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A History of the Land Rover Camel Trophy: Part 4, 1990-1992

  • Greg Fitzgerald
  • Jun 13, 2020

Camel Trophy logo

In 1989, Land Rover released the Discovery. Based on the Range Rover Classic platform, the Discovery would define Land Rover's success in the 1990s. It would also define the balance of the Camel Trophy event, with Discovery taking the mantle of team vehicle from Defenders starting with the 1990 event. With the exception of the final Camel Trophy in 1998, the Discovery would define the rest of the event's life.

Check out the rest of our History of Camel Trophy series:
Part 1: 1980-1983
Part 2: 1984-1986
Part 3: 1987-1989

 

Camel Trophy 1990: Siberia

Winners: Rob Kamps & Stijn Luyx (Holland)
Team Spirit Award:
Carlos Barreto & Fernando Martin (Canary Islands)
Trucks: Discovery 1 3-door 200tdi (teams), Land Rover One Ten and 127 (support)

 

Land Rovers lined up for Camel Trophy 1990 in Siberia

 

Traditionally, the Camel Trophy had been held in the tropics, with the constant theme of leafy jungles, giant mud pits, and curious critters filling the pages of every event recap. Part of this was because, at the end of the day, Camel Trophy existed above all else to market Camel cigarettes in a world that by the 1980s had come to highly regulate traditional tobacco advertising. These equatorial scenes generally fit in more with the overall aesthetic of the Camel brand, in what was both a top-tier global 4x4 competition and a massive cigarette ad.

This would change though, as the organizers turned to new scenes to celebrate Camel Trophy's second decade in 1990. This time, it was to a place with quagmires to negotiate both political and terrain, the Soviet Union. Although the USSR was in its very final days, it remained a relatively insular state, and no international event in the Camel Trophy's vein had ever been held there.

The event would become a massive bridge between East and West, with Moscow sending two massive Antonov An-124 Ruslan freighters sent to England to pick up the shiny new Sandglow-painted Land Rovers for the event. This would be the first time the massive Antonov freighters (each about the size of a Boeing 747-400F freighter of the time) would ever land on British soil. When the press preview convoy arrived in Moscow, they were some of the first cars to drive through Red Square not driven by the political elite; the sight of the gleaming new Discoveries, Land Rover's latest model, were one of the first tangible signs Muscovites had of the vehicles that existed on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

This would be the beginning of the Discovery's reign as the Camel Trophy feature vehicle, which would last almost to the end of Land Rover's involvement in the event. The first trucks shipped to Moscow for the press preview were extremely early-production models, with the G-WAC registration plates most of the first Discoveries carried. All vehicles were 200tdi-powered 3-door models.

The event began in Bratsk, on the Angara River in Siberia. The convoy drove southeast through the Tiga Forest to Kachug, then to stunning Lake Baikal. The largest by volume and deepest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Baikal holds 22% of the world's fresh surface water and more water than all five Great Lakes combined. They then turned west again, ending in the city of Irkutsk.

This Camel Trophy would have the largest coalition of nations to date participating, at sixteen. The Soviets and Yugoslavians would make maiden appearances, with the Yugoslavians leading after the first set of special tasks for most of the convoy, before being beaten by the Dutch team for the Camel Trophy. The Canary Islanders took the Team Spirit Award.

Compared to the year before, an iconic sludge through the Amazon in Land Rover One Tens, it was all change as Discoveries crossed the Siberian taiga. But the Disco had more than proven itself, and a new era in Camel Trophy had begun.

Camel Trophy 1991: Tanzania-Burundi

Winners and Team Spirit Award: Menderes Utku & Bulent Ozler (Turkey)
Special Tasks Award: Joseph Altman & Peter Widhalm (Austria)
Trucks: Discovery 1 5-door 200tdi (teams), Land Rover One Ten (support)

 

Camel Trophy 1991 riders in their Land Rover

 

For 1991, the Camel Trophy returned to Africa, this time to trace the route of Dr. David Livingstone's 1866-71 expedition to trace the source of the Nile. The teams flew into Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on a Swissair charter flight from Zurich, heading west into some of the most classic African landscapes.

Like many years, the route taken by Camel Trophy would be much easier in the dry season, but the event was undertaken in the wet season for maximum drama. From Dar es Salaam, they headed generally westward, towards Lake Tanganyika, and into Burundi and the finish at Bujumbura. The scenery was classic Sub-Saharan Africa, from the wildlife to the terrain.

This was the first year that the event was judged partially on a points scale, taking more uncertainty out of the awards. A third prize was also added to the flagship Camel Trophy and the Team Spirit Award, with a team now able to win a Special Tasks Award solely for their performance there. The overall winner of the Camel Trophy was now judged on a combination of all of the elements of all of the prizes.

The Discoveries -- this year 5-door models -- along with support Defender 110s and Defender 127s completed the 1,100-mile route, with a new record again this year of 17 nations participating. The Turkish team would win the Camel Trophy and Team Spirit awards, while the Austrians won Special Tasks.

Camel Trophy 1992: Guyana

Winners: Alwin Arnold & Urs Bruggisser (Switzerland)
Team Spirit Award: Dan Amon & Jim West (United States of America)
Special Tasks Award: Eric Cassaigne & Patrick Lafabrie (France)
Trucks: Discovery 1 5-door 200tdi (teams), Defender 110 200tdi (support)

 

Camel Trophy 1992: Land Rover being transported on raft

 

The 1992 event returned to the South American jungle, this time to Guyana. The convoy began in Manaus, at this point a hub of the Camel Trophy with the 1984 and 1989 events having previously terminated there. They headed north to the Guyanese border, crossing the Takutu River into the country. They crossed the Rupununni Savannah, the Essequibo River, then rafted across the Potaro River to Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, and the end of the trip.

The hope had been for the traditional muddy Amazon conditions, but instead, it turned out to be a dry year, and instead of giant mud pits the event was defined by dust-filled potholes that blended in with the soft rutted roads. There were many river crossings too in wet Guyana.

It was also the first Camel Trophy to have an overnight element away from the trucks, when participants trekked to Kaieteur Falls, at 741 feet the largest single-drop waterfall in the world at four times higher than Niagara Falls, or twice Africa's Victoria Falls.

The Americans took their first-ever award in Guyana, the Team Spirit award, while the French took the Special Tasks Award. The Swiss were the overall winners of Camel Trophy 1992, in what ended up being its final visit to its ancestral home of the Amazon.


  • Written By
  • Greg Fitzgerald
  • Adventure addict. '90s Land Rover daily driver. Historic preservationist. Personal vehicles: 1994 Discovery I, 1994 Range Rover Classic, 1961 Series II.
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