Home » Ever-So-Slightly Broken Brits: 1996 Land Rover Discovery vs 1968 Austin-Healey Sprite

Ever-So-Slightly Broken Brits: 1996 Land Rover Discovery vs 1968 Austin-Healey Sprite

Sbsd 6 5 2023
ADVERTISEMENT

Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Today we’re in Richmond, Virginia looking at two British cars that run and drive, but still need a little help. Normally, before we got started, we’d have to look at Friday’s results, but there was no poll on Friday. There wasn’t much consensus, either. If it were my choice, I’d make the Chevy my daily driver, set up the Nissan Cube for rallycross (why not?), and give the already-half-dead Mustang a Viking funeral. But that’s just me.

Moving on: British cars are the butt of a lot of jokes. Their Lucas electrical systems bear the brunt, but their propensity to leak oil is also good joke fodder. Neither one is entirely unfair, but neither are British cars hopelessly unreliable as is so often insinuated. If you stay on top of the maintenance, and are handy with a spanner, these cars can be as reliable as any other old vehicle. More or less.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Both of today’s choices are running and driving already. Neither one is ready for a cross-country journey, but as we’ve discussed before, step one is being able to get in and turn the key and make the car go, and these are already there. You just have to keep them that way, and track down and fix a few problems. Let’s take a look.

1996 Land Rover Discovery – $3,500

00p0p Gb3bozw5gtj 0ci0t2 1200x900

Engine/drivetrain: 3.9 liter overhead valve V8, four-speed automatic, full-time 4WD

ADVERTISEMENT

Location: Richmond, VA

Odometer reading: 138,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but “smelled hot” last time it was driven

The Land Rover Discovery is becoming a well-known car around the halls of the Autopian offices, thanks to the exploits of our young weekend warrior Rob Spiteri. Rob recently sold his Series II Discovery, but still claims to have Land Rover fever. And frankly, I can’t blame him; the Discovery is a cool truck. It has a great chunky utilitarian look, luxurious interior appointments, and the same drivetrain as the legendary Range Rover. They’re well-made, incredibly capable off-road vehicles that have survived some absurd challenges. So how did they end up with such a poor reputation here in the US?

00h0h Nze78jzxgi 0t20ci 1200x900

ADVERTISEMENT

I have a theory: They’re bored. Land Rovers are used to slogging through jungles, fording rivers, climbing mountains, getting winched up trees, that sort of thing. Americans buy them and… drive them to the mall. Or the country club. Or – God help us – Rodeo Drive. The poor trucks occasionally commit suicide just to break up the monotony.

00c0c 8eprrfkzpxb 0t20ci 1200x900

This Series I Discovery was purchased to be a first car for a sixteen-year-old. Things started out well, but after a few drives the new owner noticed a “hot” smell emanating from it, got worried, and parked it. From the sounds of it, it hasn’t turned a wheel since. The seller knows nothing about cars, and can’t find a local shop willing to work on it, so they’re getting out while the getting is good. Discoverys are prone to overheating, and the aluminum Rover V8 is not very tolerant of high heat, so it sounds like they did the right thing. Of course, a hot smell could be indicative of an oil leak, possibly valve cover gaskets leaking onto the exhaust, so that’s something to check as well.

00v0v 8cfpwdqh0jr 0ci0t2 1200x900

It looks good, with only a few bruises and some faded plastic outside, and some wear and popped seams on the seats. The aftermarket fog lights and roof rack are nice touches. To me, this Landy sounds like it just needs a patient and knowledgeable owner to nurse it back to health, and then go put that four-wheel-drive system to good use somewhere.

ADVERTISEMENT

[Editor’s Note: Those orange things on the back seem to be a pair of magnetic boxes, to hold small amounts of chowder or fuses or something – JT]

1968 Austin-Healey Sprite – $3,200

00g0g Dk5efxtko5j 0ci0t2 1200x900

Engine/drivetrain: 1275 cc overhead valve inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD

Location: Mechanicsville, VA

Odometer reading: 63,000 miles

ADVERTISEMENT

Runs/drives: Runs great, but rear main oil seal leaks

Looking for an older, more traditional British car experience? Look no further than this 1968 Austin-Healey Sprite MkIV. This final iteration of Britain’s tiny sports car features a 1275 cubic centimeter variant of the BMC A-series four-cylinder and the same squared-off wide-eyed front end first seen in 1962 on the MkII Sprite. It’s not as relentlessly cute as the original “bugeye” (or “frogeye” on its home turf) design, but it’s still adorable. And if you’re familiar with the MG Midget, no, you’re not seeing things; this is the same car, from 1962 up until the Austin-Healey nameplate went away in 1971. This era of Sprite and Midget has become collectively known by the portmanteau “Spridget.”

00f0f Clzwrzw98ch 0ci0t2 1200x900

This Sprite looks to be in good shape, with no signs of serious rust. Spridgets, like MGBs, are a unibody design, and as such, rust in the wrong places can be fatal. This car looks solid, but you would be wise to take a close look underneath, and lift up the carpets, too. The paint is only OK, and the seller acknowledges that. It looks like it might be an older poor-quality respray, so a magnet to check for Bondo (there’s bound to be some) isn’t a bad idea either.

00g0g 3rjvnajagzf 0lm0t2 1200x900

ADVERTISEMENT

The seller says the little A-series engine runs great, and has had a lot of work done. The only mechanical problem is a leaking rear main oil seal. British cars of this era still used “rope” seals for the crankshaft, and after fifty-five years you can’t expect them to hold up. Modern rubber seal kits are available, but of course you have to pull the gearbox and flywheel to get to it.

00f0f 7czwzetcbmg 0ci0t2 1200x900

But it wouldn’t be a proper British roadster if it didn’t need something. You have to be willing to get your hands dirty if you’re going to drive a car like this. (How do you tell the British car guy at the pub? He’s the one who has to wash his hands before peeing…) But again, in the right hands, this little car could be an absolute gem. The final line of the ad says, “This is not a daily driver.” And I agree; at least, not with that attitude, it isn’t.

If you want something consistently reliable, get a Toyota. But you’ll be missing out on decades of tradition, massive amounts of charm, miles and miles of fun drives, and the satisfaction that comes from knowing a vehicle inside and out. You’ve got two flavors to choose from – a rough and ready SUV with a soft side, or a tiny fun roadster that feels much faster than it is. Which will it be?

ADVERTISEMENT

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
57 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tbird
Tbird
1 year ago

I see sagging headliner and generally grungy interior in the Disco. Water leak or just a smoker? The hood on the Sprite looks to be made of Bondo on the front edge. If structurally sound, the Healey should be a fun little weekend car.

Dennis Ames
Dennis Ames
1 year ago

“could be indicative of an oil leak” both are British cars, that can be said of all of them.

NewBalanceExtraWide
NewBalanceExtraWide
1 year ago

I mean, it’s already in Mechanicsville. If you can’t find someone there to replace a seal, you must not be looking too hard.

Lokki
Lokki
1 year ago

Huh. I never would have guessed that Mechanicsville was even close to the ocean…

Last edited 1 year ago by Lokki
MEK
MEK
1 year ago

Is everyone else just going to ignore the exhaust on the Sprite that appears to stick at least a foot out of the back of the car? Why? Just to melt your polyester socks to your shins whenever getting the toolkit from the trunk?

In spite of this, the Sprite is the way to go. The Disco is just a never-ending collection of headaches while the dirt simple Sprite is slightly less headaches that will at least be easier to fix.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 year ago

Sprite for sure. As much as I want a real 4wd to continue exploring fire roads I have to turn around around on while in my Subaru, it would quickly turn into a money pit. Any 4wd I own would quickly escalate: need bigger tires; damn, now I need a lift kit-which allows even bigger tires; then gearing/suspension modifications. Then you tear the steering box off the frame. Fix & bullet-proof everything —then you need more power. It just keeps going&going (and I’m not even considering starting with a Disco)….

Gubbin
Gubbin
1 year ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

…and why do that when you can lift the Subie?

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 year ago
Reply to  Gubbin

I am lifting it-but it’s an early wrx with only (my measurement) about 6” of real clearance even with 1” taller than stock snow tires. One of the trails I used to take my 80s wagons down defeats this one because of the front overhang. Way smarter for me to start with an XJ: don’t need longer axles, and lockers are 1 click and a weekend away

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
1 year ago

The Sprite, because it’s easier to push when it breaks down.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
1 year ago

Also, the Sprite reminds me of a guy I used to work with. He drove a TR3, commuting from Long Beach to Newport Beach. It was not unusual for him to be late because of mechanical problems. It was tolerated because one of the partners had several old British sports cars. There was a period when my coworker was very late several times in two weeks. He left the company soon after. It turns out those “breakdowns” were when he was interviewing at other companies.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 year ago

There is that. “Why are you late?”
“Uh…” gestures at parking lot

Built-in excuse!

Allen Lloyd
Allen Lloyd
1 year ago

On the Sprite the words and images tell completely different stories. If it runs fine then move it and clean the driveway that has clearly not seen the light of day in years. A car leaking oil sitting on a pile of lawn clippings tells me it is more and I would always buy from an honest person before someone telling tales.

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
1 year ago

I think I’ll take the Disco, since I’d likely fit into it. Maybe I can clean it up and sell it to one of those Collegiate seniors, or just drive it down to Short Pump.

Bomber
Bomber
1 year ago

Small British roadster here. Only thing wrong is the color. Cliche or not, it needs to be BRG.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
1 year ago

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Disco, but there’s nothing quite like the allure of British “slow car fast” that a roadster like the Sprite could provide. It would also probably be easier to sort through the “peculiarities”.

Clark B
Clark B
1 year ago

Sprite for me, but definitely take a magnet to the inspection. Is it just me, or does the front of the hood look like it’s been (poorly) sculpted out of body filler?

Tbird
Tbird
1 year ago
Reply to  Clark B

I suspect a LOT of filler in the front of the hood.

Last edited 1 year ago by Tbird
Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
1 year ago

The Sprite’s the runaway favorite here, and probably the best choice. It’s spry, red, and can be lifted with one hand while the owner checks the rear main seal.

But I’m betting the Landie’s issues aren’t terminal, yet. And the prospect of folding myself into the Spridget sounds miserable.

So on this day, anyway, Disco lives on.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
1 year ago

I will take the Sprite, even if I can’t fit in it.

SAABstory
SAABstory
1 year ago

I think I’ve seen the Disco out in the wild (RVA here) but not the Sprite. Still picking the Sprite over the Disco, even if it’s not the Bugeye/Frogeye that I’ve always wanted.

In Richmond the natural habitat of the Disco isn’t the mall, it’s the private school parking lots. I’ve seen more Disco’s and Range Rovers with SENIOR 22 written on the window with soap stuff than anywhere else.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
1 year ago

This one goes to the Sprite, easily. I’ve professed my love for the classic lightweight roadster formula many times here and this is one of the OGs. It’s going to take a lot of work to keep it running…but who cares? $3200 is well within “fuck it” territory for me. I’m tempted to write a check since I’m only about 2 hours north of Richmond but I just bought another 4 figure guitar that I don’t need so I don’t think the missus would be too pleased if I rolled up in this.

There are also a weird amount of British specialty shops around me so I don’t find these as daunting as some folks do. I’m sure they cater to a customer base that’s more affluent than I am and charge an arm and a leg, but I’m sure they could help me figure a car like this out. Anyway who the hell buys a Land Rover for a 16 year old? I’m exhausted with this “big SUVs are safer” bullshit. They’re absolutely not, and it’s not a matter of “if” with a 30 year old Rover, it’s a matter of “when”.

Get the kid a goddamn Prius or something. They don’t need to be whipping around in a mechanical time bomb that’s a huge rollover risk. They need to learn what it’s like to take care of a hooptie before they take on something that’s even remotely cool.

Last edited 1 year ago by Nsane In The MembraNe
Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
1 year ago

Could have just been something the kid wanted, was (maybe suspiciously) cheap enough, and if Mom and Dad are generally not car people…they’ll never know.

And then every day there is someone who just wants a fancy badge, so they pick themselves up a heavily used Benz, BMW, Audi, Range Rover for “used Ford” money and have no idea what kind of financial liability they just signed up for.

Matthew Binns
Matthew Binns
1 year ago

Sprite. It’s fixable with a ball-pein hammer and a jar of Marmite, though someone needs to circumcise that exhaust pipe smartish.

Redfoxiii
Redfoxiii
1 year ago

Sprite, for a better interior just as a starting point.

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
1 year ago

It’s Disco time! On another note, why is the license plate so low when there’s clearly a spot above where it should be? I’m cringing knowing there’s holes in the door for that new license plate spot. 🙁

Acrimonious Mofo
Acrimonious Mofo
1 year ago
Reply to  M0L0TOV

Cringe not, they merely attached the top of the plate to the already there holes that should be securing the bottom of the plate.

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
1 year ago

I’m not one to criticize someone else’s mechanical skills — throwing stones from glass houses and all that — but if the current owner can’t even figure out how to mount a license plate properly, then maybe the Disco’s mechanical problems aren’t really all that hard to overcome.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 year ago

Gimme that Sprite and a six-pack and I can have the engine out, seal fixed, and back in the car in a weekend. And the only reason it’ll take that long is because I’ll be half-drunk the whole time because you gave me a six-pack.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 year ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

I have a Tr3 and a case of anchor steam that would like a visit from you.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

A whole case? Might take me a week, then.

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
1 year ago

Old one but good one: “Even a British toaster will leak oil”

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Stock

A gentleman does not motor about after dark.

Outofstep
Outofstep
1 year ago

If I’m forced to pick you better believe it’s not going to be a 90s Discovery. Sprite all the way. Plus it’s easier to push when it inevitably breaks down.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

I’ll take the limey lemon Sprite.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago

Disco, please!

It appears to be in decent shape but not so nice I wouldn’t want to take it off-road or otherwise use it like a truck. IIRC the 3.9s were still carbureted, which simplifies things a bit. A cooling system flush would be the first order of business, along with verification of other fluids, possibly (probably?) followed by a replacement radiator.

I do like the Sprite (and have owned an MGB) but right now the Land Rover is more appealing.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago
Reply to  A. Barth

PS Despite voting for the LR, I do not in fact “wanna be like Rob”. 🙂

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 year ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Same. Voted for the Disco, but I just gotta be me.

Richard O
Richard O
1 year ago

Tough choice here. I think I’d like either, but I do have to make a choice. I went with the Land Rover. I already have a convertible and an SUV. Neither mechanical and electrical scare me. Sheet metal and upholstery are things I’d rather not do. All of that could apply to either car. What tipped it to the Landie is the V8.That’s a good number of cylinders.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
1 year ago

Sprite all the way for me. Easy to fix anything on it.

57
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x