to Greg’s ‘just enough’ approach to modifying, and also to the preventative maintenance he gives it on an ongoing basis. ‘Every time I go out, when I come home it’s cleaned, as much as you can. And I grease the UJs before every outing.’ There’s a lesson there for all of us…

‘I don’t want to go too far,’ Greg continues. ‘I like to keep the height as low as possible - you see people going too high, and they go over too easily. You’ve got to have a bit of height, but you’re taking up your centre of gravity and you don’t want to take it too far.’

Thus the chassis remains standard apart from the bobtail conversion. And, unusually for an extreme competition car, the exhaust has merely been shortened and not repositioned. All the same, Greg has plans here: ‘I do want a three-inch stainless steel conversion, to release some of that noise!’

Further plans for the future of the vehicle are based more on what he’s going to do with it rather than to it. ‘I didn’t start the bobtail conversion until February, so it’s just playing and testing it this year. Hopefully we’ll be able to do the full series next year and get a good result.’

Even so, he’s well aware that since having twin winches puts him in the modified class, he’s up against full-house competition vehicles with really big tyres and diff-locks front and rear. ‘I’ve got two houses and I’m doing one of them up,’ he says. ‘Hopefully after that’s finished and I’ve got some money to spare, I’ll start putting lockers in. I don’t know which make to go with just yet, but I hope to be doing that for next season.’

You hear this kind of optimism from most 4x4 owners, but in Greg’s case you can’t help but feel that it’s rooted in reality. And even if he doesn’t get them in time for 2007, there’s plenty about his Discovery that suggests it’ll always be there or thereabouts. Many people set out to build the ultimate off-roader, and it takes someone special to settle for just enough from the outset. Give it time, and Greg’s bobtail seems more than likely to prove that in more ways than one, less is more.

DISCOVERY, OLD MAN EMU SUSPENSION, BOBTAIL, SCORPION ROCK SLIDERS, GWYN LEWIS STEERING GUARD, GOODWINCH X9, SUPERWINCH HUSKY

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