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A History of the Land Rover Camel Trophy: Part 2, 1984-1986

  • Greg Fitzgerald
  • May 29, 2020

Camel Trophy logo

By the mid-1980s, the Camel Trophy was an international mega-event, exploring the world's jungles in their iconic convoys of Sandglow-painted Land Rovers. The event grew bigger and more intense every year, and began to experiment with more arid environments alongside the usual lush green jungle locations.

Check out the rest of our History of Camel Trophy series:
Part 1: 1980-1983
Part 3: 1987-1989
Part 4: 1990-1992

 

 

Camel Trophy 1984: Brazil

Winners: Maurizio Lavi & Alfredo Redaelli (Italy)
Trucks: Land Rover One Ten

 

Camel Trophy Land Rover One Ten

 

Camel Trophy returned to Brazil in 1984, picking up the Trans-Amazonica Highway in Santarem, where the first event’s Jeeps had ended their journey in 1980. This time, the goal was to traverse the rest of the Amazon route, to the inland city of Manaus.

The 900 km/560 mi route would take a dozen teams on The Great Adventure. This time, there were two each from Belgium, West Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland. This year, the new Land Rover One Ten (the Defender 110 before the Defender name came around) was the feature vehicle for both teams and support staff. The event that transited the Amazon was vastly advanced from the three rental Jeeps with West German teams that ran the route in 1980.

Beyond the scale of the event and the Land Rovers, there was one other major difference. While Camel Trophy 1980 had been run more in the dry season, this year it was the middle of the rainy season – not an insignificant factor in the Amazon Rainforest. To complicate matters, 1984 had been particularly rainy, which threw large parts of the route plan into havoc.

The most dramatic instance of this complication was several times when a fast-moving river had completely washed away the road, leaving the convoy with a gap the length of several Defenders to traverse. It’d be impossible to drive it – a bridge had to be fabricated. Trees were felled, lashed, and winched across. One of them collapsed and washed away instantly, a disheartening setback after hours of work. The string of Defenders was driven across safely, and the journey to Manaus carried on.

After two weeks, Camel Trophy arrived in Manaus, the fleet of One Tens thoroughly battered, some even partially flattened from rolling over. It had been a hard slog, but 1980 hadn’t been easy ever – the Amazon is unforgiving. The Italian team of Maurizio Lavi & Alfredo Redaelli went home with the Camel Trophy, and everyone went home with a lot of mosquito bites and memories.

Camel Trophy 1985: Borneo

Winners: Heinz Kallin & Bernd Strohdach (West Germany)
Team Spirit:
Carlos Probst & Tito Rosenberg (Brazil)
Trucks: Land Rover Ninety (competitors), Land Rover One Ten (support)

 

Camel Trophy 1985 airlift

 

It was back to Indonesia in 1985, this time to Borneo, the third-largest island in the world. Borneo would be host to three Camel Trophies (including one on the Malaysian side of the island), and Indonesia as a nation to four. This would also be the largest Camel Trophy to date, with 16 teams from eight countries – Japan, Brazil, and the Canary Islands making their first appearances. This year the competitors would feature the new Land Rover Ninety, while the support crew would use the One Ten.

Borneo returned to the jungle atmosphere of Sumatra 1981 and Papua New Guinea 1982 with the Borneo trek. The journey began at the coastal city of Samarinda. The Camel Trophy teams came from all walks of life, from musicians to F-16 pilots to a pizzeria owner. All had gone through the long and winding process to apply and qualify for the event, which at this point garnered a half a million applications a year worldwide.

Once again, it was the rainy season – while this had caused extra challenges in the Amazon the year before, at the least it made for good film footage. It was a particularly wet year too, and the trucks spent a lot of time underwater – enough that they became known as “Yellow Submarines” among the traveling party. The route was being constantly rejiggered, as the scouted and plotted roads had been entirely washed away by the deluges. There were also natural challenges, particularly of the insect kind. From fire ants to mosquitoes, bedbugs to wasps, Borneo’s natural order wasn’t designed to include the Camel Trophy.

The challenging vanished roads led to one of the more iconic Camel Trophy moments. With no way to bridge, ford, or otherwise traverse a washed-out road, the management made a major call to continue the adventure. The heavy-lift helicopter which had been used to supply the convoy was called in, and the Nineties and One Tens were lifted across the divide to safety. To reduce weight lifting the heavy trucks, the doors and cargo were removed and shuttled over separately. At times, inflatable rafts carried by the convoy were also used to ford waters, instead of using local ferry services or crafting a raft out of logs.

The grueling slog – one of the toughest ever – ended in the coastal city of Balikpapan, after several re-routings. It had been an incredibly challenging Camel Trophy, and for the first time, the natural environment more or less prevailed over the teams. One day the convoy advanced just 300 meters after hours and hours of work. Many trucks overturned, and there were many mechanical difficulties that had to be sorted with ingenuity. But Camel Trophy 1985 finished, with the West Germans winning the event, and the new Brazilian team taking the Team Spirit award with their positivity that helped everyone through.

 

Camel Trophy 1986: Australia

Winners: Jaques Mambre & Michel Courvallet (France)
Team Spirit: Glenn Jones & Ron Begg (Australia)
Trucks: Land Rover Ninety (competitors), Land Rover One Ten (support)

Camel Trophy Land Rover Ninety in water

While Borneo 1985 had been an epic slog through mud and jungle, truncated by the conditions, the 1986 event in Australia would be a relative sprint, crossing almost 2000 miles of northern Australia in just 13 days. Once again using Nineties and One Tens for competitors and staff respectively, the goal this year was to transit the northern edge of the continent-nation, from the settlement of Cooktown in Queensland to Darwin in the west.

First appearances were made by Australian, British, French, and Malaysian teams, as well as a return of the Americans for the first time since the 1982 Papua New Guinea event. (Yes -- the Camel Trophy, the quintessential global event with the quintessential British 4x4, didn't host a British team for the first six years.) The international demand to apply for spots was massive. There were 50,000 applications in Japan, and 70,000 in West Germany, with massive ad campaigns using billboards and full-page print ads. Meanwhile, in America -- where Land Rover was starting to assemble their operation to sell Range Rovers in the country after over a decade away from the market -- there were just 500 applicants, all of whom found the ad in off-road specialist magazines.

As opposed to the massive challenges and setbacks in Borneo, Australia was a relative breeze. The weather was dry, even though the event was held in the rainy season. The expected flooded rivers, mud, and rains never materialized. What did materialize was the intense outback heat, as well as the vast spread of terrifying and deadly animals Australia has on offer. At one point, the convoy had to raft across a river -- a raft unit was now part of the convoy -- with the added drama of massive crocodiles swimming in their midst.

The convoy reached Darwin, ending an event that was a relative breeze compared to the challenges of Borneo, but still an epic adventure across the Australian Outback.

 

Sources

The Camel Trophy Club
Jacek Palkiewicz’s recollections of the 1984 (in English and Polish) and 1985 (in Polish only) events
Camel Trophy Espana
Bangs, Richard. “Road Warriors.” Backpacker, July 1987, pp. 39–41.
 

Look out for our next installment, where we'll look back at the rest of the 1980s Camel Trophy events in Madagascar, Sulawesi, and 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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