Many people know that the Rover V8 started its fabled history inside a GM product. The engine started life as the Buick 215 – one of the first aluminum block V8 engines. The engine was quite a marvel for its time and had a fantastic power-to-weight ratio. However, in the mid 1960s, GM was looking for a buyer for its all-aluminum engine, which had proven to be expensive to produce and prone to leaks. Reportedly, there were two interested parties, Mercury Marine and Rover. Rover convinced GM to sell the tooling to the engine.
Rover redesigned the little engine and put it to good use. It was a great choice for a lot of British cars because it weighed less than the common iron-block inline-4 engines it replaced. Over the years, the engine made it into various cars including MGs, Triumphs, and eventually Land Rovers. In the later years, the 3.5L grew in displacement to meet continuing power needs, first to 3.9L, 4.2L, and finally 4.6L. Along the way it also went from carburetors to fuel injection systems. The engine made its way into the entire Land Rover lineup.
Meanwhile, across the pond, GM was designing the replacement of the venerable small-block, which had been around since the 50s. The LS1, designed for the C5 Corvette, was born. The LS1 was a clean-sheet redesign, similar to, but departing from the small-block. Importantly, the GM engineers had paid specific attention to modifications hot-rodders had used on the old small-block over the years. Many of those modifications made it into the final product, which boasted 6-bolt main bearings, a new firing order, and a new head design. The results were fantastic – a new small-block V8 with an enormous amount of potential. There was one major part that was different from the original small-block though – the heads and block were made from aluminum. A spiritual successor to the old Buick 215 perhaps?
While GM was reaping the benefits of their 3rd generation small-block's debut, things were less well over at Land Rover. The Rover V8 was struggling to make it into the new millennium. Tightening emissions standards were making it hard for Land Rover to keep the Rover V8 going. The GM tooling was wearing out – more and more blocks were having casting problems. And Land Rover, which had gone from one owner to another, didn't have the finances to build a new engine. To top it off, despite once having the luxury SUV market all to itself, Land Rover was facing increasing levels of competition.
Land Rover pushed the Rover V8 further with the Bosch emission system. They made it run hotter than it ever had, tuning it with significant amounts of ignition advance to get it to run cleaner. The casting problems became more apparent – blocks were graded to determine where they would be placed. Supposedly the best blocks were red, and reserved for the Range Rover 4.6. The yellow blocks were a little worse off, and used for the 4.6 when they ran out of red blocks, but mostly the 4.0 in the Range Rover and the Discovery. The blue blocks were the worst off, and usually ended up as a 4.0 in the Discovery.
This worked for a couple of years. The launch of the 3rd generation Range Rover saw the use of a BMW V8. However, the 2003 and 2004 Discovery models were still using the Rover V8. To make the Discovery more competitive against other SUVs, they had to bump it from the anemic (by 2003 standards) 188 hp of the 4.0L to the more adequate 222 hp of the 4.6L. There was one problem – Land Rover was running out of good blocks. By the end of the production run, the Rover V8 tooling was gone. Who knows what color the last blocks were, but one thing is for sure – they weren't very good.
So, in a lot of ways, the LS V8 and the Rover V8 are very similar. While separated by years, they both were a new advancement of technology. It really is unfortunate that Land Rover pushed the Rover V8 so far with the Discovery, especially the 2003-2004 models. The little aluminum engine was just a bit too much past its prime. However, the LS can serve as a great replacement for the V8 in your Discovery. The LS has more power than the old V8 ever could have made reliably and gets better fuel economy. And on a special note, the LM4 5.3L (LS SUV derivative) that we like for swaps was even available in the Buick Rainier SUV. Talk about coming full circle.