For all Land Rover fans, the Camel Trophy competition is a embedded in the history of the green oval brand. But do you know the full history of the event and how it came to be?
The Camel Trophy was equivalent to the 4×4 Olympics in its day and it leaves a legacy sixteen years after its final event with the iconic Sandglow coloured cars still sought after by collectors and all the branded paraphernalia that went with it.
This year there is an opportunity for the public to attend an event to not only see a world gathering of the Camel Trophy vehicles but also hear the tales of contestants that got to live this great adventure. We highly recommend this event, and it may be the last of its kind enabling you to see the original vehicles and teams brought together under one roof.
It is to be held at the Les Comes estate, Suria, Barcelona who celebrate their 10th Land Rover Party and is also the host of the only Land Rover Experience on the Iberian peninsular.
THE CAMEL TROPHY HISTORY
The Camel Trophy idea originated back in 1980 as a one-off promotional event with 3 Germany teams and 3 Jeep CJ5’s with an attempt to drive the Transaction-Amazonian Highway, from Belem to Santarem in Brazil. They never completed their route but the images they released and the idea to put man and machine against extreme nature caught the attention of the world.
In 1981 Iain Chapman from World Brand Inc (WBI) brought in Land Rover and the Camel Trophy was conceived to pit national teams against each other in some of the remotest places on earth.
Asked to describe Camel Trophy, the Event Director for ten years, Iain Chapman said, “Neither a race nor a rally, Camel Trophy was first and foremost an adventurous expedition. It did include an element of competition where participating teams could test their 4×4 driving and mechanical skills, endurance, courage, stamina, perseverance and resilience against the worst that nature could offer.”
“The main emphasis of Camel Trophy was more toward testing human endurance and adaptability than pure competition. All participants were amateur and anyone, over the age of 21 from a participating nation could apply to take part – provided they spoke English did not hold a competition driving license or were full-time serving members of the military. The essentials were fitness, common sense and an adventurous spirit.”
So the gauntlet was thrown down and every year thousands of hopeful contestants from around the world took part in their national selections, tested for their fitness, engineering and driving skills. Every year the national selections whittled it down to four finalist who were sent off to take part in the international final selection where they were tested intensely for a week physically and mentally. This last week of competition decided which two out of the four people got to represent their country and participate in that years Camel Trophy with it’s ‘1000 miles of adventure’. In 1989 Les Comes not only organised the Spanish finalists but also conducted the International Finals. Their Land Rover Parties held in October and their 4×4 Festival held in March each year allow us ‘Jo Public’ to sample some of the tracks and obstacles for ourselves. Don’t worry they also have family friendly tracks too, for us softies.
The Camel Trophy route was decided for each year and new models of Land Rover cars were sprayed Sandglow, branded Camel Trophy and kitted out for each expeditions requirements then given to each two man team and the support crew. Modification could include strengthened roof racks, steps, lighting, defenses, ropes, snorkels even axes, each years vehicle was as unique as the trail to be conquered.
After each expedition most of the competing Camel Trophy trucks remained in the host country of competition unless purchased by the competitors themselves. Any vehicles that were returned to the UK were stripped of any expedition gear by Land Rover before being released for sale. This has fed an obsession amongst Camel Trophy devotees striving to obtain the rarely available trucks and restore them back to there original competing condition with the various expedition extras relevant to that vehicle’s history.
The Range Rover debuted for the first 2 years as both competition and support vehicles, through Sumatra then Papua New Guinea. During nearly 20 years of competition Land Rover got to prove the worth of most of it cars from the Series III 88, 90’s, 110’s to the Discovery 2 and 3ltr, even the Freelander. This show cased the brand as strong, dependable, safe and maneuverable, able to cope with the toughest trails mother earth could conjure world wide in the hands of the elite and most adventurous drivers in the world.
The expeditions were a grueling test of human endurance where team work and camaraderie were crucial to conquering the trail. Competition was introduced in a series of special tasks like winching and timed driving routes which counted towards the ultimate prize ‘The Camel Trophy”. A coveted second prize of ‘Team Spirit’ was awarded to the team most voted for by the other competitors and represented the essence of the Camel Trophy.
Through out the routes the competitors opened or repaired long closed trails and tracks benefiting the locals, they rebuilt bridges even building an environmental monitoring station in the jungle over a single night so biologists could study flora and fauna in an area unreachable and unstudied before the Camel Trucks forged through.
By 1998 the Camel Trophy had evolved introducing more adventure sports such as mountain biking and kayaking to its itinerary with less emphasis on 4×4 expedition. This change reflected Land Rover’s decision to no longer sponsor the event resulting in the cancellation of the 1999 event. The last official Camel Trophy was held in 2000 as a waterborne event with Ribtec boats with the Defender 110’s plus Honda CRV’s used as support vehicles. Land Rover Group Marketing Director Martin Runnacles released a statement.
“We have enjoyed a unique relationship with the Camel Trophy event over almost two decades and it has played a major role in sustaining the image of Land Rover as the manufacturer of the best 4×4’s in the world. However, with the changing character of the event it will no longer provide us with an active demonstration of Land Rover’s brand essence – limitless capability. We wish Camel Trophy every success with their new format. As for Land Rover, future activities will concentrate on our customer base with the emphasis very much on rugged off-road adventure.”
The Camel Trophy never returned but a new challenge was created in 2003. Christened the G4 Challenge, distinctive bright orange Land Rovers were created then sent forth to compete, complete with colour coded sports items such as mountain bikes and kayaks, but that’s a story for another day.
Over the 18-year period in which the Camel Trophy featured Land Rover vehicles, Italy ultimately won the Camel Trophy three times – in 1982, 84 and 87. The Netherlands, France, Germany and Turkey all won the Camel Trophy twice, the UK once in 1989.
Hopefully see you at Les Comes this October for this rare opportunity to live the spirit of The Camel Trophy for just one more weekend.
To book your place, hotel room or camping pitch; click Land Rover Party
Check out this informative Camel Trophy video …