Everyone in the sporting world has heard of the Camel Trophy - a grueling mix of wilderness skills, driving skills, orienteering and just plain survival with Land-Rover Discovery 4 by 4s as the mount of choice. Well, ther's a new (or should I say old?) twist this year - a team traveling the Camel Trophy course in a 1948 Land-Rover Series I 80" car! The Canadian- American-British team, TimeWarp Overland, were originally challenged by a correspondent on the Land-Rover Internet mailing list to make the trip.
"From the original challenge, things just kind of fell into place", said Dixon Kenner, one of the drivers who will be in the Series I. The run is being conducted to showcase what Dixon called "The Rover spirit", to prove the capabilities of the older Land-Rover Series vehicies vs. the new Discoveries used by the other competitors. In this vein Mr. Kenner remarked, "We feel those in newer vehicles are cheating, lessening the challenges that past competitors once had to undertake. The extensive support networks of aircraft, Defender 110 supply vehicles and so forth diminish the impact of the cornpetition"
While talking with TimeWarp Overland team members Dixon Kenner and Al Richer, I am struck at the amount of preparation and dedication they've put into the trip. As Dixon Kenner said, "The Land-Rover has a proud heritige, which many buyers of the more refined Discovery and Range Rovers either sneer at as hopelessy primitive or simply discount as ancient history. Alan and I are going to prove that the Land-Rover spirit was just as versatile and capable then as it is now, perhaps even more so".
Originally conceived as a "farmer's friend" in the years after World War II, the Series I that Dixon and Alan will be driving shares a heritage with the Willis-Overland M38A1 Jeep of WWII. It's interior is spartan, amenities are non existant, the whole vehicle from its galvanized bumper to its aluminium hardtop exudes an aura of no-nonsense functionallity. It seems capable of just about anything, which is good considering the jungle it's headed for.
Of course, there are other touches which would seem odd in a more modern car. The tightly-wrapped packages of spare parts, the extensive manual set bound in sealable plastic covers and the rolls of the ubiquitous duct tape number but a few of the eccentric items in the old Rover. Mr. Richer says about these items, "When dealing with a car of this age, its behaviour sometimes is best described as eccentric. Also, making repairs in the field sometimes requires... unorthodox methods, hence the bailing wire, duct tape and other items near and dear to the hearts of Rover owners".
Of course, this is not simply one car and two men against the elements (and the Discoveries, of course). Rather than take the approach that the Camel Trophy does, with Defender 110's and aircraft as support vehicles, the TimeWarp Overland team is taking everything low-tech and elderly.
The Series I is being accompanied by a pair of 101 Forward Control Rovers, huge behomoths of Land-Rovers originally built for the military in Britain back in the 1970's. Powered by large V-8 engines, these two Rovers will be the life line for the 80. They are being crewed by a motley collection of friends of the drivers, including Ben Smith, Bill Maloney, Dave Bobeck and Mike Loiodice as 101 pilots, Mike Rooth as machinist and mechanic in charge of the 80s health, and Spencer Norcross as photographer and general trail hand for the expedition.
The 101s themselves are masterpieces of their breed. One, long ago was a radio van for the RAF, has been fitted out as a mobile workshop and support vehicle for all of the old Rovers in the expedition. With its lathe, drillpress, mill and other precision tools Mike Rooth can, in his own words, "Bloody well rebuild it from scratch if I have to".
The second is the crew vehicle, having been fitted with extra seeting as well as space for crew kit and personal items. It hauls a unique powered trailer, containing "Food supplies" as I was told, while not being let near enough to examine its stock. It didn't matter - this reporter can read the labels on cases of Molson, Bass and Glenfiddich from 20 yards away easily.
The compeition vehicle itself is the item that draws the attention, though. It's a rather small vehicle considering what it's going to be asked to do. From its no-nonsense bronze green body and yellow (I was informed the proper name is "Limestone") roof, it squats in its tracks with a casual air of unconcern for the ordeal it is about to attempt.
When asked if they'd equipped the car with extra batteries for starting, Mr. Richer asked, "Why?". He then reached behing the drivers seat pulled out a crank, slipped it in a hole in the front bumper and started the car with a quick pull on the crank end. As he said after I picked my jaw off the ground, "The key that most people miss is simplicity. This car has an almost-nonexistent electrical system, a simple, easily field repairable engine and drive train and no fancy electronics other that the communications gear I installed. With a good set of handtools, you can rebuild the engine sitting in a jungle clearing a feat a bit beyond newer vehicles".
Both Mr. Kenner, a senior member of Environment Canada and Mr. Richer, an engineer for IBM, are confident they will complete the journey in good form. After seeing them and their time machine and the hulking monsters of the support Rovers, I think that the Discoveries on the trip have more to worry about from the Series competition than the jungle.