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The Land Rover Camel Trophy: An historical review

“Camel Trophy” – the ultimate adventure for the adventure-man, the original testing ground for team-work, true sportsmanship, mental dexterity, human endurance, where its mano-a-mano, man (and woman) against the elements. Armed with their wits, bare knuckles and a Land Rover. And all the insanity in the name of sports ! For 19 Glorious years, the Camel Trophy pitted man against machine. LRO looks back at the ultimate Land Rover endurance challenge.

From the jungles of Borneo to the Amazon River, the Camel Trophy was the ultimate test of skill and stamina. Not only for the crews taking part from all over the world, but also for a selection of world-beating machines from Solihull.

Born in 1980, the Camel Trophy was designed to test the fitness of both man and machine, as teams competed in a 1.000-plus mile endurance event through some of the world’s least hospitable terrain.

Indeed, the spirit of the Camel Trophy is often misunderstood. It never was an all-out race to the finish, but a celebration of teamwork, an event where competitors scored extra points for stopping to help each other out and where the team spirit award was, in later years, more coveted than the Camel Trophy itself. The Trophy wasn’t awarded to the fastest team to finish, but to the ones who completed the most tasks and visited the most navigational points.

The first Trophy was a low-key affair. Three German teams took to the Transamazonica highway in South America in a fleet of Jeep CJ6s, taking in tricky jungle terrain and swampy river crossings.

Their quest captured the imagination of adventurers all over the world and the foundations for the Camel Trophy were well and truly laid out.

[dropcap]…[/dropcap]The following year Land Rover supplied the vehicles in a move that would set the precedent for the next 18 years of the Camel Trophy. The first Solihull vehicles were V8 Range Rovers, the venue: the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The stage was set for the Land Rover to prove unequivocally that its vehicles were tougher that the rest.

1981:Sumatra- Range Rover
The first Land Rover appearance in the Camel Trophy takes place on the island of Sumatra. A 1,600-kilometre (994-mile) course takes competitors from Medan to Jambi in countryside ranging from volcanic mountain faces to lichen-ridden swamps. Five teams take part in a handful of two-door Range Rover V8s, while all five complete the event successfully.

1982: Papua New Guinea- Range Rover
Two new dimensions added to the Camel Trophy for 1982. The first was the introduction German crews, which set the international element of future events. The second was the introduction of special tasks which the five teams, from Germany, Netherlands, America and Italy, were required to complete along the 1.600km (994-mile) route. The toughest of these was bridge building as flash floods and rapids often delayed progress. Again, a fleet of two-door Range Rovers provided dutiful transport and all teams completed the event

1983: Zaire – Series IIIs (88-inch)
The Camel Trophy makes the first of three trips to Africa, plugging through the jungles of Zaire and visiting primitive civilizations along a 1.600km (994-mile) route.
The combination of humid, atmospheric conditions and riotous temperatures make the going tough, but the Series IIIs cope admirably. The Camel Trophy doctor makes him self popular among the natives, holding clinics and administering medicines in villages en route.

1984: Brazil- 110
The new 110 makes its debut as the Trophy returns to the Transamazonica highway. The 2.000km (1.232-mile) route runs from Santarem to Manaus in Brazil and attracts a record 12 teams, with two each from Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and newcomers Belgium.
The event is threatened with cancellation after a series of tropical rainstorms make most of the roads impassable, but the sheer dedication and co-operation of the teams mean they continue, despite having to rebuild several washed-away bridges.

1985: Borneo – 90s
A pair of significant debuts marks the 1985 Camel Trophy as one of the most important in the event’s history. The first is the appearance of :he 90, proving beyond doubt that it is the most competent vehicle ever to emerge from Solihull. The second debut is the Team Spirit Award, given to the team that helps as many other competitors as possible and generally keeps morale going among the teams. Again, the Trophy is awash with steaming rain and the going is tough, sometimes covering only 5km a day.
A further six teams join the event, with two each from Japan, Brazil and the Canary Islands, bringing the numbers up to 18 vehicles.


1986: Australia – 90s
The Camel Trophy’s first trip Down Under is a stark contrast to previous events. Gone are the rain- sodden, mud-caked jungles, to be replaced with the fiery deserts and barren outback between Cooktown, overlooking the Great Barrier Reef, and Darwin. At 3,218km (2,000-miles). Australia is the longest Camel Trophy yet. But with less chance of getting bogged down, it is also the quickest, completed in just 13 days. This is the first year a British team competes in the event, with newcomers also from Australia, North America, Spain, Malaysia and France, who reign victorious on their first event.

1987: Madagascar – Range Rovers
The Turbo diesel Range Rover makes its debut as the Camel Trophy heads out to the Indian Ocean. The 2,252km (1,400-mile) route is the first ever north to south crossing of Madagascar and takes in conditions as diverse as tropical rainforests to arid deserts.
A total of 14 teams enter, with Turkey replacing Australia in the international line up.
All teams successfully completed the epic journey.

1988: Sulawesi – 110s
The Camel Trophy heads back to its birthplace on the islands of Indonesia, this time choosing the rugged plateaux and dense jungle of Sulawesi for a soul-shattering 2,092km (1,300-mile) route.
Special tasks are introduced for the competing teams, which include newcomers Argentina, adding an extra element of competition to the Trophy. Route repairs and bridge building are the main tasks. Adding more than a day to the teams’ time in the jungle.

1989: The Amazon – 110s
At 1,600KM (994-miles), the 1989 Camel Trophy might not sound too tricky. But with horrific weather conditions, characterized by washed- out tracks, impenetrable mud baths and stagnant river crossings, the Amazon trek is remembered as perhaps the toughest Trophy ever.
Luckily, the fleet of well-equipped 110s cope admirably and the teams are thankful for the go-anywhere ability of their Land Rovers. None more so than the British team of Bob and Joe Ives, who bring the Camel Trophy to Britain for the first time. Their victory earns them the prestigious Segrave Trophy, named after the former Land Speed Record holder, Henry Segrave. The award is given annually for outstanding achievement on land, sea or air.

1990: Siberia-USSR Discovery 200 Tdi three doors
Land Rover marks its 10th year of involvement with the Camel Trophy by entering its sensational new model, the Discovery, into the event. And while Discovery’s all over Britain are dropping kids off at primary schools and doing the weekend shopping, the Camel Trophy proves beyond doubt that this is a vehicle to be reckoned with, sporting all of Land Rover’s famous off-road credentials and becoming a huge hit with the international teams. It remained the main Camel Trophy vehicle for the next seven years, after proxing itself in the diverse forests, mountains and swamps of Siberia. The Camel Trophy is the first international motor sport event to take place in the USSR and, also for the first time, uses a fleet of 110s and 127 Crew Cabs as support vehicles.

1991: Tanzania- Burundi – Discovery 200Tdi five doors
Land Rover confirms its long-term commitment to the Camel Trophy by agreeing to co-sponsor the event. As well as supplying the vehicles, Land Rover pledges its support with off-road training and sponsorship money.
The 1991 event is one of the most interesting Camel Trophy’s, following the route of Dr David Livingstone’s trail to the source of the Nile.
Another two firsts are the introduction of a prize for the team that completes the most special tasks en route, as well as this being the first Camel Trophy to cross a national border.
Discoverys are used again, although this time they are five-door models.

1992: Guyana – Discovey 200Tdi five doors
Another change in the face of the Camel Trophy is the introduction of sections which don’t need Land Rovers – in this case a two-day jungle trek to the Kaieteur Falls. There’s still plenty to keep the Discovery’s amused though, with a combination of dusty tracks and river crossings through the forests and mountains of Brazil and Guyana.
Overall, 16 teams take part including new entries from Poland, Greece and the Commonwealth of Independent States (formerly the USSR).

1993: Sabah-Malaysia – Discovery 200Tdi five doors
Yet another new tack for the Camel Trophy this year, as the event goes in a complete circle round the Malaysia state of Sabah.
As well as the usual Camel activities, one of the special tasks is to build a scientific research station in an unexplored jungle, referred to by natives as the ‘Lost World’.
Flash floods, humidity and temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius endanger the teams, but the spirit of adventure pulls all 16 through without harm.

1994: Argentina, Paraguay, Chile- Discovery 200Tdi five doors
Back to south America again, where the diverse climate and terrain make for some fascinating driving.This time, the Trophy crosses three frontiers, taking in Argentina, Paraguay and Chile, with a mixture of jungle conditions, arid deserts and twisty, perilous mountain tracks, including the aptly named ‘Road to Hell’. The 1994 event is one of the longer distance Trophy’s. With a total road mileage of 2.500km (1.554-miles).

1995: Mundo Maya- Discovery 300Tdi five doors
The Camel Trophy moves a bit further north for 1995, crossing the borders of Belize, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and back to Belize in a large loop. One of the special tasks involves taking a group of archaeologists into the jungle to execute a Mayan temple excavation and discover more about one of the world’s oldest civilizations.
Mundo Maya ’95 also sees the introduction of the new 300Tdi Discovery’s to the joys of Camelling, with 20 team vehicles and at least as many in support..

1996: Kalimanlan- Discovery 300Tdi five doors
It’s back to BORNEO for the 1996 Camel Trophy, with 20 teams in Discovery 300Tdi’s tackling 1,850km (1,150-miles) of atrocious terrain in blisteringly hot, yet clammy and damp conditions.
The mud is thick and glutinous, the river crossings are roof deep and the tracks, many of which have not been driven in years, have all but disappeared. The event sees the introduction of a new award, the Land Rover Award, awarded to the Greeks for the best performance in vehicle-based special tasks.

1997: Mongolia- Discoverl 3007di five doors
The Trophy ventures to Asia for the 1997 event, where it encounters extreme temperatures from as low as minus 12 degrees Celsius in the mountains to 45 degrees plus in the Gobi Desert.
The different cultures are amazing, too, with many Mongolians living a traditional lifestyle and maintaining a culture that has been passed down through tens of generations.

The emphasis is taken away from Land Rovers slightly (although they remain very much a part) as the event is split into three separate sections: off-road driving, mountain biking and kayaking. The Special Task Award disappears and is replaced totally by the Land Rover Award, which now goes to the best performers during the vehicle section of the event.

1998: Terra Del Fuego – Freelander 2.0 diesel five doors
All good things come to an end, and so it is that Land Rover finally dissolves its connections with the Camel Trophy. But not without going out with a bang. The 1998 Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) event takes in Chile and Argentina, with conditions ranging from deep snow in the Chilean mountains to baking heat on lower ground. But it is the choice of vehicle which makes this year different. Gone are the ever-present Discoverys, to be replaced by Land Rover’s new baby. the Freelander. Anyone who tells you the Freelander isn’t a capable off- roader should watch the video of this event, as it proves beyond doubt that it’s worthy of the Land Rover name.
Tierra Del Fuego also sees the first all-female crew on the Camel Trophy, with Spaniards Emma Roca and Patricia Molina also picking up the Land Rover Award. Off-roading is only part of this year’s Camel Trophy, and activities such as skiing, mountain climbing and canoeing all take on a larger role.
As the final Freelander rolls across the finishing line at Ushuaia, on the Argentine Coast, an era ends. The Land Rovers are to disappear and, despite running the event with Honda CR-Vs in 2000, the Camel Trophy is soon to disappear as well.

1980 -Transamazonica -Jeep
1981 -Sumatra -Range Rover
1982- Papua New Guinea – Range Rover
1983- Zaire- Series III 88″ Series III 109″
1984 -Brazil- Land Rover One-Ten One Ten
1985- Borneo- Ninety -One Ten
1986- Australia -Ninety- One Ten
1987- Madagas-car Range Rover TD
1988 -Sulawesi- One Ten
1989 The Amazon – One Ten
1990- Siberia USSR -Discovery 200Tdi (three door) One Ten & 127
1991 -Tanzania Burundi- Discovery 200Tdi One Ten
1992- Guyana -Discovery 200Tdi Defender 110 200Tdi
1993- Sabah-Malaysia -Discovery 200Tdi Defender 110 200Tdi
1994- Argentina Paraguay Chile- Discovery 200Tdi Defender 110 200Tdi
1995- Mundo Maya- Discovery 300Tdi Defender 110 300Tdi
1996 -Kalimantan- Discovery 300Tdi Defender 110 300Tdi
1997- Mongolia -Discovery 300Tdi Defender 110 300Tdi
1998- Tierra Del Fuego- Freelander Defender 110 300Tdi

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Elie Hajj
Mechanical Engineer, admin of lebanonoffRoad.com . Experienced offroad and drifting driver. interested in: Rally, Rally raid (Paris-Dakar), internal combustion engines, 4x4 modifications, mechanical design.
http://www.lebanonoffroad.com

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