Land Rover: Camel Trophy
The Land Rover Camel Trophy began in 1980 with a trek of the Trans-Amazonian highway, following events have been called “the Olympics of 4×4.” They all focused on adventure and exploration. Over the next eight years, the expeditions crossed Sumatra, Papua New Guinea, Zaire, Brazil, Borneo, Australia, Madagascar (the first north-south crossing) and Sulawesi before returning to the Amazon. These grueling tests of human endurance brought together teams from around the world in the hope of triumphing in some of the most treacherous off-road conditions imaginable. Teamwork and camaraderie were crucial. The competitive element came in a series of “Special Tasks,” such as winching and timed driving routes, in which the national teams competed against each other.
In the 1990s, the Camel Trophy headed to Siberia and the USSR, followed by Tanzania, Burundi, Guyana, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile (the “Road to Hell” event), Belize, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras (controversially serving 500 out-of-season lobster at a dinner), Kalimantan (a thousand miles and 18 rollovers to celebrate the first crossing of the island 100 years previously) and Mongolia. The Camel Trophy however, did not simply change venue; over the years, the event evolved from a mud-plugging expedition to involve elements of adventure sport, such as kayaking, mountain biking and winter sports. Teams were selected by each competing nation in competitions held nationally, designed to test the athletic, engineering and driving prowess of potential candidates.
Although the events had an impact on the environment through which they traveled, there were ways in which the Camel Trophy benefited the local society or environment. In 1993, for example, the teams worked through the night to build an environmental monitoring station in the jungle so biologists could accurately study the flora and fauna of an area which had barely been explored previously. In all the events, the convoy’s progress reopened roads and tracks which had fallen into disuse and frequently rebuilt bridges and repaired sections of damaged tracks.
In 1998 the Camel Trophy returned to Argentina and Chile for the penultimate Tierra del Fuego event. The Land Rover Freelander made its debut and was used to speed the competitors six thousand miles across the remote and snowy environment. Outdoor pursuits dominated the event. Shortly afterwards, Land Rover, a major sponsor, felt that the Camel Trophy was moving away from adventure and exploration and a news release indicated they would not sponsor future events. This ultimately lead to the cancellation of the 1999 event which was planned for Peru.
“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.” Martin Runnacles, Rover Group Marketing Director
In 2000 the Camel Trophy returned with a new style of event. It developed the spirit of the Tierra del Fuego event and the Camel brand but with the 32 competitors exploring Tonga and Samoa in RIB powerboats. This event was the single most successful Camel Trophy event as both a sporting activity and a Camel PR and marketing exercise. At this time the international brands of RJ Reynolds (which included Worldwide Brand Inc, the owners of the CT brand) were in the process of being sold to Japan Tobacco Inc. JTI subsequently chose to change direction and instead concentrate on the Camel Active fashion brand. It was to be the last Camel Trophy event.
Camel Trophy Vehicles
The Camel Trophy originated in 1980 with three Jeep-equipped German teams exploring the Amazon. After that first event, the organizers turned to Land Rover and over the course of the next twenty years, all of the Land Rover vehicle range were used. Range Rover, Series III, Defender, Discovery and Freelander vehicles all appeared in the distinctive “sandglow” color scheme.
The vehicles were heavily modified by Land Rover Special Vehicles with a range of expedition, recovery and safety equipment, including:
– Safety Devices roll cages
– Under body protection and steering guards
– Modified electrical systems
– Dixon Bate tow hitches and recovery points
– Mantec snorkels
– Transmission breathers
– Michelin XCL or BF Goodrich Mud Terrain tyres
– Upgraded suspension and transmission components
– Auxiliary fuel tanks
– Webasto fuel burning heaters
– Brownchurch / Safety Devices roof racks
– Hella driving, spot, fog, convoy and work lamps
– Brownchurch Bull bars and bush wires
– Flag poles
– Event plaques, decals and sponsor logos (including Camel Trophy Adventure Wear/Bags/Boots/Watches, Lee Cougan, Perception, Sony, Scott USA, Safety Devices, Land Rover, Fjällräven, Warn, Malaysia Airlines, Superwinch, Shell, Avon)
– Expedition tools, Jerry cans, Pelican cases, Zarges boxes, high lift or New Concept air jacks, sand ladders, axes, ropes, drawbars, spades
– Garmin, Terratrip and other navigation and communication equipment
– Generally speaking, except for support and specialist vehicles, the Land Rovers were only used for one event. Some competitors purchased their vehicles and many remained in the host country. Consequently, those vehicles that returned to the UK were highly sought after as they were low mileage – but they were “Camel Trophy miles”. They were stripped of most of their equipment by Land Rover before they were released and restoring the vehicles to their original condition is expensive and time-consuming.
Camel Trophy’s successor: the “G4 Challenge”
The demise of the Camel Trophy left a gap. In 2003, competitors representing sixteen nations helped Land Rover fill that gap. Surprisingly, the inaugural Land Rover G4 Challenge contained many of the elements of Camel Trophy 1998, which Land Rover had reportedly been disappointed with. The “ultimate global adventure” was a test of skill, stamina and mental agility in four separate stages, each in a different time zone. The prize: a top-of-the-range Freelander or Range Rover. In true Camel Trophy style, the winner Rudi Thoelen, declined a Range Rover, and opted for two Defenders instead.
The 2006 Land Rover G4 Challenge promised to be tougher than the inaugural event and delivered a more vehicle-based focus. The competitors, working in bi-national teams faced thousands of miles of vehicle-based activity in Thailand, Laos, Brazil and Bolivia.
The 2008-9 G4 Challenge, supporting the Red Cross and based in Mongolia, was cancelled in December 2008 in the middle of the selection stages due to the current global economic downturn. Land Rover were forced to end the event as a cost saving-measure to allow them to focus on product launches in 2009.
Odyssey: Driving Around the World TV series
By incorporating their Certified Pre-Owned Brand into Camel Trophy spirited events, Land Rover sponsored an around the world expedition and television series in 2005. It was produced into a travel adventure television series titled “Odyssey: Driving Around the World” which first aired on the National Geographic Adventure Channel worldwide. Seven people drove 41,000 miles through 26 countries for over a year. The expedition was a fundraiser for Parkinson’s Disease and also raised money for several organizations along the route. It followed the Land Rover tradition of keeping modifications to the vehicles at a minimum. These vehicles are sought after in the Land Rover community as there were only four in the series. Three in the series, one as a film car.