Ulysses — The Last Real Discovery

What would become my all-time favorite adventure platform and life-long obsession started out on a whim. I’d finally “made it,” or so my barely-drinking-age ecstatic-about-not-being-homeless freshly promoted to IT Director self thought, and I wanted a comfy ride to match. Long gone were my rock crawling Jeep days—a modest 2wd Ranger (with the “off road” Edge package) had carried me and all of my belongings through some dark times, and done so without complaint in spite of 25k miles a year and zero maintenance, so I’d been shopping the nicer offerings under the Ford umbrella.

#OvalAlliance

Crunching the numbers on paper I narrowed it down to a Lincoln LS or Mark LT (an F150 with Lincoln interior). I was half-way to the dealership to put a down payment on one or the other when I spotted a green oval all on it’s own just off the interstate. I’d driven a few Land Rovers in the past and found them to be slow-but-comfy, but didn’t pay much attention then and hadn’t even considered them in my search. Since technically they were part of the Ford family I figured I better stop and see what they had to offer.

Pulling into the lot, the unusual roof line of the Discovery immediately caught my eye. Sliding into the driver’s seat it felt as if it had been custom tailored. Taking off up the onramp it chirped the tires grabbing second…all four of them. Every detail a perfect asymmetrical oddity. It was love at first drive.

Fortunately, all those oddities carried over into the numbers and added up for me on paper: it was the same price as the Lincolns, could tow and carry more than the LT, and was more comfortable than the LS. It’s a quirky beast, especially by 90’s and 00’s standards: aluminum body, fully boxed frame, 1,500-lbs payload capacity, 7,700-lbs tow rating, optional third-row seating, a petrol V8 making just over 200 horse but nearly 300 torque, and a 375+ mile range…all wrapped up in a lanky mid-size package.

2004 was the last year of the Discovery as we knew it, and indeed the last year of body-on-frame solid-axle Land Rover to grace our shores. Often, when a company is owned by a “competing” brand who’s chosen to end a vehicle’s manufacturing run, the last model year is just another year at best…and sometimes they just let everything slide. This was not the case for a Ford-owned Land Rover—they wanted to send off the Discovery at it’s best.

There is a backstory here with Ford’s modernization program forcing early retirements, a sudden drop in an already infamous quality thanks to the unwritten knowledge gap, and Ford’s generous efforts to make right the wrongs they’d done, but I’ll spare you the details. In a nutshell, each Discovery had been essentially hand built on well-worn machines by blokes that had been around for decades, guys who knew all the little tricks to manually reaching a good fit-and-finish that weren’t in the manual. (This is why the door off a 1999 won’t fit quite right on a 2000 or 2004…the tooling had worn down more and it wasn’t “leaned on” the same way.)

For 2004 Ford brought the OG’s back in, and thankfully they took it as a point of pride to “show 'em how it’s done.”

TLDR QuickStats:

  • 2004 Land Rover Discovery II HSE
  • 4.6l Land Rover V8 with stock gearing and…modified exhaust
  • Tom Woods HD propshafts
  • 3-inch, +400-lbs capacity, combination spring+spacer lift
  • LT285/65R18 Nitto MT tyres (33x11.50)
  • ARB Bullbar with 12k TJM Winch
  • Custom rear bumper and swing-out with storage
  • HLCfab Sliders
  • 1/4" aluminum fuel tank skid
  • Front and rear QT diff skids
  • Dual Odyssey PC2150M batteries (Group 31)
  • LED rock/camp lights
  • Pioneer DEH-80PRS digital receiver, mated to the OEM hi-line Harmon Kardon system
  • CD-changer delete, replaced with…
  • Yaesu FTM-350R 2-meter/70cm radio
  • Adequate tool/recovery kit…
  • Viair on-board air
  • On-board galley
  • 35-qt. fridge/freezer
  • 11-gallon on-board water system
  • 10# propane storage
  • Rear seat delete
  • Knightsbridge Overland seat covers w/storage
  • Nano-camper conversion with permanent camp loadout

TLDR W.I.P. in no particular order:

  • Paint the new (original style) wheels
  • Switch to LT275/70R18 tires, likely General Grabber X3 or A/TX (easier to find and ~$100 less)
  • Replace sticky caliper and upgrade the brakes
  • Re-seal the transfer case
  • Wrap the rear-mount Alubox so it isn’t silver
  • Put the 40% rear seat back in (3-person total capacity)
  • Sleeper Mk III
  • Finish the custom dash
  • Refinish the bumpers and rock sliders
  • Install the new aux lights, rock lights, fog lights
  • Add CB and FRS/GMRS radios
  • Finish the tool/recovery kit
  • Paint and updated livery
  • Low profile half rack bolted to OEM mounting locations
  • Custom awning
  • Gullwing the rear windows
  • Replace all of the 16-year-old speakers
  • New headlights and taillights
  • Replace all of the exterior plastics…

(And yes, it’s higher performance and not completely atrocious gas mileage is a significant factor in abandoning the H6 Forester project, which also would have required premium fuel and only gotten around 20 to the gallon.)

2 Likes

Love this, and look forward to the updates! It’s up there on my iconic 4wd list, with some esteemed company.

4 Likes

Ulysses gets better than 20mpg?

This truck is a beast. I look forward to seeing it in action again in 2021.

1 Like

HA! I wish. It does 16+mpg fully loaded—way too close to an H6 Forester’s 20mpg to justify building another dirt machine that’s slower, less comfortable, and can only handle about 500 pounds of gear (including tools and mods).

I’m curious to see how it will do with the two-pounds heavier and half-inch taller, but half-inch narrower tires…especially if I switch to an AT tread. I actually saw an increase in performance (significant) and economy (slight) when I moved from the 265/75R16s (32s) ATs up to the 285/65R18s (33s) MTs, but that wasn’t a fair comparison as the larger alloy wheels weighed less than half what the 16" steelies did. (I think the tires might have weighed less too, those ProComps were way heavy.)

The guys across the pond are seeing 24-25mpg from the original TD5 riding on the same (and larger) tires. Add to that the factory optional diesel cabin heater (completely independent of the engine) and the possibility of a 45-gallon fuel capacity with LongRanger tanks, and the idea of having a half-cut shipped over is pretty tempting.

3 Likes

I hear ya. 4m40 diesel, 5-speed manual, AND long range tanks get me thinking the same thing for Fezzik. The current 300-350 mile per tank range is a bit of a buzzkill.

Interesting about the wheels. I thought steel was the hot setup for “Real Overlanding :tm:” because you can pound it back into shape instead of it breaking.

Thoughts on the intersection of steel redundancy, alloy weight reduction, and forged strength? Everything else being equal, what would you run?

1 Like

I thought about that too when I first went steel, but it’s all nonsense. An impact harsh enough to damage a (quality) alloy wheel would also damage a steel wheel. In fact, modern alloys are actually much tougher to bend and break than steel, because science. I bent the steelies doing some pretty light wheeling in the Forester, that’s why I had to replace the wheels. Years of abuse later those alloy RS wheels are still straight and true…and you know I beat the crap out of that car once it was done with the “overland” scene.

I’ve jumped the Discovery unexpectedly and harshly—fully loaded with a week of gear and supplies, hit a hidden rut across the road at speed and launched it. It actually bounced back and forth between the front and rear tires a couple times when we landed, but I’ve never bent or broke an alloy. I also prefer the way they handle rock rash: much less dangerous edges, a lot easier to smooth back to an acceptable finish, and no rust worries if you can’t get to it right away.

There are legit exceptions for steelies, like higher load bearing capacity for commercial/industrial applications, or specialty needs like beadlocks on rock crawlers. But, for most folks the only reasons to go with steel are looks and budget, and with so many OEM alloy options readily available second hand, budget isn’t a great argument.

3 Likes

With wheels it comes down to the manufacturing methods mostly. The only way to cheaply mass produce steel wheels is forming sheet. It gets stamped and welded into shape. You are left with material that always has a thin cross section. Just fine for some loads but not all of them.

Aluminum is more readily cast or molded into any shape at scale because it’s melting point is so much lower. So you can design the appropriate thickness everywhere and avoid weld joints which are always stress concentrations.

In a pure tension or compression load steel is one of the best materials (assuming we are talking about high carbon or alloy steel, some of the mid to low carbon stuff is very weak, much less than the standard aluminum grades).

But once you add in bending or torsion loads and factor in manufacturing, now the problem is a LOT more complicated, and aluminum has a chance to win.

But truthfully, we’d probably make nearly everything out of titanium if we could :sweat_smile: stuff is magical. Crazy properties.

Would you guys like a legit science lesson and example on steel vs aluminum? I could write that up pretty easily.

4 Likes

Agreed on the hype of steel being field fixable. I have never ever broken an aluminum wheel. I have had to file the edge a handful of times, but that was the extent of it. And I tried. I once hit a deep rut on a diagonal that was hidden by snow. Faster than I should’ve too. I actually blew three tire beads at the same time. But no wheel damage. I’m not against steel, but like you guys, I don’t buy the argument that it’s inherently better.

@ChazzLayne factory diesel heater? Srsly? Like
Espar or Webasto, only OEM? That’s cool. Tell me more!

Going slightly sideways on diesel versus gas… wait. Hmm. I believe it’s so far sideways that I’ll create a separate thread rather than derail this most excellent built.

2 Likes

If I could find titanium wheels…OMG :drooling_face:

(And you’ll always get a “yeah” from me on write-ups, science is fun!)

2 Likes

There’s very little info on the internets, I actually learned of it from flipping through the RAVE (Land Rover tech manual):

Yep, exactly like an Espar, but OEM. It bolts right into one of the many empty brackets, the controls drop right into one of the many blanks on the dash, and plugs right into one of the many “extra” plugs and wires in the factory harness (it’s a Land Rover thing, all wiring and most brackets for all possible options are already on all vehicles). I wouldn’t be surprised if I could just get the parts and add the 10L LongRanger aux tank for some diesel storage. Total conversion starts to get real appealing when I think about adding a diesel cooktop too…I’m imagining an entire campsite powered and heated by the same fuel source that got me there.

3 Likes

Oh I could get them made, but I’d guess the price tag to be somewhere in the neighborhood of a years salary :sweat_smile:

2 Likes

Thanks for the thoughtful replies, gentlemen! Appreciate it. Consider me cured of the field-fixable, steel wheels hype. Hooray! Gets me thinking about how I’m tired of the 31x10.5/15 BFGs currently on Fezzik and how they’re getting long in the tooth and how new tire time is an excellent time to consider new wheels, too…

PS: Yes, please, on the technical writeup. Our vehicles have all kinds of interesting metallurgical applications and I think it would be excellent to learn a little more about a little more.

To say I did little to the Discovery for the first several years is practice in understatement. The first weekend I was back up in Big Bear running Gold Mountain Trail, which while certainly not the hardest up there, is still rated “Most Difficult” and features ample rock gardens and obstacles to play. Even stock, the Disco went wherever I pointed it with little complaint…indeed anywhere I would have wanted to go in my old Jeep. Stateside overlanding was still in it’s infancy—no awnings or fridges or fancy sleeping arrangements—we all just camped like regular people, or more often, hit the ubiquitous trailside Motel 6. It was simpler, though perhaps more tedious, times: just load up the gear and hit the road.

0 to 70,000 miles

The First Seventy Thousand

“What do I need to go ____________?”
“Good tires.”

Sometimes the cliché isn’t the thing to avoid. Land Rover was well underway on their journey to become a status symbol and the stock tire options reflected that: small and smooth. Dirt-biased tires for 18" wheels were pretty limited too, the most aggressive model available was Nitto’s Terra Grappler, actually a pretty decent tire. At some point I also wound up tossing a set of swaybar quick disconnects on and trimming back a section of bumper aerodynamics that looked like the engineers actually intended be removed.

Communications on the trail were important since I still wheeled with groups sometimes, so I decided to add a CB. Mounting the radio was pretty easy to figure out: a small removable accessory tray and vent sat in the dash right above the stereo, perfect for running wires and covering up the mounting holes if I were ever to change my mind. The engineers were a step ahead having already placed convenient threaded holes in the roof bars just waiting for upgrades—all I needed was section of 3-inch by 1/4-inch aluminum flat bar and some bedliner to match the texture. That same custom aluminum crossbar is still installed to this day, some 13 years later, serving as a mount for the roof rack.

Only one thing really bothered me: I had the hi-line sound system and so many long hours to enjoy it, but I was limited to six CDs stuck in a cubby under the passenger’s seat. At the time factory AUX input was unheard of, what few aftermarket options existed didn’t reliably support steering wheel controls, and the only other option was the horrible sound quality of an FM modulator. Once again, the engineers thought ahead and provided what they could with the clunky technology of the time. A sufficiently nerdy individual could remove the factory CD changer, cut open and pin-out the wiring harness to find the audio and “device connected” signal wires, and be rewarded with the appearance of an obscure option buried in a hidden menu on the hi-line navigation head unit. Yep, that’s a Windows-based HTC Fuze, one of the few phones capable of micro-SD storage and media playback at the time. The things we take for granted barely a decade later.

And that was that. The only thing left to do was drive it…

…and drive it…

…and drive it.

If it’s fair to say that old Ford Ranger carried me through some dark times, then it’s fair to say the Discovery took me away from those dark times and showed me a world of possibilities. I was done with the city and the rat race, and addicted to exploring the wilderness.

3 Likes

Man, that truck has come a long way. Funny how, like you said, barely a decade later, we take things for granted. It’s a completely different machine now—and yet it’s still largely the same.

My personal first impressions, dating back to a day of filming in the snow outside Prescott, were that of a no-stone-left-unturned approach. And yet, I can see how the factory-provided conveniences of, say, the CB install evolved over the years to much, much more.

Am I correct in thinking most of the powertrain is still stock? If it ain’t broke, right? If Ulysses took you everywhere your Jeep went, I wonder when—or IF—you encountered situations where you needed to improve anything mechanical. It’s starting to seem like most of your mods are :grimacing: cosmetic?

I look forward to getting Fezzik sorted to the point of just needing to drive it and drive it and drive it. (Still got a few things to address, but closer than ever now.)

2 Likes

Yep, the powertrain is almost completely stock. Most of the mechanicals are overbuilt and tucked up away from harm. The only real weak point is the front propshaft’s “lifetime” U-joint, which is not greaseable and has a lifetime of only about 70k—it can be rebuilt with greaseable joints, but I replaced it with a Tom Woods instead as a preventative and future-proofing mod. It also has a resonator delete, partially because I like the unmuted roar of the 4.6, and also because the resonator was huge, behind the rear axle, outside the frame rails, and low slung.

Diving into the first situation that required a real live mod in the next chapter. Spoiler: it wasn’t to improve trail prowess. :sunglasses:

1 Like

I’m looking forward to the next installment, of course!

It’s taken me some time, but I feel like I’m finally getting into this school of thought as well. Not so much because I want to mitigate field repair drama in the hills outside Cartagena, but because I just want to enjoy using the truck.

Would it be more fun with the additional 80hp+ that a 3.8L swap would bring? Absolutely—and maybe I’ll do that swap some day, but for now, I just want to drive the truck and enjoy it.

Your propshaft comments remind me I’ve got a faint whine under part throttle while underway that’s always annoyed me. It might be time to get MY propshaft rebuilt. Ew.

1 Like

Can you have a flashforward? Like Highlander style flashback, but jumping forward 70,000 miles. It’s no secret that there have been major modifications, so spoilers aren’t really an issue. I suppose if the word “flashforward” is ok with autocorrect then it’s all good?

141,096.2 miles

Accept No Substitute

I needed it today. Dani tried to leave for work on her own through the untouched and unmelted 18 inches of snow still covering the 200 odd feet to the road. It was a dumb move, but I’ll give her credit for making it all the way down to a few feet shy of the street…where she sank it to the skid plates at the windrow.

I’m not sure what she was thinking—normally she either gets a ride, has me break trail with the Disco, or waits for the thaw if I’m not here (she was supposed to get a ride since the Disco is in pieces). She was ultimately able to break free and back away from the road using MAXTRAX Minis by the time I dug my hood out, jump started, and was pulling up behind her with the winch.

When SHTF there’s just no substitute for Disco. Even wounded (mostly gutted, in pieces, with a dead battery and old fluids from two years in storage awaiting restoration), it’s poised and precise and makes no excuses. It’s time I did the same and got moving on the restoration, it was a mistake to procrastinate so long.

2 Likes

Ulysses been sitting for two years? Yeah. Time to thin the herd and get back in the saddle.

And did you pull her all the way back up the hill with the winch? Did you then drive her to work?

When I was playing in the snow on the Senator, at least half a dozen Subarus either stopped by for pictures or flew past with their clever crackle tunes. Told my buddy who wants a 4WD that a naturally aspirated Fizzy would do right by him on most trails he’d want to explore.

Pretty impressive to see the Outback push as far as it did.

Yep, parked it right before I left for helicopters, and didn’t really have time to get on it again before the snow hit.

I didn’t have to pull her, she was free by the time I got the Disco there, just not able to get to the road. If she’d gone out before the plows it probably would have been fine—it’s the soft stuff with a 2’ ice wall at the end that really got her. She drove herself in after I rammed the ice wall with the Disco to break it open (I’m still amazed at how elegant it is at delivering brute force).

I bet most of those guys that few past you were from the local group, Subis are super fun in the snow. The Outback does have 3PMSF tires on it too, she made it back up the now ice-covered drive with no issues tonight.

2 Likes

This is getting closer to being back on the road, methinks. Once you brush off all that pesky white stuff. Is there a plan for when it’s ready for adventures again? Better yet, is there an adventure you’re planning to get it ready for her?

3 Likes